Call of Duty: World at War Preview
I'll start out by saying this: if you hated Call of Duty 3 and are only reading this preview to see how bad Treyarch's follow-up is turning out, then stop and reset everything. CoD3 was put together on a small budget with only eight months of development time behind it. Sure, Activision probably shouldn't have charged full price for it considering how derivative the campaign was and how thrown-together the online play felt, but that's not really the developer's fault considering what they had to work with. Call of Duty: World at War is Treyarch's game, and this time we really mean that it's their game. They've had two years to work on it and this one is not being tossed together as a quick sequel.
World at War does return to the World War II setting, something that many gamers are probably groaning over. But Treyarch has put a ton of effort and plenty of dollars into making sure that this is significantly different than all the other WW2 games you've played. Mixing in unique scenarios from the Russian front as well as heading to the Pacific theater as the Americans advance on the Japanese, the game is giving you new battles to fight and mixing up the combat pretty well. Sure, the weaponry is the same and the Nazis are predictable in their assaults, but everything else framing this game has been much-improved.
CoD5 includes a full six gameplay modes. There is the solo campaign, four-player co-op through the whole game, competitive co-op which adds a scoring system, online versus play through various maps and modes, a new Death Cards mode that hasn't really been explained yet, and a sixth mode that so far is still a total surprise. Adding all of these together will make for the biggest Call of Duty yet, and with everything that made the fourth game so good returning (and being expanded upon) here, players are going to hardly care about the WW2 setting once they start to really dig in.
Ok, that might be an overstatement. The same weapons you've seen a dozen times before are back for this game, although the rather large range of Japanese, Eastern European, American, and German guns does make for one of the most diverse arsenals seen in an action-based World War II shooter. On top of that, the War gameplay mode does involve tanks - this is something that Treyarch did in Call of Duty 3, and its 24-player action was well-suited to having these beasts on the battlefield, but whole games revolved around the use of tanks constantly; there were just too many vehicles all in one small space. It seems like they've learned their lesson here, as tanks become a game-changing element for one side or the other (depending on how they deploy this smaller number) rather than the constant bombardment from both sides. I'm still a little doubtful as to whether the War mode and its capture-and-hold style is made better with tanks, though.
While the demos we saw didn't actually include any single player action, the cooperative modes I got to try out on the PS3 and PC versions are copies of those missions but with the new element of fighting together. Here, when you go down you'll need to be revived by one of your three buddies and you'll get to use your pistol on the ground - much like the CoD4 perk Last Stand - and there's a limited time you get to lie there before you die. If someone comes and revives you, everyone's good again. This creates some intense scenes where one guy who exposed himself for too long must now be rescued under heavy fire. The only thing I wish this had was a way to drag your buddy to safety before reviving him, as what happens is that you wind up dying right as you get the revive off, then your buddy leapfrogs it a bit further back and dies right as you stand up, and you repeat this until you're both back and safe behind cover. Just being able to drag your squadmate would have been a much more slick way of doing it.
Still, this mode was incredibly fun, and then there's a competitive variant on this where you're actually scored. Combo kills together for multipliers, revive teammates for points (yep, you still have to keep everyone alive to avoid Game Over), and put together special challenges and achievements online. It's great stuff and really adds something to cooperative play that I haven't seen in a game like this before.
Then we add in all the leveling up, weapon unlocks, and new perks that you can use in online modes. One nice part is that you level up the same character no matter what kind of online play you're doing, so you don't have to jump into those 32-player FFA servers set in some dude's backyard (remember that on the PC version? "Our UAV is online!" "Enemy UAV is airborne!") just to level up. Relax and play together with your buddies, using the built-in voice chat to coordinate your attacks. The nice part is that this is classic Call of Duty gameplay, and it works surprisingly well in a cooperative environment. Kiefer Sutherland, who voices Sgt. Roebuck and stays with you during the US campaign, is even present in the cooperative online action. I suppose that Kiefer has been carefully refining his gravelly voice and signature strained yelling after 6 years of the show 24, but either way I found his presence to be very welcome here in World at War.
I don't want to rush too much into predictions here, but let's just say that I went into the demo for Call of Duty: World at War skeptical about whether Treyarch could actually deliver a game as good or better than Infinity Ward's CoD4. Like most, I found the third game under their development to be fun only as a diversion and not worthy of extended play. But by the time I had put a couple of hours into World at War, any doubt I had going in was completely gone. It remains to be seen whether the new elements like flamethrowers, wacky customization, and the return to the WW2 setting work well enough inside the new gameplay modes to make this a better game than the last one in the series, but at this point it seems pretty certain that this will at the very least match Call of Duty 4. We won't have to wait long to find out - World at War launches on the 360, PS3, PS2, Wii, DS, and PC on November 11th.