The explosive opening sequence in Call of Duty World At War signals the beginning of an emotional and thrilling ride through some of World War II’s Pacific and Eastern Europe campaigns. We’ve taken a different approach than usual to writing this review, splitting it into two parts to try and give you a taster of what to expect from this unpredictable, energetic and immensely enjoyable first person shooter. In the first part, we relay an account of the opening first half-an-hour or so of the campaign, whilst the second section concentrates on our gameplay impressions.
Mission 1: Semper Fi
The campaign begins in true Call of Duty style by thrusting you straight into the action as you wake up in a hut on the Pacific Ocean island of Makin Atoll having been captured by Japanese soldiers. You’re greeted with the disturbing sight of your comrade interrogated by the enemy and then cruelly tortured, with a nasty cigar burn to his face, for his unwillingness to co-operate. In foolish defiance he spits in the face of his aggressor who then unshields his knife and brutally slits his throat. He then takes a few paces towards you brandishing his weapon menacingly. Just as you think you’re about to suffer the same fate, a group of soldiers storm the hut and wrestle him to the ground just in time. It’s the rescue squad! Hooray!
An ally thrusts a pistol into your hand and then it’s a mad and chaotic dash through the village as Japanese soldiers, now alerted to your presence, take up positions outside of their wooden huts dotted on the beach and along the glistening waterfront. Under the canvas of the moon, explosions light up the sky and muzzles flash as you and your team fight an intense and bloody battle. A grenade is thrown and one of the wooden huts catches alight. The door bursts open and an Imperial Japanese soldier spills out, his body in flames. He clutches onto one of your comrades hoping to take him to hell as well, but an accurately placed bullet from your pistol manages to hit him right between the eyes. You’ve saved Private Ryan! Trophy unlocked.
After clearing the village of all hostiles you head into the undergrowth, wading through deep water with your gun close to your chest. As you approach a clearing the silence is deafening and you suspect something is afoot. Suddenly a flash-bang goes off blinding you temporarily. It’s an ambush! Japanese soldiers, who had been lying in the water amongst the reeds, spring up from all around you. A shrieking suicidal soldier runs at you, leaps onto your chest and attempts to bury his bayonet into your skull. A quick press of the right thumb-stick sees you counteracting his move, affording you time to plunge your knife deep into his neck.
Following a feverish gunfight, you approach a Japanese village on the shores of the Pacific where a friendly boat is moored ready to whisk you to safety. Firstly though, you’ve got more enemies to contend with. You shoot a hole in a petrol can that’s sat in the back of a truck, release the brakes and then send the vehicle careering into the heart of the village where it explodes sending enemies scattering for cover.
Your teammates lead the charge, running into the village all guns blazing as they pick off enemies along the way. Finally, you reach the objective point where you set up explosives in preparation for blowing up the village. Thinking the coast is clear you head to the extraction point on the beach, but ‘out of the blue,’ an enemy soldier launches himself off the balcony of a nearby hut and swipes at you with his sword. Luckily, an ally manages to shoot him just as he’s about to thrust his weapon through your heart. You’re dragged to safety, hurt but still alive. Finally you have the first chance to pause for breath in this adrenaline-fuelled opening sequence as you board the rescue boat and speed across the water to safety before embarking on your next exhilarating mission.
Developer, Treyarch (missing in action since Call of Duty 3,) has picked up from where Infinity Ward left off with ‘Modern Warfare’ and has pulled out all the stops to make World At War a compelling WWII shooter and a worthy entrant in the Call of Duty series. Living up to the expectations set by Modern Warfare is no mean feat either, but despite World At War missing some of those epic moments that we were treated to in that game, (who can forget the intense raid on the farmhouses in search of a terrorist leader?) it does offer one of the finest first person shooter experiences of 2008.
