Call of Duty: World at War – the "Greatest Generation's" Finest Hours?
By Jim Bray
Activision's Call of Duty is back, with a look at World War II that'll so wind you up it may take a couple of stiff shots to wind you down after playing.
On the other hand, if you aren't really good at it chances are you'll have already taken a couple of shots, just not the whiskey type.
The Call of Duty franchise is a series of first person shooter games – games that use your own point of view, with your weapon extended in front of you as you navigate the playing field – that put you into the action in a variety of hostilities.
I reviewed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare about a year ago, a game that let you live vicariously the missions of the fine men and women currently working to keep western society safe from terrorist fanatics. It's an excellent game.
That game engine is the heart of Call of Duty: World at War, so the graphics and action is similar – and that's a good thing. But the new game throws gamers into "the ruthless and gritty chaos of combat like never before, and challenges them to band together to survive the most harrowing and climactic battles of WWII that led to the demise of the Axis powers on the European and South Pacific fronts." So say the PR materials.
Call of Duty has visited WWII before, but this one ups the ante in a couple of ways. Not only is the technology enhanced, but the experience in "World at War" is an uncensored (read "gory") one that includes unique enemies including Kamikaze fighters, ambush attacks, Banzai charges and cunning cover tactics, as well as all new cooperative game play.
I'm not big on cooperative game play, not because I don't play well with others but because I don't play games enough to get the experience required to hold my own against the zealots I've encountered on line. It seems I'm dead about as soon as I show up, which is an extremely frustrating experience.
So I generally play the single person version, and on the easiest setting ("Recruit" in this case), so I can advance far enough through the game to give it a fair review. I tried the PS3 version, a Blu-ray disc that exploited our 1080p Epson-and-Rotel- powered home theater to its limits. And let me tell you, playing a game like this on a 106 inch screen, with 2500 watts of power enveloping you, is an incredible experience.
Audio and video are first rate and the PS3 version is "dual shock" compatible.
The game is also available for the X-Box 360, PC, Wii and Nintendo DS.
If you've played other versions you'll find the look and feel familiar, but this seems to be the most difficult version in which to make headway. For me, anyway.
You begin as Private Miller, a Marine on the Pacific front, a prisoner of war who gets rescued and with his (your) compatriots has to fight his way back to safety. You can also be Red Army soldier Private Petrenko, who apparently starts "game life" in the rubble of Stalingrad – though I haven't made it that far as of this writing.
The action is inspired by such real life battles as the Makin Island raid, the Battle of Peleliu, and the Battle of Berlin.
As hinted at above, this version ups the graphics ante, not so much technologically but in that it's the most "graphic" of the COD series that I've played. If you're of a gentle disposition, you can tone down the violence, which might be a good thing for parents to do if their young kids are getting involved in the game. I threw caution to the wind, leaving it at its most gory mode, figuring it's undoubtedly the most realistic as well.
If the violence quotient gets too heavy you can always recite "it's only a game" over and over…..
Call of Duty: World at War introduces the new feature of co-operative play, "bringing fresh meaning to the 'No One Fights Alone' mantra", according to the game's promo materials. Cooperative play lets up to four-players combine online (for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC), or two-players locally on consoles, via a split screen. The Wii version also supports a co-op mode for two players.
Game publisher Activision says co-op mode lets you complete challenges and earn experience points with your buddy(s), adding "continuous re-playability and team-based gameplay".
Activision says the Multiplayer mode builds on previous versions to deliver "a persistent online experience for more squad based interaction. New development with party systems allows an intimacy with squad based combat never before seen in Call of Duty. Combined infantry and vehicle missions add a new dimension to the online warfare and offers more PERK abilities."
Which sounds great if you can play well with others….
The game features a total of thirteen missions in which you're thrust into combat right in the heat of the action, with the surround soundtrack pumping the violence and ambience throughout the home theater and the incredible graphics helping maximize the experience. The images aren't quite photo-realistic, but they're certainly close enough to get the adrenaline pumping.
This version also includes new weapons, such as a flamethrower with which you can set fire to flora in which the bad guys are hiding, exposing them to your other weapons and leaving a charred battlefield behind. I enjoyed calling in rocket strikes to soften up the entrenched enemies and leave the field of fire a little less fiery for myself and my virtual comrades in arms.
The game also features top notch voice talent, including Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman. And the cut scenes are very well done, giving you background and historical perspective before you're tossed from the safety of your home theater and into whatever particular brand of hell the mission brings.
I love the look and feel of this game, though since I don't play games a lot I have trouble keeping track of which button's which on the PS3 controller. This often leads to my virtual demise, kicking me back to the point at which the game saved last (and thank goodness it doesn't kick you back farther than that or I'd never make any progress!).
As mentioned, the violence in this version is more intense than before, but since you can tone it down if you want I can't see this being an issue. Besides, as has been said so often, war is hell and what better way of teaching us that than by giving us as accurate a look as possible at this hell.
In the meantime, this game is a lot of fun!
Copyright 2008 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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