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Call of Duty: World at War

Score: 96%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Sure, the Wii won't give you the most dazzling Call of Duty: World at War experience, but that's the worst we can say after spending some time with this baby. There are times in life when we advance opinions without having a rock-solid basis for comparison. This isn't one of those times. After spending many hours previously with Medal of Honor 2 and more recently with the Brothers in Arms Wii compilation, we can say without hesitation that Call of Duty: World at War is the best wartime shooter experience on this platform. Hands down. It's very possible that Call of Duty: World at War is the best Wii shooter yet, period.

There's something to be said for graphic nuance, but let's face it: Nuance and fine-tuning in graphics is just a hardware constraint. Having smoother textures because you're developing a game for a more powerful console is just a basic expectation. Managing to make a game feel exciting and creating real suspension of disbelief on a console with less powerful hardware is the real feat. The trick is in how Call of Duty: World at War manages to set great scenes that become playable in an instant and later transition seamlessly back into structured storytelling. You never really want to give up control, and you don't want levels to end. The most impressive touch is how well World at War actually weaves dialogue and story into the full-on action sequences where you have control. Taking orders from a CO in the heat of battle or responding to a request from a squad member is what games like this should be all about. Most try, but few are this successful.

Underpinning good visual storytelling is an excellent soundtrack. In this category, World at War really just paces its competition, but seems to understand that all the great voice acting in the world won't make a great action game if the action isn't done right. The first time I called in an airstrike and watched rocket tracers arc through the air, followed by bellowing jets of flame, followed by that percussive thump of the blast wave sweeping my way, I nearly soiled myself. Being ambushed by crazed enemies shouting in a strange language with murderous rage is also a pants-changing experience after you've been humping your gun through dark forest or scrubby fields well after midnight. There is an art to walking the line between highly dramatic and melodramatic or campy; World at War balances on this tightrope where many others have fallen off.


You might think that World War II games would become stale after a while. Okay, I thought that myself and maybe wrote it into a review at some point. There are a limited number of ways to depict the war from the perspective of a soldier on the ground, and poor controls or tedious gameplay have undercut the best laid plans with games in the past. As much as we've tried to love driving and flying and marine warfare set against a WWII backdrop, there's just no substitute for duking it out at close range behind a single-shot carbine or under the crump of mortars and cannons, in the field of battle. There's also a need to depict the brutality of WWII which can't be satisfied from the remove of a RTS or Flight-Sim... Fans of the genre will say we've been both blessed and cursed by a proliferation of games during the past year that attempt to put the Wii gamer behind the eyelids of a grunt in some theater of war during the '40s.

Call of Duty: World at War gives two very different perspectives on the action during those late stages of the war, in the Japanese-controlled Pacific and in the Soviet Union under attack from Germany. The overriding emotion you'll have watching the old footage and playing the game is shock, as you appreciate the desperation of armies that were straining against dwindling resources and spread thin so far away from home. The game is very graphic, and most certainly wears its "M" rating with pride. The opening scene of the first storyline depicts the brutal murder of a soldier, and your heart starts to beat faster at the thought of being gutted in a similar fashion by the advancing Japanese soldier. Things don't turn out that way, or this would have been a short game... Snatched from the jaws of death in both instances, you'll live through the eyes of one American and one Russian soldier, as they fight for what often just feels like survival rather than well-planned operations.

The solo campaign is engrossing and will soak up plenty of your time, but there are additional treasures that unfold during the co-op multiplayer and online battles. Online play is pretty standard, but very well done. In this mode, you'll find that World at War matches but doesn't exceed the thrills we had in Medal of Honor 2. The balance of World at War is what will keep it on your shelf, but playing with friends online in frag-matches through various levels drawn from the game is still lots of fun. The co-op multiplayer is only a local feature, and offers two players the chance to experience most of the game as a team. The way this is done is a compromise between giving up the expansive visuals and creating a fun experience for both players. Instead of splitting the screen to allow for two full (but visually abbreviated) versions of the game to be running, the action happens on one screen through the magic of... two crosshairs. At first, it seems like a cop-out because the second player doesn't have any real control; it's like he's strapped on the back of the first player with a gun in his hand. The analogy isn't a death sentence, because it just makes the co-op multiplayer feel like a great on-the-rails shooter for your guest. The replay value in all modes is high thanks to a healthy level of challenge and plenty of branching paths available for attacking each level.


"Healthy level of challenge" might be understating the case a bit... Call of Duty: World at War sometimes seems like it is trying to be as unforgiving as its wartime setting. We understand that jumping on a grenade means instant death, but the enemy marksmanship on even the easiest mode is daunting. You could argue that the game is artificially extended through its high bar and that it pushes back on the player for being stupid, and we'd probably agree. On the former count, we're hardly in favor of extending gameplay just to say you'll invest 30-40 hours, when the game experience ends up feeling lackluster. We're also big fans of smart games, and we recognize that game design is all about trying to build experiences that fit a variety of players without leaving things too open or unfocused. World at War is anything but unfocused. You'll see red and die a painful death quickly if you veer too far off course or let your guard down. There are some frustrating sequences that are closely scripted, so you'll either nail it or have to replay the scene a few times from a checkpoint. Thankfully, checkpoints are plentiful. This helps avoid frustration when you can't seem to reach a specific objective. Having another player in co-op is incredibly helpful. Because your guest doesn't have the same level of involvement in movement and making decisions during the game, it's easier for him to watch your six and clean up messy situations in the making. All the same, try to throw those grenades back whenever you can... you'll live a lot longer.

Game Mechanics:

The Wii Zapper is a must-have accessory for Call of Duty: World at War. It's not that you can't have a lot of fun using standard controllers, but the game really shines when plugged into the Zapper. Some actions like close-up attacks are a bit more awkward since you can't swing the entire rig from side to side, but have to poke it at the screen like you're probing something that just came out of the oven. The non-Zapper control is what you'd prefer, swinging the Wii-mote from side to side. In both instances, melee attacks failed too often and seemed relatively broken. It wasn't that you never had a win in a close encounter, but wins were few and far between. Controlling weapons, not surprisingly, is where the Zapper really has the edge, as you move in both cases with the Control Stick. Reloading is a button press on the Zapper where you'll have to shake the Nunchuk otherwise. It's probably a matter of taste and what you can get used to, but if you've been holding off on buying a Zapper, this is the game that may push you over the edge. There aren't many instances where you'll need to pull away from the action to consult maps or review objectives. Dialogue during the game helps make this possible, and well-designed levels that subtly steer you in the proper direction. It's always possible to stop and review where you are and where you need to be, or just keep tabs on the notches in your virtual bedpost during a multiplayer battle. We can appreciate the value of strategic gameplay, as seen in the Brothers in Arms series, but for pure run-and-gun action, we'll take this style any day of the week. Who needs strategy with a flame-thrower, anyway?

Games can be hard to pin down when it's all a matter of relative shades of good. WWII games have a following anyway, and shooters haven't exactly been overflowing on the Wii, so there's a group of people that will grab this game no matter what to give it a try. For any fence-sitters, or older kids that have a Wii and the parents trying to buy them something to put under the tree, World at War is highly recommended. It's by far the most fun we've had on Wii behind a set of gunsights, and what it lacks in comparison to other consoles by way of graphics, it more than makes up for in gameplay depth and consistency. You'll find this one hard to put down. Where other games in this genre are respectable for Wii, Call of Duty: World at War comes across as a contender for a "Wii Classics" library, if such a thing is ever created. Grab your carbine, soldier... it's war out there.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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