The game this time follows Private Miller and his superior Corporal Roebuck as they fight their way through the South Pacific against the imperial forces of Japan. Yet, in traditional Call of Duty style, you also play as Private Petrenko as he battles his way from the killing grounds of Stalingrad to the streets of Berlin.
The gameplay itself is traditional first person shooter fare, with the standard Call of Duty template laid down and stuck to rigidly. Returning conventions include health respawning when you are protected in cover, limited weapons, set piece moments and each enemy seemingly being supplied by an individual grenade monkey.
I can't criticise the mechanics of the title here; they are smooth, slick and well produced. Weapons are well selected and each offers a pleasing selection of strengths and weaknesses. Particular highlights are the new flamethrower with pleasing fire effects and a frankly ridiculous German sniper rifle which blows off enemy limbs.
The duck, cover and shoot gameplay is also satisfying making battles tense and difficult, especially during the larger conflicts as the game progresses. The infinite waves of enemies who spawn until you cross an invisible line are less noticeable here than in Call of Duty 4 which was also a pleasant change. The set pieces are handled competently and are well executed, with some particularly memorable moments in the Pacific campaign.
The bullet physics are also a great feature, which I am surprised more games don't adopt. It is very satisfying for an enemy to fire a few rounds, retreat to hide behind a tree, only to be shot through the flimsy cover with a high calibre rifle smoking in your hands. This is an essential skill to use on the harder difficulties, especially on the later levels when enemies seem to be literally coming out of the walls.
The graphics for the engine are especially pretty and do an excellent job of recreating the realities of war. At times the game is strangely attractive, in a bloody, mud-stained sort of way. Sound too is generally good, with music generally adding to the epic scale bar the odd discordant out-of-place guitar chord.
The characters themselves are well surprisingly well developed, although in fairness, there are only two for each campaign, the others being wafer thin. Both Keifer Sutherland and Gary Oldman earn there fees by providing solid performances which help to bring a little bit of humanity to the relentless killing. Oldman's Sergeant Reznov is perhaps the standout displaying the understandable xenophobia and hatred that war breeds with a vicious tenacity.
However, despite World at War doing the above well there was a lot that disappoints and frustrates. Chiefly, the game feels like two steps backward after the modern day combat of the previous instalment. World War 2 has been revisited on so many occasions, and disappointingly this game does little new or original. The pacific conflict has already been covered in the Medal of Honour series and I am pretty sure I assaulted the Reichstag with the Soviets in a recent Call of Duty. The need to remake elements from their own series is a tad insulting, especially with the high asking price.
I also felt an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu from the set pieces in the game. "Sniping", "plane turret" and, "tense will I survive moment" à la the fourth game are all present and correct. I can't escape the cynical feeling that somewhere these were ticks on a list of criteria the game had to have. Due to this set piece momentum the timeline and locations jump all over the place, making it hard to understand who is where and when. The inter-mission cut-scenes also use genuine footage of war yet manage to be constructed in such a stylistic and blasé manner, that they undo any impact and cheapen the experience.
The game is also incredibly frustrating with a ridiculous number of frankly poor bugs. In the game there were regular serious problems including texture issues, poor AI faults, loading crashes and shocking collision detection. I was also pushed outside the playable game area by an AI team-mate who walked into me, and in one memorable occasion the game rendered my save data corrupt and unusable despite careful care not to do anything the game told me not to. At times you feel that you are playing more against the game than the Axis powers.
The game's multiplayer modes provide some respite from this. Thankfully, Call of Duty's enjoyable multiplayer has translated well into the new setting, though this isn't hard as it is merely Call of Duty 4 with new weapons. The excellent levelling system returns and new kill streak powers are good, allowing you to unleash a pack of attack dogs at your enemies.
A new co-operative campaign mode allows you to team up with friends, in line with the latest gaming trend, and fight together. Split screen works well with a maximum of 2 players, with online supporting 4. The campaign becomes more enjoyable with some human players to help you rather than the computer players, who merely act as scenery rather than actual help.
Bizarrely there is also a new "Nazi Zombie" multiplayer mode where you team up and fight off waves of the undead, using points gained to buy defences and weaponry. This is reasonably entertaining but soon grows weary, feeling like a cheap attempt to cash in on the publicity of Valve's Left 4 Dead title, which frankly outclasses it with one rotting hand tied behind its back.
Call of Duty: World at War is a disappointing game, not necessarily a poor one. It does what it does competently and when a patch is released hopefully most of the hideous problems will disappear. However, the game still feels like a cliché of most other war games. If you are an FPS fan, enjoy war games and have played the fourth title then there is nothing new here worth your £40.
If you want to experience the horror and reality of war then go and play Call of Duty 4.
If you want to experience the horror and reality of World War 2, specifically, then go and play the original Call of Duty.
If you want to play a capable but uninspired World War 2 shooter with some serious bugs and vaguely familiar levels then get Call of Duty: World at War.
Call of Duty: World at War (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Call of Duty: World at War had a lot to live up to, following on from its critically and economically successful predecessor. World of War's development began after Treyarch had finished work on their previous sequel, Call of Duty 3.