After the brilliance of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the decision to roll back the series to a World War II setting for World at War was about as welcome as a grenade in an exhaust pipe. Having played through World at War I’m happy to announce that while still a decent entry in the series, my initial scepticism toward it is well founded.
World at War throws you into the heat of conflict in two intertwining campaigns – as Private Miller during the USA’s battle for the Pacific and Private Petrenko on the Russian Army’s march toward Berlin. The action is typical Call of Duty with intense missions, stunning set pieces and the largest, deadliest game of hot potato you’ll ever experience. However, it isn’t all familiar territory. Developers Treyarch have clearly tried to make the game as unique as possible: the grassy islands of the Pacific are new to the series and the Japanese a ferocious adversary, with more banzai charges and underground ambushes than you can shake a Molotov at.
In tandem with this particularly brutal conflict, the game differs in another important sense. The Call of Duty series has always emphasised action while minimising gratuitous violence. World at War changes this with considerably more detached limbs and charred corpses than its predecessors. While it certainly makes the combat more visceral, it’s something of an acquired taste. At times it feels as if the series has grown up, handing you some uncomfortable and disturbing moral choices. Yet in other instances, the game has simply dyed its hair black and had its lip pierced.
The hit-and-miss nature of the violence marks something of a trend in World at War. While the Pacific campaign has some stellar moments such as an assault on a heavily fortified hilltop, it is let down by unimaginative level design. Moreover, the combination of a flamethrower and the bizarre enemy tactic of running directly into it make dispatching enemies all too easy, making the missions repetitive as a result.
Somewhat ironically it’s the more traditional Russian campaign that contains the most exhilarating levels, including the hunt for a German officer in bomb-battered Stalingrad. Despite the blatant Enemy at the Gates rip-off (you start off hiding in a crumbling stone fountain) there are enough fantastic set pieces in this one level to make it feel like a game in itself. Unfortunately, in a recurring theme, this brilliance is counterbalanced by a execrable tank mission which feels more tacked-on than the plot of a porn film.
Treyarch have also included a cooperative mode and a level that involves four players defending themselves against waves of Nazi-zombies, suspiciously similar to a certain other game involving a team of four players defending themselves against waves of non-Nazi-zombies, demanding teamwork to avoid being ‘left for dead’. Both could be derided as gimmicks, but they are enjoyable enough.
World at War is another bombastic ride through the heavily trodden path of the Second World War and a worthy addition to the Call of Duty canon. It is not, however, the stride forward that Modern Warfare was. The setting is simply too well covered to allow enough opportunity for originality and for every pleasure it provides, there are seventeen suicidal Japanese soldiers just desperate to cuddle the business end of your flamethrower.After the brilliance of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the decision to roll back the series to a World War II setting for World at War was about as welcome as a grenade in an exhaust pipe. Having played through World at War I’m happy to announce that while still a decent entry in the series, my initial scepticism toward it is well founded.