How much of the success surrounding Call of Duty: World at War can be attributed to Treyarch? Despite an October release it was one of the most popular games of 2008. It runs on the Call of Duty 4 engine, looks, feels, and plays nearly identically to it, yet at times it’s worse. The single player takes the finest points of previous Call of Duty games and amalgamates them into a campaign spanning fifteen missions, though it misses out the British entirely. Ultimately there’s very little innovation here. The multiplayer front is a tragedy; horrific spawning issues, overpowered weaponry, broken maps, and a thoughtless inclusion of vehicles make for little fun to be had. It boasts the same game modes, challenges (down to the same titles), and set up as Call of Duty 4 but manages to screw it up. And yet despite being riddled with flaws, it’s the most played title on Xbox Live. There’s no lack of quality titles out right now, with the recent releases Gears of War 2 and Left 4 Dead. So why is World at War at the top of over a million gamers play list?
Call of Duty has always been a franchise with multiplayer at its heart. Infinity Ward placed a heavier emphasis on the single player with Call of Duty 4, which continued the familiar linear gameplay from former titles in the series, yet crafted a more dramatic, involving experience. A lot of what makes World at War such a competent and enjoyable single player experience has to be credited to Infinity Ward. Nevertheless the single player campaign, which sees you fighting in Japan, Germany, and Russia, is constantly fun, often more so than COD4. There’s a good range of locations, weapons, and missions. One particularly memorable mission, akin to the Chernobyl level in COD4, takes place in the snowy ruins of Stalingrad, and the same combination of great set-pieces, vehicle sections, and objective based play are found throughout. It’s very cinematic, very Call of Duty, and even though it doesn’t tread in an innovative no mans land, it utilises the successful formula harbored in the previous title, and fashions an extremely enjoyable World War 2 game, though incredibly short (on normal it’s easy enough to complete in six hours.)
But it’s safe to assume the majority of people purchasing World at War are doing so for a new addictive dose of the popular Call of Duty multiplayer. Prepare to be disappointed.
For a game that owes so much to it’s forerunner, that utilises so many of its qualities, it’s hard to forgive Treyarch for getting so much wrong with the multiplayer. For those familiar with Call of Duty 4, the same modes are present, mostly team based: Deathmatch, Headquarters, Search and Destroy, Domination and a selection of Hardcore variants, and Free-For- All modes. Players continue to rank up and unlock guns in accordance to XP earned through each match. Kills, assists, captures, destroys, and simply completing rounds earns the player XP. In theory, the more you play the further you advance, and the more weaponry and perks you unlock. It’s a great system that rewards skilled players with faster progress whilst those less skilled can still take advantage of all the bonuses that high ranks bring with a little patience. There are also the familiar challenges, and a few original ones, included which fasten the ranking progress.
If it sounds familiar it’s because it is. Treyarch has adapted the previous titles multiplayer to fit their own World War 2 setting, though the maps are new, as are the weapons, and there are a number of new perks to add to the list of those from Call of Duty 4. So where does it all go wrong?
Ultimately it is the combination of an awful spawning system, which sees you routinely spawn-camped, running into spawning enemies, or having enemies spawned behind you, that ruins the game. It’s inexcusable and the fact that there has yet to be a patch for such a blatant problem is worrying. This is the most played game on Xbox Live and it’s broken. Furthermore maps, which were easily glitched in the beta, are still broken, the weapons are an unbalanced affair – the game promotes the use of run and gun sub machine gunning – something that requires little skill. Even worse is the inclusion of dogs instead of the helicopter. The helicopter worked because it had no effect on players taking cover inside, and a team could work together to bring it down quickly. In essence it was powerful but not overpowered. Dogs on the other hand, are woefully out of place. A constant stream, which lasts for a minute, disrupts the flow of play by chasing down players anywhere, and there is no way of taking cover (they have in built UAV it seems). What’s more is they often take more bullets to kill than their human counterparts. It makes little sense, and they interrupt the game to an unfair degree.
It is also possible for a team to have four tanks on a map at once. If the team is clever enough they can position a tank to overlook a number of spawns, transforming the game into a glorified Nazi Duck Hunt.
So why is Call of Duty: World at War the most played game on Xbox Live? Perhaps the strength of Call of Duty 4 has extended, or the lack of new maps, weapons, and challenges left players at the end of their prestige-journey bored with nowhere else to turn for fast paced competitive first person shooter multiplayer. The single player is good, worthy of the time of any FPS or COD fan, yet its meagre length fails to warrant the price tag, and the multiplayer is a combination of the successful formula from Call of Duty 4 with a coat of infuriating flaws. If you’re desperate for an alternative from 4 this is it, but it comes at a price, and that price is frustration.