And then there are the perks. It's here that Call of Duty 5 seems to be most tied to the Modern Warfare template, changing names and graphics but retaining the same functions, sometimes with distracting results. Some of the weapon modifications tend to strain the period mood, for example, with silencers on machine-guns and reflex sights that are close enough to laser targeting to provoke a confused reaction the first time you use them. Realism should always make room for entertainment, but it feels symptomatic of a sequel where it's easier to rename an inappropriate feature rather than come up with a more suitable alternative.
The kill-streak perks are broadly the same, apart from one major and controversial change. Three kills in a row still earns you a recon plane flyover, so enemy targets are highlighted on the map and radar. Five kills now gets you an artillery barrage rather than an airstrike, though the way the shells seem inexorably drawn to soldiers is a bit strange - particularly when you're the one being blown to bits by a magic homing shell. Finally, there's the seven-kill streak, which now gives you a pack of attack dogs rather than Modern Warfare's gunship helicopter support.
The dogs are already proving to be a divisive addition, and it's certainly true that they need some balancing before they can be considered anything more than a recurring irritation. Seeking out enemy troops, these rather poorly animated canines don't show up on the radar and can maul a player to death almost instantly. You can already hear resigned groans over the headset whenever the incessant barking begins. They're not terribly hard to deal with, but they're not much fun either. The bloodthirsty pooches do have some value, making it hard for campers to ply their sneaky trade, but when such measures end up annoying those who are playing fair, it seems an awkward trade-off. Dog kills also seem to count towards the next kill streak, which means many experienced players can spam the dogs almost as much as other players spam grenades.
Other than that controversial switch, all of the abilities and buffs from Call of Duty 4 remain. Yes, that means Juggernaut is back, as is Martyrdom. There's a Level 11 cap in the beta, but you can see the full list of abilities and there are few surprises to be found. I'm still on the fence regarding the perks. I think they're very useful, but also tend to throw the game off-kilter and can make it hard to find balanced teams. There's also little question that they can alienate new players, forcing them to claw their way up through those first few (admittedly easy) ranks against grossly overpowering foes. More than their mere existence, it's the fact that they don't seem to have been changed or tweaked, beyond some cosmetic swaps, that gives me pause. There's undeniable potential in the perks system, and there are many who love it, but few would argue that it wouldn't benefit from some refinement. Simply transplanting the whole lot into a sequel seems rather unambitious, if not downright lazy.
Provided you enjoyed Modern Warfare's bombastic multiplayer, there's little here that will disappoint. It's essentially the exact same game, in a World War II skin. This means that many of the persistent complaints remain unaddressed - bamboo huts can shrug off explosions with nary a splinter out of place, while the online mechanics remain a touch clunky compared to the competition. There's still no indication as to which player is the host of a match, and there's no host migration. When the mystery host drops out, the game ends.
With only a few weeks before the finished game hits the shelves, it's doubtful that the outcome of this beta will impact the disc in the box. However, if Treyarch can fix some of the balancing issues with a timely patch, World at War should at least hold Modern Warfare's trajectory, even if taken in isolation it does little to dispel fears that Infinity Ward innovates and Treyarch fills in afterwards.
Call of Duty: World at War is due out for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii, PS2 and DS on 14th November.