Reviewed: November 12, 2008
Released: November 11, 2008
Call of Duty: World at War has arrived and if you’re like me you may have been surprised and perhaps even disappointed to learn that Treyarch was taking us back in history to WWII, especially after how well received Modern Warfare was last year, but rest assured, this isn’t your father’s, or even your grandfather’s WWII FPS. Treyarch has taken all their expertise with the COD engine and borrowed all of the fantastic multiplayer tech from Modern Warfare to create the ultimate military shooter, a shooter so satisfying and complete you won't care what war it is you're fighting.
The first thing you need to understand is that World at War isn’t merely a WWII game resting on top of the COD4 engine. There are several new gameplay devices at work in this latest installment that required substantial rewriting of the core game engine. For the first time ever, the single player game is no longer a solo experience – you can now invite up to three other players to accompany you on the campaign for the ultimate shared story experience. But that is just the tip of the multiplayer iceberg.
World at War covers new Pacific and European theaters of operation allowing you to plays as Germans, Russians, Japanese, and U.S. Marines, each with their own unique weapons and tactics. Experience the brutality of war with amazing firepower including fire-based weapons like the new flamethrower weapon that will leave a trail of burning death and destruction in its path. The horrors of war extend into the cinematics. Within minutes of the start of the single-player game you will see a prisoner have a burning cigarette shoved in his eye just before his throat gets slit and sprays the screen with blood.
Combat has never been this “in your face” with camouflaged soldiers literally morphing out of the tall grass and charging at you screaming with their bayonets or Kamikaze fighters willing to destroy themselves in hope of killing you. The Japanese AI has received extra attention in an effort to create the most realistic representation of their Imperial Army that lives by the Bushido Code. These soldiers are not afraid to fight and die, right down to the very last man, and this required some severe tweaking of the normal Call of Duty AI system to account for enemy infiltration and devious ambush tactics.
What this all ultimately translates to for the gamer is a much slower and cautious pace of gameplay. While you still can't snap to cover, you will need to crouch or even go prone to get through some hot zones. If you just march forward through the level you can expect to get ambushed and often killed, so instead, gamers will need to use tactics not unlike the real soldiers of the time, using their flamethrower to torch anything and everything in sight. Chances are that field of tall grass up ahead is hiding several sneaky Japanese soldiers, so light ‘em up and watch the horrors of war firsthand.
World at War is all about being bigger and better than anything that has come before it. Expect more blood and carnage and expect the biggest arsenal of weapons ever assembled in a single game. The guys at Treyarch have been lurking around the message boards and really listening to the wants, wishes, and demands of their fans, and you won’t be disappointed with what they have delivered. Every facet of the game has seen some significant change or improvement.
As expected, World at War weaves an interesting story into all the carnage, actually two stories. On the American side of things we follow a Private fresh out of a POW camp through numerous Pacific Island campaign missions, while the Russian campaign follows a rough and tough comrade who just won’t stay down. We meet this soon-to-be hero lying in a pile of Russian corpses, some not even dead yet, as Nazi scum unload rounds into the bodies…just to make sure. You’ll quickly team up with an injured Russian sniper who will take you under his wing, teach you some valuable sniping tips, and eventually become a lifelong friend.
If some of this sounds familiar you’re right. Much of the first Russian mission was heavily inspired by scenes from Enemy at the Gates including the re-shooting of fallen soldiers and the concept of firing your rifle during bomb impacts to avoid detection. The game is even being bundled with this movie in some stores. But regardless of whether you are mastering the skills of sniping and storming Berlin, or flying PBY amphibian assault planes or flushing out machinegun nests with a flamethrower as young Private Miller, you will quickly become captivated by your character and those around you.
I so wanted to give this game a perfect score but the gameplay just failed to make any significant improvements or offer one shred of something new. The PBY mission was a great way to mix up the traditional FPS action, but I had already jumped around various gunner seats in Big Red One back in 2005 and once you’ve driven one tank, you’ve driven them all. But what World at War lacks in originality for single player, it more than makes up for with the exciting new multiplayer modes including the cooperative campaign.
It’s almost amusing to go online and try to find a multiplayer match even a day after launch. I had plenty of online time with the game prior to launch but I was hoping to play with the “real people” for a few games, but it seems everybody is playing co-op. I don’t blame them…co-op is amazing and something Call of Duty fans have been begging for, and there is always time for competitive multiplayer after you have exhausted the story.
The co-op mode can be played competitively or cooperative, and yes, there is a difference. Regardless of whether you are playing true co-op or competitive co-op, you really have to work together as a team, which almost seems unnatural when you are competing for kills and high scores, but the squad-based dynamics are firmly in place and "no man gets left behind".
