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Call of Duty: World War for Two (or Three, or Four)

Brad blazed through some co-op missions in Treyarch's new WWII sequel. Impressions!

Sitting down for a live demo of Call of Duty: World at War's cooperative campaign, it took me about one minute to appreciate the effects a new engine and lengthier development cycle have had on the quality of the game. Instead of cranking out a cookie-cutter World War II sequel in a matter of months, as it did with Call of Duty 3, Treyarch has had a respectable two years to make World at War into its own beast. It's also had total access to Infinity Ward's impressive Call of Duty 4 technology, which was in no small part responsible for placing that game on top of numerous game-of-the-year lists late last year.

This ain't exactly a tropical vacation.
The difference between COD3 and World at War really shows. The new game has that same hyper-kinetic attention to realism and intensity you loved in COD4: the pinpoint-accurate hair-trigger feel of the shooting, the way the guns snap to your viewpoint in a split second when you aim through your iron sights, the stop-and-go scripted action set pieces. All that stuff is in here and feels as natural and familiar as you'd expect.

The visuals have a similar look to them too, owing to a combination of well-placed lighting effects, cinematic flourishes (depth of field and the like), and--most important to my mind--an unwavering devotion to a steady, fluid frame rate. (Well, it wavered a little in the demo, but that might change in the next three months. The game mostly seems to be hitting 60 frames per second, at any rate.) Relatively few developers are prioritizing frame rate over image fidelity on this generation of consoles, but to me speed and fluidity are two of the most crucial elements of a good shooter, so it's reassuring to see that's still a focus here.

In short, it's an oversimplification but also not inaccurate to say that World at War is looking a lot like Call of Duty 4 with a World War II-themed coat of paint. There are way worse sources of inspiration, at least. I think Treyarch has layered in enough new mechanics and unique touches to make the game stand on its own, though.

Coming off this demo, the particular historical setting was the only real downside I could come up with. Hey, this is still World War II. Remember that? Perhaps you've played it before. I'm probably more interested in that short period of history than the average dude, but even I can only shoot so many virtual M1 Garands and 1911s in one gaming career.

Isn't competitive co-op kind of an oxymoron?
At least there are a few new destructive implements in here, like a wicked flamethrower. This thing is impressive when you see another player using it to burn Japanese snipers out of palm trees; it emits not a modest little puff of fire but instead a flame jet dozens of feet long. I found it a little harder to use hands-on, though: it was tough to gauge its range from directly behind the flames. The game's environment is pretty flammable, and fire will propagate from one surface to the next. Amid all the devastation, it was more than a little disturbing to see the grisly charred corpses of enemies killed with the flamethrower. The game isn't skimping on the blood effects, either.

This is the first time a Call of Duty game has featured co-op integrated with the core storyline, and Activision was ready to show off one mission from each of the two theaters the game takes place in. The first mission had me and a small squad creeping through a thick jungle on the Pacific island of Peleliu, investigating a downed fighter plane and getting ambushed by a group of take-no-prisoners Japanese soldiers. Later we joined up with a larger squad in an ongoing effort to overtake a strategic airfield. That brought about the most memorable scene of that mission, where a battalion of American tanks went up against a line of enemy armor, and I had to run from tank to tank for cover from bombardment until I could make it to a line of trenches, grab a bazooka, and fire back.

Activision's made a lot of ballyhoo about casting Kiefer Sutherland as your commanding officer in the Pacific campaign, and why shouldn't they? His name will obviously help move units. (Also, who doesn't love saying "ballyhoo?") I expected the guy to stand out like a sore thumb, like Jack Bauer somehow time-warped back to 1944 and landed on a Pacific island, but he really worked in the demo level I played. He's got the right amount of grit and gravel to pull off Hardened Military Commander Guy without feeling out of place in this or any other war.

