When it comes to Call of Duty, Treyarch has never been the fan-favourite. Often accused of ruining the series whenever it is their turn to develop a Call of Duty title, they often have a lot of public pressure to go up against. Now it’s Treyarch’s time again, and you can’t help but think that, this time, they kind of deserve the scepticism.
Where the fourth game re-energised the series by taking it out of World War II and into the modern era, Treyarch has taken a step backwards and set World at War once again in that lovable era. This may at first seem like a weird move to make, especially considering what they have to follow on from, but if you think about it, the effect that Modern Warfare had on the series can apply universally in any era.
Call of Duty 4 was actually the first in the series to be rated for a mature audience. Despite the fact that Treyarch’s fixation on WW2 is coming perilously close to an obsession, the new age rating actually opens things up for them to show WW2 as it has rarely been seen before. They get to ‘redefine’ World War II, and show a grittier, more brutal, more intense point of view. If handled well, Treyarch could be forgiven for making us re-visit that done-to-death period in history, and Strategy Informer was lucky enough to get both a behind the scenes presentation, and some hands-on time to see just how things are shaping up.
A step in the right direction was to shift the scene from Europe to the Pacific, a theatre that has only really been covered properly in Medal of Honour: Rising Sun. The pacific theatre was unique in several ways, as any history buff would know, because of the tactics used by the Japanese forces, and the very nature of the campaign itself – ‘Island Hopping’. Both of these factors, the Treyarch guys claim, will help redefine war and keep things fresh and like the previous COD game, World at War will feature a dual campaign. For the second ‘half’ of this title, the developers have gone back to Russia, and the campaign will apparently feature the Russian’s invasion of Berlin. This side of the campaign will already be at a handicap because it has been done before. Even the campaign’s beginning at Stalingrad was covered in the very first Call of Duty, and covered quite well. So this side of the game will have to really pick up the slack if it is to not detract from the wider experience.
Campaign aside though; this new Call of Duty game will have several features that already are improving on Modern Warfare’s winning formula. Co-op has been added to the main campaign, so that you and up to three other people can play through the campaign over Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and PC. There’s even support for two player split-screen this time round, so already Treyarch are ticking some boxes. To appeal to a lot of gamers’ sense of competition and the need for advancement, you can even gain XP during the co-op campaign, so that you don’t have to worry about how much online time you’re missing out on. Improved particle effects have also allowed for the use of fire in this game, mainly in the form of Molotov cocktails, flamethrowers and even flame tanks. Whilst we’re on the subject of tanks, vehicles have allegedly been added to the multiplayer mode; however there wasn’t anything up for display this time around.
Even though a lot of you will know this already, we’re going to mention it anyway: Kiefer Sutherland will be playing one of the major NPC characters in the pacific campaign. In all seriousness, this could be a good move by Treyarch, as a lot of what made the last game so epic was its cast of supporting NPC players, and English stereotyping aside, the single-player campaign wouldn’t have been the same without them. There will apparently be a Russian counterpart to Kiefer’s character who will be in the other campaign, but at the time of writing, there has yet to be an announcement on who that will be.
What the developers showed us and what was available on the consumer floor was the same demo. Our impression of it, whilst being generally higher than the public would probably expect from Treyarch, is not as high as it probably should be. Don’t get us wrong, World at War is coming along very nicely, but it still needs some tweaking if it is to at least be on par with its predecessor. Little things like AI responsiveness and the grenades seemed a bit weak, but overall the demo was pretty sound. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if Treyarch have done anything new with the Call of Duty 4 engine, visually speaking, which they actually got their hands on a year before its release.
The whole point of half-setting the game in the Pacific was to keep things interesting. The tactics that the Japanese used made the pacific campaign more into a survival horror movie then an actual campaign, yet so far little of this has translated onto the game. The demo was fun to play, but it lacked the grittiness and the brutality that Treyarch was aiming for. It remains to be seen if this is necessarily a bad thing, as the new features will make this a good game for quite a few people, but if they want to shake this stigma they have earned over the years, then these little flaws are going to have to be looked at and addressed.
The control scheme hasn’t changed a bit since the last, which was good because it meant that we didn’t have to keep looking at the reference sheet during our hands-on time. Treyarch has tried hard to make sure a lot of the features from the last game have been carried over and adapted, so that players will enter this new arena feeling comfortable and familiar.
Final verdict: There’s potential. We only saw the one level and so far what Treyarch hope for and what they’ve got don’t quite match up. But there’s still hope. Providing they can smooth out the bugs, crank things up a notch, and just try something new visually, aside from the fire, then this could be more than a worthy addition to the Call of Duty franchise. To be honest though, even if it isn’t, it’ll probably still be worth buying as some of the new features sound like a lot of fun.