Not a giant leap, but an incremental step forward for the series
Poor Treyarch – always in the shadow of its allegedly more talented sibling, Infinity Ward. Treyarch’s name is one that has become synonymous with inferiority or slapdash effort. Along with Climax Group (they of Silent Hill: Origins fame) and Ubisoft Shanghai (they of, well, that train wreck), Treyarch seem to have garnered an unfortunate reputation among gamers.
Now, I’m not here to argue whether that’s a fair reflection of the company or not, but what I will say is that Call of Duty: World at War is a really great game, and Treyarch do have something to be proud of here. Its single player campaign may not have quite the same impact as Call of Duty 4’s, but it’s got its share of spectacular moments. The multiplayer, likewise, is of the same high standard and possesses an almost identical levelling up component, allowing you to gain access to new weapons, perks, and other unlockables. But there’s also a new competitive co-op mode, too – never seen before in the series and which, for the most part, works quite well. Lastly, there’s this thing called Nazi Zombie mode, where you and three other buddies team up and hunker down in a level, defending against incoming waves of Undead – essentially, a smattering of Left 4 Dead with a smidge of Horde mode from Gears of War 2.
Fundamentally, it’s the exact same gameplay in Call of Duty 4 transferred into a World War II setting, with more stuff. And, hell, I don’t think you can really consider that a bad thing. You could say that it’s just a cosmetic overhaul, but Call of Duty 4’s core gameplay and multiplayer were, and still are, sublime. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, applies here, so why go and change a winning formula? (Answer: you don’t.)
The single player campaign delivers nicely, indulging in levels that are fast-paced and frequently filled with large, sprawling set-pieces. The campaign itself switches back and forth between the American’s efforts in the Pacific and the Russian’s counterattack out of Stalingrad and towards Berlin. While the American campaign feels the freshest out of the two, it’s also the more frustrating one because of the nature of the guerrilla warfare being carried out by the Japanese. What that means is that you can often come a cropper from ambushes, camouflaged soldiers, stray grenades and traps. On the whole it’s not too riling, but, as a result, there are a couple of dud missions here and there that veer into the frustrating.
However, having said all that, there’s a rather interesting issue over the tone of the game. Namely, the intro to each mission in the campaign is chocka-full of Tony Scott-style quick edits with graphics flying about the screen, reminiscent of something like the The Day Today’s opening montage. The second instance of this kind of strangely anachronistic, slightly flippant, presentation occurs sometimes in intense battle scenes, where heavy rock music starts blaring out in the background supporting the action. Personally, I found these aspects a bit crude and ill-judged.
The problem, as I see it, lies in how the game strives to get us involved in the cruelty of war – forcing us into becoming an active participant – and then undermines itself with a hyper-kinetic, sometimes tasteless, presentation. The upshot is that it’s at odds with itself; at points it wants to be taken as a serious diatribe of war and, at others, a video game. I should point out, though, that it’s only because these moments are few and fleeting that they contrast so heavily with the rest of the game. It’s not a huge issue, and it won’t stop you having fun, but it did jump out at me a number of times.
The co-op campaign is a tad different from playing solo. In this mode you are fighting alongside up to three other human players, but the emphasis is on scoring points by racking up kill combos, scoring headshots, reviving downed teammates and not dying yourself. While some smaller levels feel a little crowded for four people, generally the single player campaign does allow for the transition into multiplayer co-op. The issue, for me, is that when you transpose the structure of a campaign mission into co-op and make it a points game, you lose the ability to work at your own pace and the feeling that you are the one soldier, the hero, isolated among unfamiliar faces. With other teammates there, often behaving in a quintessentially erratic human way, it spoils the immersion, and hence it loses some of its appeal.
With the multiplayer competitive play these issues don’t exist. It knows what it is, and that is the equivalent of a really frantic paintball match. There really isn’t much to say except that it’s almost identical to Call of Duty 4 – only with different maps, different weapons and the same experience system. So, it’s just as addictive and as satisfying as it ever was, and if you liked Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer then the chances are that you’ll enjoy this just as much. (I actually prefer it.)
Nazi Zombie mode, on the other hand, I don’t think very much of. While it’s actually become quite popular on home consoles, it just feels a bit too rough around the edges and watered down to be considered anything other than mediocre when compared to the likes of Left 4 Dead – and unfortunately for Treyarch that’s the standard they’ve set themselves up against. It looks like a user-created mod and something hastily bundled in as an extra feature. Others may get something out of it; I was bored after two maps.
Finally, I don’t usually talk exclusively about a game’s graphics or sound unless it bears mentioning – and it most certainly does in this case. When the graphics are set at their highest settings the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Likewise, the sound design is just as good, with the ambient effects and weapons having a real oomph to them.
So, in closing, Call of Duty: World at War is a worthy successor to Call of Duty 4 in a lot of ways. It may not be a revolutionary step forward, but it has successfully brought a couple of new features to the table, and it’s an excellent source of value for any first-person shooter enthusiast.