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Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty

Activision have such fun releasing sequels each year that they’ve even coined their own term for it, annualisation. Shocking, I know; but because of this, development on Call of Duty has been split between both Infinity Ward and Treyarch, allowing for a two year development time for each team. Infinity Ward had massive success with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare last year, so now it’s time for Treyarch to step up and deliver after the disappointing Call of Duty 3 two years ago.

Enter Call of Duty: World At War, a game heading back to World War II after COD4’s venture into modern combat.

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For some, this is an extremely strange decision. COD4 reinvented the series, attracting a mass market, bored with the numerous WWII shooters before it. But Treyarch know what they’re doing, having earned experience with their work on COD3. They’ve taken the ever so familiar war into unfamiliar territory, focusing on the Russian’s final push into Berlin and America’s battle against the Japanese in the Pacific; two battles rarely seen in video games before.

So it’s interesting that World At War shares more similarities with Modern War than the other WWII games in the franchise. By using the COD4 game engine we’re treated to the same gameplay we all know and love; with massive set pieces, fun and accessible shooting, and the high octane, explosive combat that has become the series’ trademark. But depending on who you are this can be a good or bad thing. On the one hand the gameplay is superb and you can’t wait to get more of it, but on the other you might be bored with it, so a game that’s more of the same might not suit your needs.

And that’s essentially what World At War is; more of the same. Even some of the missions have striking similarities to those seen in COD4. Early on there’s a sniping mission that can easily be compared to the infamous All Ghillied Up – it’s not quite as good, but has its own memorable moments – and there’s also a level aboard a giant gunship, flying over the Pacific sinking ships and shooting planes. It hits all the right notes and ends up being one of the most exciting missions in the game.

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A modern flavour to proceedings.The music here is a peculiar one. It combines the usual orchestral scores of a WWII battlefield with a blend of techno and metal beats, with mixed results. It works well at times, maybe too much so considering the combination, while other times it will fall flat like you would imagine. It’s a bold move and one that I think pays off in the long run. It certainly got me nodding my head.It’s moments like this that make World At War its own game; those stand-out moments that separate it from the comparisons with its predecessor. It may be World War II all over again but there are plenty of new gameplay additions that keep things fresh. Being in the Pacific we have a new enemy in the form of the Japanese. They present new threats that are guaranteed to keep you on your toes; Banzai soldiers charging like madmen, prepared to die, jumping out of the grass and trees to surprise you in every skirmish. It adds a new dimension to the combat that has been previously unseen in the COD franchise.

Luckily there are plenty of new firearms to fend off the wave of attacks, the stand-out being the flamethrower. If you’ve played any amount of shooters you would have used a flamethrower before, but none as effective or enjoyable as in World At War. Think back to the opening D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan where a solider uses a flamethrower to burn the Nazis out of their bunkers. That’s exactly what it’s like here.

And on the whole the campaign offers the same satisfaction. The two sides of the campaign have their own memorable moments and they’re varied enough to keep it from getting stale. If you’ve played COD before, you know what to expect. You’re sent down a linear path, there is no exploration, it’s all about getting to the next set piece, all while using plenty of authentic firearms to stop anyone getting in your way. It’s a tense, exhilarating experience, and there’s no reason to change it when it works this well.

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The story, on the other hand, is a mixed bag; with most WWII shooters it’s hard to build up an engaging story like what was done with COD4, purely because we all know how it ends. World At War uses historical footage and narration to move the story along, with the capable hands of Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman providing the voice work. The presentation in these sections is great, using highly stylised effects – reminiscent of the opening to the 2007 film, The Kingdom – to show the footage along with statistics of how brutal this war was.

And the brutality of war is ever prominent in World At War. It’s the most visceral COD to date, with bodies being ripped apart, limbs flying about the place; blood pouring out, covering the battlefield, the stark crimson red of it standing out above the murky colours of the environment. It’s extremely gory, and does an excellent job of showing how soldiers felt in this war, especially with the Russians. Their anger shines through more than anything, constantly shouting at their foes, condemning them to hell. You can feel the emotion, and it really adds a new layer to the combat and narrative.

Strange then, that after completion you unlock Nazi Zombie mode. A new addition where hordes of the living dead hunt you, and three other buddies, down. It takes place in a rundown house full of boarded up windows to stop these flesh eaters from gaining access. It starts with your run-of-the-mill zombies – slow movers that are pretty easy to handle – but as you move up levels they’ll eventually get a lot faster and stronger. To counter their attacks you’ll need to earn points by killing them, and then using these points to buy better weaponry and ammo, as well as fixing your defences. It’s a good mechanic that encourages headshots and teamwork; and just like Gears of War 2’s Horde, it’s an outstanding new addition that should provide hours and hours of fun. It’s just an odd choice when you consider World At War’s focus on the visceral, brutality of war.

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The fortune teller.World At War uses a Death Card system for co-op, reminiscent of Halo 3’s Skulls. They’re a fun way to change up the gameplay with some wacky enhancements that are sure to test all players involved, and improve the level of competition.Of course, the rest of the multiplayer is COD’s big pull, and it’s no different here. But, once again it’s COD4 all over again, good or bad depending on your view point. If you like it then there’s obviously a lot to love here. The gameplay is largely unchanged so it’s just a case of adjusting to the old weapons and new power ups. In COD4 earning different kill streaks would allow you to call in reinforcements for the cause; three kills for a UAV, five for an air strike and seven for a chopper. In World At War these stay similar, but they need to apply to the large jump back into the past – most notably the helicopter being replaced by attack dogs. These little mutts comes in large packs, jumping up and killing you just as easily as they can in the single player. Luckily you can fight back with a couple of bullets or a quick swipe of the knife, but more often than not there’s just too many to handle, giving a big smile of glee to whomever got enough kills to send them out.

And it’s this system for rewarding the player that makes World At War as addictive as COD4 once was. The level based system is back, and there’s still all the same challenges and perks as before – with a couple new additions. Vehicles on some of the maps differentiate situations a bit more, but essentially, and I hate to say it again, this is COD4 but in WWII. It’s fun, but it would be nice to see a little more originality.

For that, you can always head over to co-op. Not original, I know, but it’s new for COD and ends up being one of the best modes in the game. You can play through the campaign with up to four players, and a scoring system adds a sense of competition to proceedings.

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Visually the COD4 engine has done it again; World At War looks stunning. The smoke and explosion effects are as good as ever, blowing you away however far or close you are to them. The varied environments all have their own qualities, and textures look great, especially in the lush scenery of the Pacific jungles. Elsewhere the rain and water effects are superb, combining with clothing to create a damp, shiny look to what are already heavily detailed character models.

Sadly, Treyarch haven’t fully wrapped their heads round the engine yet. The AI is laughable at times, with Japanese Banzai soldiers sometimes running straight past you as if you weren’t even there. If they do they’ll normally attempt to attack your comrades, but they’ll even fail at this, often standing next to each other, doing nothing. It’s comical and does detract from the experience. A disappointing aspect.

“Clocking in at around five to six hours it’s a very short but sweet experience.”Call of Duty: World At War offers a lot of content. The campaign is short but it’s as good as any other shooter on the market, and the multiplayer has proved to be a big hit already with COD4. But that’s the problem: it’s too much like its predecessor. For a lot of people this will be a great thing, whilst others may find the formula wearing a bit thin. It’s an enjoyable experience but may leave you wanting something more. It doesn’t have that same feeling of awe as when you first popped COD4 into your disk tray. I’m sure it’ll be a big hit, but for those already heavily invested in COD4, it might be best to stay there, for now.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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