The Peleliu mission demonstrated World at War's cooperative campaign mode, which is basically you and up to three friends playing through the story missions in order. You'll pick up experience points in co-op, and there will even be co-op-specific perks for this mode (though Activision is mum on their exact nature). The game will take not only the number of players but also each player's experience level into account when determining how to ramp up the difficulty in this mode.

Something something World War II.
Competitive co-op is the other mode, which is basically a multiplayer version of Call of Duty 4's arcade mode. Here you rack up points per downed enemy, with score multipliers coming into play for getting several kills in quick succession and things like that. At the end of the level, of course, everyone's score is tallied and compared. Activision was using this mode to show off a mission from the other campaign, which casts you as a Russian soldier participating in the final push into Berlin in the weeks before Germany's surrender. Expect more traditional house-to-house and street-based urban fighting in this campaign, in contrast to the less orthodox, jungle-heavy combat of the Pacific theater. There were a couple of moments where the German soldiers were lining up like a shooting gallery; I can't say if that was due to the arcade-style mode we were playing or not.

The flow and presentation of the campaigns borrows another page from the COD4 playbook. The two storylines don't intertwine like they did in COD4, but nevertheless missions from the two will leapfrog each other in a similar fashion. You'll play a level or three on steamy, confined island fortresses in the Pacific, then head halfway around the world to hit the Third Reich where it lives, then back again. Treyarch is even employing the same studio that did the between-mission videos in COD4 to do similar animations for World at War, though this time around they'll employ old black-and-white newsreel footage and give a wider historical context from the era. They use a lot of snazzy, newfangled motion graphics to convey this information; it all looks nifty.

Man, how did this get so long? I guess World at War must have impressed me more than I expected. It's taking most of Call of Duty 4's best elements and adding enough new doohickeys and whirligigs that I'm actually finding myself somewhat interested in a World War II shooter again. I didn't think that was possible anymore.

Call of Duty: World at War is slated to drop November 11. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
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Posted by Brad

Sitting down for a live demo of Call of Duty: World at War's cooperative campaign, it took me about one minute to appreciate the effects a new engine and lengthier development cycle have had on the quality of the game. Instead of cranking out a cookie-cutter World War II sequel in a matter of months, as it did with Call of Duty 3, Treyarch has had a respectable two years to make World at War into its own beast. It's also had total access to Infinity Ward's impressive Call of Duty 4 technology, which was in no small part responsible for placing that game on top of numerous game-of-the-year lists late last year.

This ain't exactly a tropical vacation.
The difference between COD3 and World at War really shows. The new game has that same hyper-kinetic attention to realism and intensity you loved in COD4: the pinpoint-accurate hair-trigger feel of the shooting, the way the guns snap to your viewpoint in a split second when you aim through your iron sights, the stop-and-go scripted action set pieces. All that stuff is in here and feels as natural and familiar as you'd expect.

The visuals have a similar look to them too, owing to a combination of well-placed lighting effects, cinematic flourishes (depth of field and the like), and--most important to my mind--an unwavering devotion to a steady, fluid frame rate. (Well, it wavered a little in the demo, but that might change in the next three months. The game mostly seems to be hitting 60 frames per second, at any rate.) Relatively few developers are prioritizing frame rate over image fidelity on this generation of consoles, but to me speed and fluidity are two of the most crucial elements of a good shooter, so it's reassuring to see that's still a focus here.

In short, it's an oversimplification but also not inaccurate to say that World at War is looking a lot like Call of Duty 4 with a World War II-themed coat of paint. There are way worse sources of inspiration, at least. I think Treyarch has layered in enough new mechanics and unique touches to make the game stand on its own, though.

Coming off this demo, the particular historical setting was the only real downside I could come up with. Hey, this is still World War II. Remember that? Perhaps you've played it before. I'm probably more interested in that short period of history than the average dude, but even I can only shoot so many virtual M1 Garands and 1911s in one gaming career.

