Call of Duty: World at War, the latest installment in the wildly successful franchise, spurns the modern-day setting of its predecessor and returns to its roots: World War II.
Yeah. I know. Another WWII shooter? Seriously? But WaW is much more than the sum of its parts. Engaging characters and smooth gameplay are the hallmarks of this fantastic Treyarch creation, along with an all-new Nazi Zombies mode.
In story mode, you play as either Pvt. Miller, a U.S. Marine, or Dimitri Petrenko, a soldier of the Soviet Union’s 3rd Shock Army. The narrative flips back and forth between the two as you battle your way across sun-scorched Japanese beaches and ravaged German countryside. Kiefer Sutherland stars as the dependable Sergeant Roebuck on the American side, while Gary Oldman lends his talents to the fiery, borderline-psychotic Reznov of the Russians. Both sides of the story have beautiful settings and a tense pace (and benefit from being placed in lesser-known, and thus fresher, theaters of war), but the Russian levels win out. Reznov is an infinitely more interesting character than Roebuck: the brotherly affection he holds for Dimitri and his genuine love of his country, coupled with his merciless brutality towards the Germans, make an engrossing figure. It doesn’t hurt that he has the best dialogue in the game, either.
Story mode is far from perfect. The narrative is disjointed at best, switching back and forth between two very different fronts and leaping years forward. There are several levels (*cough* Blood and Iron) that should have been cut. I also wish that there were levels on the Japanese and German sides-for it to truly be a “World at War,” we need to see all sides of it. But it has tremendous replayability, especially because you can play cooperatively or competitively online with up to three other players.
Multiplayer mode is the main draw for many gamers, and they won’t be disappointed. There’s a nice selection of games to choose from. Team Deathmatch, by far the most popular, reigns supreme, but Free-For-All, Headquarters, Sabotage, and Capture the Flag (among others) also make an appearance. Maps range from the shattered Reich to a bombed-out Stalingrad to a Japanese castle to a submarine base. Players can mix and match weapons and perks to make their own classes, and there’s a points system similar to Modern Warfare.
Aside from the basics, the details of World at War are ample evidence of the blood, sweat, and tears Treyarch poured into this game. This is by far the most realistic game of the Call of Duty franchise. Now, you can see war in all its bloodstained ignominy. Men around you fall by headshots. Shell-shocked Japanese soldiers stagger like the walking dead in the aftermath of a bombing, then collapse. Soldiers are burned alive, ripped to shreds by shrapnel, lose arms and legs. And the best part? You’re on the delivering end of all this. This is truly a game that forces you to examine your preconceived notions of war. Is mercy killing ever acceptable? Better decide now, because you’ll have to.
But for me, the main draw is the delightfully gory Nazi Zombies mode. The first level in the four-level series is Nacht Der Untoten (“Night of the Undead”), which is unlocked at the end of story mode. You are a nameless American soldier who had the misfortune to crash his plane in an airfield full of zombies…and now, you must fend them off from a shell of a bunker. You get points for killing zombies (who quite convincingly moan, snarl, and stagger) and mending window boards. You can use these points to buy weapons off the walls, open new areas of the level, or buy weapons from the mystery box-including a ray gun straight out of the 1940s. There’s no objective but to survive.
The next three levels, released in map packs, follow the same basic format. The next map, Zombie Verruckt (“Crazy”) finds you as either a German or an American in a creepy abandoned asylum. The zombies are faster and tougher now, can speak in simple words (“No!” “Yes!” “Damn!” “Failed!”), and scream so demonically I hear their voices in my worst nightmares. This level introduces the drinks-Juggernog, Double-Tap Root Beer, etc.-that you can buy as power ups. And here, we begin to learn the back story behind Nazi Zombies, hints at which are hidden throughout the level. The last two maps, Shi No Numa (“Swamp of Death”) and Der Riese (The Giant) introduce a continuing cast of characters that played a part in the events leading up to the zombie outbreak. I won’t spoil anything by giving away details-search the maps for hints, and you’ll figure it out…if you don’t fall to the jaws of the zombies first.
In conclusion, World at War is a WWII shooter that stands out from the pack through its realism, storylines, and extras. The superb graphics and voice acting guarantee complete immersion. Although story mode felt lacking at times, this is still a game you’ll return to again and again, if only to play Nazi Zombies one last time!