When it was announced that the next addition to the Call of Duty franchise would be set in World War II, the gaming world went into a frenzy. With Call of Duty 4 being set within a modern battlefield came a fresh take on a genre that had done the “great wars” of the world to death. Everyone expected the next iteration to continue the trend and provide something new and exciting. Instead, Activision announced that not only were the development reigns going back to Call of Duty 3 developer Treyarch, but also that the setting of Call of Duty: World at War was going back to World War II.
Thankfully, Treyarh have improved on their COD3 effort to develop a title that is on par with COD4 in terms of gameplay and depth. It looks just as good, plays just as good and the multiplayer experience is just as intense and competitive. So, really, World at War is Modern Warfare set 60 years earlier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because everyone knows about amazing COD4 is. The only downfall to all of this is that WaW doesn’t offer the same sense of originality and freshness that COD4 did. With Modern Warfare you had this enormous leap from World War battlefields to the ravaged streets of the Middle East during the 90s and 2000s. This would bring WaW down a whole lot if it was like COD3, but it’s not. It’s actually a very, very solid shooter.
If you had to compare Modern Warfare and World at War, the setting is one of the more noticeably differences. You control two different soldiers during two different offensives – one time as a Russian soldier pushing into Germany and the other as an American soldier fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific. Yeah, World War II has been done before, but not these battles. It’s encouraging that Treyarch have done something other than the final battles between the Americans and Germans in Western Europe. What they’ve provided us with are battles that make the WWII direction fresh. Furthermore, battle in World at War feels far more “gritty” and more accustomed to the feel and direction of the era. It’s a feeling that really reminds you you’re playing a World War II-based game.
One of the major problems of Call of Duty 3 was the pacing. Because you alternated between soldiers so often, it was difficult to grasp the story and develop an emotional attachment to it. In World at War, the transitions from the Pacific to the Russians’ progression into Germany are set-out better that allows the story to be told more effectively.
World at War has a great way of telling a story and it’s ability to immerse you in the progression of a soldier during one of mankind’s darkest hours is impressive. The game opens with your soldier having absolutely nothing and having to work their way through battlefields with no weapons and protection. Somehow you’ll feel obligated to lead this soldier out of the battlefield and to safety, which is a great feeling that highlights Treyarch’s successful attempt to create intense and thrilling settings.
Gunplay is just as solid as it was in Modern Warfare. One of the great aspects of COD4 was the realistic tendency of the weapons. Some guns had significantly less accuracy than others, while others were better over long distances than others. These tendencies were also present in previous COD games, but none did them as solidly as COD4 did. That success has been ported over to World at War and anyone who gave COD4 a good walloping should be able to acknowledge the identical gameplay and handling mechanics. The guns are just as finely tuned and solid as they were in the previous outing and that’s fantastic.
Particularly worth noting is the addition of Bayonets and flamethrowers, which not only show off the games fantastic fire and lighting effects, but also the effects weapons have on soldiers. Seeing a soldier burn to death and hearing him screaming is strangely satisfying, even more so when you see his charcoaled body cooling down on the dirt in front of you. Explosions and heavy bullet-fire also cause significant damage to bodies, as you’ll see limbs, heads and torso’s fly all over the place after a grenade goes off near a trench filled with soldiers. This is an aspect of the presentation that wasn’t present in Modern Warfare and makes killing an enemy – especially in multiplayer – feel that little big extra rewarding.
While Modern Warfare and World at War feel essentially like the same game, this title has one major aspect over its predecessor – four-player co-op campaign. Unlike COD4, WaW has a highly enjoyable co-operative campaign experience that increases in difficult and enemy numbers with the more gamers that are playing. It’s one of the better aspects of the multiplayer experience and one that is definitely worth checking out.
Just like COD4, the real buff of the gameplay experience in WaW comes through the multiplayer experience. As you play you earn experience points, which are in-turn used to level up and unlock new weapons and perks. The perk system, just like in Modern Warfare, is deep and balanced so you can choose a specific direction to go in. If you want to go the pathway of a heavy gunner, you can choose better bullet damage and quick reload times. If you want to be a sniper, a quicker sprint and double-tap for quicker shots might be a better direction to take. The perk system helps you determine the type of soldier you’ll be and you’ll be able to generate several different custom types once you reach a certain level.
Treyarch definitely has to be praised for their World War II-centric kill-streak bonuses, which have been altered slightly from COD4 to fit in better with the titles setting. Most noticeably is the switch from a helicopter attack after a five-kill streak to the release of a pack of savage dogs that lasts a few minutes and hunts down any enemy players. With the helicopter attack, the enemy could simply hide out in a building until the bombing had stoped. With the dogs, it’s almost impossible to avoid them unless the enemy finds a very high ledge to stand on. Even still, the dogs can jump. Two bites to the enemy and their dead.
The maps all offer their own sense of originality and enjoyment, with some having tanks and other useful weapons scattered across the place. Some have very useful watching towers that make gameplay for snipers a pleasure.
The modes all remain the same from COD4, except with the addition of Capture the Flag and the insanely enjoyable Nazi Zombies. That mode is available once you complete the campaign single-player and can be enjoyed with up to four of your friends. You’re placed in a house that is under attack from zombies and each time you kill a hoard, a faster and more aggressive hoard with more numbers comes your way.
World of War maintains many of the fantastic visuals that Call of Duty 4 had, with vibrant colours and improved character design. Most impressive are the lighting effects, which are most noticeable when you throw a special grenade during a battle. The grenade lights up and momentarily blinds nearby soldiers, and from a distance you can really notice the effect the lighting has on the environment, especially during night-time.
Treyarch have a done a fantastic job of creating a visually impressive presentation, with real-life cutscenes and great voice-overs. The opening cutscene is especially impressive, with lots of effort clearly having gone into the games dramatic cutscenes. This is an enormous improvement on the team’s effort in Call of Duty 3, which was lacklustre to say the least.
Continuing on the Call of Duty tradition of an amazing audio presentation, World at War has an amazing soundtrack that compliments the games settings, cutscenes and battles. The voice-actors do a brilliant job of creating intense and emotional scenes.