Isn't competitive co-op kind of an oxymoron?
At least there are a few new destructive implements in here, like a wicked flamethrower. This thing is impressive when you see another player using it to burn Japanese snipers out of palm trees; it emits not a modest little puff of fire but instead a flame jet dozens of feet long. I found it a little harder to use hands-on, though: it was tough to gauge its range from directly behind the flames. The game's environment is pretty flammable, and fire will propagate from one surface to the next. Amid all the devastation, it was more than a little disturbing to see the grisly charred corpses of enemies killed with the flamethrower. The game isn't skimping on the blood effects, either.

This is the first time a Call of Duty game has featured co-op integrated with the core storyline, and Activision was ready to show off one mission from each of the two theaters the game takes place in. The first mission had me and a small squad creeping through a thick jungle on the Pacific island of Peleliu, investigating a downed fighter plane and getting ambushed by a group of take-no-prisoners Japanese soldiers. Later we joined up with a larger squad in an ongoing effort to overtake a strategic airfield. That brought about the most memorable scene of that mission, where a battalion of American tanks went up against a line of enemy armor, and I had to run from tank to tank for cover from bombardment until I could make it to a line of trenches, grab a bazooka, and fire back.

Activision's made a lot of ballyhoo about casting Kiefer Sutherland as your commanding officer in the Pacific campaign, and why shouldn't they? His name will obviously help move units. (Also, who doesn't love saying "ballyhoo?") I expected the guy to stand out like a sore thumb, like Jack Bauer somehow time-warped back to 1944 and landed on a Pacific island, but he really worked in the demo level I played. He's got the right amount of grit and gravel to pull off Hardened Military Commander Guy without feeling out of place in this or any other war.

The Peleliu mission demonstrated World at War's cooperative campaign mode, which is basically you and up to three friends playing through the story missions in order. You'll pick up experience points in co-op, and there will even be co-op-specific perks for this mode (though Activision is mum on their exact nature). The game will take not only the number of players but also each player's experience level into account when determining how to ramp up the difficulty in this mode.

Something something World War II.
Competitive co-op is the other mode, which is basically a multiplayer version of Call of Duty 4's arcade mode. Here you rack up points per downed enemy, with score multipliers coming into play for getting several kills in quick succession and things like that. At the end of the level, of course, everyone's score is tallied and compared. Activision was using this mode to show off a mission from the other campaign, which casts you as a Russian soldier participating in the final push into Berlin in the weeks before Germany's surrender. Expect more traditional house-to-house and street-based urban fighting in this campaign, in contrast to the less orthodox, jungle-heavy combat of the Pacific theater. There were a couple of moments where the German soldiers were lining up like a shooting gallery; I can't say if that was due to the arcade-style mode we were playing or not.

The flow and presentation of the campaigns borrows another page from the COD4 playbook. The two storylines don't intertwine like they did in COD4, but nevertheless missions from the two will leapfrog each other in a similar fashion. You'll play a level or three on steamy, confined island fortresses in the Pacific, then head halfway around the world to hit the Third Reich where it lives, then back again. Treyarch is even employing the same studio that did the between-mission videos in COD4 to do similar animations for World at War, though this time around they'll employ old black-and-white newsreel footage and give a wider historical context from the era. They use a lot of snazzy, newfangled motion graphics to convey this information; it all looks nifty.

Man, how did this get so long? I guess World at War must have impressed me more than I expected. It's taking most of Call of Duty 4's best elements and adding enough new doohickeys and whirligigs that I'm actually finding myself somewhat interested in a World War II shooter again. I didn't think that was possible anymore.

Call of Duty: World at War is slated to drop November 11.
Posted by SolidOcelot

First,
 WW 2 is over i hope this game fails so developers move on

Posted by MattBodega

It's good to see that Treyarch is still capable of making things besides safe Spider-Man sequels. 
It sucks that the game is stuck in the WW2, but I'm always up for a good solid campaign with plenty of burnt corpses.
Good preview, Brad! Consider myself moderately interested in World at War.