With World War II as its theme, the story in World At War is told from the perspective of a U.S. Marine raider and a Russian Army soldier, who embark on the final battles in the Pacific and Eastern Europe campaigns. The subject matter has afforded the developer the luxury to create a varied experience with different environments to battle across and diverse warring mentalities to play around with. Whilst both the U.S. marine sections and the Russian soldier segments in the game are equally as dramatic and enjoyable, they both have a different feel to them and offer varying gameplay experiences. This means that you occasionally need to adapt your playing style to suit the change in pace or the switch in focus. Whether you’re breaking through the German defences in the town of Seelow, or sniping from the rooftops as the Russian to clear room for your team-mates to advance on the ground, there’s enough diversity in the gameplay, including a section where you can play entirely with flame-thrower in hand, to ensure that you’re not just constantly facing fire-fight after fire-fight. Switching focus like this makes the gameplay feel fresh, unpredictable and exciting.
After playing the visually astounding, ‘Modern Warfare’ we expected World at War to look and sound incredible and the good news is it doesn’t disappoint. With gorgeous textures, dazzling water and fire effects, impressive environmental destruction, brilliant animation and a haunting soundtrack, it manages to capture the intensity, the spirit and even the horror of war. Such is the magnitude of the production in World At War that it not only makes for an immersive experience, but it has the ability to stir your emotions. Crawling past decapitated bodies of your teammates, or setting soldiers on fire with a carefully place Molotov cocktail (or the hugely enjoyable flamethrower) and watching them run around as they’re burnt alive are just some of the grisly, yet spine-tingingly brilliant highlights. It’s powerful stuff.
Having such gorgeous graphics certainly helps to create an authentic wartime feel, but without some solid game mechanics it wouldn’t mean a thing. Creating animations for the Japanese soldiers, who have a different mentality and behavioural patterns to other sets of soldiers we’re used to fighting against, must have been a joy for Treyarch. The inclusion of the Imperial Japanese army has allowed them to be creative and as result the unpredictably of the soldiers in battle keeps you on your toes. They launch themselves at you with suicidal banzai attacks, they play dead and then jump up and surprise you as you walk past and they climb trees to gain a vantage point, using the environment to their advantage by setting traps and hiding in the undergrowth. As a result, in addition to the standard Call of Duty action that we all know and love, the fighting is varied and unpredictable with a mixture of long range attacks and close-quarters combat.
As well as the outstanding enemy A.I. who pin you down and throw grenades with extreme precision, the A.I. of your allies is also superb. As you move up the battlefield they press forward alongside you, taking up strategic positions on route and changing their behaviour and focus in direct response to the action around you. If you find yourself under heavy gunfire, the friendly A.I. is so in tune with the action that you can keep your head down and weather the storm as they provide cover fire and effectively attack the opposition and draw their fire away from you. They always work with you, which is so important in creating a believable game experience. The A.I. doesn’t just take care of itself, but it works alongside you spectacularly. As a result it feels as though you’re part of a team that is working together towards a common goal. The introduction of four player co-op also encourages team work and allows you to enjoy the experience with friends, offering further replay value to the short, but intensely satisfying campaign.
Throughout World At War there are some memorable moments. Some of the highlights include: storming the white beach of Peleliu island to make way for allied takeover; grabbing a sniper rifle and crawling past the dead bodies of your allies to assist Sgt. Reznov in assassinating the Nazi General Amse; and running through a burning, crumbling building looking frantically for an escape route after Germans spot you and try and torch it to force you out in the open. Also look out for an explosive chapter where you jump in the seat of a tank and are tasked with shooting down radio towers while using its flame-thrower weapon to torch ground troops.
If you’ve played Call of Duty games before then the control scheme will be instantly familiar and the weapons from past titles, such as the M1 Garand and the Browning Automatic Rifle make a predicable, but welcome, return. There’s still an excellent arsenal of US, Russian, German and Japanese weaponry on offer all offering different scopes, fire rates and loading times and there’s still the likes of an AA gun which you can jump on, or a bazooka to take down tanks, alongside some decent new additions, such as the flamethrower.
Despite finding Call of Duty World At War extremely difficult/challenging in places, we loved every second of it and due its brilliant online component we’ll almost certainly be playing it online for many months to come. Whilst it doesn’t quite surpass the greatness of ‘Modern Warfare’ in terms of epic moments, it is another breath-taking entry in the series. With the introduction of 4-player co-op and some extensive multiplayer options, including the brilliant Nazi Zombie Mode, Call of Duty World At War offers the complete package for fans of the first person shooter genre. We can’t recommend it enough.