Call of Duty: Back to World War Two? Really?

I was originally reticent to pick up Call of Duty 4. I felt giving the cinematic shooter a modern setting would be pushing it squarely into the realm of glorification of war. But as the reviews started pouring in, I couldn’t help myself. Yeah, it’s another game that contributes to the fantasy that wars are exciting events that pit Americans against the forces of evil in the world; but at the same time, it was a pulse-pouding, no-holds-barred cinematographic experience, and quite possibly the best game I played last year.

Call of Duty 4 did the extraordinary thing that previously only Resident Evil 4 had managed: offer a new installment in the series which managed to both stay incredibly true to its roots, and yet offer something completely unique and riveting. Truth be told, we attempted that in Splinter Cell Double Agent, but ultimately did not pull it off. CoD 4, along with RE4, should be held in high esteem by any team wishing to inject a new dose of excitement in a long-running franchise.

That being said, I’m puzzled by the decision of Activision to go back to World War Two with the next installment in the series, Call of Duty: World at War. They had originally hinted at a new theater of war, but it turns out we’ll be going back to the Second World War, going to such exotic and original locales as Nazi Germany Berlin, and the Pacific. Wow, how compelling.

It sounds totally illogical to take such a step backward when you consider CoD 4 sold a whopping 10 million copies so far. Yet it all becomes clear when you notice who is helming this installment in the series: this is not Infinity Ward’s baby, people; rather, it’s Treyarch’s.

It’s no secret that Activision is alternating between Treyarch and Infinity Ward when it comes to pumping out CoD titles. Heck, that’s how I got to work on Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Splinter Cell Double Agent, when these episodes were sent to Shanghai while Montreal spent their time on the odd-numbered titles. What sucks here, however, is that clearly, when Treyarch began their work on the fifth installment of Call of Duty, someone out there didn’t believe in Infinity Ward. There’s no reason to go back to World War Two if it isn’t to minimize the damage of a botched Call of Duty 4. If the fans had rejected en masse the modern setting, they would be confident that the fifth installment would be bringing them back to the wonderful world of Nazis and kamikazes.

In other words, Call of Duty: World at War is quite possibly the result of Activision heding their bets with the modern setting, and placing a bit of their money against Infinity Ward. I bet an executive producer somewhere must have shit his pants the day he saw CoD 4 pass the 10 million units sold mark, though.

As for CoD: World at War, I can’t find much in it that excites me. Darker, more survival horror approach to war? Meh. Integrating the innovations of CoD 4‘s multiplayer into the single player? Not sure how that’s innovative considering CoD 4 brilliantly took them from single player RPGs to begin with… Not to say World at War won’t be a good game; I’ll just wait to learn what’s next on Infinity Ward’s plate before I get worked up about the series again.

And Activision, for betting against your star studio when establishing the setting of the new CoD: bad publisher, bad!

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."


  1. Yeah, the WWII setting is definitely tired, but a good shooter is a good shooter. It would be my guess that brand loyalty and one of the best online modes of any product released last year were stronger purchase incencitives to many consumers than a ‘new’, fresher setting. I know a few people who bought the game expecting WWII, got home, booted it up for the first time, got surprised by the modern era setting but ultimately didn’t care as the game let them do what they wanted to do, which is to shoot bad guys in the face with a big gun.

    Overall, the good news is that even if going back to WWII feels like taking a step backwards by Activision, COD 4’s strong momentum will carry into COD 5. Also, the game’s strong online component isn’t tied to the time setting at all. There is hope.

    I’d love to see a WWII shooter not divided into seperate ‘levels’ or ‘missions’, just me & my AI squad trying to clear a path on foot from the country’s borders to the nation’s capital. It’d be interesting to see results from one battle carried into another. For example, loosing to many squadmates into one battle makes the next one tougher, as nobody joined your squaded to replace them.

    By the way, I played the Battlefield: Bad Company demo last week and had a surprising good time with it. It goes the GTA route, but I prefer the sandbox approach to COD 4’s over-scripted, hand-holding, restrictive single-player campaign.

  2. It’s a good point, and you might very well be right. I just think that based on CoD4’s success, the mass market might be expecting modern-day shooters from now on. When they realize it’s back to WWII, that’s bound to create confusion… And if CoD6 goes into SF land after that, they’re pretty much screwing up their brand.

    Yeah, it’ll stay an intense, scripted shooter, but they were building up to something with CoD4…

    As for Battlefield: Bad Company, I’ll definitely check it out. Not so sure I prefer open world to well scripted, though… I love the cinematic feel of CoD4, and there’s a lot to be said, IMO, about carefully crafting what the player sees on the screen. I never felt restricted by CoD4, only amazed at the quality of what was going on.

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