'World at War' a fine addition to 'Call of Duty' franchise

— -- Let's cut video game developer Treyarch a little slack.

Since 2005, the studio and fellow developer Infinity Ward have taken turns creating titles for the first-person shooter franchise Call of Duty. Yet Infinity Ward seems to earn all the high praise, recently astounding gamers with 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

But Treyarch is slowly emerging from Infinity Ward's shadow with the debut of Call of Duty: World at War, a powerful shooter that capitalizes on Modern Warfare's strengths with explosive results.

Unlike Modern Warfare, which takes place in modern times, World at War returns to the franchise's original setting of World War II.

The campaign is split between two stories: An American battling the Japanese in the Pacific, and a Russian soldier joining the Red Army in their push toward Berlin.

The levels in the Pacific are the most entertaining. Your character must navigate through lush jungles on the lookout for enemy soldiers lurking in the grass or on palm trees. Storming through tunnels requires caution, since bayonette-wielding enemies can charge toward you at any moment.

The Russian campaign is also engaging, as you guide the Red Army on its march into the heart of Nazi Germany. But this is where the industry's oversaturation of World War II games kicks in. It's hard to battle in wartorn buildings and dodge Panzerschrek attacks without thinking these levels have been done time and again.

Despite that, World at War creates a theater that is very chaotic. You'll often enter points on the battlefield where you're surrounded by explosions or gunfire. No particular area feels safe.

Fortunately, there's a robust selection of weapons to help protect you, most notably the flamethrower. This item comes in very handy during Pacific missions where you must flush out enemies hiding in tall grass. This also leads to some gruesome deaths, where soliders writhe and scream in pain as they're burned alive.

Enemy forces are aggressive, yet prone to some unusual tactics. There were moments where I stood inches away from a Nazi soldier who wouldn't fire back. During a particularly amusing sequence, I felt like a matador at a bullfight after sidestepping a charging Japanese soldier who just kept on running.

World at War does introduce a few new wrinkles that Modern Warfare doesn't. For starters, the cooperative mode allows up to four players to tackle the campaign together online. When you complete the campaign, a Zombie mode appears allowing you to battle waves of zombies for points. It's fun but feels out of place when contrasted with Call of Duty's serious tone.

Where World at War shines is the multiplayer mode. Again, borrowing from Modern Warfare, players earn experience points and move up in rank, unlocking new weapons and gear. Players can also unleash special strikes using mortars or even attack dogs.

So is World at War better than Modern Warfare? Not exactly. Modern Warfare boasts a more powerful campaign and an influential multiplayer component. However, World at War narrows the gap very closely with cooperative play and wisely enhanced online options.

TELL US:Which shooter is better: Call of Duty: World at War or Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare?