I'll be honest; I had a number of trepidations going into this year's Call of Duty installment. My biggest concern was the game's return to the 1940s fighting a war that we've fought over and over again in countless World War II shooters. Last year's Call of Duty 4 proved to be something of a revolution, what with its brand new settings, original story, fantastic weapons and amazing storytelling. After seeing how good a modern Call of Duty could be, it was hard going back to a war of yesteryear. Thankfully I could get past my initial World War II fatigue, because Call of Duty: World at War proves to be an exciting action game full of all the highs and lows you've come to expect from the series. It's nowhere near as good as Call of Duty 4, but this does enough new and original to keep my interests long after the game is over.
There are certain things you have come to expect from a Call of Duty game. For one thing you expect it to be a rollercoaster ride, where you're in the driver's seat witnessing some of the most significant battles of all time. Another thing you have come to expect is a story that is told through multiple characters, generally from different countries and sides. The good news is that all this has been incorporated into World at War at great success. By the end of the game you will feel like you've really experienced something big, while at the same time it doesn't feel like you're doing the same thing over and over because you're constantly changing from one person to another.
Call of Duty: World at War is told through the eyes of two different soldiers, each on entirely different sides of this battle. One thread has you taking the role of an American soldier, fighting the Japanese as they try to take over the Pacific islands. The other thread has you playing a Russian soldier, pissed off that Germany invaded your country and looking for a little revenge. In one thread you'll be fighting in the lush jungles, while in the other thread takes you from Russia all the way to Berlin. In either case, these are two very different storylines that are new to the Call of Duty franchise.
The gimmick in this Call of Duty is that you always have a superior officer giving you useful information. No matter where you are or what you're doing, that guide is always there telling you what you need to know. On the American side that superior officer is none other than Kiefer Sutherland, apparently looking for something to do after scrapping this year's season of 24. On the Russian side it's none other than ... Gary Oldman? Sure I love Oldman's work (who else can go from Sid Vicious to Beethoven?), but it's kind of jarring thinking about him as a Russian soldier. Either way, the voice acting is top notch and it makes me feel warm inside hearing Jack Bauer bark orders at me.
For the most part World at War plays like all of the other Call of Duty games; you are mixed in with a group of soldiers who are looking to advance through a set number of objectives. To do this you must kill off the waves of bad guys, then move to the next safe point, kill a bunch more bad guys, and then keep advancing little by little. As is true with all Call of Duty games, if you just sit there killing bad guys and never advancing, then you'll get a rude wake up call. You see, you'll quickly discover that the enemies have an infinite amount of bad guys in their arsenal. That means that you'll just be killing wave after wave making no progress. What the game wants you to do (more than anything) is get to the next checkpoint, and then from there you kill a bunch of people and try to make it to the next checkpoint.
Thankfully World at War has learned a few things from last year's Call of Duty 4. For one thing, they have figured out a compelling way of teaching you everything you need to know about the upcoming skirmish. They also have learned a thing or two about adding diversity to the action, so you're not just going from one level to the next running and gunning. Perhaps the biggest lesson they've learned is how to harness all of the power of the Call of Duty 4 engine. While it doesn't look much better than Call of Duty 4, there's no doubt that visually this game is light years ahead of Call of Duty 2 or 3. Never have you seen World War II come to life quite like this. It's almost worth going back to the 1940s just to see how amazing everything looks. Almost.
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