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Reviewed: Call of Duty: World at War
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: January 8th, 2009
Page: 2

Let's start out with the basics. If you've been through any gametime with Call of Duty 4:Modern Warfare then you know the basics of the engine. Join a game, pick your role, grab your starter weapons, and get out there to win it for your side. Since CoD:WaW is taking the game back into the World War II theater, of course, a lot of "modern" weaponry is missing. In its place you'll find your usual World War II-era gear, with very few surprises.

Note also that WaW, unlike previous Call of Duty games, isn't made by Infinity Ward. Activision offloaded the making of this one to Treyarch, their standard "quick we need another one to exploit the series" studio. Don't get me wrong; Treyarch are decent programmers and have done their best with a lot of titles. On the other hand, whether it's a function of the work the've been given or other limitations, a very sizable portion of Treyarch's work has been on making lesser sequels for franchises that their original creators aren't working on and CoD:WaW is a perfect example of this. Treyarch were previously responsible for the PS2 spinoff "Call of Duty: Big Red One" that came in pretty mediocre.

Putting in a few new weapons (and let's face it, the flamethrower is pretty darn sweet) is a good start, but can't alone make a good game. Dropping in a graphical retread to an existing engine still means you need to make good new maps and tweak things to be balanced and fun. So yes, in one sense, WaW is an attempt to make a graphical retread of CoD4 in order to mollify the subset of players who were angry about the series' setting change.

In another sense, WaW is an attempt to redeem the series in its home setting. Call of Duty 3 wasn't that well received, and one of the reasons was that gamers didn't feel it added much beyond its predecessor. WaW, by contrast, tries to put in a lot more gameplay options and ways to experience the setting. The Pacific campaign is very well done, almost an apology for the single-player letdown of CoD3. An absolute ton of multiplayer options are added in (3 co-op modes even before you get to the human vs human action) to allow for attacking the subject from a number of different angles. The standard co-op works well, "competitive" co-op allows players to count kills and collect bragging rights while still being on the same side, and "Nazi Zombie" mode... well, it just has to be experienced. Put a set of Call of Duty players into level defending a house in a world populated with Resident Evil-ish critters and see who comes out ahead.

The swap between campaigns is the most jarring aspect of single-player and co-op play. In the Pacific side, battle is on beachfronts and atolls; the flamethrower, tree-mounted snipers, and small-area combat in a primarily rural setting make for a highly engaging gameplay setting. The Russian campaign feels a lot more like the older CoD, and while very well executed, requires a completely different mindset and play strategy. Treyarch might have done a bit better having each campaign playable separately and in sequence, rather than forcing players halfway around the world just as they'd adjusted to one style or the other.

For multiplayer, the maps are good, but the art style just doesn't seem to match very well with the perceived architectural styles. It's obvious that many of them were designed with gameplay balance first, and then the aesthetics pasted on later. Take a few of the Japanese or European maps on and you'll slowly realize that these are maps that could just as easily have popped up in Halo or Quake, just with a different texture set to make them look vaguely European or Asian. Once that realization sets in, even though it's obviously done for gameplay balance, the immersion effect just starts to drift away.

Again, this is not to say that it's not a solid game. Watching the elephant grass burn, or hidden soldiers pop up with a knife, makes for a great spectacle. Blood and gore are there in spades; if it's not "realistic", it's much closer to illustrating the "horrors of war" aspect. Every portion of the game is solid, everything is well-balanced for gameplay; it's just that the things that are off are not off "just a little", they're off enough to give players pause and start cutting down on suspension of disbelief. It's the difference between playing a game or watching a movie, and really "experiencing" them, and CoD4's got the edge in being called a fulfilling experience.

Bottom line: Between this and CoD4, go with 4, but only because CoD4 is so good. If you're looking for something new and you've already done all the grinding and co-op you can take from 4, grab it and give it a try.

Added:  Friday, January 09, 2009
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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