After getting passed over by 2007's stellar Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Wii owners get their first shot at the revitalized series with Call of Duty: World at War. Though World at War treads the familiar ground of World War II, the detailed, realistic locations and dramatic story elements make this trip to the past feel fresh. The remote and Nunchuk perform admirably in combat, despite a few missteps, and the well-tuned weapons make firefights intense and satisfying. Add in the engaging multiplayer system that made Modern Warfare a smash hit, and you've got one of the best shooters available for the Wii.
There are a number of great components in Call of Duty: World at War, but none of them would work without the fully capable control scheme. You move with the analog stick and aim by pointing the remote. As a handy aid to newcomers and veterans alike, there are plenty of options to tweak various sensitivities and movement speeds. In the default control scheme, you pull the B trigger to fire and use the Z button to look down your sights, which is a crucially important ability, especially in multiplayer. The C button toggles your stance, and the A button lets you sprint or, when stationary or strafing, lock the camera for steadier aiming. There are a number of slightly tweaked alternate control schemes, including a Wii Zapper mode that, if you can endure the frequent twisting it requires, is actually pretty fun.
The default controls feel balanced and well-mapped, but there are a few hang-ups. The fast and deadly melee attack is performed by shaking the Wii Remote or hitting down on the D pad. Unfortunately, shaking will shift your aim abruptly, often causing you to miss your target. The D pad is the better option, but melee attacks will still tend to go astray more often than they should. The D pad is also used for switching weapons, so resting your thumb in the A-button/D-pad area is generally advisable. Unfortunately, grenades are mapped to the + button, and shifting your thumb halfway down the remote can be awkward. It's a minor inconvenience, though, and all things considered, World at War's control scheme is well-suited for the rigors of war.
In the campaign, you split time between two soldiers in two offensive theaters: the Russian push out of their homeland and into the heart of Germany, and the American struggle to wrest Pacific islands from the Japanese. Though you'll alternate between them every few levels, the campaign feels like one solid progression thanks to the adept pacing. Each soldier's journey begins at a low point. Weaponless and surrounded by the enemy, you get a taste of the despair that many soldiers are never rescued from. Though the emotional tone eventually rises toward triumph, you never quite forget the fate you nearly met. The first few levels are a hard scrabble as you and your fellow soldiers try to gain a foothold for your country, whereas later levels are suffused with a sense of hard-won momentum as you fight bigger battles and push closer to your enemies' capitals. On your journey, you'll traverse a number of diverse, well-detailed environments that set an impressive and immersive backdrop for the action.
Throughout each level, you are accompanied by a superior officer who sets the emotional tone through well-acted dialogue. The vengeful, spitfire Russian pumps up your adrenaline to intoxicating levels, whereas the grim, determined American provides a sobering influence. This grim sobriety is further enforced by the actual WWII videos, photos, and statistics presented in stylish interchapter cutscenes. The message is, by nature, a conflicted one: Though you may feel like an action hero, you are actually participating in the most horrid of human endeavors. How you ultimately feel about this message will depend on your personal disposition, but suffice it to say that the elevated emotional timbre makes for an exciting campaign.
Also exciting? Bayonets and flamethrowers, the two standout weapons in World at War. You wield both in the American campaign, using them to enthusiastically dispatch enemies in trenches and fend off the aggressive banzai raiders. These raiders snipe from the treetops, or pop out of holes and charge you with merciless determination, and this aggression makes the American campaign feel uniquely tense. The Russian campaign is slightly more predictable, but it remains vigorous throughout and ends in a spectacularly satisfying way. Though you'll spend a good amount of time hiding behind cover and picking off enemies, you'll find it somewhat tricky to snipe far-off foes. You may have the patience to become an ace sniper, or you may resort to bold charges shielded by smoke grenades; either way, the campaign is so exciting and well-paced that you're bound to have a blast.
Playing with other folks is a blast as well, and Call of Duty: World at War offers two ways to do this. The first is to play the campaign in cooperative mode. Instead of splitting the screen for two players, World at War relegates the second player to piggyback status. The first player does everything he or she would normally do: move, crouch, aim, shoot, throw grenades, melee attack, and so on. The second player is merely a second target reticle: He or she can shoot, reload, and switch between two guns, but can't control camera or movement. This offers a fun, casual way for a friend to join in the action (with the ability to drop in or out at any time), but it can be a bit disorienting to have your view controlled by someone else.
The other option is to take your skills online and dive into World at War's excellent and engaging multiplayer system. The hook here is experience points, which you gain by winning matches or completing one of the many in-game challenges (such as getting a certain amount of headshots with a certain weapon). As you earn these points, you'll rank up and earn access to new weapons, new accessories (such as sights and suppressors), and new perks. Perks are special abilities that grant you a wide variety of bonuses, but you can choose only three. This introduces an engaging element of customization: Will you choose to toughen up by increasing your health and bullet damage, or will you go the stealth route and increase your sprint speed while becoming invisible to enemy recon planes? Perks are well balanced, and you have multiple save slots that enable you to easily switch between your various pretweaked loadouts and fully take advantage of this deep, engaging system. There are eight maps, but only two game types: Free for All and Team Deathmatch. There are different lobbies based on player skill, and you can travel around from game to game in a party if you exchange friend codes with another player. Matches are fast-paced and rarely hindered by lag, and despite the limited mode options, this is one of the best online multiplayer experiences available to Wii owners.
All told, Call of Duty: World at War is a great first-person shooter and undoubtedly among the best that the Wii has to offer. The controls are smooth, responsive, and immersive, despite a few sundry hang-ups. The lengthy campaign is dramatic and exciting, and it's fun to replay levels with a friend along for the ride. The icing on the cake, the online multiplayer, is a great success despite its somewhat limited scope. So if you're looking for a reason to try a first-person shooter on the Wii, or you're a veteran remote-wielder looking for a new battlefield, look no further than Call of Duty: World at War.