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Call of Duty: World at War Review

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Call of Duty: World at War is a great first-person shooter, but it's still stuck in the shadow of an even greater one.

Never underestimate the power and beauty of fire.
After a wildly successful tour of duty in the modern era, Activision's Call of Duty series heads back to the 1940s with World at War, a WWII-focused shooter that attempts to do many of the same things that the previous game did, but in a different time period. It's interesting to watch those different facets of a modern game as they're molded to fit into an earlier conflict, and it works better than you'd probably think. At times, though, it still feels like a knockoff of a better game.

The game's campaign splits time between two different fronts. For half the game, you'll play as an American Marine taking on Japanese forces as you push from their forward island bases all the way back to Okinawa. The other half puts you in Russian boots as you strike back against the Germans, pushing them out of the motherland and sieging Berlin. You know, just like the real thing! Like the previous game, the campaign jumps back and forth between the two perspectives. So you'll play a level or two as one guy, swap to the other for a bit, then swap back. This keeps up over the course of the game's 13 missions.

The campaign provides a good amount of first-person shooter variety, but it excels when the levels are wide open and all hell is breaking loose around you. There are more than a few moments where you're charging against an entrenched enemy, and the game does a good job of making these moments feel appropriately chaotic. You'll also see the requisite vehicle sequence and some up-close indoor battles. Overall, there really aren't any surprises coming out of the single-player--it's a quality single-player campaign from beginning to end.

You can also play the campaign mode cooperatively with up to three other players joining you via system link or over the Internet. Most of the cues for this aspect of World at War seem to come from Halo 3's co-op. You can enable competitive scoring, which makes you want to kill everyone before your partners can. You can also find and unlock "death cards" in each level. Each one you collect lets you enable a little modification in future co-op matches. These are, essentially, the skulls from Halo 3. Some of these cards let you fire explosive pistol rounds while you're downed, or make it so your enemies only die when you shoot them in the head. This gives the co-op some pretty decent options. Still, it's a little jarring that the game dumps you back to the lobby after every mission, instead of letting you just keep on playing with no breaks.

Black-and-white footage abounds!
The competitive multiplayer probably has the best chance of roping you in for hours and hours. This portion of the game feels like a really well-made mod for Call of Duty 4 that replaces all of the modern stuff with World War II stuff. Most of the things from COD4 are represented in some way. Instead of calling in radar when you get a three-kill streak, you can call in a recon plane... which has the exact same effect of showing dots on your map that represent enemy locations. Since helicopters and World War II don't mix, they've been replaced by dogs. Calling in the dogs on your foes is pretty funny and useful in multiple ways. While wily players can stick the dogs with a knife or gun them down before getting ripped apart, you can still follow your dogs to find the enemy. It's a clever addition.

The game has the same sort of player customization and experience point system as last year's release. So as you play, you'll gain levels, which in turn unlocks additional items and configuration options. You'll be able to set perks on your player--these are special skills and enhancements like the ability to reload faster, or a gas mask perk that makes your soldier able to withstand the effects of gas grenades more easily. There's also a new vehicle perk that lets you give your soldier enhancements like faster turret turning speeds.

Some of the multiplayer maps contain tanks, which let one player drive and another work a machine gun turret atop the tank. The tanks are probably going to be a dividing inclusion. While I like rolling around and gunning down enemy soldiers from the relative safety of a tank, I really don't like that the vehicle levels have to be open enough to accommodate the tanks. While only four of the game's 13 multiplayer maps contain vehicles, these maps seem like they come up in the rotation a bit more often than the others. If you're setting up private matches, that probably won't matter to you at all. They just feel too large, like you're having to hunt around for the action.

Fire seems to be a big visual theme in Call of Duty: World at War. Large portions of the campaign are devoted to running around with a flamethrower and burning as many Japanese soldiers as possible. You'll run through burning buildings. And if you play long enough, you'll be able to unlock that flamethrower for use in multiplayer. The fire effects, thankfully, are good enough to warrant their featured position. The flamethrower snakes around as you wave it and burns up most nearby grass and trees as you go. Creeping through dark, but still-burning buildings shows off the game's terrific lighting, as the soft glow of the flames reflects and flickers onto the nearby walls. All of the lighting, really, is well done. The game has a really dingy, dark look to it that helps make everything you're doing feel at least a little dreadful.

