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Hands On: Call of Duty World at War

Call of Duty

As a huge fan of the Call of Duty series, being invited to sample the new title was something of a privilege. Returning to its World War Two roots, many gamers have already dismissed this as a step backwards and unworthy of the COD stamp that gave birth to the superb Modern Warfare. Although it certainly has its hands full and an avid army of non-believers to prove itself too, World at War couldn’t be in a better position.

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After seeing fellow COD developers Infinity Ward effortlessly scoop up a number of coveted awards, Treyarch will have been enviously applauding and offering their sincerest congratulations from behind the spotlight. After the disappointment of Call of Duty 3, World at War represents the evolution and conclusion of the franchises World War Two narrative. With a point needing to be proved to the hungry gaming public, we were served up a round of the multiplayer for starters.

For many people reading this, they may have already played the beta version of the multiplayer that was launched last week. Initially, it would be fair to assume this was just Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare with older guns. Of course, this isn’t the case, as Treyarch have definitely brought their brand of style and artistic flair to the online playground.

“Treyarch have definitely brought their brand of style and artistic flair to the online playground”As with the infamous COD 3, vehicles are back in the battlefield this time round. Playing on a selection of hardcore maps, World at War manages to show gamers just how ominous approaching tank or heavy machine gun fire can be. With tightly constructed shelter, precisely balanced combat, and a variation of open areas, escaping an incoming tank can be extremely thrilling. Reminding us of scenes from Saving Private Ryan, we glanced at a hostile vehicle, before realising it had spotted us. Darting off as quickly as possible, we sprinted to the nearest cover, only to be followed by incoming tank shells. As we crept round the corner, silently deceiving our enemy, we managed to take refuge under a defunct train carriage. Seeing the behemoth roll past us without any knowledge of our whereabouts was both hugely satisfying and undeniably frightening.

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Immediately, it was experiences like this that highlighted the progression of the multiplayer away from the shackled limbs of COD 3, and further towards the direction of the much loved Modern Warfare. It may not run as flawlessly as COD 4 yet, but the improvement is there to see. One thing the beta did show us was how intricate and tactical players now need to be when taking to the multiplayer arena. No longer can you spring across open areas, as the maps on show certainly force everyone into brutal engagements whenever it is possible.

For anyone who hasn’t received a beta key, or hasn’t ever played COD 4 online, World at War will immediately be a popular choice. The score system from the previous game has been implemented once more, meaning that players can always feel rewarded for their work. It seems that Treyarch are now trying to force strategic use of the maps they have created, as it’s instantly clear that working together was going to reap the ripest rewards. Tackling the enemy in mini-squads of two was a popular choice amongst the journalists on show; meaning firefights became a highly personal experience on the battlefield. Losing our partner was not only bad for the team, it was devastating for us individually, as we were left outnumbered and heavily under threat. Contrasting these emotions, World at War further induces tactical gameplay through the use of the popular kill streak system.

Themed for the war in hand once again, players can utilise helpful extras such as recon planes, artillery strikes, and the new found favourite amongst beta players, a pack of rabid dogs. Not only are these pesky mutts ruthlessly effective, they are also down right fearsome. Hearing the rampaging barking in the distance, knowing a confrontation is looming is sure to strike fear into many players during this game’s lifespan. As mentioned before, the best method to overcome difficulties is working together, a notion that doesn’t stop in the multiplayer section.

“the best method to overcome difficulties is working together”After blasting through the multiplayer, we were ushered into our next preview of the game, the new four-player co-op. Forming a squad of enthusiastic writers; we took to the test of liberating Berlin as the Russians. Immediately, something was very clear about this part of the game. It felt hugely right that this section was being played by a team, rather than a single player. Taking up our positions, we stormed a number of German buildings, working together to eliminate the fierce opposition. Interestingly, the multiplayer score system was also in place here, as each kill racked up a number of points. Just as we thought that, we had a whisper in our ear. “It’s competitive co-op, we wanted to keep things intense, and keep things moving”, says a proud member of Treyarch, as they intently watch us dispatch their enemies. It made perfect sense; we were sitting back and gaining most kills, as other players’ gung-ho tactics were getting them into trouble quickly.

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As we fought round the atmospheric German capital, we noticed we had lost a team member or two. Glancing round, their bodies lay on the floor, calling for our help. As we rushed over to rescue them, the Nazi forces took aim. In the firing line, we had to deal with a terrifying amount of opposition before we could see to our allies. Once there, we managed to offer vital assistance through the new revival system. Bringing team play into account once again, this addition is going to be the making and breaking of many squadrons. As we found out, in order to save your brothers in war, you’ll need to put your life on the line, as the Nazi’s attention inevitably turns to the most vulnerable player.

