Activision and n-Space deliver an impressive single-player shooter for DS.
Although the DS launched with a demo of Metroid Prime: Hunters, the system has had few noteworthy first-person shooters. That seems to be changing with recent and upcoming games like Dementium, Call of Duty 4, and Moon. In bringing the World War II experience to this handheld platform, Call of Duty: World at War is a unique and high-quality entry into the portable shooter field.
The game is controlled via a combination of the D-Pad for movement and the touch screen for turning and aiming. The setup works quite well, although it hasn't gotten anymore comfortable since it was introduced by Metroid Prime: Hunters. Despite sharing a control scheme, World at War couldn't be more different from Hunters. One of the best aspects of the game is how well it replicates the console/PC Call of Duty experience. It's a strictly linear, arcade-style shooter set in realistic environments. The story spans both European and Asian fronts, and most levels are narrated with great voice acting. When characters speak to you in the game, their voices rise and fall as you look around – positional audio in a handheld game!
Production values aside, what really makes this feel like an authentic Call of Duty title is its level design. Every mission is a set piece of some kind, with plenty of choke points and dramatic moments. The game is so heavily scripted that it can sometimes devolve into trial-and-error, as you struggle to figure out just what exactly the designers want to you do. It's not really frustrating though, since checkpoints are frequent and restarting is very quick. The campaign jumps around among American, British, and Russian scenes, but every mission is exciting. Adding variety are frequent diversions like tapping out Morse code, shooting down planes, dressing wounds, and manning a tank turret. Having played the console version of Call of Duty 4 just recently, I've been amazed at how well this portable sequel nails the franchise's trademark gameplay.
The story campaign is definitely the main reason to play this game – it's quite long, expertly paced, and a lot of fun. Multiplayer isn't nearly as interesting, despite the existence of an online mode. By now, most gamers know that Call of Duty 4 revolutionized online shooters with a robust, experience-based skill system and major rewards for kill streaks. The DS version of World at War has none of these things, instead sticking to an old-fashioned deathmatch that feels more like Quake circa 1996. Without the modern trappings of perks and air raids or the finely-tuned action of the single-player content, this basic multiplayer mode just isn't very interesting. To make matters worse, the online feature doesn't work very well. It always took me several minutes to start a match, and most matches didn't last very long due to players dropping out.
With its awesome sound design, diverse gameplay, great pacing, and usually fluid visuals, Call of Duty: World at War is a great package and easily one of the best first-person shooters ever developed for a handheld system. Multiplayer might still be worth trying if you can play locally or online with Friend Codes, but it's clear that the single-player campaign is the main reason to play this version.