COD4 was a high gloss action movie. While being a top-notch shooter in terms of mechanics, the premise of the game pales in contextual immersion to that of CODWAW because it was sterile and linear. With the exception of (SPOILERS!) the nuclear explosion and the beginning credits, the rest of the story was mindless. Without an intentionally overt context, the story felt like a glorified cop-and-robbers scenario. Having a historical context is a luxury Call of Duty: World at War inherently has over Call of Duty 4. While a lot of people I talk to tell me they just like “modern warfare situations better”, to me this fact didn’t necessarily make for a better game.
CODWAW on the other hand feels like a brutal, epic affair which completely immerses the player through the use of a very simple tool: vulnerability. The game is designed to make you feel like a human in inhumane circumstances. The best example is the way the game is paced. While it may get annoying at times, there are parts where the players are intentionally barraged with grenades, if only to keep the player on his/her toes and always changing positions. This was a very effective way of always making you vulnerable and keeping you aware of your surroundings. Another example would be the mission structure themselves. There is one mission where you are strapped for ammo, and another mission where you progress through an enemy bunker. Both missions serve the purpose of immersion through the portrayal of vulnerability and humility in events that limit ones resources to stay alive.
The multiplayer makes fantastic use of this as well. The maps are large and multi-layered, so hiding spots are usually not effective for camping players. One’s exposure in these levels, together with the use of old guns, moltov cocktails, and very limited health serve as effective reminders to players that there are no COD4 nighttime goggles to help you. You are just a dirty, young soldier with low-grade tools at your disposal, alone against a tank.
This kind immersion is what I like to see in games (Farcry 2 being another example). It is this type gameplay device makes people more effective players in that players use every movement effectively to stay alive. Though Halo 3 multiplayer is made fun through the assumption of the role of a run-and-gun supersoldier, CODWAW serves a greater purpose to me because it just seems more real. COD4, while being more relevant to today’s world issues, leans closer to the Halo 3 character experience with the use of very specialized technology. In CODWAW, you play a barebones character who can only get by using instinct and help from fellows characters against incredible odds. The original underdog story: one human in a world at war.