Call of Duty: World at War Review :
A new Call of Duty experience is fast becoming a seasonal formality, with additional instalments of Activision's war-bound shooter now arriving on an annual basis. So, right on time, up marches this year's entry, Call of Duty: World at War, the fifth iteration of what's become a winning formula of taut gunplay and bombastic set pieces, all delivered with a veneer of military authenticity.
Doubtl essly, World at War's biggest challenge is escaping the colossal shadow cast by last year's Modern Warfare. With Infinity Ward's previous effort earning itself a place among the genre's very best, there's been no shortage of cynicism as Treyarch once again takes the reins following the bum note that was Call of Duty 3. Likewise, by taking the action back to the well-worn theatre of World War II, the Santa Monica developer seemed to compound fears that its latest would be a step back for the series. Thankfully, these reservations prove largely unfounded – Call of Duty: World at War confidently takes the baton from Modern Warfare, offering another assured and enjoyable take on military shooters, albeit one that lacks the confidence to stray away from Call of Duty 4.
Of course, when handed a template that's as superb as the one that underpinned Modern Warfare, leaving it well alone is probably the best course of action. It's an approach that helps ensure that World at War sits comfortably in the top tier of first-person shooters. Taking the curtain fall of World War II as its source material, World at War manages to wring its own share of memorable moments from a scenario that's already been thoroughly exploited. The campaign is a double header that follows the Red Army's storming of Berlin alongside the United State's battles against the Japanese Imperial Army in the Pacific and, over its six hour-or-so duration, it never lets up in its intensity.
Indeed, the signature all-out chaos that defines Call of Duty is very much intact here, with progression through the campaign a delicately measured affair as players pick their way through a hellish cacophony of gunfire. The tantalising gunplay that's made the series a firm favourite with shooter fans returns, with each gun slavishly realised and an unrivalled joy to handle. True, it's as linear a game as ever, but that only helps Treyarch orchestrate a symphony of anarchy as it funnels players from one set-piece to another.
Importantly, there's been no skimping in terms of production and, in some ways, World at War manages to trump what was achieved in Modern Warfare. While we had Don Beech from The Bill powering Sergeant Price last time, here we're treated to the voices of Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman, who seemingly reprises his Dracula role as he lends his talents to veteran Russian sniper Sergeant Reznov. Call of Duty 4's remarkable graphics engine is put to good use throughout World at War too, proving its sturdiness whether portraying a night time raid in the jungles of Pelileu or embers floating through the stillness of a burning Russian woodland.
As for gameplay, while the core concept of moving from point to point and shooting a seemingly endless procession of enemy soldiers returns, Treyarch has added a little contextual flourish by the nature of the battles it's depicting. This is most explicit throughout the Pacific sections that form the lion's share of the single-player campaign, whereby the aggressive tactics employed by the Japanese Imperial Army offer a slight change of pace for the series' formula.
Enemy troops prepare ambushes in the long grass of Pelileu, laying in wait before springing forward at the last possible moment, ensuring that close quarter combat is employed on a regular basis. Soldiers are more likely to rush positions, attacking with bayonets and creating passages of play that are frenetic even by Call of Duty's frenzied standards.
Unfortuna tely, these moments are often undone by some errant artificial intelligence – allied soldiers will occasionally take a dislike to a certain piece of the environment, firing endlessly at walls and generally feeling useless in the heat of battle. This is compounded by minor glitches that, although infrequent, belie the fact that Treyarch isn't quite as comfortable with the engine as Infinity Ward.
And, for every moment of studied authenticity in the game, there's always another close behind that leaves a cloying taste. Modern Warfare complemented its gung-ho attitude with a detached irony toward the brutality of war, but in World at War this has been largely replaced by an adolescent glee in the violence. Gore's been ramped up to near comical levels, deaths now complemented by geysers of red while shotgun blasts too readily tear legs off enemy soldiers. Any message that Treyarch wished to tell about the brutality of war is lost as it revels in the ridiculous violence. And if World at War's got any pretensions to be a sensitive depiction of the horrors of war, the inclusion of Nazi Zombies is fatally damaging to its case.
But who can argue against Nazi Zombies? Appearing in a bonus mode that's highly reminiscent of Gears of War 2's Horde mode, they're the only tangible addition to Call of Duty 4's multiplayer set. Much like the single-player campaign, Treyarch has stuck close to the formula laid down by Infinity Ward. Aside from the introduction of co-op, which is implemented superbly both off- and online throughout the game, the competitive multiplayer feels like little more than a refit. A few additional perks have been added, alongside tanks which prove by and large redundant. Otherwise, World at War is, to all intents and purposes, Call of Duty 4 with an antiquated weapon set, airstrikes replaced by packs of dogs and flares replacing flash bangs. Again, given the unquestionable quality of Modern Warfare's groundbreaking multiplayer, the similarity is no bad thing. So alike are both games in this respect that which one deserves your time the most depends entirely on what set of weaponry you'd rather go to work with.
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