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TVG runs through the ruins of Okinawa and Berlin as we give Treyarch’s latest attempt at CoD a going over…
- Solid campaign.
- Continues the strong online multiplayer of Modern Warfare.
- Vindicates the decision to stick with Treyarch.
- Enemy strategy can be dodgy at times.
- Out of place music at times.
CEASEFIRE!!! Can’t we just give peace a chance? We know that you’re still enamoured with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but don’t you just harbour a desire to return to the ‘good old days’ of fighting the Germans? How about the Japanese? Even if you don’t, Treyarch and Activision do, which is why the Call of Duty franchise returns once more to WW2 in World at War.
As the guns of cynicism over the series’ return to the hands of Treyarch fall to a murmur, and gamers prepare for the inevitable street battles through ’45 Berlin and the Pacific Islands, TVG parachutes into the undergrowth of the fifth instalment in the award-winning series to see whether it’s a case of second time lucky for the San Franciscan studio…
A Not So Pacifist Pacific.
Right from the start it's obvious there is a lot of war to be had in World at War, with a campaign spanning two fronts, the implementation of four-player co-op, the same reliable multiplayer action of its predecessor (and more), and the addition of a zombie German gametype.
With the implementation of the exceptional Modern Warfare engine running the show, Treyarch were left with the task of developing a compelling campaign that would stir the blood of first-person shooter aficionados. It’s clear from the offset that the more reserved and intimate set pieces of its immediate predecessor gives way for an experience that for the most past is louder and more brash. Returning to the more traditional Call of Duty battles of World War II is certainly something of a tangent, with World at War for the most part feeling about as subtle as a plank to the side of the head. But it’s more than just a radical change in how war is fought. World at War drops players right into the action without much room for breathing space, and it isn’t until the sniper-filled sneaking through Stalingrad after the first hour, that players can finally take quite breath for a couple of minutes.
One of the great elements of the Modern Warfare was it’s integration of set pieces that would literally drop jaws; for World at War, it’s clear that Treyarch has attempted to achieve the same thing…but to different levels of success. So much of the game’s key scripted moments can at times feel almost like time-warped nods to what’s gone before – the jolt to the floor of the deck on board the cargo transporter in Modern Warfare is mirrored by a stun grenade from a Japanese soldier; the same Terminator ‘Come with me if you want to live!’ moment instantly springs to mind. That said, World at War does have it’s own unique moments that will stun – the order to execute surrendering German soldiers during the ransacking of Berlin, a pre-dawn ambush by the Japanese, a one-on-one against a German sniper in Stalingrad, and a daring rescue attempt by a military sea plane, all hold weight for different reasons.
Call of Duty games, despite their otherwise solid gameplay, have always been found lacking in one area: vehicles. Breaking away substantially from the franchise's otherwise gritty experiences, the addition of vehicular missions have always felt more wishy-washy, more arcade like. World at War does feature a single section where players take control of a tank during the Russian rush to Berlin, which continues to feel like a departure, but it's not as cheap as it perhaps could have been. Other areas where vehicles are involved actually add more to the experience; the run of the Black Cat seaplanes protecting the US fleet towards Okinawa hints at the naval battles in the pacific, with quick stints against kamikaze planes and PT boats, and the desperate rescue of sailors offering a brief but arguably needed nod towards under-represented areas of the Allies.
But for all that, World at War also treads a very thin line between a gritty interpretation of events over sixty years ago, and a jingoistic realisation that will get some gamers’ heckles up. The representation of Japanese infantry as almost suicidal on demand is for instance one element that suspends belief – nearly as much as their universal scream of Banzai! Looking past that, it’s hard to deny that the two years spent in development has allowed Treyarch to push a game that’s far and away a much more rounded and solid affair compared to its last attempt at Call of Duty. Some of that can be attributed to the CoD4 engine, which has offered a solid base for the studio to tweak and improve the lighting and shadowing, and continues to be one of the most impressive engines of this generation. The addition of flame-throwers in the game also offers an opportunity to show some the evolutions made to the engine; 2008 does seem to be the year of propagating fire...
After practising the art of aggressive shouting for the last six series of 24, Keifer Sutherland makes his Call of Duty debut as Sgt. Roebuck, the commander of the player’s squad of US Marines attempting to push back the Imperial Japanese forces. Together with Gary Oldman as his Russian counterpart, the two actors throw themselves fully into the roles; Sutherland seems to relish yelling how outstanding the Marines are after taking a Japanese stronghold, whilst Oldman's continuous thirst for revenge against the Fascists that attacked and murdered in the Motherland shows some of the emotions that no doubt existed sixty years ago. The voice work and sound may be one thing, the music is another. Whilst the Russian campaign is filled with choral work to tighten up the immersion, the Japanese missions do occasionally break into some sort of heavy rock...we could have had more of the serene Japanese music instead!
The End Of Modern Warfare?
Setting a benchmark for multiplayer offerings, Modern Warfare opened the door to progressive gameplay that was arguably unrivalled. Gametypes and other options lay locked in the background until players secured enough experience to access them, a strategy that tapped into an addictiveness that hardcore gamers can all too readily identify with.
Taking that on board, it’s perhaps no surprise that Treyarch has taken those foundations and largely replicated into a World War II setting. The same structure of Modern Warfare's perpetually popular multiplayer continues to run through World at War, with 'Create a Class', additional gametypes, and more all waiting to be unlocked. The number of players on multiplayer has been bumped up from its predecessor, with up to eighteen gamers now able to play in a single lobby.
World at War also sees the implementation of four-player co-operative gameplay online, and two-player split-screen, with options for a meta-game or just regular co-op. Despite its smooth running, the co-op isn't the most effective we've seen – getting further in the game on co-op won't unlock those missions on Solo – which seems a bit backward compared to other titles.
But beyond that, the Californian outfit has also added its own ‘special’ touch, with the re-introduction of Call of Duty 3 gametype War thrown into the mix, alongside the recently revealed zombie Nazi mode, something that gamers from the Wolfenstein era of FPS titles can look at with more than a shovel full of nostalgia. There is a lot of game to be had in World at War, with the multiplayer offerings surpassing Modern Warfare's acclaimed online experience, but it'll be interesting to see how it copes with the likes of Gears of War 2 and Resistance 2 (not to mention Call of Duty: Modern Warfare) over the holiday period.
So with Infinity Ward rumoured to be working on a far future instalment for 2009, could Treyarch once again return to the battlefields of World War II in 2010? Judging by the rather wrapped up way World at War deals with the final days of the Third Reich and Expansionist Imperial Japan, it does seem unlikely...so will it be a second outing for the SAS and USMC instead?