Once lauded as the first-person shooter of its generation, Call of Duty’s reputation—and sales figures—have somewhat waned in recent years. The franchise is now almost looked down upon as a game for kids; as a series that endlessly recycles itself without innovating. With these things in mind, Sledgehammer Games opted to end the recent foray into the future and send us back to where it all began for Call of Duty – World War 2. This obviously got people excited, but is this a return to Call of Duty’s glory days or is it “just another COD”?
The campaign mode is no longer or shorter than any Call of Duty campaign you’ve experienced before, spanning eleven missions and an epilogue over several historical events. There’s the obligatory D-Day mission—which is all very Medal of Honor: Frontline/Saving Private Ryan but isn’t as effective as either of those prior depictions—Operation Cobra, The Battle of Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of The Bulge—which will make you feel like you’re right in the middle of an episode of Band of Brothers—among others.
But it’s not all hectic, intense gun battles; there are depictions of a search through a POW camp and an excellent espionage/stealth mission that leads us to the liberation of Paris. It’s a varied, enjoyable campaign mode that while not really doing anything new still manages to completely reaffirm that this is where Call of Duty belongs; forget jetpacks, wall running and space battles, this is what Call of Duty should be; historical events being depicted with us slap bang in the middle of it. I found myself having those same thoughts that I had when I was playing the original Call of Duty – “people actually went through this all those years ago”. It’s that feeling of historical significance which made Call of Duty special.
It’s not all gritty realism though; the campaign still has its fair share of ridiculous, over the top set-pieces which could be straight out of an action movie. I found myself laughing out loud at some points and exclaiming “okay, nobody went through that” – they’re visually impressive but I couldn’t help but feel slightly disconnected from the situation at these points. The story mainly follows Private Daniels of 1st Infantry Division and his platoon: Zussman, Stiles, Aiello, Sergeant Pierson and First Lieutenant Turner. The story is played out brilliantly through great voice prologues before missions and through excellent cinematics in between; the cinematics are gorgeous, maybe the best I’ve ever seen, and the voice acting is top notch. Although I struggled to get into the story at first, as I continued to fight alongside these characters I did begin to find myself more and more connected to them. Your squad aren’t just there for the story though, they aid you on the battlefield.
Through a simple press of “Up” on the D-Pad, each member can assist you in their own way: Zussman can toss you medkits, Turner can give you ammo, Pierson can spot enemies for you, Stiles can supply you with grenades and Aiello can throw you a smoke signal grenade which you can use to call in mortar strikes. All these abilities have a cooldown, and while it’s a relatively simple system and nothing revolutionary I can’t deny that I got a boost of adrenaline from having to move across a battlefield behind cover to get near to Zussman to have him toss me a medkit in the heat of battle. Another new touch is the ability to perform ‘heroic actions’ such as dragging a fallen ally behind cover or saving a fellow soldier that’s in a tussle with a Nazi soldier. While these are a nice touch at first, they soon become repetitive and samey. The excellent sound of Call of Duty remains, with bullets whizzing past your ear and thunderous explosions keeping you fully immersed in the battle, and the gunplay is as familiar as ever.
When/if you finish the campaign, there is the mode that most people buy Call of Duty for – multiplayer. This is where I was really interested to see how the return to this era would affect the series; I had high hopes—as I think many of us did—for a rebirth, a back to basics approach; but unfortunately, I have been left disappointed.
The first thing you will notice when you load up the multiplayer is the first new addition, ‘Headquarters’, a social area where players can edit their class, accept daily and weekly orders, practice on the firing range and enter prestige mode. Yes, before you ask, it is a complete rip off of The Tower from Destiny. There are also loot boxes disguised as ‘supply drops’ that provide you with cosmetic items and such; these can be earned by ranking up and completing orders, or you can—of course—buy them with real money. Sigh.
Once you start looking to set your soldier up and join a match, the familiarity returns, and you begin to get the impression that not much has changed. You create your loadout by picking a primary weapon, secondary weapon, grenades etc in the same way you always would—weapons to choose from include the Thompson, MP40, M1 Garand, Grease Gun among other World War 2 favourites—you select your scorestreaks in the same way you always would—examples of which include care packages, mortar strikes and artillery barrages—and you select a Division. ‘Divisions’ is a new addition—you choose from Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mountain and Expeditionary—and through playing you rank up your Division, giving you additional benefits such as an extra weapon attachment or the ability to climb over obstacles faster. You also pick one piece of “basic training” to have activated, which is basically a new word for Perk.