You'll get a bit of Hollywood-style voice acting via Keifer Sutherland and Gary Oldman. Both play characters that guide you through most of the campaign mode, making sure you're pointed in the right direction and giving the general sort of wartime orders you'd expect to hear out of your sergeant. They also serve as announcers in the multiplayer mode. The multiplayer mode feels a lot more chatty this time around, as most of the soldiers will curse and/or shout about something whenever they get a kill.

The larger levels are cool in single-player, not-so-cool in multiplayer.
The rest of the game's audio is fine, too. The weapons sound period-accurate and the battlefields always sound pretty intense. There's a lot of modern-sounding guitar rock on the soundtrack, which kind of makes the whole game feel like some kind of poorly-edited YouTube video. It's like what I imagine would happen if you asked a 15-year-old to make World War II footage interesting or something. It serves its purpose by picking up alongside the action and fading down for the quiet, creeping times. But it still feels out of place. The developers changed the clinky, weird noise that grenades make when they land. While this might sound more realistic, it also has the maddening effect of forcing me to retrain myself to hear the new grenade noise after killing someone online. So the martyrdom perk, which has soldiers drop a live grenade every time they die, is, at least until I can get used to the new sound, way more effective. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, mind you. In fact, that chintzy grenade effect from the previous game always seemed a little out of place. 

Of course, these are all pretty minor points in the grand scheme of things. Call of Duty: World at War is a perfectly competent game with exciting multiplayer options and a campaign that's worth playing. But in most of the ways that actually count, last year's game was better.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
113 Comments
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Posted by whackmypinata

Nice review!

Posted by TheGamerFix

good reviwe jeff

Posted by faustyn

still waiting for the video review ;)

Posted by McBain

Great review, Jeff! I thought you were giving out too many five-star reviews these days.

Posted by KungFuM0nk3y

Hmm I actually want to play this game a little more now, but honestly I have my hands full with GOW2, Fable 2, Fallout 3, and the list of great games available to play goes on... I know I'll see some playtime w/ this title eventually.

Edited by SamStrife

You didn't mention the Zombie mode.  Aside from that brilliant review as usual :p

Posted by brocool

Alright I'll buy it

Edited by TwoOneFive

SWEET!

i was checkin the site whenever i was near a computer with internet to see when you would post this, cool review jeff! 
anyways, sounds cool enough to buy thanks!
lookin forward to more reviews soon!
Edited by troyx

i gusse il stick to cod4 and gears 2
as always great review jeff

Posted by stillmotion

*sigh* Another game to add to my list.

Posted by Daanienator

Can't wait to play this game!

Edited by Razor

I just found out that you die in 2 hits in NAZI ZOMBIE bonus game.  2 fucking hits!!,  what kinda bullshit garbage is that, LEFT 4 DEAD you have a numbered health bar and you can take plenty of hits before you die.  Fucking lazy ASS Treyarch and their bullshitness.  How come in 2 hits do you die from a garbage zombie??

Posted by Blinck

I think this was a jump back in COD series, it seems like they did this just to sell, and not to bring the series to another level. Seriously, World War 2 just doesn't work anymore, specially when you have exactly the same mechanics in a modern warfare game ( COD 4 ). Like many people say, it feels more like a MOD then a new game, which is a shame in my opinion.

Posted by PapaLazarou

I didn't like the beta so wont bother buying it and will probably just get the disc off my friend and install it to tryout the single player.

Posted by Kraznor

Kind of wanted to know more about zombie mode but whatever, it covered most of the important stuff. May rent this at some point but its not a buy.

Posted by ZeroCast

That was definitely unexpected, i thought this would be an improvement over Modern Warfare but it looks like it hasn't changed a lot,  in the end though ,it's a COD game, i will give it a try.

