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Call of Duty: World at War

14 Nov 2008  by   Paul Younger
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Treyarch doesn’t have it easy. The California-based developer’s track record is worse than Elton John’s back catalogue and, according to the vitriol flying around games forums, it is regarded by many as Infinity Ward’s dumber, slightly special cousin. Of course, it hasn’t done itself too many favours either. Treyarch’s last foray into the Call of Duty franchise featured a messy, unfocused single player campaign that angered many fans of the series. It also managed to take the superb COD4 engine and make it feel sluggish, buggy and cumbersome in the recent Quantum of Solace game. You could almost hear the collective groan when Activision announced COD5 would be back in the hands of Treyarch and, to the amazement of everyone, would be set once more in World War Two.But, to the chagrin of forum warriors everywhere, when it comes to Call of Duty 5: World of War you have to pay Treyarch its dues. The underdog has finally come out on top because COD5 is a blisteringly exciting war game which, at times, displays a deep understanding of its subject matter.In keeping with its predecessor, the single player game in World at War is divided between two conflicts: the American campaign in the South Pacific and the Russian push towards Berlin. It’s immediately obvious that Treyarch has attempted to put its own spin on the franchise. From the moment you take on the role of Private Miller, tied to a chair watching Japanese soldiers torture and murder your friend, you can see that this is a considerably darker game than its forebears and this is a theme that continues throughout.The Treyarch version of World War Two is filled with brutality and gore and is utterly deserving of its ‘15’ rating. World at War is a blood-soaked game, with geysers of plasma exploding from your enemies and more scattered limbs than Heather Mills’ closet.  But it’s not simply the gore that creates the dark tone – Treyarch deftly resisted the temptation to turn COD5 into a morally simplistic game and the Russian campaign highlights this very well. Your time as Private Dimitri Petrenko begins as you lie injured following a German assault, with Nazi troops executing your wounded comrades. The Russian missions focus on the Red Army’s desire for vengeance following a brutal, bitter conflict on the Eastern front.As Pvt Petrenko and his squad advance on Berlin, you really get the feeling that this has become a one-sided conflict. The Germans are on the back foot and, in the majority of the European sections, you will encounter retreating enemies which throws up a whole new set of moral contradictions. You’ll witness your comrades mercilessly killing wounded, unarmed Germans and at one point you’ll even be asked to execute a group of PoWs. The moral ambiguity may not be particularly subtle, but it displays a deeper understanding of the conflict than has been demonstrated in previous WW2 games. There are even some clever ironic nods to post-War Russia as your Red Army comrades talk about how the brutality will end once the Nazis are defeated.  Whilst COD5 doesn’t quite manage to make you care about any of the characters (despite some timely deaths) it does provide an intelligent context for the action.{PAGE TITLE=Page 2}And let’s face it, action has always been Call of Duty’s raison d’être and World at War does not disappoint.  The series’ greatest achievement has always been making the player feel as if they are simply a cog in the war machine, and COD5’s cleverly designed levels continue this tradition. The game has always been at its best in the open air environments and Treyarch has managed to make the outdoor sections seem large and relatively open, even if they aren’t. The action is also well-structured and whilst some of the set pieces lack the spectacular cinematic appeal of COD4’s, the frenetic  pace is intoxicating and before you know it you’ll have completed a significant chunk of the eight hour campaign.The well-designed environments and relentless pace are powered by an incredibly sturdy game engine, swiped from COD4. Movement and aiming feel smooth and natural, almost impossibly so when you consider that this is a stunningly pretty game. The detailed textures look highly realistic and are complemented by a range of lighting and special effects which result in one of the best looking games in the PS3 catalogue. The fact that the game moves along at such a blistering framerate shames its FPS rivals, nearly all of which feel sluggish in comparison. The game engine is a technical marvel and it’s all credit to Treyarch that it has actually improved on COD4 in terms of visuals.The developer has also seen fit to tweak the AI to match the game’s context and, in the Pacific campaign, the Japanese enemies are particularly aggressive. Rather than simply cowering behind cover, taking pot-shots at you, some enemies will charge right for you, bayonet at the ready forcing you into a brief minigame for survival. You’ll be pleased to know that these sections are far less annoying than the QTEs in COD3, simply requiring a timely click of the right stick. Whilst these minigames are bound to annoy some, without them the aggressive, charging AI would be pointless.There are still some AI issues at play in COD5, as there have been in every game in the series. You’ll occasionally witness some arse-brained antics from your enemies and you’ll find that the quicker you move forward, the more they get confused. Find a way across the front line into enemy territory and they’ll often stare at you, looking perplexed. This is presumably related to the scripted progression in the game and, again, we had more than a couple occasions where the trigger didn’t kick in. As the Russians prepared to storm the Reichstag we had to restart the level twice because a scripted event was not triggered.It’s in these moments that you realise just how much the Call of Duty series relies on smoke and mirrors to create its battlefields. It all relies on you moving at the pace the game sets and once you start looking for freedom, you’ll start to spot the triggered events and linear level design. However, this is something that has plagued the series from the start and, with the exception of COD3, every Call of Duty game contains enough thrilling action to overshadow the conventional design. World at War is no exception.   Treyarch has finally silenced the critics with World at War, proving that it deserves to be involved in the Call of Duty series. Whilst the game is as linear at heart as its predecessors should not detract from the developer’s achievement. Factor in the replay value of the co-op and multiplayer (which we’ll cover in detail next week) and we have one of the most compelling, action-packed war games to date. 

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