Everything in this post except for the last paragraph was originally written around the release of World at War, also there is some kind of problem with pasting from a Word document so there are some inconsistencies in font.
Did You Ever Notice:
Why Cod Four is Better Than Cod War (Parts 1 & 2)
Did you ever notice that Call of Duty: World at War really isn’t as great as the reviewers said it is, or great at all for that matter? Among the many problems with the game, one of the biggest is that the guys at Treyarch who made World at War, or as I’ve recently coined, Cod War, just don’t get what made Cod Four so successful. Let me start with what you’re hit with right when you step into the campaign. Cutscenes. Infinity Ward understands how to tell a story effectively in a videogame, using the Half-Life 2 approach and never including cutscenes. What it also does is start you out in a non-lethal bootcamp session where, 1. you can learn to play the game effectively and without frustrating situations and 2. you learn about your allies enough to let you care about them. See, Cod 4 was smart about its storytelling because it gave you a small amount of guys to care about and then fleshed them out to the point that you do really care. You have Gaz, whose smart-ass personality immediately stands out in the training mission, Captain Price, whose eccentric mustache and unique hat is enough by itself to allow you to know which guy he is, and later Captain McMillan, who is such a nice and encouraging guy while teaching you that you really want him to make it out during the close call you go through after your assassination attempt. These guys never ONCE have a stupid, tired-ass monologue about how their men are their ‘brothers’ and all that garbage like Kiefer Sutherland does in War. You just respect them for their personalities and the way they treat you and everyone they come in contact with. They have a history, as displayed in the superb flashback mission that makes you care even more about Captain Price and his thirty-year hunt for Zakhaev and even more backstory is referenced when Gaz and Price are talking about past experiences with the Russian soldiers they get to help them. Call of Duty 4’s singleplayer was a masterpiece partly because of the way it makes you care for its characters and the finale only proves that.
In Cod War you aren’t introduced to the characters at all, and you can hardly even tell which one Kiefer Sutherland is without looking for his lips (hardly) being synced to the dialogue. This problem shows itself even more when one of the superior officers dies near the start and it’s supposed to be surprising. Whoa I totally knew who that guy was and on top of that, I knew that he was a superior officer. It makes no impact whatsoever when that happens, and it completely deflates the edgy "Hey we’re so super unpredictable anyone could die at any time" vibe the game was obviously so desperately trying to give off. It’s disturbing how little they learned from that EXACT same thing in Call of Duty 3 when the plane crashed into the house you’re in at the end of the first mission. It may have been unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean I knew about these characters enough in the first place to care what happens to them.
Getting back to the original point, Cod War comes right out with a cutscene with a narration about the war and why it’s bad and my men are tired and boo hoo. Call of Duty 4 never had a cutscene. The only non-interactive parts in the game were the loading screens meant to be a briefing from Captain Price directly to his men. He is still talking to you and there are no frills attached. Not a cutscene. Cod War, while being similar in showing only footage of people and not showing your characters on loading screens, just has a bunch of kinetic typography with narration. Both games may seem to have similar styles at face value during those parts but they’re actually completely different. Cod Four was still addressing you as your character, keeping you in its full immersion. Cod War is just a simple narration about war and how the battle was going. It wasn’t to your character; it was to you. The player. This completely breaks the immersion. You can tell that Cod War was trying to do what Cod Four did when they completely ripped off the AC-130 Gunship sequence, showing you what plane you’re going to ride in while going over the specs of the guns and how many people it can hold. It’s just not the same. Everything about Cod War feels like it’s a little boy following in its big brother’s footsteps while he’s away but doesn’t quite understand what it’s doing or why it’s doing it. The storytelling is a mess. The Russian campaign, ironically, is much better than the American one, since more story goes on through the player’s eyes and the characters are introduced in ways that allow you to remember them. I still think the part of the Russian campaign ripped straight from "Enemy At The Gates" where you’re in the pile of dead bodies and have to assassinate the German leader was the best part in the whole game. Too bad its peak (which was about as half as high as Cod Four’s peak, if that) was right at the start of the game.
The second problem I want to bring up is the step down in A.I. The same thing happened in Call of Duty 3, where people complained that the excellent Call of Duty 2 had better AI, despite it being a 360 launch title. This is one of the things that really screws up the game, and if you didn’t notice it you could still subliminally tell that something was wrong. The problem makes the game very easy and very annoying (not hard, mind you, but annoying). One thing the AI will do in the middle of a battlefield is get out of cover and feel perfectly content to stand there in the open shooting at your troops (and you). It’s something that most people don’t really complain about since you can just kill those guys really quickly and forget about it, but it brings down the challenge. The other thing the enemy AI will do it have a lapse in intelligence and stand there while your troops advance. This is really annoying because you will walk past them and assume they were an ally because "how could an enemy be stupid enough to do that?" but sure enough, it’s just an enemy who froze there and then later decides to start shooting. This sounds like some kind of Japanese tactic when I describe it (I only encountered this problem in the American campaign) but when you see it happening in gameplay you can tell it’s not meant to happen.
Another thing, having to do with your allies this time, is that the voice acting is inconsistent with the characters’ actions. In some parts they will go from whispering to screaming without the proper amount of time between the lines. Sometimes they don’t look in the direction of the guys they’re talking to when the line is too quiet to be spoken in that way (“that way” meaning where the tough guy won’t look at the guy he’s talking to for dramatic effect). One of the things that really pissed me off about the voice acting was that the voices didn’t express any exertion of energy. For example, at one part Kiefer Sutherland is pushing a table out of the way or smashing a door in or doing something that you have to put your muscle behind in order to do, but he was still talking to you in a normal voice while doing it. You would have a flare in your voice if you smashed your shoulder into a door while you were talking, no matter how tough you are. It would seem like a small thing but it happens frequently enough to be noticeable, and for me that is really a sign of weakness and a poor job by the guys who directed the actors in the recording sessions. Call of Duty 4’s voice acting was consistently excellent and every single tiny detail in the character behavior was completely authentic. It’s the kind of thing where you feel like you could know how to do what an SAS operative does from seeing these guys do all these formations and movements. (Obviously you couldn’t but it makes you feel that way and that’s something special.) It was that good.
Many people now realize that Call of Duty 4 is better than World at War (this post, except for this paragraph, was written around the release of WaW), but don’t understand why. The main reason, if this whole artistic fiasco was to be summed up, is because Call of Duty 4 isn’t merely a stencil to cut your game out of. Infinity Ward has so much more going into their games that it’s insane. Every detail is tweaked, every movement made by a multitude of players is calculated and evaluated, eventually culminating in them molding the game around how players use the game. This, to put it simply, is why Call of Duty 4 is such an effortlessly addictive game for so many people to play. Treyarch assumed that everything from Call of Duty 4 could be used with different skins to form a new game, but it doesn’t work that way. The end result was a game with its mind in World War II, but its heart still in World War III.