Posted by Jayge_

Yeah, I think it's kind of official now. Gertsmann is in a slump. This is like, the third review in his past 4 or so reviews that could have been written so much better. Even LittleBigPlanet wasn't too enjoyable to read. I never really agree with the GB team's critical standpoints, but I always enjoyed reading the reviews for the sheer quality anyway. Now I don't know whether to chuckle, sigh, or both.

Posted by Protonguy

Competitive Coop mode, that's worth the purchase right there quite frankly.

Posted by WilliamRLBaker

ah i still say the game sux from what i saw of the multiplayer beta.

Edited by HashHeesh

Gotta remember that it may be possible that their quality of reviews degrades slightly because they are always thinking and moving of / onto the next game that needs to be reviewed.

Also people. Realise that 5 stars is reserved only for the top "Must buy/play" section of games. And who said 4 stars is bad?

Posted by Pibo47

Game is looking good. Not sure if ill get it though.

Posted by Media_Master

It sure seems like a 4 star game being back to ww2.

Posted by PATJASA

I think the game is still pretty cool, pacific setting, more gory kills and I don't really mind it's WWII theme as long as its a decent shooter, already preoredered the collector edition. Played the beta, really enjoyed it and somehow I feel like COD: WaW is a different game to COD4 that they cannot be compared.... I don't know, but I have to say I like COD4 MP and COD:WaW MP quite equally. And to be honest, after a year playing COD4 MP, the maps and guns gets old somehow, so it is cool to have a MP almost same as COD4 with new maps and gun and tanks. Only problem is as Jeff mentioned, the maps are quite big, not only the one with tanks but also the normal ones.

Posted by grainger

im still on the fence about this one, sounds alright, and im desperatley looking fo a shooter to replace cod4 as im sick of all the arseholes playing it these days but i don of originality onlinet like the look of the lack of originality in the game, its call of duty 4 with a paint job in my eyes, until i have proof of otherwise i think i'm going to pass on this one.

Posted by Quadrifoglio

Boo, Jeff. You misspelled "single-player."

Posted by Kohe321

Good review as always. I'm getting this, flamethrower BABY!!!

Posted by ATrevelan

Any chance of getting a review of the Wii version on the site?

Posted by StaticFalconar

Seems pretty cool, but why pay more money for a similar game if I already have CoD4?

Posted by ReTarDedFisHy

Nice review, Jeff :)
Looks like ReTarDedFisHy is picking this one up after all, huh? :D

Posted by lantus

Let's not beat this dead horse anymore, COD 4 > W@W.

Posted by John

Jeff is jaded b/c he hates WWII. In truth this is a 5 star game... jk. Can't wait for my copy to get here. Hurry up amazon.

Posted by Stealthoneill

Great review Jeff and I can say everything you said is as expected. No way were they going to best or even do as good as 4, seems like a good attempt though.

Role on friday for the UK release!
Posted by darkjester74

Give Jeff a break you guys, chances are the GB guys are swamped with work so you are not going to see their best material right now.  Jeff didn't even mention the Nazi zombies, I had to find that our from GT.  Other than that this review was fine. 

Posted by Linkyshinks

Great, will get. Thanks for the review Jeff. It was a good read.

Posted by hughesie27

Nothing about the Zombie action?

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

not surprising at all. i have it and so far i agree.

Edited by PJ

@McBain - Have you ever thought that the reason hes giving out 5 stars to games is because they are awesome games? Also, dont compare a 5 star to a 10 rating since thats not a fare comparison.

5 star - Must play
4 star - Should  play
3 star - Read review and let your own interrest in the game determin if you want to play
2 star - If you really really really have to then play it but don't say you weren't warned
1 star - Stay the fuck away!!!

Posted by pedantics

look at all you literary critics and spelling police. STFU.

Posted by zitosilva

I was expecting to hear a little from the Nazi Zombie mode, as it is the only thing in this game that interests me. But nice review.

Posted by Chocobo_Blitzer

Oh man, too much stuff to play to rationalize another trip to WW2. That and Treyarch couldn't get the feel of the weapons right in CoD 3, and that killed me coming from the PC originals. Hate to turn my back on one of my favorite series.

