Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Few things in life are certain, but the yearly release of a new game in the Call of Duty franchise has become a given by this point. Why not too? They’re always great to play, they sell well, plus they offer one of the most popular multiplayer experiences ever witnessed in video game history. It started life just as a rival to Medal of Honor, but has grown to become one of the biggest franchises in gaming.
However, the series has changed over the years and adopted a more modern/futuristic vibe – hell, the last game was mainly set in space, with players blasting their way across different planets and space ships. It’s a far cry from its World War origins, but it’s also something some gamers had started to tire of.
Activision and developers Sledgehammer Games have taken the series back to its roots this year, with Call of Duty: WWII taking players back to World War II as part of the Allied Army that are taking on the Axis in Europe. It’s a change that has been welcomed by gamers worldwide, but is it actually a good one?
I’ve always been a big fan of the campaigns of the Call of Duty franchise, so naturally my expectations were pretty high given the game’s return to World War II. Thankfully, it’s well presented and felt like a believable tale that intertwines with the harrowing atrocities of the most deadly war in the history of mankind. Whilst the story revolves around a small American unit, you see so much more throughout the tale with the suffering of the civilians, the Jewish community, and the millions of soldiers taking part in the war at the forefront throughout. And believe me, it certainly lives up to the brutality of the war itself too; Call of Duty: WWII is not for the fainthearted, with plenty of body parts being blasted around you and soldiers burned alive throughout the campaign.
Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign is around six hours long and spread across a variety of different locations and dates throughout the US’ march to the Rhine. There’s a good assortment of missions to tackle throughout though, be it taking down a juggernaut war-train, heading your way through a building full of Nazi officers whilst undercover, or simply battling against Axis soldiers and tanks throughout some war-torn towns and cities.
Whilst the series has returned to World War II though, it still feels just like a modern Call of Duty as far as the campaign is concerned. You’ll still be taking down a huge amount of enemies across a wide range of epic set pieces, all whilst taking part in a couple of QTE showdowns along the way (yes, they haven’t gone anywhere). The campaigns have always been one of the strong points of the franchise though, and I’m glad to confirm it’s the same case in Call of Duty: WWII – it’s epic throughout and simply doesn’t stop entertaining right the way through to the very end.
One thing about the campaign that surprised me at first was that your health doesn’t automatically rejuvenate as it did before. It’s back to the old-school approach of finding medi-kits to recharge your health, with the player able to carry four around at any time.
This actually caught me off guard at first. The game’s opening mission on D-Day was incredibly brutal (both from a presentation standpoint and from a gameplay perspective), so the fact that my health wasn’t recharging whilst I was hiding in cover threw me off a bit. However, after a while I started to grow accustomed to it; it felt fitting giving the brutality of the war that I couldn’t just hide away in order to heal, but instead had to be a lot more careful in my approach and actually pick and choose when I used my medi-kits.
Another new addition this time around is the co-operative actions of your AI allies. Find yourself low on ammo or after a health pack in the middle of a gunfight, or do you need all of your enemies’ positions highlighted? Just signal to one of your allies and they’ll help you out. Each action has to charge up before you can use it, so you can’t go calling for help whenever you want; when you’re in a tricky situation and need a helping hand though, their assistance will be vital. In some ways it actually made me feel a lot more attached to the supporting cast, which further enhanced the harrowing storyline and the humanity of the soldiers around you.
This isn’t the only way in which Call of Duty: WWII makes you feel a lot more attached to the Allied soldiers though. Throughout each mission you’ll come across moments where you have to prove your heroism, with your comrades often suffering and downed on the battlefield or in a close-encounter showdown with an Axis soldier – it’s up to you to either help drag an injured soldier to a safe position, or alternatively take out an enemy before they can kill them.
None of these heroic moments are compulsory and you don’t have to complete them to progress through each mission, yet I found myself feeling obliged to; knowing that the campaign is based upon a real war in which millions suffered encouraged me to give my all every time. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve been playing a video game and it isn’t real, yet the powerful tale that’s told certainly hits home at times and you’ll want to do everything you can to help the Allies defeat the evil Axis threat.
In all, Call of Duty: WWII offers a campaign that gives a realistic and harrowing representation of World War II and the horrors that came with it. I was intrigued to see how Sledgehammer Games would handle the campaign – especially since the more recent Call of Duty titles have had free rein with their narratives given that they’re based on fictional wars – but they’ve delivered an action-packed and emotional experience that kept me gripped in right until the credits rolled. It’s got me genuinely hoping that the franchise doesn’t leave it too long until it dives into World Wars again.
With Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer, the franchise brings back something that gamers have been craving for years: the self-proclaimed ‘boots on the ground’ gameplay. This means the wall-running and super jumps of previous entries in the series are gone, with a new focus on running and gunning as opposed to pulling off what were often over-convoluted manoeuvres. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation though, because the game certainly has a few unique ideas of its own on show – however, it’s the most pure that multiplayer has been in a long time.
Loadouts have been done with this time around, with a new Class-like system in place with the game’s ‘Divisions’. Players can choose which Division they want to be a part of: there’s Infantry, Armoured, Mountain, Airborne, and Expeditionary, with each focusing on their own set of weapons and skills. I’ve often found that I never played around with loadouts all that much in previous entries in the series just to have an easy life, yet the fact that there were easy to identify Cla- I mean ‘Divisions’, available this time around made it a lot easier to figure out what would suit me the most. You can level up each Division too, so you know you’re improving a playstyle that best suits you. You can swap between Divisions freely though, so there’s plenty of flexibility to be had throughout the game if you want to experiment.
One nice new touch to the multiplayer experience this year is the introduction of the ‘Headquarters’: a sort of social hub where players can interact with one another in-between matches. In the Headquarters you’re able to see other players run around, team up with them, and even set them little challenges across the shooting range. Admittedly, maybe the Normandy Beach locale wasn’t a great choice of setting for the Headquarters given the history behind it (something you’ll see plenty of in-game), but from a gameplay perspective it all works very well – that being said, the Allied Forces used it as a base following D-Day back in World War II anyway, so it’s all relative.
It’s in the Headquarters that you deal with loot boxes too, which has been a little controversial in the build up to the game but isn’t really all that bad when playing – basically, they drop in from above you in a similar way to supply drops, though even more interestingly anyone around you can actually see the contents of each loot box you open. It’s something I actually became intrigued by in-game; I can’t deny that every time someone unlocked a loot box I lingered around and took a look at what they got, as did plenty of other players when I opened mine. Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that you can earn plenty of loot boxes from completing challenges in-game, which is refreshing given the current controversies surrounding them.
As far as game modes go there’s more of the same on offer with favourites such as Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, and Domination to play across. However, Call of Duty: WWII also features a brand new multiplayer objective-based game mode known as ‘War’, which sees teams facing off and completing a variety of narrative-driven objectives as they look to complete pre-set missions. It’s a similar sort of mode that we’ve seen in other online shooters recently, though its presence here is a first for the Call of Duty franchise.
Objective-based competitive multiplayer has always been something I’ve enjoyed, so being able to play through it in Call of Duty: WWII is great. Admittedly, I’ve never found myself completely hooked to the series’ multiplayer options in the past, but I’ve spent a ton of hours battling through a variety of Wars with friends over the last few days – some of the battles have been tense and epic affairs too, which makes them all the more exciting. My personal favourite has to be Operation Neptune which takes place on D-Day; hitting Normandy Beach was something you get to do in the campaign anyway, but doing it alongside friends in a huge online encounter was just unbelievable.
Outside of Call of Duty: WWII’s competitive multiplayer options, the team-based ‘Nazi Zombies’ mode once again returns. It’s really god damn creepy too – it’s often been a bit of a novelty mode that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s gone for an ‘all-out terror’ vibe this time around. I’m a big fan of horror titles anyway so this appealed to me a lot more, even if some of the jump-scares featured made me leap out of my skin a little…
Of course, it’s still got its gimmicks too, with celebrities such as ex-Doctor Who David Tennant showing his face as part of the zombie-battling squad. This time around you’re playing as artefact hunters who’re searching through Nazi bases for treasure, which is a little different to the traditional campaign but naturally gives players an interesting little endeavour to get stuck into.
Once again teamwork is at the forefront in Zombies, with up to four players working together as they take down waves of the undead. You’ve really got to stick together too, because the zombies come at you thick and fast from just about everywhere. It’s not just taking them down that you’ve got to think about though, with a selection of objectives to complete throughout each mission – they actually make it a bit more interesting and ensure you just aren’t left sticking in one spot and just shooting out at enemies until they’re all gone. All things considered though, it’s more of the same… just a bit more frightening.
There’s no doubting that Activision’s decision to return the Call of Duty franchise to its World War roots has been a great one, with Call of Duty: WWII proving that you don’t need futuristic weaponry or spaceships to provide a stunning blockbuster of a triple-A shooter.
The campaign is superb and will grip you in from start to end with its frantic set pieces and emotional storytelling, the multiplayer feels more pure and refined than ever, whilst the Zombies mode feels a lot creepier and will give you quite a few frights. It really ticks all boxes for me and I can see myself losing hundreds of hours to the game over the coming months.
I’m sure the series’ return to its roots won’t be for everyone and some gamers will be aching for the wall-running and futuristic antics of recent releases, but for me Call of Duty: WWII is the best entry we’ve seen in the series for quite some time.