A multiplayer beta for Call of Duty: World At War has landed - at least, for those of you with invitation codes. Or those who are again making use of the exploit that’s been around since Call of Duty 4... but we won't go there. In any case, we were rather excited to try this out after the immense success that Call of Duty 4 has had world-wide and the enormous online following that it has generated.

Call of Duty: World At War is being developed by the guys and gals at Treyarch. They are the minds behind Call of Duty 3. Which was a bit of a dud. So Treyarch has had a significant amount of work to do to live up to the expectations that Infinity Ward has fostered with Call of Duty 4. Fortunately, things are looking good - Call of Duty: World At War shares many of the great aspects that we came to know and love from Infinity Ward’s creation.

When you launch the demo you will immediately be greeted by the all-too-familiar menu system from the previous game, however the matchmaking has been fine-tuned somewhat (luckily for us Kiwis).

You can now select if you would like to play against people geographically close to you, or let the game find the quickest game. This is a feature that every online title should have, so it is good to see that Treyarch has picked this up.

The gameplay itself is very similar to that of its predecessor as well. The levelling and perks system still exists, although there are even more perks now and they reflect the fact that Treyarch has taken us back to the Second World War with this title. We’ve all played WWII shooters until we were blue in the face, but World At War will take you all around the main battlefields, from the Pacific to the icy depths of Russia, and the game really changes the scene from what we have come to expect.

The perks, as they do in Call of Duty 4, motivate you to progress you character and develop skills that work for your playing style. They include things like deep impact, gas mask, gas grenades and the like. Also still there are the kill streak rewards, meaning that you will gain access to artillery strikes and recon planes which can give you an indication of enemy positions.

One of the coolest ideas are the dogs that you can unleash when having achieved sufficient kills. You can call on a whole pack of them that fly onto the map and track down enemy soldiers. These dogs move quick and are pretty hard to hit, but you’ll definitely feel them when they bite you in the arse.

The game plays very rapidly, much faster than Call of Duty 4. Most rounds are over quite fast and it seems that there are still a few balancing issues that need to be ironed out. It doesn’t feel quite as ‘weighted’ as Call of Duty 4 did, but it does make up for this with some pretty impressive physics. When shot, characters fall realistically and it is also possible to shoot through many surfaces to damage them. Treyarch are stating that it will be possible to shoot through wooden walls and then climb through the hole you create, but we will have to wait for the final version to look into this. The weapons all seems to work as they should, and the sound effects are great. There are plenty of atmospheric sounds during the game, including very detailed sound effects such as the whistling of shells as they hurtle towards the ground nearby.

You have the usual WWII weapons at your disposal, ranging from heavy and light machine guns, rifles, bolt action rifles and shotguns. Each weapon class has a range of weapons to choose from, which can be unlocked as you increase your class rank in the game.

The graphics in Call of Duty: World At War are impressive to say the least. They are a slight step down in sharpness and clarity from Call of Duty 4 but the environments are truly exceptional. Each environment looks amazingly authentic and has plenty of areas where you can hide. The environments look very busy with plenty of debris. Going prone on a level will actually make you much harder to spot, although it remains to be seen if this will make camping too convenient. One of the levels has you defending or attacking a traditional Japanese castle, and it certainly looked authentic, really helping to transport you to the battlefields of WWII. We're looking forward to seeing to what extent these environments are fleshed out in the single player campaign.

Overall, we really enjoyed our encounter with Call of Duty: World At War. Our impression is that Treyarch has done an exceptional job, and has really made improvements to the already excellent Call of Duty 4 engine. These improvements are not without their compromises, but overall the game plays great and really brings the fun back to WWII first-person shooters. We are certainly waiting with baited breath to see what the final version is like and how the single-player pans out.


If you haven't already, check out our Activate '08 hands-on preview here. We've also got a bunch of videos for Call of Duty World at War over at GP Downloads.