After fighting our way out of a set of Berlin’s grittiest buildings, we took to the street. This was where the game really took off, as a Nazi blockade lay in wait for us. This was the climax to the level, as a highly explosive, and full-scale charge took place on the muscular resistance. Once the enemy was eliminated, an eerie silence corrupted the otherwise war-torn air. We’d just seen the destruction of a city, and now, there was nothing. As we regrouped, a menacing objective popped up on screen. Ruthlessly, it ordered us to “Execute the injured German soldiers”. Making our way to the correct location, a number of wounded Nazis lay, injured from a particularly well-placed grenade blast. One by one, we took out our knives and slaughtered the enemy. Although a relief, this barbaric behaviour highlights the transition Treyarch have made since COD 3, and shows that they perfectly follow up their claims that “war is not to be glossed over”. It was an end to the level that made many of us ponder our actions, probably somewhat stupidly. As a team, an air of triumph and deep thought rang out loud as we took in what we had just witnessed. It certainly was an excellent experience, and one that is sure to tug on the emotional reality of war in the way that hasn’t been seen in the gaming medium before.

Once the experience in Berlin was completed, we were urged to take on the Japanese, in a level everybody was excited to see. For the first time ever, the effects of the flamethrower were going to be shown to the press. Taking a crouching position in some long grass, we spotted a wealth of Japanese troops up ahead. Synchronising our attacks together, we decided to set the grass on fire, whilst heading towards the enemies bunker. Impressively, the flames quickly spread, sending a wicked laughter of approval around the place. For many FPSs, this kind of weapon is usually under whelming, and doesn’t match up to the expectations of such a brutal force. Fortunately for World at War, Treyarch have built a system that enables a realistic, and totally destructive simulation of how the heat would actually react, meaning those kills are as cinematic as ever. Seeing a group of soldiers frantically running for their lives, throwing themselves on the floor, and screaming for help once set alight is something that many players will marvel at come the game’s release.

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With a limited amount of time left, and a scheduled interview, we left the co-op singing its praises. What had initially felt like COD 3 proved itself remarkably quickly, and perfectly showed where Treyarch are heading with this instalment of the series. Our last encounter with the game took place on the single player mode, as we witnessed the exciting and captivating scale of the game by ourselves.

After witnessing the previous levels, we were intrigued to play through one that was set in the jungle. After finding a dead ally whose plane had been shot down, we investigated the situation. Suddenly, a huge explosion took place, and a squad of merciless Japanese soldiers sprung up out of the long grass. With worried cries of “AMBUSH!” echoing through the setting, we fought off the cold-blooded resistance, and went back to check on the plane. Excitedly, we listened to the rest of our squad talking, and explaining that the Japanese had laced our ally’s mouth with explosives. As an introduction to the campaign mode, this couldn’t have been more effective.

“What had initially felt like COD 3 proved itself remarkably quickly, and perfectly showed where Treyarch are heading”Pushing on through the level, it was clear to see that Treyarch intend to show the difference between each military force with clear effect. Where the Nazis were organised and stinking of authority, the Japanese were suicidal, barbaric, and wholly terrifying to watch. These subtle changes meant that gunplay always needed a different approach, depending on who you were fighting against, and excellently showed the difference between many of World War Two’s greatest campaigns. Also, it’s worth noting that as the game progressed, so did the quality of dialogue. The developers haven’t held back here either, as curse words can be heard during an assault on the enemy’s bunker, as your allies let the situation get the better of them. The experience was superbly well produced, and had us immersed from the outset. Comparing it to COD 3, everything feels on a larger, more refined, and better executed scale.

Attacking the aforementioned bunker, the level climaxed with our team heading onto its roof and eliminating the flack guns that were aiming towards ally planes. Of course, these objectives have been seen many times before, and could be seen as unoriginal or boring. Fortunately, the newfound confidence found in Treyarch injects a swagger and technique that hasn’t been seen in their games for quite some time now. The game is still heavily scripted, but the transition between objectives and set pieces are largely smoother this time round, and offers the player a realistic experience, rather than a glorious war-based shooter.

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After our time with Call of Duty: World at War was over, we had many encouraging thoughts about the game. Throughout the day, we had already witnessed moments we wanted to tell people about, and felt as if this particular branch of the series was progressing nicely. Talking to Treyarch, they feel exactly the same, and are anticipating the release of the game more excitedly than ever. With a stellar production, increased sense of scale, and a gory simulation of reality, it would be foolish to dismiss World at War as just another FPS. With a team behind it that has lovingly nurtured an evolution to their influence in the series, Treyarch have shown that the World War Two shooter isn’t down and out yet. Come its release on 14th November, we think there could be a wealth of gamers that owe the previously misfiring studio an apology.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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