From Peleliu to Stalingrad
Last year, Infinity Ward developed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for practically every major gaming platform. That development team put together a first-person shooter that went beyond an excellent single-player campaign; the beefed up RPG-like multiplayer content made CoD 4 an instant fan favorite and a truly bar-setting title. That title was so good many gamers were scared that, because the franchise was returning to Treyarch, Call of Duty: World at War couldn’t possibly live up to its revolutionary predecessor.
Moreover, Treyarch was going to bring the series back to World War II, an era so often used it has become cliché. However, in the face of these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Treyarch has pulled off the impossible; they’ve created a game that is every bit as good as Call of Duty 4. The only minor complaint I can muster is that, by sticking to the Infinity Ward formula, they have brought little new to the title other than the distinct atmosphere and better enemy A.I. Nevertheless, the refined solo campaign, perfect cooperative offering, and engrossing competitive multiplayer action makes this title a candidate for shooter of the year.
Gameplay in World at War is made up of three distinct parts: Solo Campaign, Cooperative, and Multiplayer. Each of them is outstanding and truly worth your attention. The Solo Campaign takes place during WWII. Players will take on the roles of Pvt. Miller (U.S. Marines) and Pvt. Petrenko (Soviet Red Army) and fight in disparate theatres of war: the campaign in the Pacific against the Japanese Imperial Army and the one in Eastern Europe in the defense of ‘Mother Russia’ from the Nazi invasion. Jumping back and forth between the two theatres not only keeps the gameplay very fresh, but also provides players with very different terrain to do battle in, distinct enemy A.I. behavior, and even a couple of differing perspectives from which the story is told.
The Solo Campaign is marked by meaningful, story-driven, realistic objectives, a host of interesting battlefields, enemy behavior that challenges a wide range of shooter skills, and tons of era-appropriate weaponry. I loved clearing out Japanese mortar emplacements with my Garand and flamethrower, struggling to make my way up an ambush-laden river bed, picking off the cowardly Nazi Colonel with my sharpshooting prowess, and literally steamrolling through enemy lines with my Russian tank. Players will constantly be thrown into interesting scenarios that provide for an exciting array of battle tactics.
Moreover, enemy A.I. is no pushover (unless purposely made so) and it will act differently depending upon where and when you fight them. For instance, while island-hopping in the Pacific, the cornered Japanese begin throwing suicide Banzai combatants at you, perch snipers in palm trees, and have fortifications that are always intricately dug-in with nooks and crannies that spell death to unwary GIs. On the other hand, the Wehrmacht in the beginning of the game are bursting with confidence, as they methodically clear out buildings with dogs and fire. Their machine gun nests are deadly, and their organized tactics are difficult to combat. However, later on, the Nazi morale is low, as they are being routed in the face of the Red Army. Consequently, it’s not uncommon to shoot fleeing infantry in the back and have your squad mates deal with the rest with inspired revenge. From beaches and jungles to ruined cities and wide open countryside, World at War’s solo campaign is filled with challenging fun and interesting environments.
As an added bonus, finishing off the single-player campaign will unlock Nacht der Untoten (Night of the Undead), which is similar to Gears of War 2’s Horde mode. Wave upon wave of zombies will come at you and your partners while your group defends your cabin from the shambling horde. Players can earn points to upgrade weapons and even add onto the cabin. Every successive wave of zombies is faster and more dangerous, and the resulting frenzy of arcade goodness is a surprisingly strategic and enjoyable co-op mini-game experience that doesn’t feel simply tacked-on.
Co-op play doesn’t end there, however. The next part of the World at War equation is true cooperative play, both off and online. You can play with your best friend at home via split-screen or you can get matched with up to three other companions online. Depending on the amount of players in the cooperative campaign, enemy A.I. will adjust accordingly. Additionally, experience can be accrued during cooperative play that can be applied toward online multiplayer ranks. Also, if unlocked, secret Death Cards in the Solo Campaign can be used during co-op to modify rules and add interesting turns to standard gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to heal downed mates, limit kills to head shots only, add undead soldiers, etc. Finally, scores achieved during co-op play can be uploaded to the Call of Duty leaderboards to see how your group ranks.
The interesting cooperative features are a great way to add serious longevity to the campaign offering. We can only hope that the servers and matching will hold up as well as local multiplayer does. Conceivably, the online co-op modes could suffer from LittleBigPlanet-like connection and lag issues, though Activision typically resolves these problems quickly. However, another Treyarch developed game, Call of Duty 3, seems to be plagued by server issues even to this day. It’s something to look out for.
