This weekend I burned hundreds of men alive. I stabbed dozens with bayonets and knives. I shot fleeing soldiers in the back. I shot prisoners. I invaded a dying, broken city and killed its last, weak defenders, unfit for frontline duty. I was used as an example of doing what’s told to a soldier who didn’t want to take the rifle that was given to him. I felt bad about myself for most of the time, when not too engaged in trying to stay alive, and while the audiovisual experience was breathtaking, it was also so much to take in that I thought this is as close as I want to get to photorealism.
There is one scene in Call Of Duty: World At War where you’re actually a hero, landing into a warzone at sea in a plane and dragging drowning sailors to safety with your own hands. There was nothing ugly about that, whereas the rest of the game is… nasty. You’re going through excellently crafted scenes of war and I felt like I was in a museum, experiencing a simulation of what life was like back then. (Although I imagine most troopers did not single-handedly kill thousands in a weekend.) While World At War is a sensational action game first and foremost, I get the feeling that Treyarch does care about the events it’s depicting, taking care not to exploit them. Stalingrad, war on the Pacific, the assault of Berlin – these are not tidy battles and Treyarch is not portraying them as clean fun, either. Certainly it’s not an easy trick to pull off while making million-selling entertainment products.
While I did have fun playing (the tank mission was a blast), I appreciate World At War taking me to places I wish I never have to go. Making me actually think about the people who had to live through it is an accomplishment for any Christmas hit.
After the credits the game launched me into Nazi Zombies, which is all kinds of awesome. It did somewhat cheapen my somber mood, but you don’t have to feel bad about killing Nazi zombies, that’s for sure. They come in waves and you know you gotta surf.