Posted by GalvanizedNails

sigh, i really dont want to play CoD co-op, seriously i really dont. The single-player focused scripted events is what makes CoD so awesome. I really hate it when folks say "wouldnt CoD4 be so better with co-op" and i just want to scream NO! well i guess ill read this article now, sorry about the rant everyone :)

Posted by BlackHawk3422

doesnt look as bad as i thought but prolly wont get it anyway

Posted by MasterSplinter

All I know is that WW2 is played out and I will always have CoD4 to go back to, if World at War doesn't transcend.

Posted by GalvanizedNails

wow, just read the article, and it reminded me how much I hate how WWII games use that black and white newsreel crap. Its not like the world itself was black and white in the 40's! Come on Treyarch

Posted by Magnum

WWII comeback, baby!!!

Posted by Zuul

I guess I'd still play another world war 2 game. If it's good...

Posted by Thordain

I'll buy it of steam if it's any good

Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

I'm just relieved it's holding that frame-rate!

Posted by Kontrapunkt

Im really acctualy kinda glad europe has a tiny bit in there, the last days of the reich were never really played out in a game,  a gritty game during that section almost like Der Untergang would please me alot, Also I think German equipment would be a must in multiplayer. Then again seing how the CoD4 ending caries on is probably higher on my agenda.

Posted by Ravioli_Sumo

I'm happy to be back in WWII. Think about it, how many Russian separatists and Middle Eastern guys (from an obviously undisclosed or fictional country) can you kill before it get's stale?

Posted by broqz

i have to wonder if all this WW2 hate is just people jumping on the band wagon.  i don't see people conplaining about fantasy games or sci-fi games like they do WW2 games and i'm pretty sure they've been cranking them out for much longer then WW2 games.  really what does it matter what the coat of paint is?  if it's a good game that ingages then play it and have fun.

and just to throw my 2 cents in on why there seem to be so many WW2 games.  it was the last war were the sides where pretty even.  the Allies didn't have an overwhelming advantage over the Axis in terms of tech.  it really came down to tactics and well...the will to win.  ever since WW2 it's pretty much been one super power (mainly the US) toppling some small inadiquate army. 

Posted by Mjolnir

I think the Pacific Theater missions definitely have potential, although I'm not sure how I feel about going back to Europe.  As long as it's fun to play and has a story w/ a level of engagement similar to that of CoD4, I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Posted by Nets

Ah... The newfound bangwagon hate. I dunno, I just find myself thinking if this fails, modernized shooters could potentially soon be the new fad, riping off COD4, just like we have seen with WW2. Personally, I loved COD4 and enjoyed it more than any Medal of Honor game, but World at War has me excited with COD4 style, postitive press, and Treyarch has stated this is their best game made yet.

Posted by kitsune_conundrum

i still think that the russian campaign should have been the invasion of manchuria, rather than going back to europe again.

Posted by xruntime

People are just whining because its made by Treyarch.

Otherwise I'm sure it's a great game.

Posted by KillaMaStA

I dont mind WW2, because unlike som people, the only ww2 shooters ive played are cod 2,3. So the only thing im worried about is if anyone else besides me is going to play this game since CoD is all about the multiplayer

Posted by Paul

I just watched the Flags of Our Fathers. If they can make a game like that, sign me up. If it's a rehash of cliches and mindless violence, good day.

Posted by RedSox8933

lol competitive co-op

Posted by AnEternalEnigma

Get the hell out of WW2 already. That's more played out than Britney Spears' vagina photos.

Posted by FCKSNAP

I personally have played quite a few WW2 shooters (almost too many), but as long as this one turns out good I'm all for it.

I just think wars where there weren't any Americans involved would be a great idea.

Hey, how about old Biblical wars? I'd play a Muslim defending the Holy Land versus some horseback Anglo knights any day. Talk about hardcore.