You go to find a match, and the second sign of familiarity is there in the list of game modes: Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, Domination, Hardpoint, Search and Destroy. These are, in some cases, classic game modes and they belong in Call of Duty, so there aren’t too many complaints from me on this front. There is one new game mode that will catch your eye—War—which I’ll come back to later.
After playing my first match—Domination—I already knew that this wasn’t a rebirth for the franchise, this wasn’t a back to basics approach, this was just a World War 2 re-skin. The guns feel as familiar as ever—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—and the games play out the same as they always have. The scorestreaks are the biggest evidence of this being a mere re-skin, these are the same things we’ve always had; Recon Aircraft is a UAV, Paratroopers are effectively Attack Dogs, the Ball Turret Gunner may as well be called an Attack Helicopter or an AC-130, the Glide Bomb is a World War 2 Predator Missile. Bar the wall running or jetpacks, you could easily be playing any Call of Duty game from the last few years. There are nine maps at launch—which is nowhere near enough—and they’re disappointing, to say the least; there isn’t one classic map here. There’s the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but this franchise just needs more than this, and I’m of the personal belief that less would be more for Call of Duty now. No scorestreaks, no perks; just give us rifles and let us battle it out on World War 2 battlefields.
This is where the game really excels, where it really feels fresh
With that being said, I think it’s only fair to talk about the new game mode that I mentioned earlier on – War. This is where the game really excels, where it really feels fresh. War sees two teams of 6 players do battle—one team attacking and one team defending—on three unique maps: Operation Breakout, Operation Griffin and Operation Neptune. The attacking team must complete an objective to push the defending team back to the next part of the map, where they must then complete another objective to push them back again and so on until the final objective is achieved. Take Operation Neptune, for example, which takes place on Omaha Beach; the Allied team must push up the beachfront to capture the bunkers, before they push further into the base to destroy the Axis comms equipment and then advance to destroy the artillery guns. Operation Griffin sees the Allied team escorting tanks to a fuel dump, while Operation Breakout asks the Allies to capture a manor, before constructing a bridge and then escorting a tank through the town. This World War 2 objective-based, Allied vs Axis gameplay is a complete throwback, and it’s great. There are no perks here, no scorestreaks, and it’s undeniably brilliant; the downside, and it’s a big downside, is that there are only three maps, which is a ridiculous decision; by the time you have played two or three maps—and probably had the same map twice in a row—you’ll be bored. It makes it feel like this mode was almost an afterthought, like it was thrown in to appease some people who wanted something different, like it’s here as a mere distraction before you go back to all the usual game modes; War is a mode that deserves better but feels destined to fail. I can only imagine that this decision has been taken so that we can be sold more maps in paid DLC later down the line. Greed wins again.
With all these things being said, the standard multiplayer is still the best it’s been for a few years. The absence of movement enhancing abilities such as jet packs and wall running is a change for the better. The scorestreaks are also very difficult to get unless you’re using the Ordnance perk, which means they are quite few and far between in matches, which is also a plus point. Unfortunately, the comically-bad-at-times spawning is still here, meaning that the familiar old “what a load of bollocks” feeling that only COD can give you remains. Separate from the player-versus-player aspect of multiplayer, Nazi Zombies also makes a return, and while it’s a solid effort, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
Call of Duty: WW2 enticed us in with suggestive offerings of its “boots on the ground” approach, its return to its roots, and it’s hard to argue that its marketing approach has worked; this year’s instalment has absolutely smashed last year’s disappointing Infinite Warfare’s sales numbers out of the water. We hoped it would give the franchise a new lease of life, we hoped that real change was coming, that it would give us a reason to be genuinely excited about COD again, but unfortunately that’s simply not the case. It’s cliched but ultimately excellent, varied and at times moving campaign lives up to the series glory days, but it’s the developer’s unwillingness to truly reinvent the series multiplayer component—which is what most of its player base are here for—that holds it back from being truly great again.