Call of Duty: World at War

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I’ll admit I was skeptical going into this one. I’ve always been a fan of the Call of Duty games, don’t get me wrong. But releasing this game so soon after Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare left me a little confused.

How, for example, could they possibly have had the time and resources to create an entirely new game, balanced for multiplayer and bug tested and everything else that goes with creating a mainstream game? I was expecting a simple moneymaking clone of Modern Warfare and not much more. And it was set in World War Two – haven’t we milked that genre dry enough?

But my friends insisted, and I’d just gotten a larger-than-usual paycheck, so I broke down and bought the game for the Xbox 360.

I’m pleased to say I was immediately impressed. The distinct art style in the cut scenes combined with footage from either WW2 movies or even the war itself did immeasurably more to draw me into the game than simple mission briefings between generic campaign missions ever could have. The narration was excellent as well, speaking from the perspective of a war-weary U.S. Marine in the Philippines or a zealous Russian officer rallying his men for the next assault.

The game play itself feels very similar to Modern Warfare – but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The controls are streamlined enough that I never had trouble doing what I wanted to do. Even the melee button, which in other games feels like an afterthought, is accessible enough that having to stab someone feels like a natural part of combat rather than “changing gears”.

As far as the campaign itself goes, I found myself sucked into the missions more than any other Call of Duty game I’ve played. The combination of the cut scenes, the distinct characters, and the gritty realism of it all did wonders to make me actually care about the missions I was playing through, rather than mechanically overcoming a series of obstacles. I do, however, shudder to imagine how quickly I’d have died in every level without the infallible “grenade” sixth sense.

Interestingly, I found myself drawn into the Russian missions more, where the charismatic officer shouting orders and propaganda while charging along the battlefield got me so caught up in it all that I began to feel genuine fear during an ambush, or I would curse myself for not being faster when I saw a comrade fall in battle.

But anyone buying a Call of Duty game just for the campaign – not matter how good it may be – is missing out. There’s no challenge quite like pitting your skills quite like another human being. Plus my friends love to talk trash, and I’d been getting good at the game, so I jumped online and started shutting them up.

The controls, again, feel smooth and comfortable. But what I noticed was even better that Modern Warfare was the types and balance of weapons available.

Since the game is set in the 1940s, the weapons aren’t all assault rifles and sub machine guns like they were in Modern Warfare. In fact, a good majority of the weapons you’ll find are bolt-action rifles. There are, of course, weapons like the Thompson or the BAR for those of us who like their automatics. However, the accuracy and damage has been brought more into balance with the majority of what’s available, and the result is a fun, action-packed, balanced game that’s more about skill and planning than traditional spray-n-pray.

The ranking system from Modern Warfare is back, and although I’ve never been thrilled with a system that works to make the good players better while leaving the rest behind, it seems to work well enough now that multiplayer isn’t about having the biggest, fastest, loudest gun.

All in all, the style, character, feel and game play all come together wonderfully to provide not only a solid experience but perhaps even a brief glance into the life of a World War 2 soldier.