Posted by Jayge_
darkjester74
on Nov. 11, 2008
Give Jeff a break you guys, chances are the GB guys are swamped with work so you are not going to see their best material right now.  Jeff didn't even mention the Nazi zombies, I had to find that our from GT.  Other than that this review was fine. 

Or I could not give people a break and hold them to the standard they've proven they are capable of.
Edited by Metamorphic

I find the multiplayer in this game much better than part 4 in many ways. But I still find call of duty too bland compare to games like Halo 1 (yes, Halo 1), Halo 3, and Splinter Cell Chaos Theory multiplayer. I guess people like this game because it is easy to pick up and play and it has a solid gameplay. Other than that I see nothing special. Also, the movement is quirky. The way the characters move in this game seems as if they have diarrhea.

I've had the game for sometime before the official release date so i've spent a good amount of time with it and again it just bores me. I can understand why others enjoy it (like most of my friends and family).

I don't like the WW2 theme but I do love the WW2 weapons.

Thinking about it... I'll also choose Rainbow Six Vegas 2 over this game.

M1 GARAND!!!!!!!

Edited by Kinarion

Honestly? No mention of zombies? That seems tantamount to omitting Horde mode in a Gears 2 review, and considering the emphasis placed on Horde in the Gears review, this seems especially strange.  I truly feel that this review is incomplete in its current state and hope it receives an edit.

edit: To be fair, the mode is in the screen shot.  Perhaps the Jeff intended to mention them, but forgot out of haste?

Posted by Vivek

Oh Jeff you sexy beat I wasn't going to get this, seeing as in the UK everything costs a third more, but your review has got me thinking about burning people and chasing them with dogs. Which I wanna do!

Posted by I_am_Lono

I agree, this review does seem very incomplete. . . it's short, and not that helpful. I'm finding recently that all the contend (mainly videos) on this site is very good, except however when it come to reviews. I often read a review on GB and then read another review, perhaps on eurogamer, just to fill in the bits that the GB review missed out.

Posted by Zatoichi_Sanjuro

You need to play on servers with more than 5 people to appreciate how SMALL the MP maps are. The real point which is not addressed much in this review is: are people really going to be happy shelling out full price for what is a mediocre-to-poor mod of Modern Warfare? Especially in this economic climate where far, far better games are being released all over the place.

Posted by Fern
"This portion of the game feels like a really well-made mod for Call of Duty 4 that replaces all of the modern stuff with World War II stuff."
Totally what I was thinking whilst playing the demo. Great review, Jeff!
Posted by sheik3008

well....the game turned out to be just like I expected it....a MOD of call of duty 4...i'll give it a try anyways....
great review jeff...after this one i decided to register to the site...your great work deserves a lot of people "listening"!

Posted by Death_Burnout

Oh dear...a new grenade sound!? well i'll never be able to retune my brain to that!!

Posted by Kinarion

Rereading the review, I find the it less complete than I did the first time.   Take the conclusion for example:

Of course, these are all pretty minor points in the grand scheme of things. Call of Duty: World at War is a perfectly competent game with exciting multiplayer options and a campaign that's worth playing. But in most of the ways that actually count, last year's game was better.

Besides apparently stating that the review is unimportant, it fails to address the issues raised by the review.  Namely, if World at War is little more than a well-produced WWII mod for Modern Warfare, is there in fact a mod available for PC users who would appreciate the WWII experience?  And what is "last year's game"?  Jeff draws our attention to Modern Warfare repeatedly, but by referring to it as "last year's game" he seems to imply that World at War is a sequel to that title.  Based on their settings alone, the games offer very different experiences, and to say that the experience is "better" in Modern Warfare seems like an inappropriate comparison.  A comparison to another WWII-themed title, such as Call of Duty 3 or Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, would be better.

Ultimately, it's my opinion that this review largely fails to serve its audience.  That is to say, unless readers are only looking to know which game that contains guns and killing people online is best, there is not enough detail in this review to know whether or not the game is worth purchasing. 

For an example of what I mean by detail, take a look at Ryan's review of Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, or Jeff's review of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
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