I seem to be working my way backwards with my Call of Duty reviews. This time it's Call of Duty: World at War, which returns the franchise to its WWII roots after the ground breaking success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. While CoD:WaW isn't as good as that instant classic, it is a great WWII shooter and a lot of fun to play with a friend.
The story follows two main plotlines and switches back and forth between them. The first is that of one Private Miller, a marine who is fighting in the Pacific theater towards the end of the war. The Japanese are dug in all over the islands of the South Pacific, and the Marines have been sent to root them out. As the game begins you take control of a captured and beaten Private Miller. From his perspective you watch as another prisoner is brutally murdered. But then Corporal Roebuck (well voiced by Keifer Sutherland) rescues you. Fighting along side Jack Bauer... I mean Cpl. Roebuck, you escape to battle another day.
Unfortunately, that next fight is the pivotal Battle of Peleliu. Facing endless banzai charges, spider holes, and tunnels full of Japanese troops is intense and nerve-wracking! In reality, the fierce battle for that small speck of land lasted nearly two months and cost 6500 Americans soldiers their lives, and twice as many Japanese. It's widely regarded as one of the toughest and most bitterly fought battles in the whole of WWII.
Along a similar vein, the second story to CoD:WaW, follows another Private, this time in the Russian army. His name is Petrenko, and he is fighting tooth and nail against the Nazis during the horrendous Battle for Stalingrad. Our young soldier joins up with Viktor Reznov (voiced by the incomparable Gary Oldman) to attempt an assassination of a German general (the games obligatory CoD sniper mission). Several years down the road, an unlikely reunion of Petrenko and Reznov occurs and together you push the Germans back all the way to Berlin, eventually assualting the Reichstag itself.
Like the real life Battle of Peleliu, the defense of Stalingrad and the subsequent march into Germany was a terrible time. Treyarch have done well in capturing the hopeless desperation of these defining moments of WWII, but they don't pull any punches. Be forewarned, this is a graphic, violent game... that is driven home all the more forcefully by the fact that it is based on real events.
The gameplay is standard FPS, although you might find yourself struggling early on on with the period specific weapons. They don't hold nearly as many rounds as we have become used to in modern military shooters. Don't worry, I dive for the nearest sub-machine gun too! The controls are as tight and responsive as we have come to expect from the CoD series.
As for the game design, your typical CoD standby's like sniper missions and a brief piloting section are all present and accounted for. They don't compare to the high water mark set by CoD4:MW, and as a result feel tacked on. As for the "regular" levels, they are also pretty standard fare: overwhelming odds and lots and lots of dead bodies. The levels are designed to have a lot more open spaces, so you can try different routes. But it seems like for everything CoD:WaW does right, it still suffers for the same maladies that plague it's cousins. Poor missions objectives have you killing most of the Nazis in Germany before you finally realize that you need to be standing ten feet to your left to keep them from continually respawning.
The sections where you play as the marine against the Japanese are particularly frustrating in this regard. It seems like you never get the chance to strategically move up the battlefield before the next charge comes. As a result you end up charging blindly ahead, hoping to survive long enough that if you die in a hail of bullets you'll at least start further up the hill. It can get very frustrating, especially on the harder difficulty levels.
The graphics in CoD:WaW are pretty good, as the environments and animations are well done. I did suffer some lag issues, even in the single player campaign. The sound is good as well, with the aforementioned big Hollywood names providing the voices being the main highlight, but the sound effects and period specific weapons make it all the more real and intense.
But probably my favorite part of of CoD:WaW is the infamous 'Nazis Zombies' level that you unlock after finishing the campaign. Shamelessly piggy-backing on the Zombie renaissance that has gripped gamers and movie goers alike in the last 10 years or so, you find yourself in a dilapidated house armed with only a pistol. Slowly materializing out of the mists come the walking dead (that hasn't been copyrighted has it?), slowly shambling up to the windows, they tear at the slats to get inside. But they aren't just your normal run of the mill zombies, these are Nazi zombies... which is somehow worse! Shoot them quickly, and constantly move to check the other windows! When you complete a 'Level/Round' you have a brief respite to rebuild the fortifications or buy new weapons from the points you have accrued. Each weapon is crudely stenciled on the wall, you can take your pick. You can also spend your points to unlock new portions of the house, which will also open up more weapon choices.
But here's the rub: as the next round begins, you'll notice that the zombies are shambling just a bit faster this time. Take care of those brain-eaters and the next round they will again be faster, and the one after that faster still. And they will keep coming, breaking through walls and climbing through windows... and then it dawns on you, the awful truth: there is no escape, no way to win! The goal is to simply survive as long as you can, but the unfortunate end is unavoidable.
I have to tell you, this mode is an absolute blast, especially if you can share the horror with a friend. I've spent many late night drunken hours shouting at the TV with a friend beside me on the couch. I'm sure my neighbors have heard us: "Check that window!" or "Crap, they've broken through!" or the classic "HELP! I'm cornered!" As you get through the rounds and the zombies come faster and faster it gets very intense. I think that the highest we got was level 12 or so, and by that point the undead bastards were practically sprinting at us. I want to play this online where you can have up to four players defending the house at once!
It can be said that if you've played one WWII shooter, you've played them all. While I've certainly killed enough imaginary Nazis over the years, I've never played a WWII game that is as gritty and intense as Call of Duty: World at War. From the endless waves of Japanese banzai charges that the marines faced in the South Pacific to the hell on earth that was the siege of Stalingrad and subsequent push back into Germany by the Russian army, everything in CoD:WaW is all so shockingly... real. Well, real-ish... but that doesn't change the fact that the horrors of WWII have never been captured so vividly.
Score = 8.3 / 10