Nothing screams "paying tribute" like NAZI ZOMBIES
Call of Duty : World At War : A World War 2 first person shooter developed by Treyarch, and using the gameplay engine from Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare (as well as their boxart design, I guess.)
Story : The missions generally fall under two separate, largely unrelated storylines, involving the Americans attacking the Japanese and the Russian invasion of Berlin. Between missions, there are these over-stylized cutscenes that attempt to explain the context of each mission, splicing old war footage with fancy flourishes and throwing random big words at you like “60,000 DEAD!” and “FLAME THROWER” in what feels less like a gritty war montage than an MTV commercial. What little story is told during the missions, however, presents an interesting, slow building plot of their own; the Americans show gradually increasing resentment for their involvement while the Russians are led by a borderline-psychotic sergeant who comes off as more genocidal than his Nazi adversaries.
The greatest thing to happen to the Call of Duty series since it began to depict World War 2 was for the series to leave World War 2. Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare took full advantage of the change in time period to produce an incredibly memorable and varied campaign that threw one great moment after another at the player. So from the onset, returning to World War 2 feels like a baffling decision, made less as a tribute to the fighting men of the day and more as easy money for Activision.
The core gameplay in World At War is like past Call of Duty games in that most of the time, it’s you and your fellow countrymen against a troop of enemy soldiers. Going in guns blazing will result in a tragic death (sadly no longer greeted by assorted famous anti-war quotes like in past games, as if to say they’ve acknowledged this game isn’t being made to spread a message), so you’ll have to find cover and pick your shots. And like in past games, the game gives you the sense that you’re a small man in a big army, using old guns from the time, pushing the enemy further back in a giant, chaotic war zone and not playing the proverbial one man army on a rampage.
And like in past games, you’ll have a tank driving sequence, a tank destroying sequence, gun turret sequences, bigger gun turret sequences, gun turret-destroying sequences, sniper rifle sequences, and for forth. The key word here is “like past games” because this game is a whole lot like those past games. Except for a few key events (in a horrifically intriguing moment, your first mission as a Russian troop has you waking up surrounded by the bodies of your comrades after a slaughter), you’ve played all of this before and very little has changed. The ambiance of being in the middle of an epic battle in World War 2 that was once compelling has lost its shock value.
Okay, there are a few new things. The fire technology in video games has advanced enough for historians to conveniently remember that there were flamethrowers and Molotov cocktails in World War 2. They make for a great visual effect, but I can’t help but feel that these features were less inspired by World War 2 than Grand Theft Auto 3. There are also bayonets now…which brings me to a suggestion I’d like to pass on to Treyarch; try to make frequent-occurring animations look as unscripted as possible. The first time a Japanese Banzai tripped me and tried to pierce me with his bayonet, only for my troop to pull away his rifle and stab him in the throat with a knife knocked my socks off. The subsequent twenty times that this happened knocked my patience off.
All things considered, it’s a relatively solid campaign that’ll at least provide a beefy challenge, and it brings us to the game’s third-biggest selling point (behind NAZI ZOMBIES and riding on the coattails of Call of Duty 4), the co-operative options. Up to four players online can band together and play through…whatever mission the game randomly decides you guys to play. Either you can get four buddies together and play at a leisurely pace, or compete for points based on such scoring factors as “kills” and “more kills”. On top of this, you can obtain special “death cards” that either help the team (1 or 2 of them) or hinder you (the other 15) but likewise will help earn additional points towards your rank.
You remember the rank, right? From Call of Duty 4? It’s back in World of War. All of the competitive multiplayer options are once again perk-oriented. You create a character class, complete with your choice of weapons, as well as bonus traits and abilities. Increasing your rank, by way of playing through the game’s assorted multiplayer modes will improve your rank and thus unlock more weapons, perks and modes. I’m a bit ticked that not all of the multiplayer modes are available from the start, and there’s the argument that the hardcore gamers who pull all-nighters to improve their rank are going to have a distinct edge over whoever is just playing the game to kill a few minutes, but alas. The big difference between this and Call of Duty 4 is the change in setting, so which one you prefer will depend on personal taste, but I guess there are people out there that enjoy grinding levels in a shooter and well, here’s another chance to do it all over again.
Finally, there’s NAZI ZOMBIES, the bonus mode that you’ll unlock for beating the campaign. If the game had any intention of treating the war like the more violent conflict in human history, it just went out the window here. (Though I guess the mere presence of online deathmatches set in World War 2 already spat in the fact of dignity.) In a nutshell, you and up to three others are in this one house being attacked by gradually increasing numbers of NAZI ZOMBIES. Killing these NAZI ZOMBIES will earn points that can be used on weapons, ammo, opening up two more sections of the house or repairing whatever boards the NAZI ZOMBIES tore down to get in. It’s a novel distraction at best, but it’s hampered by the fact that there’s only one house. The multiplayer match type of “a group of players against waves of enemies” is starting to become popular. That said, this mode doesn’t quite measure up to, say, Gears of War 2’s “Horde Mode” or Left 4 Dead’s…well the entire game Left 4 Dead is pretty much this mode.
All things considered, Call of Duty: World At War is a solid game. It’s just walking a beaten path, and it’s only attempts to innovate the formula are through following the latest trends from other shooters. If you’re a massive co-operative multiplayer enthusiast then you’ll have some fun with this, and likewise, for people who have nary played a World War 2 shooter before, then you’ll be in for quite the experience. But there’s an overwhelming sense of deja-vu waiting for veterans of this franchise, and most of us will be left thinking this series should stop looking to the past and stick to a more Modern approach.
Pros : No forced tutorial! It’s like the game knew that the majority of players have played Call of Duty 4. The one turret level where you switch between different guns on a single airplane gloriously throws you into the 1940s.
Cons : The last couple of missions sometimes feel like the game is just tossing wave after wave of enemies at you. Sometimes an enemy soldier will just stand there in the open and not do anything. Maybe this is meant to simulate a rookie soldier’s nerves freezing up.
3 ½ stars.
Ugh. That makes 3 Treyarch games in a row. I feel like I passed a stone.
Now I’m sure the people at Treyarch are loving individuals with caring families who donate frequently to charity, but perhaps for reasons outside of their control, it seems all of their games are uninspired, big franchise cash-ins. Now, they’re better than most big franchise cash-ins, but they still have a decided lack of ambition.