I like to play video games. For about the last year there was only one game I would reliably be playing: Rock Band. That was supplanted last month by (surprise surprise) Rock Band 2. There were a couple other games that would pepper in and out, but I wouldn’t really stick with any other game very reliably. Lately, though, I’ve been very distracted by the latest game in the Call of Duty series, World at War. I get to kill Nazis. And I like it.
The Call of Duty series has been around a while, and with only one exception they’re all World War II games. There has always been a lot of competition in this space, and I wasn’t really into any of them. In fact, I bought the 4th game in the series, Modern Combat because it wasn’t a WWII game. There is a definite lack of current-technology warfare games, and I thought COD4 would be good because while I liked the cinematic aspects of the COD series, I thought the WWII genre and timeframe had been done to death. I was mostly right. This game held my attention for a while despite Rock Band being out. I normally hate console shooters because aiming with my thumbs is hard. I used to play them on my desktop well enough. I still had a steep learning curve, and I really did like playing with current era weapons and technology, but what really sold me on the game was the multiplayer.
I am a hermit. Apparently I missed this whole online multiplayer thing with respect to first person shooters. I did play World of Warcraft (sober free and clear for over a year now), but you *had* to play that online, so that’s different. There’s a single player campaign in all of the COD games, and I really enjoyed playing through the one in COD4, but one day I just decided to try the online multiplayer. I’d never played on servers that weren’t private games for just me and my friends, so it was really eye opening to get totally schooled by what were probably little kids with their fast-twitch reflexes and their swearing on bluetooth headsets. It became a bit of an addiction to try to get my kill-death ratio over 1. It took a while, but I finally got pretty good at it. I went back to Rock Band, having killed my share of foul-mouthed teenagers.
Turns out, I was not alone in my admiration for the COD4 game. The game engine was new for this version and looked excellent and played really well. The fog of war effects were great. Shooting some surfaces caused bullet debris and some walls were penetrable by certain weapons. Explosive damage was particularly amazing with the debris thrown up would obscure vision, and the sound would drop out and ears would ring. Bullets sounded especially good in 5.1 surround, and on an HDTV, it was extremely engrossing. It won a few awards and was one of the best selling games for all systems. It made a sequel inevitable, but the new Call of Duty game (World at War) was back in World War II!
I am ok with this. I still think the WWII genre has been done about a hundred different ways, but I got the new game anyway because they kept the new engine and I had some faith that the game might balance a little better in multiplayer. I ran through the single-player game pretty quickly, and it was every bit as cinematic and dramatic as I expected — it features Gary Oldman and Kiefer Sutherland as supporting characters!. Still, I mainly did it as a prologue to playing multiplayer and a special bonus mode. Beating the game on any difficulty unlocks “Nacht Der Untoten” — yep… Nazi Zombies. Ok, this part of the WWII genre has not been done to death (ha ha). You (and up to 3 others via local or online multiplayer) have to survive against rounds of (nazi) zombie hordes. Julie and I played this a couple times, and even with the split screen it’s pretty fun.
The multiplayer experience so far has the promise of being great. The balance of the weapons is a little better and favors accuracy vs. spray and pray. Still, it only has the promise… I am having a hard time advancing and it’s not necessarily because I play poorly. The problem is the servers are too full! At the multiplayer screen you can see the number of players on the servers, and on the PlayStation Network I’ve seen it as high as 80,000. There are cities smaller than that. This causes two problems: 1. the servers lag a lot and sometimes what you’re sure is a definitely kill is off by half a second. 2. The matchmaking lobby service frequently gets stuck and it takes a lot longer to set up games. These too make it frustrating enough that I backed off the competitive multiplayer and tried the cooperative multiplayer — new for this version also. While it’s more fun to play with other people instead of solo, I don’t get the experience and bonuses like in the competitive modes, so it won’t replace the normal multiplayer, but it is a nice addition.
Maybe the 6th game will be different and go back to the Great War or Vietnam or 1776. Somehow, I doubt it, but if they keep working hard on delivering both the dramatic presentation and a solid gameplay experience I’ll check it out.
By the by, if you’re on the playstation network and you’d like to play with me, go ahead and add me as a friend. my PSN gamer name is “nicehat”