Playing COD: WaW's campaign, it becomes immediately clear how far Treyarch has progressed as a group of level designers. Forget the flat, repetetive countryside slogs of COD3; the levels of this new game are much more dynamic. In terms of pacing and overall use of environment, what we've played so far has more in common with COD4 or even Gears of War than the muddy roads and bland, bombed-out towns of Treyarch's last venture into WWII.
Take our sojourn through the Russian campaign for example. Starting out on a rooftop battle through a war-torn Berlin, the sense of place was infectious. And it wasn't long before the environments started dictating the gameplay in interesting ways. Moving indoors, the snappy pace changed as we met heavy resistance at a corridor bottleneck. After a couple of failed attempts at passing, we made a tense flanking maneuver and cleared the blockage before moving downstairs where things changed again, this time forcing us to hold off a street full of nazis as we tried to make a break for it through the front of a wrecked shop.
Hitting the city streets, the Gears remeniscences really came to the fore as we fought our way along a wrecked road strewn with obstacles and cover, ducking behind the wall of a subway wall to recover health before popping back up to flank the enemy and move on. At this point, we also noticed a slight change in pace from previous COD games. Once out into open street-level warfare, we found the number of enemies on parade seemed higher than we're used to. At times they seemed to flood out of (carefully disguised) spawn points, spreading out but leaving the street thick with opposition.
The baddos also seemed to go down a little easier than in COD4. That's an understandable balance decision given their increased numbers, but there were times that the large numbers of easier kills made the game feel a little more like a shooting gallery than an FPS. It's a decision which may well have been made with the competetive co-op mode in mind, but more details on that later.
Finally wrestling control of the street from the small army inhabiting it, we found our way to another subway entrance. Here's where Treyarch's newfound appreciation of the grimness of war kicked us hard in the face. As our Russian comrades circled the staircase, a lone German soldier tentatively made his way out of the darkness in terrified surrender. In an almost Bioshockian twist, we found ourselves encouraged by our war buddies to shoot the poor sap. Feeling guilty, we didn't, and saw our hesitation rewarded' as our squad-mates set fire to him instead. We were told that it was our fault for withholding the merciful option of a bullet through the head, but we didn't need the grim morality explaining.
Moving into the subway itself, we were interested to find a very definite, Gears of War-style pathway branch. Again, probably a concession to co-op, but definitely a decision which adds flavour. Given the choice of two railway platforms, we opted for the right-hand side and worked our way along, sneaking through side rooms to creep up on and wipe out the enemy forces as the other half of our squad cleared the other platform in clear view across the railway tracks. With train cars accessible on the tracks themselves, the options for cover and a dynamic tactical approach were very welcome, making what could have been a slog a great deal of fun.