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Review: Call of Duty: World at War - PC, PS3, Xbox 360 - 9.5

11 listopada, 2008

A pulse-pounding masterpiece by Treyarch that builds and improves on Modern Warfare in almost every way...

The Call of Duty franchise is riding a roller-coaster through time. Originating as a World War II-based experience, the series jumped ahead about sixty years to modern times for its fourth main installment, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which was critically acclaimed and a commercial blockbuster, perhaps due in part to the change in setting. Many would wonder why the newest installment, World at War, brings the series back to its bread-and-butter time period. They would also rightfully question the swap in development teams, with the less-popular developer Treyarch taking the wheel this time around. So, can World at War prove itself a worthy successor to Modern Warfare and avoid the ugly step-child status of Call of Duty 3?

World at War has you experience the War from the points of view of the Americans and the Russians, similarly to previous installments. The twist this time is that the American campaign doesn\'t involve the Nazis, but rather the Japanese. This is the first time the series has included the Pacific Theater as one of its main campaigns, introducing a lot of new tweaks and twists to the gameplay that ensure the campaign doesn\'t have a "been there, done that" feeling. The vast majority of WAW\'s gameplay conventions are Call of Duty standards, so Modern Warfare fans will find themselves right at home here. The shooting is just as satisfying as ever and enemies react appropriately to different caliber weapons against different body parts. The Japanese have some interesting behaviors, requiring different ways to combat them than the Germans. You\'ll often find yourself combing the grass and trees to your sides for camouflaged enemies waiting with grenades, bayonets, and snipers. Watch out for the Banzai charge: you\'ll often get knocked down and have to save yourself with a well-timed knife strike before getting a bayonet stabbed through your guts.

The campaign is just as linear as previous games, but this isn\'t that much of a problem because the campaign is as much, if not more of, a thrillride as Modern Warfare. There are some awesome scenes that grab you just like the All Ghilled Up level in COD 4, including: executions of your enemy soldiers, clearing out infantry using a flamethrower-equipped tank and even hiding amongst the bodies of your comrades. The battles appropriately feel much more chaotic and large-scale, with appropriate background noises and visual cues to make the battlefield seem bigger than it actually is. In short, this campaign would probably be of the same intensity and quality as anything Infinity Ward would have come up with if they were to make another World War II game using the COD 4 engine.

Treyarch gets big points for incorporating two Cooperative modes that extend the life of the amazing campaign. One is a standard playthrough of the campaign with up to three other players, while the other is a competitive mode that has you racking up points and competing for the highest score against your "allies". Like Halo 3, there are also a bunch of collectibles scattered around the levels that give you "death cards". These cards can be activated to modify your game\'s difficulty and other aspects of the game, including adding some hilarious twists such as exploding enemies. Call of Duty games have long lacked a co-operative element, and WAW\'s inclusion of one simply boosts the package\'s value far beyond that of any previous installment. Playing through the huge battles with one or more of your friends offers a co-op experience that offers a nice contrast to Gears of War\'s and Halo\'s more intimate campaigns.

World At War\'s multiplayer component, while not as innovative as the game\'s campaign modes, is just as fully-featured as Modern Warfare\'s. All of the previous game\'s modes are here in addition to War, which was one of Treyarch\'s stand-out modes from Call of Duty 3. War is a mode that sets up 5 points around the map which each side must capture in opposing order. The faster a team captures a point, the more "momentum" they gain, allowing them to capture the next point even quicker. This mode is quite frantic and a nice addition to World at War\'s large arsenal of modes. Weapons are from the World War II-era, and generally offer less accuracy than the weapons of Modern Warfare. This is offset by the fact that they feel more powerful: you\'ll end up racking up kills at pretty much the same rate as the last game.

The ranking system from Modern Warfare has migrated here with some expanded perks and a higher level cap of 65. The prestige mode has also been preserved, with up to 10 levels of prestige now available.  For leveling nuts, Treyarch has created quite a value. For shooter multiplayer fans, the game offers enough maps, modes, and unlockable weapons to last for months of gameplay.

There\'s one little mode that we haven\'t mentioned yet: Nazi Zombies. Like us, you might initially dismiss this as a little gimmick that the developers threw in just to offer more incentives to buy the game. Basically, you and up to three other players have to defend a house against increasingly larger waves of zombie attackers. You are given points for each kill, with these points translating into currency. These points can be used to buy guns at specific racks on various walls in the level. You start off restricted to the lower room, whose windows are boarded up, thereby slowing down the first few waves of zombies. At first, you can snipe the zombies from a distance, but by wave 5, you\'ll find yourself struggling to keep them from knocking down the barriers. You can repair them by holding down the action key, but this takes time and also momentarily renders you immobile. Your team will find themselves needing better and more powerful weapons, and these are available, albeit with a little twist. You\'ll have to unlock doorways or remove barricades to other chambers, allowing you access to more powerful weapons. However, each of these rooms open up several more entryways for zombies to attack from, nicely balancing out the game and adding different consequences for your choices.

