Back in the distant prehistory of 2007, Modern Warfare was hailed for its refreshing new take on what had become a tired and stagnant genre. The next COD game, World at War, returned to WW2, a setting many gamers were well and truly tired of. The consensus at the time seemed to be that while W@W was well made, it simply lacked that fresh spark that set MW1 apart.
Now, one could argue that the opposite is true today, with modern shooters being oversaturated, thus colouring a retroactive assessment. I would maintain that even disregarding this mitigating factor, W@W is the better game.
Why? In a word, depth. MW1 adopts a very cold, clinical approach to its action. And for its setting this seems fitting; "modern warfare", after all, is more detached and mechanical than in past conflicts. It's no longer about being face to face with your enemy and smelling their bad breath as you stab them with a bayonet, it's about scoping them from a hundred meters away or gunning down glowing pixels from the quiet safety of an AC-130. It's dehumanized.
World at War is exactly the opposite; besides sniper rifles, weapons lack scopes, and you're frequently fighting in close quarters. You see each enemy's face before you pop them at close range with a bolt action rifle, slit their throat with a knife, or light them on fire with a flamethrower and watch them die slowly in screaming agony. Even when you shoot them, enemies often take a while to die, choking gruesomely for air.
In other scenes, your comrades are tortured in front of you, wounded or surrendering soldiers are brutally gunned down, and the historical footage between levels shows actual executions. In many other games, this savage violence would be gratuitous, yet here it used for a better reason; W@W is not only one of the few war games to stress just how inhumane and unglamourous war can be, but also one of the few that makes you question your own actions.
This comes to a head in a scene where your squad corners some helpless German soldiers who try to surrender. Your comrades want to burn them alive with molotovs; you can either let this happen, or give them a more merciful death with your rifle. You're still executing men who have surrendered, and for me, it stung. But in such a situation, is even this the humane thing to do, at least more so than letting them burn? "This is not war, this is murder", says your squadmate Chernov. But are the lines really so clean cut?
Then, of course, there's the ending, which greets you not with a victorious fanfare, but with a solemn reminder: "60 million people lost their lives as a result of World War 2. It was the deadliest and most destructive conflict in human history." The unspoken implication is that while you may have fought to end it throughout the campaign, you nonetheless contributed to this staggering loss of life.
World at War asks you to think long and hard about what you are doing. MW1 is more straightforward; aim the pointy end at the bad guys. That's not to say MW1 is a bad game; it's a very good one. But compared to its successor, it's also a shallow one.
Bet with Liquidlaser: I say PS5 and Xbox Series will sell more than 56 million combined by the end of 2023.