Posted by Aaron_G

Love it.

Posted by HTTenrai

Hey, you know what, if the game kicks ass, I'll play it. I hate military shooters, and I loved games like R6:Vegas and CoD4. If this resembles the latter, setting be damned, I'll play it. Besides, I do love me a good jungle.

Posted by ocdog45

looks and sounds promising. i didn't know jack bauer was in the game.

Posted by dietmango

Ah, I'll give it a try. Looks like a good game. I know, I'm sick of playing too much WWII games, but I'll give World at War a shot.

Posted by Riddler

WW2 = FAIL

Posted by John

I really hope they nail the co-op, because that's what im probably going to play the most.

Posted by Dryker

If Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch play like Call of Duty 4, I'll buy it just for the new maps.

Posted by Destroyeron

Yay...WWII again...and honestly I'm not ready to buy a Treyarch COD game again.

Posted by Supreme

i've never played a WW2 shooter because it never interested me, might pick this up. Probably rental though, I don't see me playing multiplayer with Socom: Confrontation, Gears of War 2 and Far Cry 2 coming out.

Posted by OlDrtyBstrd

I don't really think that World War II is "played out." That was a big war...and there are a lot more battles that can be re-enacted in video games.

Posted by TheGTAvaccine

Ballyhoo, ballyhoo, ballyhoo.

Man, World at War is actually on my radar now...

Posted by Terra_Ryzer

Why is Cod:WaW getting all the bad rep for being in WW2 while no one seems to mind that Brothers in Arms takes place in it too.

Posted by xxNBxx

Thanks Brad.  I really hope they (as in Treyarch) move to Vietnam next. 

Posted by MichaelScott

I don't care much for WWII, but if the game is good, I'll play it anyway. :D

Posted by GIVEMEREPLAY

To hell with all of you that say WW2 is done. You don't know a thing about making games and your quick judgments about a game which hasn't even entered beta yet seem to be almost entirely informed by the opinions of game writers which you have recently adopted. Lame.

Posted by p01nt

Nicely done!

Posted by Claude

I like doohickeys and whirligigs.

Posted by NAKent

I like the fact that the set pieces could be something amazing, but the weapons look so similar to COD4. I know the technology is way different. but the weapons are almost re-skins. Like the weapon I saw in the 1UP show was the M4 in COD4. Besides the Flamethrower thats about it for new weapons. But will definitely buy or rent this one.   

Posted by mandeponium

How can you complain about the M1 Garand? It's like the Battle Rifle for Halo.

Posted by Canberra

ah yes november 11... i remember thats the day they brought out star wars battlefront 2. that was ok...i predict sucsess imenent. 

Posted by JazzMaverick

I wasn't too impressed when i heard the game was going back to WWII,but the more i hear about it,the better it sounds.....

aslong as they sort out the awful weapons from Cod3,because the Kar98 was the only one worth using imo.

Posted by Sharpshooter

Thank feck they've jumped to another part of the War. A lot of developers seem to have forgotten that Europe wasn't the only theatre of operations. While shooting virtual Nazis is always fun, its getting kinda old shooting virtual Nazis in the same settings over and over again.

Posted by predator

Eh, Hell's Highway will be better.
The Pacific has been done loads of times too, by the way.

Posted by Boiglenoight

Might be worth a rental.  Also, I don't rent games.

Posted by RHCPfan24

Good article Brad.  Even if it is just a WWII shooter, being a COD game will automatically move units now.  Still glad it looks good though.

Posted by nirv

Doom's coop could be considered competitive. At the end of each level, the kills, secrets, and items were tallied up with your coop buddies so this is a pretty common theme in coop gaming.

Posted by Jordan23
I'm glad to see that Treyarch had put some much effort into World at War and not just rush out anything to the consumers. This game has gotten my attention over the past couple of weeks and I'm excited to play the game's Co-op mode.
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