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Going back to World War 2 in Call of Duty: World at War showed me that there are still impressive stories to experience despite the perceived fatigue of war-time shooters. Whilst the new campaign set in the Pacific theatre ended up being a staid and boring rehash of previous games, the Russian story blew away my expectations. It was a gripping and emotional journey from the massacre of Stalingrad to the destruction of the Nazi's in Germany. The hatred and violence of the Russians was captured perfectly and the dramatic depiction of a war-torn Berlin led to an incredibly memorable experience.
After the first few moments of World at War I had the feeling I'd been smacked in the face by its approach to violence. World War 2 games have traditionally been coy about putting graphic gore and limb-severing into their game as a sign of respect. But the recent Brothers in Arms game and now Call of Duty have gone for a much more realistic portrayal of the effects of war. For a long time I've always held the belief that games should try and by authentic as possible in this regard. Only when violence is glamorised does it become disrespectful and the uncomfortable feelings I experienced were more to do with the situation rather than the spurts of blood.
Starting off in the Pacific as an American Marine the game quickly thrust me into the bloody conflict and did a good job in conveying the horror of the Pacific Theatre. Ambushes, tree-snipers and suicide bayonet charges were all common within the first few hours of the campaign.
But despite this new setting and bold approach the American campaign lacked any heart and soul to make me feel anything meaningful.
But despite this new setting and bold approach the American campaign lacked any heart and soul to make me feel anything meaningful. Part of what makes fictional adaptations of the war so enthralling is the attachment you form to the characters. A Thin Red Line was a wonderful film that captured both the horror and beauty of men on the front line. In World at War my team mates were nothing more than dispensable buddies; a long-term Call of Duty trait which usurps any emotional content to the story.
Surprisingly, it's the Russian campaign that provides much of the blood-pumping, adrenaline-racing action reminiscent of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Having played the Russian front so many times in previous games my level of expectation was low, especially as you start in Stalingrad - a battle and location overdone just as much as the Normandy beach landings.
The campaign leaps forward 4 years after the initial level and puts you on the offensive inside Germany itself. This quick change-up from the despairing defensive war in Stalingrad to bloodthirsty revenge as your storm your way through Berlin is thrilling and disturbing in equal measure.
All through the final levels I felt as if I was living an historic moment and the exhilaration of those levels was incredibly intense
My Russian comrade, Sgt. Reznov, is portrayed as an unhinged and violent man whose hatred for the Germans sustains him throughout the game. Hearing this raw and merciless character rejoice at the utter destruction of the Nazi's is uncomfortable and exhilarating. On more than one occasion I felt press-ganged into executing German soldiers as revenge for him. This provoked a really odd and surprising feeling for a World War 2 game - sympathy for the Nazi's. Despite the brutal attack against the Russians at the beginning of the game it was hard not to feel sympathy as I mowed the Germans down outside the Reichstag.
This section of the game really pours the cinematic and involved feeling the Pacific campaign lacked. All through the final levels I felt as if I was living an historic moment and the exhilaration of those levels was incredibly intense.
What brings the reality of these moments to the fore are the small vignettes before each section. Instead of just the dramatic mission briefings the game pulls away for a few minutes and shows the real story behind the setting. The pictures of burnt-out Berlin and real executions make World at War an uncomfortable game to play at times.
This brief glimpse of reality is precisely why I feel more involved in the action and the game. Sometimes it's good to be reminded that real conflict is a harrowing and evil act and credit has to go for its inclusion in the game. World at War may not reach the dramatic heights of Call of Duty 4, but it still has enough emotional depth and memorable moments to be recommended whole-heartily.
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