Call of Duty military adviser retired Army Lt. Col. Hank Keirsey has three words for fans of the video game franchise who are bitter that the newest release, Call of Duty: World At War returns to World War II as a setting: Shut yer yap.
The new game, out today for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 2 and 3, Windows PCs and Nintendo DS, "met with a lot of resistance from gamers who said, 'We don't want to go back to World War II.' But what this game does is it takes a great engine from (last year's award-winning Call of Duty game) Modern Warfare but goes back to a campaign we haven't covered before," Keirsey says.
World At War begins during the Pacific campaign in 1944 with The First Marine Division fighting the Japanese at Peleliu in the Palau Islands, east of the Philippines. The U.S. assault, according to Military History Online had the highest casualty rate of any War in the Pacific amphibious invasion.
Keirsey and the developers at Treyarch (Call of Duty 3, Spider-Man 3) interviewed 15 U.S Marines who were World War II veterans as background for the game. "They talked about what it was like to fight the Japanese," he says. "You've got this window to the past that slams shuts and never again opens every time one of them passes away. You hear those (World War II) stories and you never get such a visceral reaction as when you talk to the guys who fought the Japanese. A tough opponent. They couldn't take prisoners because the Japanese wouldn't surrender."
Keirsey and Treyarch's Josh Olin talked about the game at a special GameStop launch event Monday night at a Pentagon City, Va., store. About hundred fans of the game came to compete in multiplayer team death matches against U.S. Army soldiers at Fort Drum, N.Y. and buy the game a few hours early. A similar event was held in San Francisco.
Most versions of the game, like Modern Warfare, carry a Mature rating (for those 17 and older). (The PS2, Wii and DS versions are rated T for Teens, for ages 13 and older).
The Mature rating allowed Treyarch to make a more authentic and gritty World War II game, Olin says. That includes using a flamethrower to dispense with enemies and a torture scene. "We're allowed to do things you might not necessary be able to do with a Teen rating," he says. "It's never done in a gratuitous manner. It's always meant to propel the story line. We want to put the player in the emotions of anger at what is happening to their teammates. We want to create this vengeful thing. You have the Japanese campaign in which there's no quarter given and no quarter taken. It's a mentality that is very very brutal and the things the Japanese would do to surrendering U.S. Marines were brutal."
Players must constantly be on guard for ambushes and when they pick up a rifle with a three-foot bayonet they can make the fighting personal. "Taking it to a Mature rating and taking the intensity up a little bit kind of makes your hair stand up," Keirsey says.
In a subsequent European campaign, the player takes the role of a Russian soldier fighting the invading Germans. "Think of the Nazi Germans invading Russia, the massacre at Stalingrad, murdering women and children and the kind of vengeance that would instill in an Russian Red Army soldier," Olin says. "We wanted to capture that in a game."
You are accompanied by a Russian sergeant, voiced by actor Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, Dracula); in the Peleliu campaign, Kiefer Sutherland voices a Marine comrade. "With these great actors we wanted to give this depth to the main characters in the game that really allowed you to relate to them and really allowed you to sort of live this experience of what a terrible thing has happened in both campaigns," Olin says.
With the game, Keirsey says, Treyarch and publisher Activision "paid a tribute to those guys that fought that campaign that most didn't know about. They know about the Battle of the Bulge and Normandy and all the big fights. But if you go 'Pelileu' they go 'What?' Nobody knows this campaign."
Players lined up for the chance to compete online against Ft. Drum. For enlisting, they got Call of Duty T-shirts and hats. "I've been a huge Call of Duty fan since the first one," says David Fant, 22. "Quite frankly, I'm kind of tired of World War II. When it took that step to Modern Warfare I really enjoyed that. So this is kind of going back."
He and four others teamed up to give the Ft. Drum team their first loss of the night. Afterwards, Fant planned to get the game regardless of its World War II story. "I've been following the series for a long time. I'm getting this one tonight," he said.
Added customer Robert Buckley, 18, "it's covering the Pacific War, so this is something new."
Another player, Jonathan Cabrera, 22, chimed in, "I can tell people two things to convince them to buy this game: climbing trees and the flame thrower."
"And don't forget the dog attacks," Buckley said.
One other bonus — in addition to a separate two player co-operative and four-player online modes — after players finish the single-player storyline they gain access to a mode straight out of George A. Romero: Attack of the zombie Nazis.
"You take on wave after wave of Nazi zombies who are undead," Olin says. "You are in this building which is completely boarded up and you are trying to stop them from getting into your building. What they will do is they will come up to windows and tear away planks from the windows trying to get in. … You can actually put more boards on top of them to try to stop them, but if they get in you have to be careful because if they kill you, you have to restart and you lose the round. Each wave progressively gets more and more difficult. The zombies move faster and take more damage. There's no end. You just have to try to see how many waves you can survive."
He emphasizes the Zombie level is simply a bonus. "It's completely auxiliary and supplementary to the game," Olin says. "We don't want people saying it's unrealistic. It's just a fun mini-game within our game that just adds so much replayability."