The final game from the recent Activision event has some slightly gigantic shoes to fill. Unlike Spider-man: Web of Shadows and 007: Quantum of Solace, two games that had lackluster previous entries to their respective series, Call of Duty 4 is much lauded, called easily the best of the series, if not the best shooter altogether. On top of that, developer Treyarch’s last go-around in the series was Call of Duty 3, a game decried for having the same old WWII scenarios and generally looked upon as a step back from the second entry. The cherry is the decision to go back to WWII, a scenario that has seen tens of different first person shooters (Newsarama Note: For why they went back to WWII, look for our interview with Call of Duty Military Advisor Hank Keirsey next week). So how is this latest entry in the storied series? Well, so far, it’s a mixed bag.
It should be noted, first, that this is still a way off from being a Gold or Final build. The game is currently scheduled to come out the week of Veteran’s Day, and the build I played was at the end of September. The reason so many people are still playing COD4 a year later is the online competitive multiplayer. It has gone back and forth with a select few other games as the most played online, consistently sitting comfortably in the top 5 on both Xbox 360 and on PS3.
So, then, the multiplayer will be what gives Call of Duty: World at War (CODW) any kind of staying power beyond the initial sales. Unfortunately, at this point, the death match and capture the flag modes are just same old, same old. The controls are virtually the same as those in COD4, as it was built on the same engine. There wasn’t anything to distinguish this from any other multiplayer that an experienced shooter fan has played before. Picking it up as a first go around would be likewise daunting. The guns are very powerful, so a newbie will have a very hard time jumping into matches with people used to the fast pace of competitive multiplayer. If you’re a tactical FPS player, you’re out of luck here, as the run and gun style of gameplay seems to be the only successful kind. This certainly isn’t a multiplayer that’s going to get gamers to put CoD4 on the shelf, as it’s a similar experience without the high-tech weapons. However, there is hope for the game.
That hope lies in a first for the Call of Duty series: Co-operative campaign mode. The co-op can be played through the whole game, with up to 4 players in a squad together. NPCs will also still join your party on and off throughout the game, giving you a little extra firepower. Co-op was a lot of fun. There is a much better focus on tactics and team communication here than in the traditional multiplayer. Playing on both PS3 and on PC (though not interoperably), there was no performance break when playing with 4 versus 3, 2, or 1 player alone. The graphical detail on the levels was the highest I’ve seen in a WWII shooter, and, again, the game really focused on helping and encouraging your team to work together. I found myself going back to this mode several times, and once anyone sat down at one of the co-op kiosks, they didn’t tend to move until a line formed behind them. The same can’t be said for the other multiplayer stations.
Co-operative gamers will absolutely have fun in that mode. However, the standard multiplayer doesn’t offer much beyond different maps. It remains to be seen if the campaign (including co-op) will be enough for gamers to shell out $60 in November.
The Wii Difference
I also got the opportunity to play the Wii version of the game, both in single player and two-player same-screen “Squadmate” co-op. First, the graphics were simply phenomenal. When first entering the Wii room, several people asked why there was no Wii version of this game, and instead there were two more Xbox 360 kiosks. The graphics are so close to that of the two beefier systems, it shames every game that has thus far been released for the Wii. Of course, there is another great looking FPS coming soon for the Wii in Conduit, but CODW is setting a new standard right now. Treyarch is designing all three console versions, along with the PC, giving them a much tighter relationship. The controls were very responsive, even in “Squadmate” mode. If your Wii is calibrated correctly, you should have no trouble aiming at (and hitting) the targets you intend. Not a lot of motion controls were shoehorned in, either, with them being used only for movements that map naturally to motion. The developers demonstrated using the Wii Zapper peripheral with the game, as well, but it did not seem to do anything positive for the controls. There was no better aiming with the Zapper, and movement/looking was more difficult with the controllers mounted into the faux-gun. Still, this game looks like it will be a welcome addition to the severely lacking quality FPS library for the Wii, and give the elusive “core” audience a reason to waggle again.
While this is the last game featured at the Activision media event, it’s far from the end of our coverage. Stay tuned for interviews with the people involved in all three games in the coming days.