Review by enosshenk
"Not bad, but not great"
Once again I delve into the modern Call of Duty games, and once again its a very love-hate relationship. Not many other series have captured the "You are in a war, get to it" immersiveness. But alas, just like COD4, several inane design choices serve to break you out of that immersiveness.
Graphics: Once again I have to say, this game engine is beautiful. Not only are the graphics clear and more than workable, the engine runs butter smooth, never detracting from the gameplay with stuttering and slowdown, even on my less-than-super machine. As in COD4, the nice use of depth-of-field blurring when sighting over the top of your weapon does wonders to sell the realism of the experience. But once again, the game has the same issue that drives me up the wall. On several occasions, the players character reaches out with his hands to pick up offered weapons, accept a hand up, etc. But in gameplay, looking down reveals the character to be nothing more than the standard Disembodied Eyeballs avatar. When will developers finally realize that showing that the players avatar has a body grabs ahold of the immersive knob and cranks it up to 11? Play Thief 3 or Mirror's Edge to see this in action.
Sound & Music: Overall the sound design is servicable. But I would echo what other reviewers have said, the weapons in this game sound PATHETIC. One reviewer compared some of the rifle sounds to a paintball gun, and this is not far off. I believe only the mounted machine guns sound convincing, everything else has a very weak feel. Half of the fun of a shooter type game is a visceral sound experience. Players WANT to hear a satisfying sound when they discharge whatever weapon they have, not a sissy little pop.
The music works, breaking into a heroic theme when a big event is going down onscreen. It takes a back seat to the game, which is a good thing. In a game that strives for immersiveness, having a full orchestra pop up only distracts.
Gameplay: Here is where the game falls apart. This game uses the same design concepts as COD4, which in my opinion were silly to the point of extreme distraction from the experience. Once again, the game relies entirely too much on scripted events, instead of a free-form experience. As in COD4, your AI teammates have no capability besides "Run to the next scripted point, and plink ineffectually at enemies" This leads to all sorts of irritation, like where your teammates will simply stand around doing nothing until the player steps on whatever trigger leads into the next scripted encounter.
The game also suffers from what I like to call "What the hell do I do now"-itis. On many many occasions, the player will have NO idea where to go or what to do. The game interface is no help, merely giving you very broad objectives like "Attack the germans" instead of "Plant a bomb in the building to the north" The players teammates and other NPCs could easily lead the player on to the next objective, but as mentioned above, they merely hold their last scripted positions, waiting for you to figure it out. Also as in COD4, enemies will simply infinitely spawn at whatever position the game expects you to assault. Until you reach the next "position", its just a glorified shooting gallery. Theres no concept of softening up a target by killing the enemy, merely shooting as many as possible then charging before they respawn.
The friendly AI is utterly rock-stupid, again only following scripted instructions, quite often to your pain. Since the player must lead every step of the way, you are always "on point", so many times you will move up, take cover behind an object, only to have one of your idiotic teammates take the same piece of cover as part of their scripted behavior, which pushes the player out from cover, usually to get shot in the head.
One thing that drove me bonkers in COD4 was the grenades, and this game follows the same path. When an enemy throws a grenade near you, a small icon appears on your HUD prompting you to run away. But such a ridiculous amount of things are happening at any given moment in combat, you often miss noticing it, which gets you blown up.
Then this game offers a new wrinkle, a quicktime-event style mechanic that is absolutely infuriating. Quite often on the American missions, a japanese soldier will pop up, charge you before you can react, and knock you down. At this point, the game expects you to press your melee button to fend off the attack. Unfortunately, you have approximately 3 nanoseconds to push the button. Too early or too late, and you insantly die. And I mean instantly, doesnt matter if you had full health, YOU DIE.
There are also several occasions where the player is expected to pull off something like equipping a bazooka and destroying a handful of enemy tanks. Running around with a big fat rocket launcher while hordes of enemies shoot at you with more effective weapons could be fun. But again, your idiotic teammates do not support you while you do this, they just sit at their positions and plink away at enemies that arent even threatening you.
Story: Not much to say here, the game intentionally places you as a random grunt. While it might make you feel heroic in certain encounters, the player is never made out to be the sole hero of the entire war effort. So bravo good job there, the game sells the effect of being just one of many in enormous battles to fantastic effect.
In conclusion, and in retrospect while writing this, there wasnt much about the gameplay here that I actually enjoyed. But the sheer effectiveness of the game at placing you in these huge events and watching things play out made me keep playing it. While the gameplay might not be my cup of tea, its definately worth the ride anyway.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/29/09
Game Release: Call of Duty: World at War (US, 11/10/08)
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