If you fall on the battlefield you have only a few moments, as you lay there bleeding out, for one of your teammates to find and heal you. As you lie there you can fire your pistol (just like the Last Stand perk from Modern Warfare) and hopefully protect the person who is patching you up. All too often in my multiplayer sessions, one person would fall and somebody would go to heal them only to get shot and fall by their side. It’s a frantic and intense mix of racing to heal somebody while trying not to die yourself. If there are multiple men down, each health status is shown by a colored icon that goes from yellow to red, so you can do a visual triage and prioritize you medial efforts.
Everybody becomes quickly reliant on each other for medical purposes, so it is best not to stray off or try to tackle these missions as a lone wolf. Since it only takes one person dying to reset the game to the most recent cleared checkpoint your teammates are obligated to help you, but if they have to trek halfway across the map to do it, you can be sure you’ll hear about it over your headset. It also means there is no room for the selfish gamer who ignores dying comrades so they can continue on to rack up higher scores.
When it comes time to move past the story mode you can dive into one of the richest multiplayer experiences ever. If you thought Modern Warfare was badass just wait until you play World at War. Every single mode and feature has been carried over from the last game and many have been enhanced, like the 10 new levels required for prestige class, along with new perks, challenges, Death Cards and unlockables. And for gamers who were crying about the lack of CTF, Treyarch has heard your pleas and it is back, along with a new momentum-based War mode that has you capturing a linear sequence of control points. You can even fight Nazi zombies (or are they zombie Nazis) and yes, it is as cool as it sounds.
As those who played Modern Warfare might expect, World at War looks amazing, perhaps even more so since we are going to far more exotic locations then blowing them to hell. You start off in a POW camp on the beach where you are rescued and must make a daring escape at night. A first scene that will blow you away is when you arrive in this clearing and there are all these dead bodies and suddenly you are blinded by flare. As your vision slowly comes back and the flare arcs high overhead you get all these long moving shadows cast in real-time by the flare. The entire map comes alive with these dancing shadows and so do those seemingly dead Japs who were only playing possum.
Mission after mission, scene after scene, I was continually blown away by the detail of the landscapes, scorched earth, my fellow soldiers, both in their animations and their bloody deaths and dismemberments. This is the first Call of Duty to even make an attempt at depicting the horrors of war, and as bad as it looks in this game I can only assume how much worse it is for real.
The two campaigns offer a stark contrast of settings, and the progression of missions keeps you bouncing back and forth between campaigns so you never fall into a rut. Just about the time you are getting tired of palm trees and getting stuck like a pig by a Japanese bayonet you are whisked away to Russia or Germany for something entirely different. The Russian campaign offers a tank-driving mission that is pretty standard while the American campaign allows you to assault battleships and destroyers from a rather unassuming PBY plane, in the dark…at night. It gets even cooler when you have to swoop in and land amongst your own burning fleet and defend the survivors from Jap Zeroes all the while hauling survivors into your plane.
As always, Call of Duty comes with an emotional soundtrack that will stir up the patriotism of all who play. The music sticks mainly to the menus, cutscenes and a few signature moments in the game, and then slips to the background for all the sounds of battle. The only questionable choice of music was some odd heavy metal that crops up when you are wielding the flamethrower. I started having flashbacks to Ironman.
The voice acting is outstanding by everyone from the lowliest of supporting characters to the stars, Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman. While I did keep having “24” flashbacks Kiefer did a fantastic job playing his part and all the emotions that go along with it. Gary Oldman slips into his roles so seamlessly that I wouldn’t even have known he was in the game if somebody at Treyarch hadn’t told me. His Russian accent is flawless, at least to my American ears.
And as is the case with every Call of Duty game, the sound people got to visit the shooting range and fire all these weapons and record them with pristine audio clarity so your home theater will come alive with incredible Dolby Digital sound, guns blazing, bullet casings dropping to the ground, magazines slamming into place during a hasty reload, or the incredible WHOOSH of the flamethrower and the resulting Japanese screams of pain and horror.
World at War is a solid 8-10 hours game on Normal and possibly Hard skill levels. Veteran mode will chew you up into kibble, spit you out, and leave you for those German Shepherds to feast on later. This mode is so freaking hard it defies all levels of patience, but the sheer number of achievement points waiting for me if I can complete this game on Veteran is just too enticing to pass up.
And then you have the co-op modes, and the versus modes, and the ranking system and the perks and challenges and custom classes, and so on and so forth. Most likely, many of you had to stop playing Modern Warfare to start playing World at War, and you are the people who will be playing this game well into next year.
I have to admit I went into this game with a bit of skepticism. I’ve played so many WWII games I feel like I am somewhat of an historian these days, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to the titles that will continue to feed from the bloodiest time in human history. But as long as they are handled with the same care and attention to detail that Treyarch continually puts into the Call of Duty series, I’ll keep coming back for another history lesson.