Wednesday, January 14, 2009

20cc reviews: Call of Duty: World at War

CoD5 came out a little under the radar. Granted, when I say under the radar, I mean to say that I didn't notice it was coming out until shortly before its release, and I can't claim to be a careful follower of gaming news beyond that which is on Wikipedia. I should probably work on that, but it's not the point I'm trying to make.

Back in '07, I saw ads for CoD4 in theaters and was vaguely interested. That was about the end of it though. I played it at Dan's and mostly enjoyed the fact that the reload animation changes when the magazine is empty—something every game should be able to do now.

About a year later, Caleb brought CoD5 to my attention, and we shared high hopes, because of the cooperative campaign mode, and because the game was going to be set back in World War II which, while horrendously overused, is several leaps more interesting and realistic than the present day formula of “Terrorist steal nukes. America save world. We best nation in world. Yay America.” This is not to say that CoD4 was a bad game. On the other hand, I hoped that such a game could be followed by a truly stellar WWII shooter, something that's rather hard to find. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

When I recently got my hands on a copy of CoD5, I found it plagued with most of the expected problems, and a few others. The game was touted to be a “realistic” shooter, one that would accurately depict the conditions of the Pacific Campaign, and war in general. The game starts off with our beloved protagonist tied in a hut with another American, being interrogated by a Japanese soldier and his commander. We watch as the officer pushes a cigarette into the other prisoner's eye and leaves. The soldier then draws his knife and slits the American's throat, turns on the protagonist and is suddenly stabbed in the back by the typically well timed rescue operation.

And that's about all the horror you get.

I'll admit that I haven't beaten the whole game, but unless the last two levels suddenly turn into a burned-face, screaming-children gore fest, I feel that the supposed point of the game was missed. I have never been shot, but I imagine it would be rather unpleasant, and yet the injured soldiers in this game lie silently on the ground and, irritatingly, aim perfectly with their “last stand” pistol. In the real world, when a person is lit on fire, they scream and writhe and their skin melts off and they dehydrate. In CoD5 they die, very quickly and apparently painlessly.

That's okay, right? It would be pretty interesting to have a game that really made me feel the horror of war, but would it be fun? Maybe not. It certainly would have been a good game, if that was the only problem.

The next warning sign came after the second Japanese ambush. This brought two things to mind. The first was, don't these soldiers know how to fire a gun, or just charge at you with the bayonet? In my experience, it was mostly the latter. My second thought was, why are my allies so thick? Haven't they been fighting the Japanese for months? How many times are they going to walk into a clearing, see apparently uninjured soldiers lying on the ground (in Japanese uniforms) and think, “My, we haven't had any soldiers here. These men must have dropped dead of their own accord. It certainly won't be ANOTHER ambush.”


There were two things that really ruined the American campaign for me, however. First, the commanding officer is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland, whose reputation in my eyes has been forever ruined by 24. This is more a matter of personal opinion. However, around the third American level, I found myself carrying a heavy, belt-fed machine gun. I was firing it accurately without anyone feeding the belt, without bracing the gun, while standing, and moving.

At this point I could no longer hope for anything redeeming from this campaign. But the Russian campaign, that'll be fun. Alas. The stunning brilliance of the German infantry is showcased in the first level, when you take up a sniping position in the middle of the street, and kill one of two guards standing a short distance away. His partner responds with nothing but mild surprise when he sees his friend's head explode, and of course can't think to take cover before he himself is killed. You do this three times. It's okay though, because planes were flying overhead. It's a very clever technique. The planes cover the sound of the gun firing, and apparently also eliminate the muzzle flash.

I won't drag this out too much longer, but suffice it to say that the rest of the campaign is plagued by clich├ęd dialogue, two dimensional, poorly written characters, and a magical regenerating tank armed with both a cannon and flamethrower. Apparently the Soviets weren't broke after all.

My final complaint, less of a major issue and more just a demonstration of messing with something that doesn't need to be messed with. When playing in cooperative mode, the game doesn't use the full screen. Each player's screen is letterboxed and moved off into a corner of the screen. Apparently the game wasn't good enough on its own, so the makers had to stylize the screen itself. This wasn't so much an issue with me. My 65 inch screen made even a smaller than average playing area workable, but most people don't have 65 inch screens. This leads me to ask the good people at Treyarch, WHAT IN GOD'S NAME WERE YOU THINKING?

I recently reread a review in a certain unnamed gaming magazine that said the only thing that could be found to criticize about CoD5 is multiplayer that “Isn't quite as good as Four.” I'm inclined to wonder if we played the same game.

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