If there’s one word that sums up World at War for us, it’s ‘brutal’. The latest Call of Duty, developed over the last two years by Treyarch – not series creator Infinity Ward – is a brutal slog through a WWII setting unlike any other. You may think you’ve ‘been there’ and ‘done that’ when it comes to this particular global conflict, but after five minutes in either the blood-soaked single player campaign or the frenzied multiplayer you’ll realise that this is far from your average, tired WWII shooter.
However, whereas it changes the setting from the last Call of Duty outing, Modern Warfare, one thing that hasn’t been altered is the core gameplay. The tools of war may be different, the uniforms more old fashionned and the settings less current, but beneath the surface of World At War lies the oh-so-silky smooth gameplay we were treated to in CoD4. Yeah, that’s probably because the game runs on the same engine, but to try and alter such an awesome shooting formula would be nothing short of madness.
Even with the same equipment mistakes can be made (Quantum of Solace runs on the Call of Duty engine too), but the boys at Treyarch have done a fine job, adding sweet new effects here and there, making small modifications, and adapting the gunplay to work with all the authentic WWII ephemera. The weapons, for example, are mostly those you’d find in Call of Duty 1-3, but they feel more solid and lethal like the advanced weaponry of Modern Combat. Even the melee attack (which can either be a knife or a bayonet) seems meaty as you jab your pig-stick into the neck of any charging Japanese Banzai or Nazi soldier.
And that’s before you get your hands on a flamethrower. Although it has plenty of competition we reckon WaW’s instrument-of-fiery-doom is far superior to the ones you’ll find in Gears of War 2, Far Cry 2 and Dead Space. Why? Well, the devil is in the detail. Not only does it look and sound like you’re unleashing high-pressure propellant at your enemies, it also causes the world around you to react. Enemies will desperately try to pat out fire on their clothes, or will flail their arms screaming before collapsing in a smoldering heap. Tiny embers will float through the air, and nearby grass and trees will curl up and singe. Our only issue with the flamethrower? Well, can get a little boring to use. Hosing trenches filled with Japanese soldiers is great to start with, but the lack of required skill gets to be a turn-off after a while.
So, the weapons are brutal. The environments you find yourself fighting in are brutal. Even the storyline, with its strong focus on hatred and revenge is brutal. The Soviet campaign is especially harsh and you genuinely feel as if you and your comrades are fighting for vengeance instead of personal survival. In fact there were moments in the Russian campaign (watching a terrified German POW getting a hole shot through his skull in the Eviction stage stands out) when you’ll genuinely start to feel pity for your enemy. Treyarch may not have changed the core gameplay much (and in some cases their level design leaves much to be desired – two or three times we found ourselves wandering aimlessly looking for the spot that triggered a new event), but the developer does know a thing or two about telling a compelling story.
If anything the Red Army stages make the American ones seem a little tame, and it’s no surprise that the game ends with an all-guns-blazing assault on the Reichstag, the very heart of Hitler’s Germany. Well, that’s where the single player campaign ends at any rate. World at War’s single player campaign, although solid, was always meant to play second-fiddle to the multiplayer options and you’ll need to engage with these to get maximum bang (or indeed squelchy stab) for your Call of Duty buck.
Multiplayer is split between adversarial (deathmatch etc) and co-operative play. Co-op, although not as popular as the versus multiplayer right now is a solid experience. Finding a game is easy enough and once you’re hooked up there’s plenty of fun to be had. Our favourite has to be the competitive mode that allows you and friends to battle over a number of levels racking up high scores. Providing you don’t end up with a bunch of jerks who spend their whole time nabbing the best weapons, you’ll be able to sink just as much time into this as the main single player. The ace card World At War has up its sleeve is the Nacht der Untoten mode that allows you and your buddies to defend a creepy house against waves of Nazi zombies. Yes, it’s a bit silly next to the oh-so-serious setting of the main campaign (in fact, we think it’s a little insensitive) but after hours of blissful zombie-dismembering we’re glad the mode is there. And you will be too.
However, the thing you’ll be logging on to long after everything else is the versus multiplayer, which is – as you’d expect – very much the same as it was in Modern Warfare. One concern many had before the game was released is that die-hard CoD4 fans would be reluctant to migrate over to World At War. Well, for now at least, these fears should be swept away. Servers are always busy (especially if you want to play popular modes like Headquarters, Sabotage and regular team deathmatch), and maps are mostly simple enough to allow new-comers a fair shot at the guys who have already ploughed hours into multiplayer, learning every level inside out.
Having said that, genuine Call of Duty virgins will find it tough to make headway in the multiplayer as all the skills learned in previous CoDs are very, very transferable. We’re no slouches with a rifle, but we had our asses handed to us time and time again for the first couple of hours. And there’s only so much angry Keifer Sutherland voiceover (he voices Sergeant Roebuck in the main game, and is therefore the chap who barks orders at you in multiplayer) you can take before getting a little upset. Some of the unbalanced Perks certainly don’t help - the attack dogs spring instantly to mind - and the fact that powerful short-range weapons like the trench gun and double barreled shotgun feel extremely underpowered is frustrating.
Newbies will be pleased to hear you can level up your online profile by blasting through the co-op multiplayer as well as the versus, so if you’re struggling to hold your own, it’s best to hunt a few zombies or sorch the odd Banzai warrior with friends before heading back in with the big boys.
All in all World at War delivers. It isn’t a revolution in Call of Duty gaming, but neither is it a step backwards, like some have claimed. Right now, it’s the best WWII shooter we’ve played, largely because it’s got a solid (if unoriginal) single player, some spectacular multiplayer, and oh yeah: because it’s brutal as hell.
Nov 11, 2008