Call of Duty: World at War
I know a lot of people, myself included, were skeptical when the fifth Call of Duty was announced. Treyarch, the company building what would become Call of Duty: World at War, was responsible for the worst games in the franchise’s history, Big Red One and Call of Duty 3. They were also bringing the Call of Duty franchise back to World War II, an era most gamers were happy to leave when Infinity Ward released Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare last year. Oh, and it didn’t help Treyarch’s cause that Call of Duty 4 was amazing. However, despite the deck being stacked against them, Treyarch created an enjoyable (though unremarkable) game.
World at War follows a familiar story-arc: you play as two characters, a U.S. and a Russian soldier, only this time, instead of attacking Berlin on both fronts and meeting in the middle, the Russians are on their own in Europe. For the first time in franchise history, Call of Duty has attacked the Pacific. The change of scenery was definitely a good idea (I don’t think I could have invaded Normandy again), but beyond the new jungle setting, the gameplay is the same as previous iterations.
Oddly, I felt that the more-familiar Russian campaign, which begins with a hard-fought, gritty sniping mission through Stalingrad, was actually the better of the two campaigns. Though it had a “been there, done that” feel, the team at Treyarch made excellent use of the Call of Duty 4 engine to really bring the battlefields, particularly Stalingrad and Berlin, to life in new ways. Smoke fills the streets so realistically that I often found myself stumbling into Nazi soldiers struggling to get their bearings in the obscured environment. Bombed-out buildings extend for miles in seemingly every direction. Bodies of Russian and German soldiers litter streets darkened by depressed, gray skies above. The paths that you follow as you work your way through your objectives feel more natural than in previous games in the series. There are few artificial barriers to your progress, which makes it a lot easier to suspend your disbelief.
During the Pacific campaign however, your journey through the jungle feels much more like a guided tour than the cities because the paths are more obvious. You’ll follow a riverbed or a narrow path with dense, impenetrable jungle on either side. You’ll occassionally be given the opportunity to choose branching paths, but both lead to the same point, which doesn’t really help shake the feeling of hand-holding. Despite this, combat in the jungles remains mostly enjoyable thanks to some clever scripting and some interesting battles.
Early on in the Pacific portion of the game, you walk into a field of dead bodies when you’re blinded by a flash grenade. Suddenly, the still bodies on the ground come to life and begin firing at you. It caught me really off-guard and I spent the better part of the game wondering when it was going to happen again. You’ll also get a chance to battle through some really interesting temples when trying to take Okinawa. The less-familiar Asian architecture is nicely juxtaposed with the European buildings that we’re so familiar with.
But beyond the scenery, this is a pretty typical WWII FPS that rarely breaks the mold. World at War goes through the motions: you have your portion where you have to pick up the rocket-propelled grenade launcher and blow up the tanks, there’s a portion where you drive a tank around, another where you move seats in a plane and shoot at other planes and boats. None of it is done poorly, but it all plays pretty much the same as it has in countless other games. And, despite the new setting, there’s a lot of familiarity. When invading one of the Pacific islands, you won’t help but notice that the approach to the island is a near replica of the typical Saving Private Ryan Normandy invasion (complete with an attack on the transport boat that throws you into the water and disrupts the mission). There’s just not much we haven’t seen here before. Sure, they did add a new flamethrower and it is very fun to play around with, but quite frankly, it didn’t really add much to the game.
World at War is just another pretty good game. Where it falls between good and great will depend on you. If you’re still hankering for WWII shooters, you’ll probably get more out of it than I did. If you’re looking for Call of Duty 4 – Part II, you’ll probably want to skip this. Me, I liked it, but until I finished this game, I was happy to eat up another WWII FPS. The game certainly isn’t a must-buy, but if you do, you’re likely to enjoy what you get.