Call of Duty: World at War — Braving the Frontlines Again as a 22-Year-Old
‘This is not war, this is murder!’ — Yes Chernov, but it’s still awesome though
From the video game franchise that trained entire generations of teenagers to feign normality in their everyday lives in order to vent their underlying sociopathic fantasies vicariously through an unknowing run-of-the-mill squaddie, Call of Duty: World at War (WaW) marks the fifth instalment of the Call of Duty (CoD) series and is among the most successful first-person shooters ever produced.
After previously releasing three games set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the fear was that between them Treyarch and Infinity Ward had exhausted the potential of this historic conflict to add anything new or exciting to players’ experience.
However, to gamers’ unanimous delight, and my 10-year-old fright, WaW proved to be the most intense and authentic depiction of the horrors of war in gaming.
Over 12 years later, it remains in remarkably good shape. I’m still playing it at 22, so it must be doing something right — or my gaming addiction is more severe than my doctors first considered.
WaW stays largely faithful to the tried-and-tested formula of its predecessors, however, shakes things up just enough to avoid becoming monotonous or repetitive on each new playthrough.
Its primary feats arise from featuring two distinct campaigns, the customary Allied Conflict, of course, now joined by the American campaign in the Pacific. Incidentally, this was the first and last game of the series to include this particular theatre of war.
It’s further complemented by more immersive sound design and visual effects, a deeply unsettling soundtrack, coupled with a diverse variety of maps and level design to keep players hooked throughout its interweaving narrative spanning the twilight years of the Second World War.
The Pacific campaign heralded an important milestone for the CoD franchise, which had previously concentrated on the Allied fight in Europe.
I’ll draw swords with anyone who asserts that this campaign fails to distinguish itself from its Soviet counterpart. On the contrary, guerrilla warfare, booby traps, and elaborate ambushes routinely demand the player to stay alert and adapt their playstyle from the more conventional style of warfare they are used to if they intend to complete each mission without reloading every checkpoint a thousand times, (veteran mode, am I right?)
Reach for one too many sips of your beer, or whatever energy drink kids enjoy these days, and you risk straying too far from the sanctuary of your unit and trampling on what, at first, resembles a perfectly innocent rock armed with a bayonet, but which is quickly revealed to be a fearless Banzai warrior waiting to slice you open like a fruit salad!
In this storyline, the player inhabits the shoes of Private Miller, an American PoW rescued and incorporated into the Marine taskforce of Sergeant Roebuck, voiced by Kiefer Sutherland. As your unit slogs through the endless terrain of jungles, trenches, and bunkers, confronted by wave after wave of Imperial forces, the atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty remain ever prominent.
The game creates a persistent feeling of creeping horror, that at any moment, a supporting character might meet their untimely demise. This is witnessed in a visceral fashion with Sergeant Sullivan’s sudden death at the end of the second mission. My condolences to the game’s infinite supply of non-essential bullet-sponging privates, a CoD staple. We love you really, sort of.
Soviet Campaign: All Quiet on the Eastern Front…
No, it wasn’t. It’s violent, noisy, scary, and - oh crap! I think I just accidentally shot one of my own men! Don’t think anyone noticed, (or cares!?) Oh, how awfu- OOOooo, they’ve dropped a PPSh! *Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!*
To navigate the harsh and unforgiving counteroffensive of the Red Army from The Battle of Stalingrad to the fall of Berlin, we play as Private Dimitri Petrenko, who is led by the ruthless Sergeant Viktor Reznov, voiced by British actor Gary Oldman.
This campaign grants players more in terms of narrative depth, dramatic tone, and emotional impact than its corresponding American storyline. One way it achieves this is through your fellow comrade, Private Chernov, who provides a much-needed counterbalance to all the brutality that Reznov and his regiment frequently inflict upon the Nazis. This leads both characters to clash over their opposing stances and forces the player to stop and ask themselves: ‘Are we the baddies?’
Each mission does a steadfast job of urging us to scream ‘Chernov, put down your bloody diary for two minutes, and shoot something!’ At least, until his gruesome death during the penultimate mission, whereafter the new status quo becomes ‘Reznov, you monster, how could you?’
Nevertheless, it’s difficult to resent Reznov for his merciless conduct considering that we first discover him literally playing dead among his fallen comrades following the massacre of Stalingrad. This event undoubtedly fuelled the rage and thirst for vengeance of every Soviet soldier, a more personal dimension that the game encapsulates well.
Reznov’s character alone illustrates the game’s success in being the first WW2-based CoD to pay closer attention to character development, which in turn enables us to invest more emotionally in its characters’ struggles and the reality of the life-threatening circumstances we endure alongside them.
Well, that’s that. Certain aspects of WaW may seem dated nowadays and lack the narrative nuances of Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010), the sequel it helped lay the groundwork for, in every respect.
Nonetheless, WaW triumphs as a timeless gem of FPS entertainment. Its fantastic voice acting and unapologetically graphic gameplay highlight just some of the ways it convincingly grounds us in the chaotic reality of this monumental conflict.
I’ve excluded any discussion surrounding Multiplayer and the Nazi Zombies game mode from this retrospective, (yeah, I don’t remember my grandad mentioning that part of the War either, but there we are…) on account of original Zombies being so awesome, before it digressed into an incredibly convoluted master narrative, that you don’t need me to tell you to re/play it!
As to its Multiplayer experience, well, let’s just say that even as a mature young adult, I never overcame my fear of being called a ‘noob’ on Xbox Live by angry boys who haven’t lost all their milk teeth yet.