Call of Duty: World at War - ReviewCraig Snow , posted on 07 January 2009 / 9,634 Views
So it’s Treyarch’s turn again. As a fan of the series I was highly sceptical of Call of Duty: World at War. I’ve owned and enjoyed most of the games in the series, including Call of Duty 3, which I consider it to be by far the weakest. Compare their track history with Infinity Ward’s, the company responsible for the more critically praised Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4, and you might understand my initial scepticism. So it’s a relief to be proven wrong, at least partially. Call of Duty: World at War is a really good game, and whilst history will invariably view it as being in Call of Duty 4’s shadow, Treyarch have done themselves proud here and produced one of the better games in the series.
We’re back in World War II this time around, following the military campaign from two perspectives. Firstly that of a Russian soldier as the Red Army avenges the siege of Stalingrad and pushes the Wehrmacht back into Germany, and from there on to street skirmishes in Berlin and eventual victory. The second campaign is played out in the Pacific, from the perspective of an American Marine at a point where the Japanese are being so overwhelmed in numbers that they’ve begun their kamikaze suicide runs. I found the Russian story to be the more compelling and varied of the two, the very first mission begins with a great scene that really sets the tone of murderous revenge that permeates the Russian campaign. It’s much darker, grittier and horrific than the American campaign.
Graphically it’s mostly very good. The Call of Duty 4 framework is still very much in place, and little seems to have been done to update the model, but that still enables it to be a very good looking game. The game runs well, without any of the annoying graphical glitches that plagued Call of Duty 3 (no more getting stuck on a piece of rock or a tree and having to restart the game, for example). But at the same time little has been done to combat some of the more annoying features of the series – your allies will stand and block your path, you can’t move them by nudging them and you can’t just walk through them, you have to move around them. In veteran mode this is literally deadly and extremely frustrating. For example, if you’re inching your gun around a piece of cover, waiting for that ardent Japanese machine-gunner to come into your sites, being shoved completely out into the open by an AI teammate taking your piece of cover is bloody annoying.
However, at times the game can look like a copy and paste job. Plants and bushes in particular look like cardboard cut-outs. And after my experience in the Killzone 2 beta, the lack of physics can make the reaction of enemies to your bullets a little underwhelming. Nonetheless the game looks good, but these are niggles that could do with being fixed, and probably should have been fixed by now given that the key foundations had already been laid down by Call of Duty 4.
The core gameplay is what we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty games. All of the controls are in the same place as Call of Duty 4 and the crosshair still glides across the screen and kind of floats onto your target if you come close to aiming at an enemy. All of the guns have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, and firing them feels as satisfying as ever. The knife animations are excellent as well, such that stabbing an enemy in the chest or the back and hearing that slicing crunch is still the most satisfying way to kill.
Following Call of Duty 4’s lead, there’s a lot of variety in the mission types. There’s a great sniper mission that almost rivals the one in Call of Duty 4, and there are missions focussing on tanks, flame flowers, aircraft and so on, so the missions never get boring and the game is always offering something new and different to try out. The focus on two different parts of the war also allows for the introduction of more variety in locations and combat. The Japanese in particular adopt a slightly less traditional attack pattern, often ambushing you and your squad, or charging at you with their bayonets. Unfortunately the Japanese soldiers have also replaced those annoying dogs in Call of Duty 4, whereby the ‘Banzai’ (no, apparently it’s not just a weird game show) attackers will try to stab you with their bayonets and you will have to quickly click down on the stick in order to avoid being killed. It always seems to be based on luck and pre-emptive reactions, just as it was with the dogs in Call of Duty 4, and I really could do without annoying quick-time events like this in my FPS games (or any game for that matter...).
There are also other problematic elements of the traditional gameplay that Treyarch have decided not to tackle or alter in any way, and they are particularly noticeable in Veteran mode. Enemies will constantly throw grenades at you - you can be in cover for just a second and grenades will start landing at your feet and won’t stop until you move, and even if you’re falling back to recover your health somehow a grenade will always end up following you. It makes veteran mode a tedious grind at times because you’re always running from cover to cover and being blown up by grenades. As such you still get those classic heart-racing moments where your screen is all red and you’re cowering behind a scrap of cover, hoping that just this once they won’t chuck a bunch of grenades at you.
Unfortunately the waves of enemies continue to be never-ending, just like in previous Call of Duty games. Progression through the game often seems to be based on luck and good timing. You’ll still find yourself taking out a few enemies and then quickly dashing for the piece of cover they were hiding behind, hoping to pass that invisible line and trigger the words ‘Checkpoint Reached’ before the next wave come and take their place and wipe you out. It’s classic Call of Duty, but I really hope they start to move away from this unlimited enemies and invisible checkpoint system in some way.
As far as value for money is concerned, for a console FPS you can’t get much better than Call of Duty: World at War. There’s a lot of content here, including *deep breath* a full single player campaign, co-operative and competitive multiplayer campaign (both online or offline split-screen with 2 players, or online only with up to 4 players), a Nazi zombie game, and finally full online multiplayer.
