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Call of Duty: World at War Review

Jesse_Costantino By:
PLAYERS 1- 18 
PUBLISHER Activision Blizzard 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

What do these ratings mean?

A realistic take on WWII… except with zombies.

You’re 16-years old and your parents have left town for the weekend. Do you: (a) spend the weekend catching up on schoolwork and cleaning the house, (b) lock up the house and stay at a friend’s house for the weekend, or (c) throw a big party and “borrow” Dad’s new Porsche for some impromptu street racing? If you answered (a) or (b), you’re not a very good liar and deserve whatever punishment your parents give you. For the correct answer is, of course, (c).

click to enlargeLike a teenager left home alone for the weekend with the keys to the liquor cabinet and Dad’s prized car, Treyarch has been left in charge of the latest Call of Duty title while Infinity Ward’s away. Last time Activision gave them the keys to Infinity Ward’s baby, Treyarch took the series on a stupidly wild ride that resembled a cheap knock-off of a Rambo flick. Call of Duty 3’s best moments were rip-offs of the prior two Call of Duty games, and its many bad moments were sub-par attempts at Hollywood action movie thrills.

This time around, however, Treyarch seems to have learned the truth behind the maxim: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Call of Duty: World at War so closely resembles Infinity Ward’s praise-worthy Call of Duty 4 that most of its faults are also its predecessor’s faults.

Luckily, Treyarch decided to forgo the over-the-top, go-for-broke action sequences of Call of Duty 3. Instead, they’ve opted for the same gritty realism used by Infinity Ward in Modern Warfare. And by “the same gritty realism”, I mean the exact same gritty realism. Modern Warfare World at War rehashes pretty much every major action setpiece from its series precursor. I won’t spoil the story, but expect a similarly brutal opening execution sequence, expect a similarly intense sniper level in the Soviet Union, and expect to spot even more similarities as you progress.

It’s a bit like listening to a comedian tell a great joke and then listening to your twerpy younger brother repeat it later on in an obnoxious attempt to get some easy laughs. He might get all the words right, but it’s just not as funny hearing it from someone else who doesn’t know how to tell the joke.

click to enlargeGameplay in World at War is nearly identical to that of Call of Duty 4. However, you won’t find as many variations in play types this time around. There are some tank and airborne gunner sequences, but you’ll find nothing comparable to the stellar night-vision shelling sequence or tank escort mission in CoD4. Largely, it’s business as usual in the WWII shooter genre: shoot in a field, shoot in the trenches, shoot in urban ruins, and shoot in small towns and villages.

Fortunately, it plays excellently thanks to the smooth controls and weapon mechanics established by its predecessor; nevertheless, it feels like a step backward instead of forward for the series and for the genre at large. It is only thanks to respectable A.I. and commendable level design that there’s still plenty of entertainment and challenge.

A small handful of outstanding cinematic segments—combining WWII stock footage and CG work—lend some genuine drama to an otherwise formulaic plot, and impressive voice acting by Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman give depth to what should by all rights be a flat cast of stock characters. Gary Oldman’s role as a Soviet sergeant is practically worth the price of admission alone.

But really, all this talk about the single-player campaign is just icing on the bullet-riddled cake for most of you. We all know you’re only reading this review to learn about multiplayer. So without further ado, said simply: If you liked Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer, you’ll probably like World at War’s. But there are some important caveats.

click to enlargeThis latest Call of Duty imports the same menu system, the same ranking system, the same game types, and the same upgrade system used in Call of Duty 4. While the weapons have changed, their basic function and balance have not. You’ll also find the same core perks and very similar in-game bonuses. Maps are well-designed and everything runs smoothly.

As with the prior Call of Duty game, you still gain the ability to use a recon plane and call in an air strike as bonuses for getting multiple kills without dying, but instead of earning helicopter support, you can now send in attack dogs to track down and kill your enemies.

There are also multiplayer levels that include vehicles. While adding tanks to a multiplayer level is fun for a little while, it does considerably change the play dynamic, and not necessarily for the better. Like the introduction of dogs, tanks add a degree of chaos that’s antithetical to the controlled online play of Call of Duty 4. It’s comparable to adding giant, over-sized bowling pins to a track in a Gran Turismo game. Sure, it might briefly be fun, but what set Call of Duty 4 apart from games like Halo and Resistance was a focus on fast-paced strategy rather than frantic free-for-alls.

World at War’s most noticeable addition, however, is a disappointing co-operative mode. While it adds some replay value to the experience, it doesn’t offer anything that isn’t already present in the single-player campaign. The sole twist is the addition of Death Cards that give you specific cheats and tweaks for use in co-operative play. Found during the single-player campaign, Death Cards give you abilities such as reviving downed teammates or exploding enemies’ heads. It’s a cool idea on paper, but it doesn’t justify replaying the game.

click to enlargeAs much as World at War resembles its precursor both in its top-notch graphics, brilliant sound design, and tight gameplay, Call of Duty: World at War ultimately feels like it’s less of a game rather than more. It retains the same basic control mechanics, online play structure, and storytelling ideas, but loses many of the vital details and subtleties that made Call of Duty 4 such an exceptional experience.

Instead of revitalizing the WWII shooter genre, World at War feels like a return to familiar territory. The unlockable zombie mode is fun for a few laughs, but it also shows that when given the freedom to try new things, Treyarch is more interested in doling out cheap thrills rather than refining or redefining gameplay.

Even though Treyarch took Dad’s precious wheels out for a less reckless spin this time around, World at War is still senselessly eating away at Call of Duty’s mileage.
B Revolution report card
  • Same great control mechanics
  • Same great graphics and sound
  • Same great online play
  • . . .but much more chaotic
  • Less gameplay variation than CoD4
  • Unengaging co-op mode

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