In late spring, a big deal was made that this year’s Call of Duty was going back to “boots on the ground.” After almost six years of futuristic combat, with science-fiction weapons, and exo-suits, and players being able to nearly fly across game maps, developer Sledgehammer Games decided to take the series back to its roots, back to where it all began, and Call of Duty: WWII is the end result of that endeavor. The decision was welcomed in many gaming circles, as there was really nowhere else for the franchise to go. Once they went to the stars, Call of Duty sat on the precipice of gamer apathy, but the decision to drag the entire franchise back into the mud of 1944 Europe is proving to be the right one, as Call of Duty: WWII is not only a welcome timewarp back to the games of the past, it might very well be the best Call of Duty game yet.
War Is Hell
Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign opens with the invasion of Normandy — the dreaded D-Day invasion that has been immortalized previously in early Medal of Honor games and violently in Saving Private Ryan. The player takes control of Ronald “Red” Daniels, a private in the U.S. 1st Infantry division, the “bloody first” as they are known. Daniels and his battalion take part in some of the most important battles of the second world war, and the player gets to experience those epic, bloody battles in the bombastic, cinematic Call of Duty way. From the beaches of France to the storming of the Rhine, the story bobs and weaves around the absolute carnage that the greatest generation went through to stop a madman and liberate a continent.
Sledgehammer does a fine job of breaking the intense action up by peppering their campaign with sneaking missions and vehicle-based objectives. Players will engage in a fierce hide-and-seek tank battle, and even dogfight with Messerschmitts over the skies of a war-torn Europe. But my favorite level takes place during the liberation of France, where the player assumes the role of a French resistance fighter infiltrating the German high command. This mission tasked the player with memorizing papers to answer questions to proceed, and when things got out of hand, fight their way out armed with only a silenced handgun and a blade. This mission is easily Call of Duty: WWII’s “All Ghillied Up,” and the one chapter that I have gone back to play over and over just for the sheer fun of it.
Activision and their stable of developer studios have made the campaigns in these games summer-blockbuster-like in their presentation, and Call of Duty: WWII continues that wonderful tradition. Adding some Hollywood talent, like Josh Duhamel, helps sets the stage for on epic six-to-eight hour war film, with all of the tension, emotions and true grit on display to not only watch, but participate in. This campaign could be my favorite Call of Duty story yet, even though it did get very cliche-heavy near the end. If you are one of those gamers who plays Call of Duty for the online multiplayer first, and campaign or Zombies second, don’t sleep on this one. The campaign is well worth the fight.
Hell Is Other People
Call of Duty: WWII has revamped multiplayer this year to include some new game modes, divisions, and a new social space. Keeping the core game entrenched in the 1940s, Sledgehammer and Raven have dragged Call of Duty’s bread-and-butter mode to a more simpler time — and a more violent type of warfare. Bolt action rifles and Tommy guns replace laser rifles and smart bullets that can target enemies through walls. The multiplayer mode puts more emphasis on a player’s skill than whatever super weapon they can unlock at Prestige. This is both good and bad.
The usual suspects of match types return, like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and Domination, but a new game mode, War, changes the game significantly. In War, players on each side have a series of objectives to complete, one after another, stringing together one epic battle scenario. Playing as either the Axis or the Allies, a squad must attack or defend strategic points, and the role of snipers and support have never been more important in a Call of Duty multiplayer mode. War forces the player to take on a role and play the class, along with their mates, to ultimately win the scenario. Despite what Hollywood has told us for decades, wars aren’t won by one person, not even Desmond Doss, and working together is the key to success. I’ve spent more time playing War than anything else in my short time with the game, and there’s a reason it keeps calling me back in to play again and again.
Call of Duty: WWII utilizes divisions to reward players for exemplary play, with an overall goal of getting each division — Infantry, Airborne, Mountain, Armored, and Expeditionary — to prestige. Each division represents a particular play style, and the players gets to choose one or all to unlock rewards and skills for their character. Divisions unlock so many new skills at Prestige level, giving players something to shoot for (pun intended).
The Headquarters is a new social space where players can interact with each other, purchase new gear and crates from the quartermaster, try out new weapons on the firing range, and essentially access all other game modes by interacting with certain unique characters. It feels much like Destiny’s Tower, though it is set on the beach at Normandy. I enjoy checking out all there is to offer (there’s even an R&R tent that gives players access to Activision’s Atari 2600 game library; I’ve been spending my downtime playing River Raid, one of the first console video games I ever played!), but I’ve noticed that after the first few days, not many other people are using the social space — that, or the server I’m on is not working properly, as with over 4 million people playing the game, I should see SOMEONE else in Call of Duty: WWII’s social area, right?
Hell Walks The Earth
The last core game mode in Call of Duty: WWII is Zombies. “The Final Reich” puts players in the boots of one of four characters, as portrayed in-game by Hollywood actors Ving Rhames, David Tennant, Elodie Yung, and Kathryn Winnick, all fighting a madman, played by Udo Kier, from creating an army of undead Nazis. If you’ve played a Call of Duty Zombies game before, you know what to expect: waves of zombies; working together with teammates to survive; find the MacGuffin to end the scenario, rinse, repeat. The once most noticeable difference is in the zombie design and atmosphere. This mode is actually scary. I’ve jumped multiple times and the hairs on my neck stand at full attention in each match.
Call of Duty: WWII does an admirable job of taking the franchise back to where it all began, and in doing so has completely revitalized the game and its player base. The buzz on this game, and of getting back to “boots on the ground,” was nearing a fevered pitch, and as a long time fan of the series, that buzz was completely warranted. After last year’s space setting, fans asked, “where do they go from here?” and this year is no different. I fully expect Treyarch to announce Call of Duty: Vietnam sometime before next summer’s E3, and I can predict that Call of Duty, as a series, is not only back in the lexicon of great first-person shooting games, by taking the franchise back to where it matters, it will once again become the leader in the genre.
Call of Duty: WWII is available now for the PS4 and Xbox One. This review is based on a PS4 review code provided by Activision.
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