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Looking Back: Call of Duty: World at War


This is a spoiler warning!!

Often derided as a throwaway B-team effort, World at War is basically the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. The game was put in the unenviable position of being the follow up to Modern Warfare, and going back to the World War 2 setting did the game no favors. Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about World at War is that it's basically forgotten. Ask an avid player what their favorite CoD game is and you'll run the gamut, but you'll almost never land on World at War. It was the first CoD game I ever really invested in, putting in dozens if not hundreds of hours online. Like pretty much everyone else, I eventually moved on to future titles in the series, jumping ship to join my friends and never looking back. When I started the game up a few days ago, the specter of misplaced nostalgia flitted into my head. Maybe those puzzled looks I got when I responded "World at War" to the question of what my favorite Call of Duty game was were warranted. Maybe my love for WaW has more to do with who I was when it came out then it's actual quality. Maybe I'm just crazy, but I think World at War is secretly the best Call of Duty game.

Right off the bat, I had to play some multiplayer. Surprisingly, there is still a small community around to play with. Not surprisingly, this small community is littered with hackers. These hacked lobbies are fairly obvious to spot once you load them in, but it's a fucking bummer to have to quit out of games repeatedly to find a real match. Once I found a proper lobby though, I found it hard to stop playing. World at War is just so damn perfect. The maps are all awesome, I can't think of a single one I dislike. From the large sniper maps to the small run and gun maps, every single one is superb. The weapons all feel balanced, on your standard mid sized maps you'll find people using all different weapon and perk setups. Unlike a lot of later games where I feel assault rifles became the go to weapons, you can run pretty much any setup and still be a viable competitor. The old 3/5/7 kill streak system feels right. It's really simple compared to it's modern sequels, but that simplicity is what makes it great. There is no bullshit to deal with. No death streaks, no pick 10 system, no wall running, no character specific powers, no jet packs, and most importantly no fucking loot boxes. Personally, I feel this game is the pinnacle of multiplayer in the franchise. Also, shades is the best perk ever.

Before jumping into the campaign, I'd like to touch on Nazi Zombies. World at War is probably best know for this mode, and it went on to be the third pillar of every Treyarch CoD game afterward, and now seemingly every non-Treyarch game as well. I personally never really engaged with Zombies in this game, I only really started with Black Ops. While later DLC quickly started resembling the modern CoD zombies experience, the first map included with the base game is rough. It's dead simple, which is crazy to experience after going through dozens of Easter egg runs in the later games. It's a pure survival experience with no bells and whistles. There is no Easter egg challenge to go after, no perks, no pack-a-punch machines, no traps, and no special zombie types. It's just 3 rooms and a mystery box that has exactly one unique weapon, the classic Ray Gun. It amazes me how humble the origins of Zombie mode really are. You can tell this was meant to be a fun throwaway at best, but it laid the groundwork for something really special in the future.

When I first played through World at War back in 2008, the campaign didn't exactly stand out. I thought it was fun, but I wasn't blown away. I remember the biggest stand out feature in my eyes being the gore. It's funny how your perspective can change in nearly a decades time. I used to revel in the gore, I thought it was cool. It was just like getting gibs in Gears of War or Quake to me. Playing through the game now, the gore holds an entirely different meaning. It's clear to me now that Treyarch added the gore because it reinforced the games central message, which I now believe is an anti-war message.

Previous Call of Duty games focused heavily on the glory of war. They only dabbled in tragedy when it helped them to tell a more cinematic story. They all took a more Hollywood action movie angle when it came to portraying warfare. World at War on the other hand, goes out of it's way to show the horror and brutality people inflicted upon one another in the largest conflict in history. Seeing people lose limbs in the aftermath of grenade toss, or hearing the screams as people are burned alive by flamethrowers is horrifying. Suddenly, I wasn't just killing virtual Nazis, I was killing people. This game has some amazing set pieces, but they're few and far between when compared to it's sequels. Instead, the game throws you headfirst into pitched battles over and over and over. On the American side of things, you aren't the one man wrecking machine hero you're used to portraying. Your one man in a squad fighting for survival. There are so many little things that add to the overall negative tone of the campaign. You can hear it in your commanders voice between missions. He's broke down, his men are broke down, and they don't want to fight anymore. There's a one off mission that's basically this games equivalent to the AC-130 sequence from Modern Warfare. In it, you take control of a gunner in a warplane on a mission to destroy some merchant vessels transporting (weapons or oil?) something to Japan under escort. It's a massacre, you easily destroy the convoy and get on your merry way. Shortly afterward, you're called in to help defend the American fleet in nearby waters. Here, the hooah tone of the last five minutes is quickly squashed as you see multiple American ships being taken out by kamikaze attacks.Suddenly, your job switches from destroying the enemy to rescuing survivors in the water. This set piece is one long slideshow of tragedy as you watch people die around you, only able to rescue a small handful before limping away. This mission sort of encapsulates the tone of the game as a whole, one where a power fantasy is subverted by the humanity of war.

