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Call of Duty: World at War
Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1, 1 - 4 (Co-op), 2 - 18 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
"Stunning." That's the only word that can adequately describe the graphics in Call of Duty: World at War. Everything around you is crisp and clear, down to the faces of your compadres and enemies. Although this is yet another WWII game, Treyarch has managed to create a fresh and exciting experience by taking us from one end of the globe to another. Your experience will begin in the lush tropical locale of Makin Atoll and take you all the way to the heart of Berlin, although through the eyes of three different members of the military. I love seeing all the little details like burning papers blowing in the wind as a city is torn apart or broken bottles on the floor of a damaged bar. It's the little things that make all the difference in creating such an immersive experience. There are some recognizable landmarks and neat things such as the ability to burn the other side's flag when you encounter it in a cave. Nice. Call of Duty: World at War doesn't shy away from the blood, though, so be aware. When you shoot a soldier in the head, you will see it explode. When you roast someone with a flamethrower, you will see the burned remains of their arm, leg or whatever.

Sound is equally top-notch. Keifer Sutherland lends his commanding and gruff voice to that of Sgt. "Ass-in-my-face" Roebuck, Pvt. Miller's superior, and Gary Oldman is incredibly moving as Sgt. Reznov, the man who saves Pvt. Petrenko and leads him on to eventual victory over the Germans. The guys who will be fighting alongside you also do a terrific job and the voiceovers never feel stale or phoned-in. They say different things and I truly felt like a member of a team when I played. Gun reports are excellent as always with most having that satisfying "pop" when you pull the trigger. When the tanks are rolling all around you and grenades are going off, its hard to keep focus because of the sounds and rumbling in the controller. Overall, it just works.

Music was also an interesting choice. Thematic and moving pieces could be heard in certain battles, while pounding hard rock could be found in others. I spoke to some people who found it disconcerting, but I loved it. I thought the rock worked perfectly and found it rousing and it really got my blood pumping.

The most outstanding aspect in this department has got to be cutscenes that introduce each level. They seemlessly blend historical footage with animated scenes done in a New Wave/Punk Rock (think KMFDM) style that has definite pizzazz and pop. It's something that has to be seen and expeienced rather than simply discussed, but suffice it to say that I never wanted to skip the cutscenes. They were stellar in design.

I haven't been so emotionally moved by a game since the first Medal of Honor. Throughout the single player campaign of Call of Duty: World at War, you will first step into the boots of Private Miller, as he is rescued by Sgt. Roebuck after having been captured by Japanese while his group was scouting Makin Island. You'll then follow Sgt. Roebuck to Peleliu and finally as the team storms Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan. You will alternate between Miller and Private Petrenko, a member of the Red Army who teams up with Sgt. Reznov when his group is annihilated in Stalingrad. Reznov, Petrenko and their men will work their way from Russia to Berlin to not only drive the Germans from the Motherland, but to plant the Russian flag on the German Parliament as a final blow to the Third Reich. You'll also do a single mission as Petty Officer Locke when his team makes a raid on a fleet of Japanese merchant ships and also tries to rescue survivors from a bombed-out U.S. fleet. This mission, in particular, is really moving because, depending on your skill level, you can rescue a number of survivors - if you are good enough. You'll be shooting at U-boats that pop up to take you out, while survivors are trying to get on board. But the rub is that you have to physically lend a hand to pull them in, so it's not automatic. When you fail them, you truly feel like you have failed. In most of the missions, however, you'll be working as a member of a team. The A.I. of your teammates and also your enemies is pretty good, although sometimes you'll need to push forward as your team will hang back and wait for you to make the first move. As I offhandedly mentioned earlier, Sgt. Roebuck had the inate skill of always jumping in front of me and sticking his rear in my face. At one point, he jumped in as I threw a grenade, causing it to bounce off his head and into me, killing me. That, my friends, is how he earned the nickname I have bestowed upon him.

Missions include the aforementioned survivor run, plus plenty of running through streets and buildings, clearing out enemies as you go. I especially enjoyed the missions where you were in super-close quarters, flushing out hiding Germans who were completely dug-in. Japanese popping out of the ground from hidden fox holes screaming "banzai!" are a new surprise and they have no problem running at you full-force, even if it costs them their lives.

Your arsenal of weaponry includes the usual suspects like the Panzerschreck, the Thompson, the Gewehr, the Type 100 and 99, the Mosin-Nagant, plus the Japanese bayonet among many others. My favorite new addition is the flamethrower! Lots of fun can be had with this baby. Plus, if an enemy has one, a well-placed bullet can turn them into a fireworks party. A new weapon in some missions is the satchel bomb, where you can toss a satchel bomb into a machine gun nest and then run away and detonate it from a distance. You'll also have the ability to call in an air strike in some missions, sometimes destroying tree lines or buildings riddled with enemies.

