Like every game in the series before Modern Warfare, this Call of Duty takes place during World War II.
In the campaign, you split time between two soldiers in two offensive theatres: the Russian push out of their homeland and into the heart of Germany, and the American struggle to wrest Pacific islands from the Japanese. Though you'll alternate between them every few levels, the campaign feels like one solid progression, thanks to the adept pacing.
Each soldier's journey begins at a low point. Weapon-less and surrounded by the enemy, you get a taste of the despair many soldiers are never rescued from. Though the emotional tone eventually rises toward triumph, you never quite forget the fate you nearly met. The first few levels are a hard scramble as you and your fellow soldiers try to gain a foothold for your country, while later levels are suffused with a sense of hard-won momentum as you fight bigger battles and push closer to your enemies' capitals. Throughout each level you are accompanied by a superior officer who sets the emotional tone through well-acted dialogue. The vengeful, spitfire Russian pumps up your adrenaline to intoxicating levels, while the grim, determined American provides a sobering influence. This grim sobriety is further enforced by the actual WWII videos, photos, and statistics presented in stylish cutscenes.
Bayonets and flamethrowers, the two standout new weapons in World at War. You wield both in the American campaign, using them to enthusiastically dispatch enemies in trenches and fend off the aggressive banzai raiders. These raiders snipe from the treetops, or pop out of holes and charge you with merciless determination; this aggression makes the American campaign feel uniquely tense. The Russian campaign is slightly more predictable, but it remains vigorous throughout and ends in a spectacularly satisfying way. Explosions and gunfire will cause enemies to lose limbs and copious amounts of blood, making World at War a sight more violent than Modern Warfare. Still, in between the burning, stabbing, and gibbing, there is a lot of crouching behind cover and picking off enemies with your trusty rifle. This kind of action, and most of the other weapons, will feel familiar to anyone who has played a World War II shooter before. It's a well-tuned and exciting familiarity, but it doesn't make any notable leaps.
The most notable new feature to WAW is a co-operative game called Nazi Zombies, playable when you beat the campaign (or play with someone who has). This absurd game puts up to four players in a house that is being assaulted by the undead. Killing the fiends and repairing the barricades earns you points that you then spend to replenish ammunition, buy new guns, and unlock new areas of the house. Each subsequent wave brings tougher, faster, more numerous enemies, and the game inevitably ends in grisly death. Though the random weapon box, assorted power-ups, and skills of your teammates add some variation, each play-through is similar to the last. Still, it makes for some intense, frantic fun and provides a welcome, if slightly bizarre, change of pace.
World at War brings proven Call of Duty mechanics back to WWII with great success.
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