First up, having only joined the CoD band wagon with CoD4: Modern Warfare, I'm not in any position to judge World @ War against any CoD releases other than CoD4.
As everyone I think knows, W@W is built on a modified CoD:MW engine, so in that sense this could be seen as just a new map and weapons pack for CoD4, but it does go beyond that.
The things that made CoD4 so compelling for me – the classes, perks, challenges – are all here. But beyond just adding some new maps and WWII era weapons, Treyarch have added some further tweaks.
For those with weak stomachs, perhaps the single most obvious difference is the graphic nature of the violence in this game. When a Jap Banzai attacks and you time your melee defense, you literally see the whites of your enemies eyes as your knife is planted in his neck. And some weapons seem to be equipped with explosive ammunition, as you often see targets literally explode in a cloud of chunky red mist in your crosshairs.
The game settings appear to allow you turn this graphic embellishment off, although I haven't experimented with those settings to see precisely what affect they may have.
Other changes include tanks and substantial emplacement weapons (AA guns) that can be mounted by the player, although the claims of a destructible environment are a little exaggerated – there are SOME map elements that can be destroyed, but the buildings are – in the main – just as resolutely indestructible as they were in CoD4, but it's still great fun tooling around in a tank.
The challenges have been refined also, especially in the area of weapon challenges, with different weapons having different targets to achieve and different stages of challenge to be completed, presumably according to the relative effectiveness of the weapons themselves – e.g 150 kills may be a much harder target to achieve with a particular weapon than with some other, so in that case the Level III Marksman challenge target may only be 100 kills.
It's also worth mentioning that the multiplayer XP challenges are complemented by single-player, story mode XMB Trophies – they don't add anything to your XP, but still.
Kill streak rewards are essentially the same as those in CoD4, with helicopter gunships – not really appropriate to a WWII shooter – are replaced by packs of attack dogs which are perhaps even more viciously effective than gunships, yet also can be defended against to a degree as the dogs are vulnerable to weapons fire and melee.
The multiplayer maps are very good, being largely based, as with CoD4, on levels encountered during the single player story mode. Some of the maps are IMMENSE – perhaps a little TOO big, as you can often wander around for some time trying to find anyone, friend or foe!
The story mode is the only thing that really lets the game down – the intermingling of both Pacific and European theatre storylines doesn't work as well as the similar mix of SAS/US Marine stories did in CoD4. There seems nothing connecting the two storylines in W@W. But as with CoD4, online multiplayer is what the game is REALLY all about, so some slack has to be cut for the story mode I guess.
Graphically the game is simply awesome and the audio is perhaps even more compelling – certainly the ingame taunts seem less repetitive in the multiplayer games – than CoD4, with lots of nice atmospheric touches, like the air raid siren that accompanies an artillery strike.
Sadly W@W seems to be suffering the same network issues that have affected CoD4 (on PS3) since the 2.5 PS3 firmware update, although so far those issues have not proven anything more than slightly irksome, and Sony are reportedly working on a fix so it should be only a temporary annoyance.
Online performance can be linked to an account on the callofduty.com web site, and once linked you can then view interesting and highly detailed online play statistics via the callofduty.com web site. It might have been nice to have this level of detail available from in game though, or some thought put into improving the stats access and interface, where I find it as frustratingly cumbersome as in CoD4 to keep track of weapons challenge progress, for example.
As I said, I only have CoD4 to compare this to, and I am very happy to have both CoD4 and W@W. I would say it's not possible to rate one higher than the other – the differences are significant enough to make having both worthwhile, but not enough to say that one is better or worse than the other.
And whether W@W compares as well to previous WWII CoD installments or other WWII games, I simply cannot say.