Lets be honest right from the off, World at War is simply Call of Duty 4 set back in World War II and made a bit worse. I had some hopes when I started the game, the briefing sequences to each level are nicely done, they mix together voice overs from the leading character from the US and Russian campaigns with archive footage from the battles you are taking part in.
It is clear that Treyarch are trying to honour those who were involved in that bloody conflict, and that is a good thing too. Veterans need to be remembered, and as the years go on there are going to be less and less of them alive, so poignant tributes to them are essential. However when you start the credits with a message in honour of those troops and proceed to throw in a zombie survival mode at the end, well that just seems wrong.
Anyway, I shouldn’t be debating the morals of this game, I may not like them, but hey lets talk about the game shall we? So as I said earlier, World at War comes across very much as a poor clone of Call of Duty 4, just with a different setting. In fact it seems like Treyarch saw what made the previous installment such a good game in single-player and recycled it. Yet just like recycled paper, it just isn’t as good as the original.
The game opens with your US character being held prisoner by the Japanese, what follows is a brutal oppening sequence which sees the Japanese troops beating up your character and a couple of other US Marines, two of which get their throats slit before rescue arrives for yourself. Compare and contrast with that amazing execution sequence from this games predecessor. That is how to do this kind of thing, here it feels rushed and made overly brutal without need.
Who else then saves you but Jack Bauer…I mean Keifer Sutherland, possibly the worst voice actor for this role. Whenever you hear him speak, you expect him to cry out that a nuke has just gone off in down town L.A. and that CTU has been blown up. Pretty much Keifer’s voice is now so associated with Jack Bauer that you can’t take him seriously as a Marine Sergeant. Voice acting may not be the best part in any game, but to chose such as recognisable voice for this role was not the right decision. His voices seems to be shouted down your ears, meanwhile the Russian Sergeant pleads and cajoles with you with the voice of a loving Communist uncle.
Personally I find the US levels the worst part of the game, not because of Keifer but because that is where the worst examples of FPS game mechanics are evident. Everyone remembers and hates the dogs that were in CoD4, this time we get something so, so much worse; Banzai warriors.
While there is nothing wrong with the premise of Banzai warriors being in the game, it is the way in which they are implemented which makes them stand out as one of the most annoying features of the game. The trouble with them starts with the split second timing required to kill them when they are on top of you. It doesn’t help that you have to press V, being able to click the mouse button in that situation would be so much easier. This is a perfect example of how Treyarch haven’t learned the lessons from Call of Duty 4 and have just rehashed any game mechanic they could find.
While killing them is a pain itself, it is their interaction, or lack of at time with your buddies that shows how shoddy their implementation is. More than once I saw a Banzai charge at me when there were two other Marines between us. He just ignored them, and they in turn ignored him. Even when he was on top of me in those moments before I hit V they ignored him.
There are further examples of poor FPS game mechanics; Japanese troops hiding in a tree that only seem to die when you shoot them. Nobody else will take them on, it is left to you. It is just weak and breaks any sense of immersion. Did I mention that they often only seem to succumb when you use a flamethrower on them? How does hiding in a tree prevent you from being killed by a perfect shot from a sniper rifle I just don’t know.
What I loved about CoD4 was the way you were always part of a team, yes it was often up to you to move forward to trigger the next sequence but it was done in a way that made the game enjoyable. In World at War it grates, nobody seems to move forward without you leading the way and every single objective falls into that classic trap of World War II games where it is you and only you who is fulfilling them. Can nobody else blow up that Flak-88? It has to be me? And I have to run through a small army of German soldiers to get there with backup only arriving once I reach the target?
I know that this is a curse of the FPS genre, but when we have such open games as Far Cry 2 and even the predecessor to this doing things in a much better way, well it comes accross as out dated and tired. Don’t get me wrong there are some good moments in the game, but they are instantly ruined by the arrival of The Holy Hand Grenade.
Call of Duty 4 was so great because of the emotional involvement you were able to develop with each of the characters, I was shocked and taken aback in several key moments that the misgivings I had about that game were put aside. World at War fails in this aspect, while it has similar pivotal moments in the game they are not done at all well. They happen all too frequently and their pacing is just awful. It may not seem like it, but an important part of any FPS is the pacing, and World at War just doesn’t have any.
Finally the ending, haven’t we done this before in a World War II game? Wasn’t that game in the Call of Duty franchise? Way to go Treyarch for recycling not just Call of Duty 4, but earlier games from the franchise too. In a world where Far Cry 2 is setting new standards for the FPS genre, World at War is a decidedly average game.