One bullet isn't as good as 30, but it's still fun.
First, you have to ask: did you like Call of Duty 4? If so, then World at War is easily worth your money because Treyarch have copied the formula that made Call of Duty 4 such a classic game and applied it to jungle warfare. But World of War isn't a fresh, outstanding take on the shooter genre that made Modern Warfare so great – it's an identical take on the genre, just in the Pacific.
After all the benefits of current technology, gamers were worried about the move back to WW2. They shouldn't be. World at War, even after all the iterations Call of Duty has had reliving the battle against the Axis, is as interesting and compelling as any other game in the series. It's in part due to the dual campaign where you alternate between an American and a Soviet soldier working through their respective missions which keeps the experience from stagnating. The missions in their own right are well scripted too, with the first Soviet mission, where you try to flee the Germans as they raze Leningrad (now called Saint Petersburg) to the ground, being one of the most thrilling experiences in a FPS.
The single-player campaign is about the same length as Call of Duty 4 (and Call of Duty 3) and as expected, the game looks fantastic. More importantly, it runs well – no matter what platform you choose, you'll be able to enjoy the brutality of war without crippling slowdowns. I tested the PC and PS3 versions, which both ran smoothly, and given that World at War utilises the same game engine as Modern Warfare, the Xbox 360 version should run at a stable framerate as well.
You'll need smooth gameplay to handle the chaotic nature of the campaign, which eclipses even the frenzied firefights in Call of Duty 4. For all the faults the formula might have, the constant battles and remarkable soundscape of war are addictive and compelling in their own right. You won't need a detailed story or developed characters if you're just physically attracted to keep moving forward, although the fact that Treyarch have gone to the effort to flesh your virtual comrades out make it all the more enjoyable.
But we can't shower Treyarch with too much praise: after all, they're following in the footsteps of the collosal hit that Infinity Ward delivered. The biggest example here is the game engine – it's the same engine used in COD4, so it looks remarkable and plays fantastic. I'd actually venture that the engine is better than Gears of War 2 because of the ability to look great and play at a stable framerate, but that's more of a personal preference than anything.
Treyarch copied COD4's main message too: war is bad. The focus here is on the death of individuals close to you, your squad members, rather than wide-scale destruction. It's actually the first scene in the campaign, where you're tied up only to watch your comrade have his throat cut in front of you. But if Treyarch really wanted to hammer the point home, they should have toned down the gore a little. Running onto the beach, Saving Private Ryan style, and seeing a fellow soldier, limbless, screaming for help as he bleeds to death, is gripping and gets the message across. A single shotgun blast sending an arm cartwheeling into the distance does not – it looks comical, and misses the point. But despite the confusion, the campaign is a lot of fun.
Co-operative play has been introduced into the war franchise as well, although it's more competitive than co-operative due to the score tally that provides combo multipliers and bonuses for every enemy killed. The enemies increase with every player, so there's never a lack of people to shoot and you can revive your team-mate should they get in the line of fire too often. Replaying the experience with a friend is always fun, but Treyarch made a smart move in allowing it to count towards your multiplayer level as well. Without that, there'd be no real point to play other than reliving the experience, which seems kind of pointless in a war series that wants to remind players how unenjoyable war can be.
Another addition is Nazi Zombies, a co-op mode unlocked when you finish the single-player campaign (or team up with someone who has). You and three other soldiers are left in a room to fight wave after wave of never-ending zombies, earning cash with each kill and each wave you repel. You can then upgrade your bunker and buy new weapons. It's completely off-the-wall, and something unexpected from a Call of Duty game, although it stinks of the scent of cashing in a popular trend with several other games utilising zombie hordes this year (GTA IV, Gears of War 2 and Left 4 Dead come to mind).
Everything else is pretty much the same as Modern Warfare, with the perks system still intact and the bonuses for multiple kills faithfully represented (although instead of an air-strike, you can unleash dogs – who are more useful than they sound!). There's new maps to play on, which are all fun in their own way as well as the same game modes like Sabotage, Search & Destroy and Headquarters. But the multiplayer is hamstrung by the one fatal flaw of WW2 shooters – bolt-action rifles.
Modern Warfare had the wonderful advantage of using modern weaponry, making the player's arsenal either semi or fully automatic for the most part. In online gaming, that means you won't expect to kill people with one bullet. But when you introduce rifles that require reloading after each shot, it becomes aggravating when that single shot misses. A lot of the times, my experience was punctuated with complaints over the quality of servers and people whining that their shot didn't hit the target. You'll find whiners in every game, but this was always going to happen from the start. Modern Warfare doesn't offer weapons with such power from a single shot, so you're not going to notice one bullet missing out of twenty. In World at War, you do, and you will, and the multiplayer suffers because of it.
But that's not really Treyarch's fault. If anything, it's a fault of the genre and the antiquated weaponry from that era. And hopefully, as sad as that sounds, Treyarch's efforts will put an end to the World War 2 section for good. Call of Duty 4 was one of the best shooters produced in the past ten years, and while World at War isn't as good as it's predecessor, it's one of the most enjoyable WW2 experiences yet. But after so many iterations on the same set of history, you have to ask where Infinity Ward, or Treyarch, can go from here.
Call of Duty: World at War is a good game. It's a lot of fun, the multiplayer is still the same addictive experience that Modern Warfare was and the campaign is tantalisingly entertaining. But it's not the classic that Call of Duty 4 was, although you shouldn't be picky: if you've enjoyed any Call of Duty game, then you will have fun with World at War. Sure, the multiplayer won't keep you going for as long as COD4 does, but that's not a massive crime for the weeks and months just itching to be had with what Treyarch have offered here.Developer: Treyarch
Formats: PC (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
URL: Call of Duty: World at War