The World War II shooter genre is getting rather tired these days, with Medal of Honor, Brothers in Arms, and Call of Duty dominating the field. While most of these games end up being quite fun, there seems to be a tendency to focus far too much on the American forces and the iconic landings at D-Day. Call of Duty: World at War follows the superb Call of Duty: Modern Warfare by retaining most of its advantages and adding a few new things, but suffers from being too derivative at times.
Rather than exclusively focus on the European and African theaters of war, World at War places great emphasis on the Pacific theater, as the American Marine Raiders struggle to acquire beachheads on Okinawa. As the campaign progresses, you will also switch to a Russian soldier as he survives the Battle of Stalingrad and eventually the invasion of Berlin and the capture of the Reichstag. The single-player mode is very thrilling, featuring many exciting set-piece battles for which the Call of Duty series is lauded. There is a lot of variety, including trench warfare, guerilla sniping, tank battles, and even manning the guns of a Black Cat airplane while rescuing survivors of destroyed ships. Though rather short (it rivals CoD 4’s campaign for brevity), it is still very much worth playing.
Perhaps the main draw of World at War is the multiplayer. The developers borrowed extremely heavily from Modern Warfare’s ranking system and modes, making it almost seem like that game, except for setting. Killing enemies and achieving objectives will net you experience points, which eventually level you through standard military ranks. As you progress through ranks, new weapons are available for use, and new “challenges” unlock, which give experience bonuses when you complete certain criteria. The most notable and disappointing omission is in the weapon challenges; each unlocked weapon has two different challenge sets, which track kills and headshots with a particular weapon. In Modern Warfare, completing headshot challenges would give experience and unlock camouflage patterns to place on your weapons, while this is reduced to only the experience bonus in World at War. Going on kill streaks also gives you bonuses: three kills in a row gives you a recon plane which reveals enemies on the mini map five nets you an artillery strike, and seven releases a pack of dogs which run around the level and kill enemy soldiers.
The game uses a class system, and starting at level 4, you can create your own class. You may choose a primary weapon, a side arm, a primary grenade (frag, anti-tank, Molotov), a special grenade (smoke, gas, flare), and four “perks.” The first perk mostly deals with explosives and can either increase your grenade capacity, give you a bazooka, satchel charges, or allow you to detect enemy mines. The second perk deals mostly with damage, which can increase your bullet or explosive damage (Stopping Power and Fireworks), give extra health (Juggernaut), make you invisible to enemy recon (Camouflage), or reload faster (Sleight of Hand). The third perk is more subtle, which can make hip-firing more accurate, let you sprint longer, hold your breath longer for sniper shots (Iron Lungs), or move more quietly (Dead Silence). The last perk is vehicle-related, which can cool turrets quickly, make turrets turn faster, or decrease reload times for a tank’s main cannon. Generally, these perks are well-balanced, although Juggernaut is arguably one of the most annoying and derided perks in the entire game.
There is a good amount of game modes in World at War. Traditional gamers will appreciate the standard Free-for-All and team deathmatch modes. Capture the Flag makes a much-anticipated return, as does War from Call of Duty 3. The popular Search and Destroy, similar to Counter Strike, is still one of the most played modes. Headquarters, Domination, and Sabotage also return. Perhaps the most obvious omission is Team Tactical, which mixed a few modes together, but limited team size to 3. With the exception of free-for-all, every single mode requires teamwork. While the game modes may lack the sheer numbers of Halo 3’s, they still manage to stay interesting.
Most of the maps are fairly well-designed, allowing multiple entry points for almost any area of the map, thus discouraging “camping,” or staying in one place in order to kill opponents as they appear on the map. They are also, for the most part, rather larger than Modern Warfare’s, allowing for some larger-scale battles. Some of the maps, however, seem rather spastic, in that it is relatively easy to get lost and that there are not very distinct “sides.” In addition, some larger levels include tanks, which may not seem like a bad thing (Battlefield: Bad Company pulled that off in a very balanced way), but World at War’s tanks can take an inhuman beating before finally being destroyed. Each tank can easily survive a pair of bazooka shots (which is all that perk gives you), and a sticky grenade on top of that. Some people may argue that you should make an anti-tank class to counter this, but this wastes one of your custom class slots, and the tanks respawn so quickly, even before being destroyed, that you will constantly have to die and respawn just to get more ammo for your bazooka with the amount of tanks out there. And after seeing a friend finish a match with 28 kills and 0 deaths while in a tank the whole time, this reviewer is inclined to doubt those who say that tanks are perfectly balanced.
In addition to the standard versus online multiplayer mode, World at War makes a new foray into co-op play. You can play through the campaign with another player, locally, or up to 3 others online. You can also enable competitive play, which is basically the same, except you and your teammates are competing to see who can do the best. Co-op play links directly to your multiplayer stats, with its own unique sets of challenges. In a nod to Halo 3’s skulls, there are “death cards” scattered throughout the campaign that unlock cheats to use in co-op play.
With all these excellent points about gameplay, it is important to note that World at War is essentially the same as Modern Warfare in multiplayer and as such, feels highly derivative to veterans of COD 4. There are obviously new weapon types, new perks, and new maps, but the similarities still nag in the back of your mind. This will obviously not be a problem for newcomers, but it is a flaw nonetheless.
World at War uses the same graphics engine as Modern Warfare, which is still cutting-edge. Battles look excellent, and character animations are mostly fluid, except for the awkward-looking sprinting in multiplayer. The weapons all look and sound great, and numerous small additions make the game even better; when reloading a bolt-action sniper rifle, you will actually see bullets in your character’s palm as he inserts them into the action; in addition, reloading any gun before the clip is gone will be shorter, while exhausting the clip makes you insert a new one and then pull the bolt back to chamber a round. The sound effects are similarly excellent, especially in the campaign. Playing with surround sound is really something to hear.
After merely starting the first campaign mission, it becomes extremely obvious that this is not a game for kids. This is easily the bloodiest Call of Duty game yet: limbs can get blown off by explosives or powerful weapons, and bayoneting someone produces a spray of blood (as does countering an AI bayonet charge). There is also a fair amount of strong language in the campaign and occasionally online (to say nothing of other players’ language while online). Racial epithets against enemy soldiers are notably absent, although the Russians will frequently sling “fascist” at the Nazis. While politically correct in language, the game makes it very clear that the Japanese and German forces in WWII were not very nice, with several major cutscenes and set-pieces showing the brutal and cruel guerilla tactics of the Japanese. While the game does show a lot of immoral and brutal actions, it rarely depicts them as good, and even then only in self-defense. The game also has options that allow players to turn down violence levels and language. We found these modes to remove blood, gore, and language from the single-player game. Multiplayer mode can still suffer from other players’ language.
Call of Duty: World at War is a solid follow-up to the fantastic Modern Warfare, pleasing fans and attracting newcomers alike with its excellent campaign and deep, satisfying multiplayer. The campaign is on the short side and there are a few balance issues in multiplayer, but the pros easily outweigh the cons. The game’s well-deserved Mature rating merits pause, as the intense bloody action and strong language, as well as some disturbing scenes, will deter parents. With an option to turn off the majority of offensive material, though, this makes the game a more viable play. Overall, Call of Duty: World at War is a strong entry in the WWII genre and will be enjoyed by series and genre fans alike.
» By Joe Severyn, Plain Games. Published 1/9/2009 9:28:55 PM.