The single player mode alone has a lot to offer. It’s roughly the same length as all the previous games in the series, and you’ll probably want to complete it at least twice. On top of that there are Death Cards scattered throughout the game to find and collect. The game also supports both achievements and trophies. They’re probably the hardest in the series, and it will take the average gamer at least 3 completions of the main game and a few hours of online play to collect the bulk of them.
On top of the single player campaign is co-operative and competitive multiplayer campaign, so you can play the main single player game with up to 3 other friends co-operatively, with the competitive element consisting of a race for the most points. The game balances the difficulty so that the more players there are in the game, the tougher your enemies, which keeps it challenging. The perks and challenges that were only found in the online multiplayer element of Call of Duty 4 have also been fully incorporated into the multiplayer campaign mode to add even more lasting appeal.
After you’ve completed the single player game for the first time you unlock the Nazi zombie game. This is a really great addition, and given its popularity and success it will hopefully make a much bigger part of future Call of Duty games (or even spawn a new franchise in and of itself, well we can dream...). It can be played offline as a single player game, or online with up to 3 other people. The game places you in a partially ruined building in the middle of a mist covered map. Your task is to hold out against Nazi zombies as they claw away the building’s defences and eventually kill you. For each zombie you successfully shoot and kill you’re given money to spend on weapons, rebuilding the building’s defences, or opening up extra parts of the building. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved and it’s a great idea that works really well. There’s only one map though, and after a few hours of play you should be able to work out the most effective strategies. Thereafter it starts to lose its appeal because you’ve pretty much done all you’re going to do, but I can’t wait to see where they take this next.
Finally there’s the main online multiplayer mode which will be instantly familiar to Call of Duty 4 players, retaining many of the same features and modes, whilst also retaining many of the flaws. The ranking, perks and prestige systems all make a return, although this time the level cap is 65 and a few new perks are introduced to replace those that have been removed. I loved the level system when it was first introduced in Call of Duty 4, and it continues to work well here, offering an incentive to keep playing in order to compete effectively and unlock all the bonus modes and features available.
The excellent game modes make a return, including sabotage, headquarters and domination, although you have to rank up to level 14 to unlock them. There are some new modes too, like the war mode, which is similar to domination but involves capturing the zones in a set order and introduces the concept of momentum to make the game feel like a battle with constant shifts in the balance of power.
Kill streaks have also returned, allowing you to call in radar (3 kills in a row), artillery strikes (5 kills), and summon a pack of dogs (7 kills). The main difference is that artillery strikes are more sustained than air strikes in Call of Duty 4, but their rate of fire is much slower. And secondly the dogs serve as a bigger distraction than the helicopter, because there are so many of them and they can literally shred a team to pieces quite quickly. They’re easier to kill than the helicopter, but in my experience they’re also prone to causing more chaos and confusion within a team than the helicopter. They’re perfectly decent changes, I personally prefer the Call of Duty 4 ones, but there’s not much to choose from really.
The main multiplayer changes are obviously in the maps and the weaponry. The tanks have also made a return to the series, having been left out of Call of Duty 4. I’m personally not a fan of them; they’re far too powerful and are able to take too much damage before being destroyed. I would be more content with their inclusion if one person could destroy a tank with just 2 or 3 bazookas, but as it is unless you have teammates willing to focus their efforts on destroying the tank, you’ll have to die several times before you’ll have done enough damage to destroy it. As in Call of Duty 4 the maps are based on levels found in the single player campaign, but there’s less variety in the setting, art style and level design, so I’ve found them to be much less interesting and exciting. There are also several glitches which are being exploited to give players an unfair advantage (like being able to go underneath the map).
Lastly, the familiar connection problems have also been imported over from Call of Duty 4. The game suddenly ending and the ‘host’ leaving problems are all still there, and they’re just as bad. The matchmaking system and team balancing still appears to be completely useless if ranks are anything to go by. In fact the opposite often seems to happen, so low level prestige 1 players often get clumped together against the higher ranked players even when there are no private teams. And you’ll still find yourself placed in a match that’s just about to end (or even worse just has ended), so you get the loss on your record without even playing.
All in all Treyarch have done surprisingly well with Call of Duty: World at War. Many of the glitches and annoyances of Call of Duty 3 have been removed, much of the good stuff from Call of Duty 4 has been imported over including the excellent online ranking system and multiplayer modes, and many of the new features like the Nazi zombie game are great. There’s so much content in the game that it should keep any avid fan of the series entertained until the next game is released, and the game runs well and looks almost as good as Call of Duty 4. Unfortunately many of the problems that plague most of the Call of Duty games are still there and haven’t been dealt with in any way, such as unlimited enemies, grenade spam, stupid AI, and online connection and matchmaking issues. The settings aren’t as enjoyable as Modern Warfare’s, but Call of Duty: World of War is easily one of the better games in the franchise, and whilst it falls short of overtaking its older brother, it’s certainly worth a purchase.
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