Zombies has (we believe) unlimited waves, with each one throwing increasingly larger amounts of enemies at you. You\'ll get further if you play with more friends, but even lone players will find the mode engaging and fun. It\'s definitely a bigger, more engaging and valuable bonus than the two-minute-long hijacked plane level awarded to those who beat Modern Warfare\'s campaign.

The COD 4 engine was used as a base for World at War and has been improved in several key areas. The most important of these is a new fire propagation system that, while not as impressive as the one used in Far Cry 2\'s Dunia engine, is used to great effect in the form of flamethrowers (American) and Molotov cocktails (Russian). Treyarch has also upped the gore far beyond Call of Duty\'s normally tame blood effects: higher caliber weapons can injure limbs and explosives can even destroy them. Textures and environments look much more polished than they did in Modern Warfare and the sense of war is told nearly perfectly by the oppressive, smoke-filled environments and the constant dropping of artillery shells. In fact, the amount of background action here is quite staggering, making us wonder exactly what kind of dark magic the tech guys at Treyarch used to make the game run so well. On the Xbox 360, PS3, and mid-range-and-higher PCs, the game runs at a nice, steady clip and exhibits barely any slowdown. We would go so far as to say that it runs better than Modern Warfare, even if by the tiniest margin.

Sound has always been a hallmark of the Call of Duty franchise. Even Call of Duty 3, arguably the weakest entry of the main franchise, was recognized as having sound effects and musical themes with quality beyond those found in most other games. World at War continues this trend, for the most part. Weapons sound distinct, every grenade type gives off slightly different detonation effects, Japanese soldiers scream "Banzai" as they\'re pushed into a corner and forced to suicide rush you, etc. Simply put, World at War\'s soundscape provides an authentic and bone-chilling representation of war which has nary any faults. Treyarch\'s touch is most obviously heard in the game\'s soundtrack, which deviates from the orchestral standards found in the previous WW2 entries. Music is now a mix of different genres, with rousing choirs punctuating the Russian campaign and heavy metal chords accompanying climactic conflicts. We admire Treyarch\'s attempts to break conventions, but the electric guitar did feel a little misplaced at times. In general, however, World at War is a feast for the ears.

I\'ll be frank: I did not expect Call of Duty: World at War to even come anywhere close to the bar set by Modern Warfare. With Treyarch\'s mediocre past entries and a deviation from the successful Modern Warfare setting, many would have expected this game to fail to capture the hearts of shooter fans this holiday season. Shockingly, Treyarch has proven the naysayers wrong, building on the success of all previous Call of Duty games and introducing their own successful features and twists, thus creating one of the most fully-featured, high-quality value gaming experiences of the year: I\'ll never automatically rule out a big-budget Treyarch project ever again.

Score Breakdown:

Gameplay: 9.0 – The most refined and feature-complete Call of Duty yet. The linear campaign remains, but the combined additions of a Japanese foe and some new weapons don\'t hurt. New modes like Co-op, Nazi Zombies, and War add a lot of variety and options to the game.

Presentation: 9.5 – Surprisingly visceral and violent, World at War captures the impact and emotion of 20th-century military conflict. Be warned: this game is not for the squeamish.

Graphics: 9.5 – Great looking characters and environments with nary a frame drop in sight. Smoke and environmental effects are spectacularly dense and the new tropical island setting is a nice new direction for the series.

Sound: 9.5 – Spectacular sound effects and voice acting really capture the intensity and desperation of the battlefield. Music is emotionally-fitting and appropriate as well... excluding the occasional rock/metal elements.

Value: 10 – World at War is the most feature-complete installment of the franchise. With a decent-length campaign, three cooperative modes (including the pulse-pounding but addictive Nazi Zombies) and a fully-featured multiplayer suite with ranking system and unlockables, World at War offers quite a punch for each dollar you spent on it.

Final Score: 9.5 – World at War is simultaneously the best and most value-packed installment of the franchise. It takes the intensity of Modern Warfare and adds enough modes and extra content for hundreds of hours of fun and intense shooting action.

Marcin Skok
"The Gaming Corner