On the Russian side, things are a little less black and white. Your first mission is essentially Enemy at the Gates the game, which is really cool, but more importantly sets up the nazis as irredeemable monsters. This may seem like the most obvious thing in the world, but it's important because they later subvert this baked in bias. Your commander, a man named Reznov who inexplicably becomes a huge part of the Black Ops series later on, is a perfect caricature of a Russian soldier. He drinks, he curses, and he kills without mercy. He repeatedly praises the player for cutting down huge swathes of German adversaries. Over the course of the campaign, the tides of the war start to turn. You started out on the defensive, trying to stop the Nazi's from conquering Russia. By the end, you're in the German capital planting the Russian flag on the roof of the Reichstag. As you start to advance into Germany, taking the fight to the enemy, you begin to realize that you and your army really aren't any better than your past oppressors. You see torture, you see impromptu executions in the streets, and ultimately you as a player have to choose whether or not you want to participate in these acts. There are a handful of times you're given the choice to participate in these war crimes, but cleverly the game doesn't really tell you these things are choices. For instance, in one moment you're handed a rifle after being rescued from a small group of German soldiers holding you captive, and told that you should put the Germans out of their misery by Reznov. One might assume that it's just part of the game to shoot these prone men, but you can just as easily walk away and continue on your mission.

The most interesting thing to me about the campaign is a character who follows you around on the Russian side named Chernov. Chernov is something of a pacifist, and is constantly bullied by Reznov because of this. He frequently writes in a journal he carries around, and when you are given the option to show mercy or ruthlessness throughout the campaign he provides a voice of reason, imploring the player to do the right thing. Toward the end of the campaign your army corners a small group of German soldiers in the entrance of a metro tunnel, and your soldiers are about to toss a handful of Molotov cocktails on these men and watch them burn. In this moment, you have to choose whether to watch these men burn, or take them out with a bullet. There is no way to save these men, you can only choose their manner of execution. This moment is the one that breaks Chernov, and as he's writing of the event in his journal, he's ridiculed once again by Reznov. He's labeled a coward, and given the job of flag bearer as a sort of punishment. Soon after you storm the capital of Berlin, and Chernov dies just before final victory. After his death, Revnov picks up his journal and reads it to you, and the crazy part is that this journal entry changes based on your actions up to that point. If you showed mercy to your enemies, then Chernov's journal will talk of the player as a hero. If you proved yourself to be a merciless killer, Chernov will call you a savage, and if you show mercy at some points but ruthlessness at others, Chernov's journal will write about how he doesn't understand you or your choices. I feel like most players never knew that this moment was variable, hell I didn't even realize it until this playthrough. It's this kind of detail that I feel really separates World at War from it's contemporaries, and seals it's place as a worthy entry in the franchise.

The last piece of historical footage shown after beating the game cements the anti-war message I feel the game has been putting forth. In it, you see the nuclear bombs fall on Japan, and hear a somber speech from General MacArthur about finding peace in the aftermath of carnage. It's a powerful scene, beautifully edited together. It's the last thing you see before credits roll, and a perfect cap of the events before it. I never expected to write a piece quite like this after replaying a Call of Duty game. I was expecting a set piece driven, movie theater popcorn experience, but I found myself instead contemplating the horrors or war and the brutality of man. 



From a fucking Call of Duty game of all things.....






Thank god for cat pics.

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About CoruptAI125one of us since 11:56 PM on 09.23.2009

I'm Josh, and this is my assuredly amazing blog that everyone should read. I'm primarily a console gamer, thriving on RPGs and action games, but playing pretty much anything I can get my hands on. I'm on a quest to write something about every game I play through...it's not going well.

Games I'm currently playing
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Cthulhu Saves Christmas
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale

What I'm watching
Random Docs I can find streaming

Books I'm reading
The Sparrow
Halo: Fractures

GOAT Podcasts
Hardcore History
The Nextlander Podcast
Uhh Yeah Dude
The Dollop
The Giant Bombcast

Some of my favorite games (Alphabetical order because I have list commitment issues)
Call of Duty: World at War
Deadly Premonition
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3
Fallout 3
Final Fantasy X
Gears of War 2
Gone Home
Jetpack Joyride
Life is Strange
Mass Effect 2
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Nier Automota
Resident Evil 5
Sonic 2
Syphon Filter
Tales of Vesperia
What Remains of Edith Finch

Xbox LIVE:xRaW Corupt AIx
PSN ID:CoruptAI125
Steam ID:CoruptAI125


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