If you’re reading this article, you’re likely already familiar with the competitive online multiplayer features because of the hours you’ve logged in Call of Duty 4 (or those logged in World at War’s Multiplayer Beta). Veterans of Modern Warfare can hop right into World at War’s multiplayer mode and feel right at home. Many of the conventions established by Infinity Ward, including acquiring experience, weapons, perks, and ranks, Create-a-Class, as well as Kill-Streak Rewards are all present.
There are 65 ranks in all, and a ton of weapons and abilities (including the flamethrower) to be unlocked. There are even a bunch of weapon-specific challenges that can be opened up, which lead to big experience point bonuses as well as the ability to unlock Achievements or Trophies depending upon which console you play on. The Kill-Streak Rewards include “Recon Plane” (after three consecutive kills), “Artillery Strike” (after five consecutive kills), and “Unleash the Dogs” (after seven consecutive kills). These rewards are fun to use and can increase point totals in a hurry.
The maps are all really fun and varied. Like in Solo Campaign, they take advantage of differing abilities and builds (load-outs) depending on the size, scope, and layout of the map. In all, there are ten multiplayer modes to choose from, including Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All, Sabotage, Search and Destroy, Capture the Flag, Domination, War, Headquarters, and Hardcore Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All (more or less one-shot-kill modes). All these classic modes are well-known, play well, and offer something for everyone.
All is not rosy with the Multiplayer mode, however. Kill-Streak Rewards are too powerful and stay with you after you die. Achieving five kills is challenging but certainly attainable. As such, lots of players will be unleashing overly-intense mortar strikes and the resulting series of ‘earthquaking’ death is annoying. Once you’ve gotten five kills, getting seven is a no brainer, especially with a well-placed artillery strike. Moreover, because rewards don’t disappear after death, players are best served to hold onto the reward until they die. When they respawn, they can then ‘Unleash the Dogs’ and have their puppies take out another seven victims, restoring the power and fueling a vicious cycle of broken mayhem. Players should lose the reward if they’re killed; use it or lose it, I say!
Fortunately, a patch has been developed by Treyarch that addresses the overpowered artillery strike and a number of map hole exploits found in the beta on day one, so the retail online game should be quite smooth. Also, Activision and Treyarch are committed to supporting the game going forward, so that game-breaking problems will be fixed in a timely fashion. However, I fear Kill-Streak Rewards will always mar the experience; aren’t skillfully placed headshots rewarding enough? Who needs dog and mortar kills anyway?
Rounding things out for World at War are the silky controls and beautiful, powerful presentation. Upon picking up the controller, FPS fans will immediately feel comfortable with the responsive setup. Also, controls nicely mimic the weapon you have in your possession. For instance, the vibrations, firing rate, and reload times all feel realistic. Also, cooking off grenades, steadying a sniper shot, driving tanks, etc. is a breeze. Players used to CoD 3 or CoD 4 won’t miss a beat when picking up World at War, and FPS fans at-large will have no problem adjusting.
Because World at War uses the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare engine developed by Infinity Ward, the game looks fantastic. The environments, animations, explosions, particle effects, and framerate are all very solid. A lot of care went into making this game shine. You can tell that time was well spent tweaking and detailing the game’s visuals rather than creating another functioning engine. Not to be outdone, the sound effects and voice work are also outstanding, especially the voice acting. Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman take on the roles of Sgt. Roebuck and Sgt. Reznov, your commanding officers in both theatres of war, and their voices truly exude talent. Also, the ambient comments made by your foes and allies during cutscenes and battle are stellar. There is somewhat of a dip during multiplayer, however, as commentary becomes painfully repetitive and mute-worthy. On the whole, the presentation in World at War is on par with that of Modern Warfare; in other words, very good.
Treyarch did a remarkable job of breathing new life into the WWII shooter. They followed the conventions outlined by Infinity Ward to a tee and, as a result, created a shooter that is every bit as good as last year’s entry. Of course, there isn’t a whole lot of innovation this time around, but the increased Multiplayer options, new settings, and great enemy A.I. should more than satisfy all but the most jaded Infinity Ward fanboys.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Treyarch made great use of the Call of Duty 4 engine, and the distinct environments are awesome! 5.0 Control
Exactly what you’d expect from a AAA shooter. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The aural presentation is great, especially the voice acting performances by Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman. Only the repetitive multiplayer commentary grates. 4.8 Play Value
Between Solo, Cooperative, and Multiplayer modes of play, you’ll be playing this title till Infinity Ward kicks out the entry in the Call of Duty line. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.