When Activision announced it was returning to World War II for the next chapter of the Call of Duty series, a collective groan could be heard around the world. CoD 4 was one of the best games released last holiday and a lot of people attribute that to the fact that the team was finally able to sever the ties to the war that never seems to end in gaming. World at War heads back to familiar ground and there is no doubt developer Treyarch had to know that their game needed to be top-notch for jaded players to head back to this battleground. Thankfully if you are willing to let go of your hatred towards games in this time period World at War is easily the best entry in the series to date, as well as being on of the best FPS experiences I have ever encountered.
One of the biggest reasons World at War works so exceptionally is because that it focuses on areas that we haven’t been exposed to time and time again. At the beginning of the game you will set your sights on the Pacific portion of the war fighting the Japanese armies in dense jungles while avoiding kamikaze bombers. The campaign will also take you through the shoes of the Red Army and their involvement all the way up to the fall of Berlin with each set piece all the more impressive than the last. The locales and objectives feel fresh and less like previous games set in WWII, which is probably why the game doesn’t fall prey to that ‘been there, done that’ mentality.
Another thing World at War does extraordinarily well is portray the gruesome aspects of war. It was always mind-boggling to me when a game about the most violent act in the world could garner a T rating, but with WaW things are much, much different. One specific occasion springs to mind early in the game you obtain access to air strikes; once you drop the bomb and the smoke clears you make your way across a field of soldiers crawling across the battlefield, missing limbs and all, in what is one of the most realistic, and horrific displays of war ever portrayed in a videogame. Scenes like this are common throughout the entire campaign giving the game a more mature feeling than any previous Treyarch effort.
Much like all previous entries in the series WaW relies heavily on fast-paced levels and scripted events. If you have ever played the series before a lot of what is here will feel familiar, and there is truly no signs of it changing. Fans of the series have grown accustomed to the style of play and would likely cry foul if the formula ever changed. Enemies still spawn endlessly until you advance forward, keeping firefights intense and action-packed, while the chaos is intermittently broken up by methodical levels such as sniping and sneaking around.
The biggest change this time around to the campaign is the ability to play online with up to three other players. This is a first for the series and honestly one that has been long overdue. While this is certainly a welcome addition it does come with a few hitches, namely the fact that not all missions are available in this mode. Levels such as the sniper mission and a few choice others are omitted more than likely due to their specific pacing. Having four players run around firing off rounds or vying for the sniper shot would probably break the game so having them absent is likely a wise decision.
The campaign itself runs about the same length as previous games and really is an engrossing experience, but much like any other game in the series multi-player is where it truly shines. World at War adopts a lot of the same ideas and structure that made Modern Warfare so popular as well as injecting a bit of its own special sauce. The create-a-class and perks system are still in place and leveling up your soldier is just as rewarding and addictive as it was in the previous game. Perks this time around have been modified to suit the setting of the game, which should be pretty obvious because some of the stuff found in Modern Warfare would simply feel out of place (and ridiculous) in this time period.
The rewards system has also been upgraded and new perks have been added to include vehicle abilities for the larger maps. The rewards work under the same pretense as before, three kills without dying, five kills and so on and so forth. This time around though the coup de grace of the bunch is the unleashing of attack dogs. These canines are great for hunting down hidden enemies as well as distracting everyone on the battlefield. This adds a new layer of strategy to the game because as soon as you hear the dogs barking you immediately realize that if it wasn’t someone on your team unleashing them, you have to be on your guard constantly.
All of the standard modes for the series make a return with the addition of a couple new ones. The most obvious addition is capture the flag, which has been a staple to online shooters for as long as I can remember. The second is war, and anyone who played Call of Duty 3 online remembers this is strikingly familiar to the primary mode found in the Battlefield series or the more popular territories on Halo 3. Basically there is a spot on the map that must be controlled and each team will duke it out for possession. The catch here is that the game only deems one plot significant at a time, forcing players to sprint across the map at the drop of a dime creating a frenetic match that is loads of fun to play.
If all of that wasn’t enough the developers have also added a quirky co-op mode that pits you and your three friends up against waves of zombies that the community has quickly dubbed Nazi Zombie Mode. This is very similar to Gears of War 2’s new Horde mode as well as EA’s newest co-op experience Left 4 Dead. You start bunkered down in one area as you mow through continuous waves of the undead with each group getting faster and increasing in numbers. The waves are endless and your position on the leaderboard is based on how long you last. You also earn points that can be spend on more ammo, purchasing new weapons and even accessing other parts of the level for better cover. This mode is as addictive as Horde and really rounds out the multi-player package nicely. It is worth noting though that this mode is only available once you complete the campaign.
Visually World at War is breathtaking at times and a lot of the credit has to go to the engine that Infinity Ward crafted for the previous game. The biggest eye-opener for me was the variety of set pieces found throughout the game. Whether you are storming a beach or lighting fields on fire with the flame-thrower the game throws an astounding amount of detail on the screen at any given time. Character models are rendered fantastically and the frame rate is rock solid most of the time only stopping to hiccup during intense scenes of action. The audio is equally impressive with the talents of Kiefer “24” Sutherland and Gary Oldman just to name a few. Sound effects have become a staple for the series and World at War is no exception. This game will wake up the neighbors with visions of war around them when played through the proper setup.
Call of Duty: World at War was more than likely written off by most gamers when the theatre of war announced was a return to familiar battlegrounds. I cannot emphasize enough how great this game truly is and how much respect I have for the team to make a game that not only impresses on a technical level, but somehow manages to make playing in this overdone war fun again. With top-notch visuals, outstanding multi-player, addictive co-op modes and some of the best presentation of any game on the market Call of Duty: World at War is a must own for anyone who calls themselves a fan of shooters. Do not let the stage of battle deny you a chance to play the best entry in the series to date.