Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blaze of Glory

As long as you are alive, Dimitri, the heart of this army will never be broken!

When Call of Duty 3 was released at the beginning of this generation, gamers everywhere cried out, feeling that the venerable series had already jumped the shark. Switching development houses from Infinity Ward to Treyarch, Call of Duty 3 seemed like more of the same, but weighed down with the sticky tar of bad game design. With Call of Duty 3 deemed as the nadir of the series, it fell back to Infinity Ward to do for CoD what Casino Royal did for the Bond franchise. CoD needed a reboot, and Infinity Ward delivered in spades.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare hit with a critical thunderstorm, taking the gaming world squarely by the short and curlys and holding on tight. Even today, Modern Warfare is still praised as one of the best shooters since Halo.

Now, a year later, the buck has passed to Treyarch to make the proverbial lightning strike again. Using the Call of Duty 4 engine, Treyarch put the clock back sixty years, dumping armchair soldiers back into the horrors of World War Two.

This time around, you're playing the role of a Marine in the war against Japan, and a Russian soldier taking the fight to Berlin. In the opening vignette, Call of Duty: World At War tries really hard to distinguish itself from it's predecessors...with a torture scene. After your buddy is gruesomely dispatched, your timely rescue arrives in the form of Jack Bauer himself, Mister Kiefer Sutherland.

After Jack busts you out of your prison, it's back into the tried and true Call of Duty style of gameplay. Advance forward until you get to your objective, slot a few bad guys, and move on the next hot zone. As in previous Call of Duties, enemies continuously respawn until you advance forward and turn off the triggers, meaning that if you're the cautious type, you might be stuck behind that barrel for a while.

Pressing forward to get to the next checkpoint is the meat of this game, and it's unfortunately where the game suffers it's most crippling problem. The main way to play this game could be called "trial and error" gameplay. If that suicidal rush didn't work, maybe the next one will. Running through a hail of bullets over and over again isn't fun, especially with the checkpoints as far apart as they are.

While the game is a frustrating slog through the corpses of slain enemies, the environments really make up for it. If you're not playing pincushion to a barrage of bullets, stop and take a minute to appreciate the scenery. Light streams through trees deep in the jungle, and a blood-red sun rise highlights the ruined buildings of Berlin as Katyusha rockets spiral downward leaving destruction in their wake. It's too bad that a game this beautiful has you pressing forward as fast as possible, some of the vistas really stand out amid the traditional war scenery.

Multiplayer has been improved this time around with the addition of co-op and the Nazi Zombie mode. Yes, you read that right, Nazi Zombies. Essentially a cross between Gears of War 2's Locust mode and Left 4 Dead, Nazi Zombies has you and up to three friends defending a ruined house in the middle of a fog-ridden forest. Killing zombies accumulates points, which can be spent on guns, opening other areas of the house, and repairing the barricades. If you have three friends to stick it out with, Nazi Zombies can add a bit of fun to your online experience; alone, it's a ridiculously impossible stand against the ravenous undead.

In terms of straight up player versus player action, World at War feels like a skin mod for Modern Warfare. You rank up, earn new guns and attachments, and some perks to go with it. Most of the perks and attachments are lifted straight out of CoD 4; only the vehicle perks are completely original.

That being said, it's still fun to hop online and spend a hour or two blasting away. The maps are designed to be more open, giving bigger fire-fights more attention than the choke-point centric strategies of CoD 4.

If you're a fan of the Call of Duty series, you can do much worse than World at War. A solid outing, but it lacks the intricately detailed polish of Modern Warfare. However, it is worth jumping back into the trenches, at least for this one last time.

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