Thursday, January 8, 2009

Call of Duty: World at War Review

The original Call of Duty, as some of you may know, was a PC game developed by Infinity Ward, a team of 22 castaways from former Medal of Honor developers 2015. The game was critically lauded, as being somewhat fresh in a sea of stale World War II shooters, and Infinity Ward's parent company, Activision, decided to do what it does best: whore the crap out of the Call of Duty brand. First, there was the the United Offensive expansion. While developed by a different studio, Gray Matter, it was still critically praised. In an attempt to get the series onto consoles, there was the substantially less entertaining Finest Hour, from Spark Unlimited.

Meanwhile, Infinity Ward was delivering Call of Duty 2. In addition to the PC version, an Xbox 360 version was developed... and in a way, it was Call of Duty 2 that really put the series on the map, as new 360 owners, desperate for a good game to play on their shiny new console, bought up copies of Call of Duty 2 like it was crack. Not wanting to leave gamers who couldn't get their hands on a 360 (which was just about everyone at the time) in the cold, Activision had Treyarch, of Spider-Man fame, develop another spin-off called Call of Duty 2: Big Red One for the old Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube. Perhaps confusing it with the real Call of Duty, people also bought up copies of Big Red One, despite it being generally less fun. Activision, realizing that the Call of Duty franchise was now one of their top franchises, came up with their ultimate plan for whoring Call of Duty: the annual installment. Infinity Ward would be given two years to develop new Call of Duty games from scratch. During their off-year, Treyarch would make game with the previous year's engine. And since Call of Duty 2 was developed by Infinity Ward, that meant that Treyarch got to do Call of Duty 3. And many gamers who enjoyed Call of Duty 2 bought 3, and wound up disappointed. Infinity Ward, perhaps recognizing that WWII was too stale even for them to spice up any more, gave us the stellar Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (a game that, in my opinion, beats the crap out of Halo or Gears of War for multiplayer goodness).

This year, it was Treyarch's turn again, and they quickly decided that the WWII horse wasn't dead enough, and started beating it some more. Knowing full well what a mediocre game CoD3 was, I was determined, even after a number of positive reviews, to ignore Treyarch's new Call of Duty: World at War.

But then I finished Fallout 3, and I got bored.

And now, I'm kinda glad I did. Because, as shocking as it sounds, Treyarch actually made their first good Call of Duty game.

Instead of focusing on several Allied armies like previous Call of Duty games, World at War focuses on just the US and Soviet forces. And while all of the 3 previous CoD games have had the US forces in Europe (mostly France) and the Soviet forces in Russia, WaW has the Soviets storming Berlin, and the Americans in the Pacific. The game is truly at it's best during the American campaign... the Soviets might be enjoying a change of scenery, but the players aren't, and you can't help but have a "been there, done that" feeling when taking out yet another German Panzer with a rocket launcher. Because so few WWII games have focuses on the events in the Pacific (off the top of my head, just a pair of Medal of Honor games), the American campaign feels totally fresh. The jungles of Peleliu island aren't just a change of scenery... the Japanese fighting there used totally different tactics that the Germans in occupied Europe, and Treyarch did a really good job capturing those differences. In fact, the Russian campaign almost serves as a counterpoint to remind you how different the war in the Pacific was.

Like Call of Duty 4, WaW has a bonus mission when you finish the main campaign. This time, instead of dealing with terrorists on a plane, you're in a ruined building, with naught but a pistol and a little cash. In the starting room, there are six boarded-up windows, a set of stairs, and a door. Zombies will show up and start tearing down the boards over the windows. Ideally, you want to kill the zombies before they get in, and repair any boards they tore off. You get money for both, that can be used to buy weapons and ammo, or to open doors. The thing is, if you open a door to another part of the building, you'll be giving the zombies more routes in, as well, but you'll also have access to better weapons. And with each successive wave, the zombies get harder to kill and more numerous. Needless to say, it becomes very difficult to survive on your own. I never completed this mission, so I couldn't tell you what you get if you do. Strangely, the Xbox version only allows two people to play split screen, but likely more can play online.

While Treyarch's managed to emulate Infinity Ward's penchant for fleshing out the soldiers that fight alongside the player, one are that Treyarch is still lacking are those "whoa!" moments that helped make Call of Duty, Call of Duty 2, and Call of Duty 4 so memorable. It's this one failing that keeps WaW from being quite in the same category as CoD2 or CoD4, but the game is better than the original Call of Duty for the refinement the series has enjoyed since then. The game is also light years better than Call of Duty 3 or any of the spin-off series.

And, as refreshing as the Pacific Theater was, the Call of Duty franchise is very much still at risk of getting stale with annual installments. I honestly wouldn't mind playing the American Civil War, World War I, Korea, or Vietnam instead of World War II, for a change.

Ultimately, gamers looking for a game on par with Call of Duty 4 might be a little let down, but gamers looking for a solid shooter should still give World at War a look, since Treyarch finally crafted a game worthy of the Call of Duty label.

Final Score: A-

1 comment:

science412 said...

I wish the zombie bonus mission was offered up as a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game. I have no interest in yet another realistic war shooter, but I do love me some zombies.