This must have been a hard sell. You're dragged into an office and told you have to make a follow-up to Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the 10 million copy selling game of the year for 2008. You're told the franchise is going back to World War 2, that's a step back to the old inaccurate guns of WWII and a step away from the hi-tech accuracy and gimmicky Perk-laden goodness we all loved in COD4. You have 18 months to comply.
Welcome to the weary world inhabited by the team at Treyarch responsible for making a WWII follow-up to a hit game based around the tech of modern combat. Welcome to Call Of Duty: World At War.
The plus side is the team was given 10 months longer than when they made the so-so Call Of Duty 3 and they have the COD4 engine to use, ensuring all ground-up development duties have been taken care of. For World At War it's a case of focusing on the gameplay, improving the COD4 engine and selling WWII to gamers chomping at the bit
to get back into the world of sniper rifles that can hit a nat's chuff at half a mile. Ah yes, the hard sell.
No more numbers
"We've dropped the numbers from the name, this is World At War," says Noah R Heller, senior producer on COD5. "We want gamers to understand this is a new chapter in Call Of Duty and not a sequel," added Heller. The emphasis is on creating the new standard for WWII games and that means no number, it also means telling new stories - in this case the end of the war.
The game is split across two campaigns COD4-style, with play beginning in the Pacific before flipping back to the final push by the Russians into Germany and Berlin.
The demo I sat down with began in the Pacific theatre, my introduction to World At War was watching a fellow
US marine have his eye burned with a cigarette before the Japanese commander slit his throat. Outside other marines were being shot. Then a crack team of marines burst in, killed everyone untied my hands and threw
me a gun. I'm in the action, out for payback and all I can think is - Wow: that was intense. Wow: that was gruesome and gritty as hell. Wow: Treyarch have done it, WWII still rocks.
There's a distinct change of tone to this new WWII-set Call Of Duty. Where COD3 was like playing through a boy's own war story, complete with larger-than-life characters, stereotypical German soldiers who were ravenous for Allied blood, World At War is aiming for a more realistic, gritty feel. One scene following my rescue saw two US marines shoot a Japanese officer dead rather than take him prisoner.
Following the rescue, I was privy to a segment that showed off the new 'Japanese AI', enemy intelligence that mimics the tactics of the Japanese army in the Pacific. My unit was sneaking up a riverbed undercover of night, when suddenly a Japanese squad leapt from the grass, from trenches and tunnels and out of the trees slaughtering my squad. An officer put a man to the sword in graphic close up before control swung back my way and payback was on the cards.
It turns out the Japanese army didn't fight like us Europeans but would use cunning tactics to make every inch of an island a deadly event. Mazes of tunnels were dug, with covered hatches enabling them to snipe undetected. Some Japanese soldiers would lash themselves to trees for days on end on the off chance a US patrol would wander past.
This is all reflected in the enemy AI and was evident in one section of World At War demoed to me. This was a large scale, open battle that saw the US forces attempting to take an airstrip overrun by entrenched Japanese forces. As I approached, Japanese soldiers sprung from the long grass, snipers fired from the palm trees and soldiers thought to be dead jumped to life and attacked from the rear.