Call of Duty: World at War Review
While Gears of War was the game that convinced me it was time to buy an Xbox 360 in December of 2006, there’s no question that Call of Duty 3 earned the most total hours of gameplay – to the point that I’d rather not comment as to how many hours were spent trying to capture positions while giving enemies the old double tap with the M1 Garand…OK, twist my arm: The final tally was 21,252 kills and 11,329 deaths before the release of Halo 3 buried the World War II shooter.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a lot of fun, but it didn’t quite click with me as much taken outside of the WWII setting. Thankfully, Call of Duty: World at War returns to the second world war, once again placing you in your in two divergent storylines – one as a Russian soldier advancing on Berlin, the other as an American fighting in the South Pacific – and plunges you into some serious action. But does the fourth installment on the 360 live up to, or even exceed, its predecessors?
If you’ve played the previous Call of Duty entries everything will seem familiar. The right trigger fires your weapon, while holding down the left trigger allows you to look down the sights – if you shoot without holding down the left trigger you’re essentially shooting from the hip and your accuracy won’t be as good as a result. You’ll toss two different types of grenades with the left and right bumpers and Y switches between your two guns. Clicking down the right trigger unleashes your melee attack as you swing your blade or stab with your bayonet, if attached.
As with practically all first-person shooters, you’ll look around with the right stick and move with the left – clicking down on the left stick with allow you to sprint for a limited distance. The controls are tight and responsive, and I like that your accuracy is poor on the run (you can’t shoot during a sprint). It forces you to make a choice between advancing slowly – improving your accuracy but making you a stationary target – and trying to move quickly – you’ll be harder to kill but far less lethal. There’s nothing counter-intuitive with the controls and anyone familiar with shooters will find the setup second nature.
This is simply a beautiful game, and the fact that it alternates back and forth between campaigns in Europe and Asia provides some much appreciated diversity to the environments. You’ll battle through burned out cities like Stalingrad and Berlin, which has long been standard fare for the series, but it’s interspersed with levels in heavy jungle that really flex the graphical muscle.
World at War definitely takes a harder edge than we’ve seen in the past, incorporating more realistic violence. A well placed sniper shot will sever a limb, grenades will blow off legs and visceral blood will spray when you unleash a head shot on an enemy. There are also Japanese soldiers that will charge you and try to knife you with their bayonets – you’re given a chance to counter, and if you do you’ll be treated to your character sticking their blade in the attacker’s neck. Some may balk at the increased amount of violence, but I thought it added another level of realism to the game.
The campaign modes are driven by the voice acting of none other than Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland, on the American side and Gary Oldman on the Russian front. Both are well suited for their parts and bring a lot to the table. I did have trouble making out what they were saying at times, but that’s easily remedied by turning on the subtitles. Unfortunately, the peripheral voice acting isn’t on par. You’ll hear the same handful of phrases uttered over and over, particularly in multiplayer, and if I’m not mistaken much of the German dialogue is identical to Call of Duty 3. Still, it’s a small complaint.
The whistle of bullets flying by, artillery being fired in the background and vehicles rumbling on your flank is spot on and really adds another level of immersion to the experience. The game’s environments are often quite open, but it always feels like you’re knee deep in the middle of a serious firefight, which adds greatly to creating a claustrophobic feeling where you’re constantly worried your platoon is being flanked or surrounded.
As with pretty much every modern day shooter not named Bioshock, World at War features both a lengthy campaign mode and a deep online multiplayer experience. As noted earlier, the campaign mode encompasses two unique stories – one finds you as an American fighting the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, while the other puts you in the Red Army as you advance on Berlin. The story isn’t Earth shattering, but it moves along at a brisk pace and the difference of the stories in terms of environment helps greatly to break up some of the monotony I felt in COD3, as do the handful of vehicle levels.
Much like in COD3, you’ll rain down death and destruction on your enemies from the skies, this time as an American gunner. However, unlike COD3, where you were never in any danger, this time around you’ll find yourself scrambling from one gun post to another while trying to sink gun boats and shoot down advancing Zeroes. It’s a more frantic experience and one of the more memorable levels in the game. The tank level is solid, but I found it a little more hit or miss.
My biggest complaint about the series is also back as infinitely respawning enemies and squad mates return in World at War. That means you’ll need to continue advancing to make the enemies stop, which pretty much pigeonholes you into being very aggressive in playing the game. It’s not much of an issue on the lower difficulties, but those looking to take things to 11 (AKA Veteran Mode) may find it frustrating. Cranking up the difficulty also turns your enemies into clairvoyant snipers that are each carrying around a knapsack full of grenades — and throwing them with pinpoint accuracy at your feet. I would personally prefer improved AI rather than supernatural aim and unlimited men/ammo when playing on higher difficulties as it too often devolves into an exercise of trial and error, but anyone looking for a challenge will certainly find it here.
At the conclusion of the campaign mode you will unlock “Nazi Zombies,” which is a fun little extra where you fight off wave after wave of the Nazi undead. You get points for killing them and rebuilding your defenses, which can then be spent to acquire new weapons or open up new areas to defend. You can play this solo or online, and I found it to be a funny little time waster. Unfortunately, there are no achievements associated with the mode, which I long ago realized is a very enticing carrot for many members of the Xbox 360’s gaming community.
Most of the replay value will be found in the online multiplayer mode, which has been taken nearly verbatim from Call of Duty 3. I love COD multiplayer because there’s such an added sense of tension when your guy can’t absorb 50 bullets to the skull ala Halo 3 or Gears of War 2. If someone gets the drop on you, odds are you’ll be cut down. All the standard modes are present – Death match, Free-for-all, Capture the Flag, Headquarters and War (my favourite) – along with a Boot Camp mode (for those Level 8 or lower) that allows you to get your feet wet. That’s a great addition in theory, but in practice I ran into plenty of players well beyond Level 8 as it turns out if a party leader is below the requisite level anyone can join the match, which kind of defeats the purpose. I’m also not a fan of the matchmaking as a whole as I constantly found myself with much more experienced players, which in a game that rewards progress with improved weapons makes it doubly difficult for newbies.
The leveling up system itself is addicting as there are tons of challenges to complete, which grant you experience (improving your rank) and unlock new additions (weapons, scopes, abilities). The “perks” system returns from COD3 as well, where players earn secondary abilities to augment their regular weapons – for example, one perk may let you to take more damage, while another allows your bullets to travel through walls. World at War also enables you to create your own class from scratch, selecting from any unlocked primary weapon, secondary weapons, grenades and perks to create a unique solider. There are so many challenges built into the multiplayer it should take even the most dedicated player months to acquire them all.
Lastly, the maps run the gamut from fairly small to expansive with the larger ones usually featuring vehicular combat as well. There is somewhat of a feeling of déjà vu with so many burnt out buildings on every level, but these are supposed to be war zones, so their presence makes sense. I do like the maps overall, though I’d like to see a more jungle oriented effort whenever they release their first round of downloadable content. Overall, there is a ton of things to enjoy with this game both online and off.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to invest the sheer number of hours into this game as I have with previous additions, World at War is shaping up to be my favourite in the series. The campaign mode is fast-paced and exhilarating, while the online mode has great gameplay and enough challenges and unlockables to keep players coming back for more. If you’re a fan of first-person shooters in the slightest, Call of Duty: World at War deserves a spot in your collection.