Call of Duty: World at War

   20/10/2008 at 22:38       Richard Horne       5 COMMENTS.
As we fast approach the one year anniversary of the release of Activision's Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat, it's still the game I constantly find myself falling back on when I have a spare 30 plus minutes to myself. And the fact that it has recently usurped Geometry Wars 1 and 2 as my most played Xbox 360 games ever is testament to the brilliance of its online multiplayer modes. But as this anniversary draws ever closer, so too does the release date for Treyarch's Call of Duty: World at War (herein known as CoD5). With a recently released beta causing carnage across forums the world over, I found myself lucky enough to blag myself a key and took some time to check out the multiplayer portion of this latest game in the series.

There's a bit of a running joke about the Call of Duty series that basically suggests that only the even numbered ones are worth playing. This is because Treyarch and Infinity Ward take it in turns to release each game in the series - a strategy which allows each team 2 years to work on each title. And as Infinity Ward released the brilliant CoD2 and CoD4, then surely Treyarch's 5 will receive a critical mauling, much like Call of Duty 3 did. Right?

Well actually, not quite.

As it turns out this year's release really could buck that trend and dispel that myth - I statement I can make with absolute conviction as so far, my time with the game has been in the main, extremely positive. A fact which is much to my own surprise as I was in two minds about even checking out the game in the first place - due to the aforementioned perception of it. A fact that's also made even more startling by the fact that my first hour or so with the game left me extremely frustrated and annoyed with the game's weapons and their accuracies (or lack thereof) to the point at which I almost deleted the beta in anger.

While developing CoD5, Treyarch made the decision to in effect, recycle CoD4's engine, which as it turns out was both an extremely wise but also potentially slightly disappointing decision. I'll deal with the criticisms first as they're relatively few and straight forward. You see, you could argue that CoD5 - and I should hasten to add that I'm talking strictly about the multiplayer component of the game here - is actually too similar to CoD4. The lobby and loading screens are almost identical - just slightly re-skinned with a different wallpaper. The perks system contains probably 80 plus percent of the very same perks from CoD4 and some people have even gone so far as to suggest that some of the weapons are just re-skinned duplicates from CoD4.

But conversely, the fact that CoD5 uses the already-verging-on-perfect CoD4 multiplayer system could be considered a brilliant move as in all honesty, why should Treyarch try and re-design the wheel? And it's all important to remember that seasoned CoD4 players will feel instantly at home playing 5, making the many millions that bought the last game that much more likely to buy this one.

And in response to the issue of perks, while repetition is a valid criticism, it's worth noting that the beta is far from final and there's a chance that new ones could yet be added. Plus, it's too early to tell just what effect the new perks will have on the gameplay dynamic as it takes month's worth of play to figure out all the various nuancs.

The game also follows CoD4's kill reward system, only instead of a UAV you get a recon plane, instead of the air-strike you get an artillery attack (which at the moment seems somewhat too powerful) and instead of the deadly heli-chopper you're rewarded with vicious bastard dogs that hunt your enemies throughout the whole of the level. And while it's easy to initially roll your eyes and consider these rewards somewhat of a kop out, actually, the dogs prove to be quite a revelation as your enemies can no longer sit out their attacks in a hut - unlike the helicopter from CoD4. And alternatively, when your enemy unleashes their hounds on you, the sound of dogs barking in the distance becomes a constant concern as it's difficult to predict just where they'll attack from - which proves to be a massive distraction and adds another layer of strategy to proceedings.

So enough of the comparisons then, what's new in CoD5? Well this time around the game is actually considerably more violent and brutal and will definitely warrant an 18 rating. Arms and legs are dismembered and bodies will explode in a satisfying pile of blood and guts if they happen to get in the way of a hand grenade. Your compatriots swear and cuss their way through each encounter and there's also a few tweaks to how your character will react to the surrounding environments. For instance, when wading through water (which wasn't previously possible in CoD4) you can't just stop on the spot; instead, momentum and the current will carry you on in the direction you were travelling.

It's also possible to commandeer tanks on certain levels. And while that might sound slightly unfair (they can take quite a beating from bullets) the awfully long time it takes to reload combined with the painfully slow speed of the turret means that the balance is restored extremely effectively and in actual fact, hijacking one of these hulking steel beasts isn't always recommended as you'll instantly become the prime target for your opponents - a tactic that can also be used in your favour.

There are only 3 maps in the beta so far: Castle - a Japanese mountain hideout, Roundhouse - a bomb damaged railway station and Makin - a beach town full of rickety old wooden houses on stilts, and while there's the inevitable constant rushing of the frequent choke points, this is a simple fact of life as far as online FPSes go and one that not even the excellent designers at Valve, Bungie or Infinity Ward have managed to counter. One gripe I've experienced first hand and also heard others complain about is the badly placed spawn points that will occasionally respawn you or your enemies right next to the same spot the dogs spawn from - which is quite an oversight!

And so onto why I almost deleted the game in disgust. When I play CoD4 I always play Hardcore team deathmatch, but when I started playing the CoD5 beta, due to my own sheer stupidity or degrading eyesight, I didn't even realise there were hardcore modes available and so began playing 'normal' deathmatch. A mode I found extremely difficult due to the relative inaccuracy of the old fashioned weapons featured in the game and the fact that it also takes quite a few bullets to down an opponent. And finally because, most likely down to my own inability, I got my arse absolutely handed to me on a plate. I only discovered that Hardcore was actually available by chance and upon selecting that alternative mode found the game to be an absolute revelation and completely different experience altogether.

Hardcore deathmatch changes the very nature of the game and it becomes a much more tactical affair. With hardcore disabled, all hell breaks loose as everyone runs around aimlessly and the game degenerates into a massive clusterfuck. But with one shot kills on hardcore, it becomes a much more tactical affair and team work, communication and perhaps most importantly patience come very much into play. The first time I earned the dogs was quite a euphoric moment as I hid myself in a shed while my canine compatriots quickly built up a 15 kill streak.

So eventually, I've come to the conclusion that I really like CoD5 and after initially dismissing it because of its what I thought would be rubbishly inaccurate weapons, it turns out that it's very similar to the game I already know and love so well. As for whether it will replace CoD4 as my multiplayer game of choice remains to be seen but kudos to Treyarch for delivering a game that will undoubtedly shut the naysayers up and which will in my opinion, make a fuck ton of money this Christmas.

One final caveat however, make sure you remember to mute anyone not on your friends list in your 360's dashboard setting as similarly to Halo3, this game unfortunately (even in the beta stages of its release) seems to attract the absolute dregs of society and you will frequently be on the receiving end of racist, homophobic and xenophobic insults
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