Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
I played through the single-player campaign of Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War over the long Thanksgiving weekend and again decided to compile my notes. As this is not a review of Call of Duty: World at War and more of a collection of my notes organized in a more readable format, it will contain some spoilers. You have been warned.
I have got to tell you that going in I was very skeptical considering I was less than impressed with Treyarch’s last outing in the series, Call of Duty 3.
Call of Duty: World at War brings the series back to its traditional setting of World War II. I am torn by this decision as I enjoyed the more freeform story that a modern setting afforded Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The modern setting allowed Infinity Ward more flexibility in their locations, missions and story. The developers even introduced a villain and made him perform evil acts so that the villain evoked an emotional response from the player. There was suspense in the outcome of the game as the way the game could end was in question. These sorts of conventions are more difficult or even impossible in a historic setting like World War II, where the player enters the game knowing that the allies win and how they win. Still World War II allows for very epic scenarios.
In the following sections I will outline the levels and events in the game that left a more lasting impression on me.
The first mission was easily the worst mission in the game. The level traps the player into really tight corridors. Invisible walls hem the player in preventing the player from entering areas of the level that are seemingly blocked by small bushes and knee high rocks that the player should be able to easily traverse. Worst still is the fact that very little cover is available in these tight corridors and because it is so tight in sections, it prevents almost all lateral movement. The end result is a player that is left out in the open with no cover and no place to move. I also really dislike the convention of placing enemies in places where the player is unable to travel. It is in many ways lazy and I feel cheated that a 3-foot wall or small plant is preventing me from a performing a flank or even approach the enemy position. By the conclusion of the first chapter I was almost ready to turn the game off and never revisit it. I am glad I continued.
The game really starts to pick up at the start of the Russian campaign. The Russian campaign begins with a sniper mission called Vendetta. The start of the mission is nearly a direct copy of one of the scenes from Enemy at the Gates. As you gain consciousness surrounded by a stack of bodies inside of a destroyed fountain. You crawl to make your way to the edge of the fountain and are given a sniper rifle by a fellow survivor. Here you spot a group of Germans and must wait for planes to fly overhead to mask the noise of the sniper rifle before opening fire. Later in the level, while inside of a building you are spotted by Germans just outside. They pour fire through the windows of the building with flamethrowers and you must go into the prone position and learn to crawl to avoid the streams of fire. While crawling a bookcase that falls overhead was a simple, but very nice touch. There is also a sniper versus sniper segment further in the mission that was very well executed as well.
The tank level, while breaking up the pacing, was not fun. It consisted entirely of sitting at range and firing over and over at targets. If you came too close you would be punished by being pelted by Panzerfäuste carrying infantry or other tanks and quickly destroyed.
The Black Cat mission was one of the more memorable. It involves the player manning the turrets of a “Black Cat” PBY Catalina plane. Although the gameplay is 100% scripted, the running back and forth through the plane to switch to another turret was very exciting. In one scripted event, just as you sit down at your seat to man the turret, a Japanese Zero crashes into the water right in front of you. The mission is littered with exciting moments and there is always something to shoot.
Later in the Russian campaign you are asked to storm a German occupied city. As you prepare to storm the city, your troops line up in front of you forcing you to stop and watch a bombing of the building ahead. The group then charges through the fields screaming battle cries. I just thought this was a great gating mechanism that greatly increased the chance that the player will see the scripted event of the bombing happening and get the rush of charging across a field under fire.
In one of the American Pacific campaign missions, you fight your way up a hill and you arrive at a nice vista shot to close the level. Amazing vistas are a great way to reward the player for reaching a goal.
One of the departures from previous games in the series that I liked was the way the game made you feel heroic especially in the Russian campaign. Previous Call of Duties put you in the roll of a grunt soldier that was treated no different from any of the other soldiers. In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare the player meant so little that the developers went so far as to kill the player’s character.
Some of the situations where the game made you feel like a hero were:
- The Russian commander giving you a rest on the back of a tank for your performance, while ordering another grunt to walk.
- The Russian commander also kept reminding you of all the harrowing circumstances you had lived through and that as long as you lived the Russian army could not be broken.
- The Russian commander also gives you the honor of planting the Russian flag to signify victory over your German adversaries calling you out specifically for your heroics.
I am also glad to see Treyarch got rid of the quick time event hand-to-hand battles that you had no control over when they occurred from Call of Duty 3 and replaced them with a single knife button press and only if the enemy comes within range of you. This gives the player the ability to prevent these events from occurring by not allowing enemies to get within range. Although the frustration of these events have lessened by being able to prevent them from happening, when they do occur they can be frustrating because the game clock continues and this often leads to grenades landing on you that you can have no chance to escape from.
Issues I saw and improvements I would have liked to see in the game:
- Enemy AI will occasionally just stand there ignoring the player or you will see two AI from opposing factions standing back to back ignoring each other while they engage more distant targets.
- It is about time CoD fix their AI’s animations. The IK or something is off, they just occasionally get crossed up while moving and it looks very wrong.
- The flamethrower was completely overpowered. It made any of the levels that it existed in a complete joke. You just fan it around and everybody instantly dies. It also has unlimited ammo. At least the developers limited the flamethrower to a few select missions.
- Enemy guns should do more damage and grenades should do less. I could just stand there and be nearly impervious to fire on the Regular difficulty. Where as grenades are instant death over a very wide radius. Grenades accounted for 90% of my deaths. If the player moved forward and a grenade is already on the ground, the grenade icon would appear before instantly detonating and giving the player no warning before dying. These deaths feel very cheap. This could be resolved by reducing the instant death radius of grenades (falloff of damage), while at the same time increasing the damage of enemy guns against the player. This would place more value on the use of cover.
- The achievements come few and far between in the solo campaign. Ideally an achievement should be handed out after every mission completed even if it is a small one in point value to keep the player motivated. It is like Warren Spector says, “have you patted your player on the back lately?”
Despite these issues, Call of Duty: World at War snuck up on me and surprised me with the quality of the campaign. The game starts off slow and the weapons are mostly familiar if you have played Call of Duty 1-3, but the game slowly builds momentum and ends on a very high note.
My thoughts and impressions of the game were based off of a play through of the solo campaign set at Regular (the suggested) difficulty on the Xbox 360 platform.
See my other related articles also:
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay
My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character
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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2008 at 2:54 am and is filed under Video Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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