Xbox 360 Review

Call of Duty: World at War

Now get down and give me 20...

Following the success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the CoD baton has been handed back to Treyarch, developer for this fifth installment. The news that Call of Duty: World at War would not be developed by Infinity Ward certainly caused a stir after they had earned their stripes with the popular Modern Warfare and of course Call of Duty 2. Indeed, there were big boots to fill as the franchise was literally taken to another level with the last outing. It is little wonder that Treyarch have used the same game engine that was under the hood of Modern Warfare, then.

This time around the story follows the fortunes of WWII Private Miller, a marine helping the US push into Japanese territories, and private Petrenko, a member of the red army invading Nazi Germany. Beginning with the US marines, we are promptly rescued from the clutches of the enemy, handed a rifle and thrown into the thick of a fight with our relentless Japanese captors. The first order of the day is to escape the island we have been held on, and take out as many bad guys as possible on the way. This is easier said than done though, banzai attackers will run at you from the thick jungle cover and fire on you and your squad from treetops. Barking out the orders for us is Sgt. Roebuck, played by Keifer Sutherland.

The Russian campaign starts with a lesson in sniping, in a setting reminiscent of Enemy at the Gate. Led by your veteran sergeant, there's a little bit of sneaking around to do before some large scale street battles with Hitler's finest. Although we start in a somewhat vulnerable position, there's definitely a feeling of the German troops becoming overwhelmed by the Russian war machine as the campaign continues. We even encounter some enemy troops who have surrendered, and to a degree, their fate is in your hands. As we press on and clear buildings, we also find some German troops who have been wounded and can no longer fight. Whether or not they are able to crawl to safety is up to you and your team. There's not much room for mercy here though, Sgt. Reznov (played by the excellent Gary Oldman) is ruthless and expects the same from his troops.

Players who have already experienced the previous WWII titles in the franchise should immediately recognize the weapons at their disposal. The familiar M1 Garand and Mosin Nagant rifles will serve you well against your foes. There's plenty of guns to choose from as you make your way through the levels and the dead will surrender their guns for you to try as well. A welcome addition to the arsenal is the flamethrower, a must-have tool for any soldier looking to clear an enemy bunker. Shooting the tank of a flamethrower worn by an enemy will cause it to explode, meaning a fiery doom for anyone in the vicinity. And if flaming Germans is your thing, you'll be in for a treat when you get behind the wheel of a Russian flame tank. Given the shortage of vehicles in World at War's immediate predecessor, the tanks are back with a vengeance and are a bit easier to control than metal beasts in CoD 3. In addition to the tanks, there's also a chance to man the guns of a sea-plane to attack a Japanese naval fleet while dodging zeros and kamikaze attacks. The level offers a break from the soldiering on foot, and looks great too.

Back to the front line and, in true CoD fashion, the trick is to keep moving up the battlefield to minimize the re-spawning of enemy troops. There were a couple of occasions when enemies kept appearing in the same spots until they were dispatched by my rifle, which I have to say reminded me of a shooting gallery in places. Unfortunately, the enemy AI appears a little flaky on occasion, with soldiers not always behaving the way you would expect them to - some can be ignored completely in fact.

It has to be said that the storylines are not quite as compelling as the ones in CoD 4. For some reason we do not feel quite the same attachment to Privates Petrenko and Miller, as we did for Soap McTavish. It seems there has been less emphasis on developing an engaging plot in World at War, probably because the stories of WWII are already in the history books. In fact, we are treated to some actual 1940s footage, which is integrated into the historical and extremely slick cut-scenes between levels. The blank canvas of CoD 4 allowed the designers to conjure up a more detailed narrative for players to follow, which is one of the reasons it has been the biggest success of the CoD franchise to date.

One thing World at War does have in abundance is gore. There's plenty of blood spraying around, not to mention limbs that can be seen flying through the air following an explosion. Whilst gathering weapons and ammo after one particular skirmish, I walked over to what I thought was a rifle but it turned out to be somebody's dismembered arm. Unfortunately, the enemy is anything but 'armless and will return your fire all day long (sorry... couldn't resist [you're fired - ha! - Ed]). The extra bloodshed, coupled with the strong language, means the game certainly warrants it's age-rating.

So why would gamers pick up a copy of World at War if its yet another WWII FPS? A major factor in the decision making process has to be the addictive multiplayer battles on Xbox Live (or PSN, if you opt for the PS3 outing). Treyarch have not attempted to re-invent the wheel here, relying on CoD 4's arrangements for online play. This is good news, since there was not much wrong with this mode in the previous title. The bonuses of UAV scanners, air strikes and helicopters have been replaced by reconnaissance planes, artillery and a pack of attack dogs respectively. World at War also features a new co-op campaign mode so you can shoot your way through most of the campaigns with your chums. What's that you say? You want more? Well, there's also a zombie mode, whereby you defend a building from hordes of Nazi undead. Points are earned from killing the zombies and repairing the building, which can then be used to purchase weapons. Its a four player affair online, and all good fun.

All in all, it has to be said that World at War doesn't quite achieve the levels of gameplay benchmarked by Modern Warfare. However, certain aspects have been finely tuned, particularly the online play. Yes, progress is a bit linear but it still looks great and there are bonuses to unlock, achievements to master and plenty of bad guys to keep you reloading. A professional performance from Keifer Sutherland and an unrecognizable Gary Oldman make for entertaining commanding officers who will also be there in online battles to let you know what's happening. CoD 5 is a very solid FPS that can sit proudly enough on the shelf next to it's predecessors. If you are not turned off by the idea of returning to WWII, you'll have five or six hours of enjoyable shooting in solo mode, and probably many more in the team deathmatch and war modes online.

"War like you've never experienced before" is what the box tells us. In truth, we have... but we can live with that.

E3 Trailer