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Call of Duty: World at War Multiplayer Hands-on

New perks, vehicles, and flamethrowers, oh my! We play through World at War's multiplayer.


You may have had the chance to check out the Call of Duty: World at War multiplayer beta that's going on; if so, you've had a taste of three maps and some of what the game will deliver when it ships next month. But there's a lot more to the multiplayer suite, something we found out recently during a trip to Treyarch to play through all the maps and the new modes. In summary, World at War builds on the top-notch multiplayer delivered in last year's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. This is a deeper, richer multiplayer experience.

There are basically two theaters of battle in multiplayer, in keeping with the single-player campaigns. There are the Russian-versus-German slugfests, and the Imperial Japanese-versus-Marines battles. The former feature both infantry-only and infantry-and-vehicle battles, while the latter is restricted to infantry-only. The presence of vehicles in the Eastern Front battles introduces a powerful dynamic not seen in Modern Warfare; tanks and armor are devastating, but only if used properly.

Exclusive Gameplay Footage - Watch or download the video here (HD available).

We played through all 13 of the maps found in single-player, first on team deathmatch and then to check out other new modes, such as war and capture-the-flag. Many of the modes from Modern Warfare are also here, such as headquarters and seek and destroy, as well as hardcore modes that feature friendly fire, limited interface, and no respawns.

If you played a lot of Modern Warfare multiplayer, then you're familiar with the build-a-class system and the perks that tie into it. As you play, you gain experience that lets you level up. Leveling lets you unlock new perks (basically abilities), new weapons, and new weapon upgrades. You can then customize your weapon load out and perks, but everything is balanced due to the fact that everyone can only choose a maximum of three perks. The system in World at War is almost identical to this; many of Modern Warfare's perks are here (renamed to adjust for an earlier era), but there are about a dozen new perks to play with. So the Claymore perk from Call of Duty is now the Bouncing Betty perk (that's the name of a mine). Martyrdom still lets you drop a grenade when killed. New perks include the awesome Flamethrower, as well as Fireproof, which is a flame-resistant suit. Toss Back lets you throw back an enemy grenade just in the nick of time, every time. Gas Mask protects you against the new gas grenades. Shades are sunglasses that protect you against the blinding white light of phosphorus flares.

Exclusive Gameplay Footage - Watch or download the video here (HD available).

Some of these new perks are tied to vehicles. For instance, you can choose Lead Foot, which lets you drive a bit faster. Then there's Greased Bearings, which lets you rotate the turret a bit faster. Believe me, every little bit counts when you're trying to get the shot off at a tank that appeared around a corner with no warning. Or there's Coaxial Machine Gun, which gives you a secondary machine gun to help mow down infantry. The kicker is that you can only choose one of these vehicle perks, so select wisely.

Armor is a blast, literally and figuratively. When I drove a tank I was able to rack up a lot of kills, though it's not as easy as it would seem. Killing infantry with the main gun is difficult because you pretty much need a direct hit to kill them; the splash damage of a near miss seems fairly nonexistent, probably for balancing purposes. To help with the infantry you can get a teammate to jump into the commander's cupola and man the top-mounted machine gun. That's dangerous, though. While you can duck in the cupola for some cover, I had numerous machine gunners killed by snipers. And the big downside to being in a tank is that you're not only a huge target, but you're a very slow one. Infantry can equip themselves with satchel charges and bazookas, and those can ruin your day. And, of course, there are enemy tanks to worry about.

Vehicles are only available on the larger maps; there are only four of them in total, but they're larger than anything seen in Modern Warfare. Some of them are perfect for vehicle warfare, like Seelow, which is set in farmland. Others require a lot of infantry support. I had a lot of fun in Outskirts, a village level that's a warren of narrow streets and which is one of the largest levels in the game. The village is built on a slight hill, and in the middle there's a church steeple that's perfect for observation and sniping. This is a brutal map due to the close-in nature; you'll literally go street-to-street to house-to-house to room-to-room. Drive a vehicle down a narrow road and you can get hammered by infantry holed up in buildings.

Exclusive Gameplay Footage - Watch or download the video here (HD available).

Outskirts is also a crazy fun map to play war mode. This is actually a mode that premiered in Call of Duty 3, and it has returned in World at War. In War mode, the objective is to capture five flag points on the map. The trick is that only one flag is in contention at a time, and this focuses the entire battle on that point. It seems odd to say that the fighting for control of these points was savage, but it was. My team came close to winning, but the defenders dug in like they were the Soviets at Stalingrad and denied us the last flag. That meant that time ran out and we had to go into overtime, which is a battle for control of a single flag. Keep in mind, there's a slight respawn penalty to the team that the game judges was losing during most of regulation, so if you're barely holding on at the end, you're still in trouble in overtime.

Another new mode is capture the flag, which plays just like it sounds like. Both teams have a flag and must capture the opposing team's flag and return it back. The first time to capture the flag three times wins. You can only score if your flag is back at your base, though, so you get in those situations where you'll have the flag but you can't score, which creates a dilemma. You need to send your team out to kill the enemy flag carrier and recover your flag (simply touching the flag when it's on the ground will reset it), but the enemy is also trying to do the same, since they need to recover their flag in order to score. To keep things fair since the maps are not symmetrical, capture the flag consists of two rounds, and in the second round the teams switch sides on the map to neutralize any geographical advantages. Since each round can last 10 minutes, a capture the flag game can go twice as long, making it one of the longest modes in the game.

Another new feature in World at War is a squad mechanic, which is a bit like the squad system in Battlefield 2. Squads let you create small groups within a team, and the advantage is that you not only spawn close to each other, but the squad leader can issue orders that the rest of the squad sees. Even better, squads stick together between rounds and matches, so it's a fast way to party together without having to drop out to the menu.

Playing through the maps and modes made it clear that Treyarch has some good ideas at work here. The large-scale of many of the vehicle maps is a nice change of pace from the tight nature of many Modern Warfare maps, but at the same time if you want brutal infantry combat it's here as well, too. The perk and level systems will encourage long-term play, as you can unlock plenty of fun new toys. The weapons feel oh-so-right, and it's awesome to watch the flamethrower in action. And this was just about head-to-head multiplayer; keep in mind that there's co-op gameplay as well. Put it all together, and it's safe to say that the multiplayer suite may surprise people who aren't expecting much out of World at War.

(For more World at War coverage, check out GameSpy's multiplayer hands-on with footage and details about another new map, Cliffside.)

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