One of the most interesting additions is Nacht Der Untoten (Night of the Undead), which is a mode that is unlocked when you complete the game on any difficulty. Here, you are barricaded in a broken-down building with Nazi zombies attacking from all sides, slowly at first, then ramping up, since it's a survival mode. When they approach, they will begin tearing down your barricade, board by board. Your ammo is severely limited, although sometimes they will drop ammo when you kill them. They'll take a few shots to kill, unless you get a head shot, so you'll need to perfect that. You'll have to kill the zombies, then rush to the various barricades and quickly rebuild by pressing (Square). Scattered around the building are new guns you can "purchase" since you'll earn money with every kill, plus there are barricaded areas that you can clear with money as well. It's a hard road, but a nice diversion, for sure.

Ahh, multiplayer. Not my forte, I will admit. I don't play well with others, as the saying goes. But soldier on, I did. There are the typical modes like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, but I found the experience to be so juvenile that I could barely stand it. The 13-year-olds with headsets do nothing but curse and trash talk, and while I am certainly not a prude (the trash talk I do in my own home while playing single player could damn near peel the paint from the walls), it's really annoying. I didn't experience any lag or anything, so that's a good thing. There's also a cooperative mode where you can play with another player in split screen.

There are four levels of difficulty: Recruit, Regular, Veteran and Hardened. I played through the entire game on Regular and I found the level of difficulty to be absolutely perfect. I didn't wail through the game, by any means, but I was never frustrated while playing. I found the checkpoints to be at perfect spots, except for one area in Berlin that seemed like it was a long way to a checkpoint. The game handily auto-saves, so you won't have to worry about forgetting to save and then losing your progress.

Once I played through on the standard difficulty level, I decided to test out the others. Recruit is pretty easy. I was able to get through the first mission without dying once, so this is definitely where beginners at shooters will want to start. It seemed to take a lot to get me close to dying and enemies seemed to die with one or two hits. If you want to spice things up a bit, try the game on Veteran. Enemies take a few more hits to kill and will be harder to corner and outmaneuver. Hardened is tough, to say the least. You will die, die again, and then die some more. Enemy A.I. is relentless and clever and it takes a number of shots to take them down. Their bullets rarely seem to miss their mark. The challenge is definitely there, but I found it somewhat frustrating.

Game Mechanics:
Controls in Call of Duty: World at War are really intuitive and feel very natural. You'll move and strafe using the Left Analog Stick and aim and control your camera with the Right Analog Stick. (R1) fires your primary weapon and you can swap to your alternate by tapping (Triangle). (R2) lets you cook and throw your primary grenade and (L2) lets you throw your secondary grenade, usually a smoke bomb. If you want a closer look, holding down (L1) lets you aim and get a really close-up view if you have a sniper rifle. Some missions actually require you to snipe someone from very far away and to steady your gun and your breathing by pressing (L3). Finally, although your gun auto-reloads, you can hit reload to make sure you are prepared and ready with a quick tap of the (Square) button and change your stance between prone on the ground, crouched or standing by tapping (Circle).

There are certain points in the game where an enemy grabs a hold of you, and to keep from dying, you can quickly press (R3) to fend him off and stab him in the neck. This is also your melee weapon button, so if you are caught with no ammo, you can stab at enemies or use a bayonet on them until you can find ammo.

One mission that I thought was really clever is the aforementioned mission where you will be attacking Japanese merchant ships and rescuing survivors. Rescuing someone required you to get off the guns and press (Square) to physically pull them in. Then, you'll jump back on the guns to protect your craft and destroy the incoming kamikaze planes and U-boats. This mission will have you running from one end of the plane to another to get the best vantage point for your target. If you don't swap to the next gun when your superior suggests, the game will automatically have you move within a few moments, so you can't mess yourself up by not going on your own.

As always, the use of cover is very important for your survival. Since some enemies will now pop out of completely hidden fox holes, keeping yourself protected is of the utmost importance. There are no healthpacks, but instead, as you sustain damage, your HUD will turn red. You'll need to step out of the firefight to regain your health, which only takes a short while.

Also worthy of mention are the Death Cards that are scattered about in the levels, hidden fairly well. These reward you completists and explorers out there with goodies and extras during multiplayer play. There are 13 in all.

Overall, amazing storytelling, superior graphics and sound effects, natural controls and compelling gameplay from subject matter that has been done to death (no pun intended) by other games, yet somehow manages to be fresh and intriguing here all adds up to the best game I have played this season. This is the first game I have been compelled to beat since Uncharted and the first one I have wanted to play through a second and third time on a higher difficulty since I don't know when. Highly recommended.

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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