Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
The venerable Call of Duty series return to its roots with CoD: WWII, which offers the familiar fun expected of the series, but doesn’t offer much of anything that's new or surprising. CoD:WWII is an attempt to woo back old fans after reaching the point of self-parody in last year’s Infinite Warfare, and though the game succeeds more than it fails, it also doesn't deliver much to get excited about for those who aren't already die-hard Call of Duty franchise fans.
That old familiar campaign
The single player campaign tells the story of a platoon of square-jawed American soldiers, focusing on the relationship between your character Ronald “Red” Daniels, his Jewish-American best friend Zussman, and Pierson, their hardass anti-Semitic sergeant. I appreciated how it touches on the anti-Semitism prevalent at the time, including among American soliders. Unlike previous CoD games, which alternated perspectives between different soldiers around the world, CoD WWII ties all the action to Daniels and his platoon. Improved writing combined with excellent voice acting make this a much more compelling tale than previous recent installments.
The game attempts to emphasize the bond between squadmates by allowing you to call out for first aid kits, ammunition, and enemy spotting. This works really well in the first part of the game, when Daniels and Zussman are storming some German machine gun nests. Your squad has been scattered and you’re alone. Your only source of health is his medkits. Through a few dramatic scripted sequences, you save each other’s lives and cement your bond as friends.
Later on, however, you end up doing the typical “one man army” thing, and rarely know exactly where your squadmates are. Sometimes they call out to you and you remember “oh yeah, I can do that.” and get a health pack or two, but it feels less like an squad organically working together and more like a bad corporate team-building exercise.
Action-wise, the campaign contains many of the familiar Call of Duty set pieces, including driving sequences (that switch to turret sequences - you do this more than once), sniper sequences, and stealth sequences. It's all polished, but none of it feels innovative.
Storming the beaches of Normandy was a bit of a disappointment, as it’s beat-for-beat the same mission we've seen in a number of other WWII shooters previously (most famously Medal of Honor: Allied Assault). Jump out of the transport ship, take cover behind the Czech hedgehogs, use your bangalores to blow a path through the sea wall, and storm some machine gun nests. I’m not exactly sure why they felt the need to add this. Old gamers remember the original when it was impressive, and younger gamers have grown up with cinematic set pieces like this. Who was this for?
At one point, you’ll play a neat little undercover mission as Rousseau, a French Resistance leader, as she attempts to liberate Paris. You have to stalk through a German embassy, searching for your contact, and if you talk to the wrong person, you’ll have to answer questions related to your travel papers. While its final stealth sequence involves a lot of wonky trial and error, it remains one of the most compelling parts of the game.
Multiplayer has seen some key improvements, most notably in the way class customization has been simplified. The process feels a lot more like Modern Warfare 2, with guns, gear, and perks forming the core of your class. Modifying your loadouts between rounds is much easier when you don’t have to worry about laser doohickeys and robodrones and whether or not having two megashotguns stops you from bringing your super radio or whatever. Less is more, and I really like this.
Having been stuck on Overwatch for most of this year, I didn’t realize how much I missed the verticality of Call of Duty maps. One map emphasizes a gigantic Axis train car with fantastic sniper positions with open tops just begging to be grenaded. Another map takes place entirely on the deck of an American battlecruiser. While this stuff might not be new for CoD fans, it’s a reminder that not everything needs to follow the flattened, MOBA-inspired Overwatch map format.
In terms of game modes, all the standard CoD favorites return - Team Death Match, Domination, Capture the Flag, Search & Destroy, Hardpoint, Free For All, Kill Confirmed, and Gridiron (the new name for Uplink). If you liked old CoD, you’ll enjoy this. If you didn’t, there’s little reason to return to any of it, with War mode the lone standout.
In War mode, multiplayer’s best new addition, one team plays offense and the other plays defense, pushing tanks, defending bridges, or controlling points. You’re always fighting against time, and it uses the WWII setting to great effect. In one level the Axis must push tanks toward an Allied base, but then they run out of gas. The Allies must defend their gas depots while the Axis attempt to steal the gas and run it back to their tanks. Then the Axis have to cross over a bridge with their tanks before the Allies blow it up. This really captures the frenetic, exciting feeling of WWII movies, and as a big Saving Private Ryan fan, I loved this. Now CoD players will have the joy of screaming at their teammates to get on the payload!
The cast of characters in the multiplayer is surprisingly diverse and the aesthetic options include women and people of color. If you want to create a character that looks like you, you can, no matter who you are. I’m glad this option exists. It wouldn’t make sense to grapple with the issue of bigotry in the single player campaign and then fail to portray the multi-faceted military in the multiplayer mode. I’m sure there will be bellyaching from certain quarters about black or female (or black female) soldiers fighting on the side of the Axis. Yes, it’s completely unrealistic. But so is taking a 30.06 round in the chest, catching your breath behind a barn door, and then charging back into combat like nothing happened. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief to give more players the option to craft a multiplayer persona that resembles them.
Headquarters, hacks, and zombies
Headquarters, for me, was a bit of a head scratcher. Why do I need to load an entire 3D area just to pick up missions, try guns, and purchase aesthetic elements? There are 1-on-1 duels and a shooting range, but I would’ve much rather handled all of this via a set of menus. There’s a lootbox system, but it’s mostly aesthetic and easily ignored.
Unfortunately, the mutiplayer has already been hacked. Less than thirty six hours after release, I’ve encountered players using wall hacks that led to total shutouts in multiplayer matches. Given that this already happened during the beta, I was hoping that Sledgehammer would have found a way to put a stop to this sort of behavior. This is disappointing, but not unexpected. Cheaters drove me away from the CoD series back during the MW3 days - it’s sad to see that Activision / Sledgehammer hasn’t been able to stop this practice.
Nazi Zombie mode features a bunch of nerd favorite actors (David Tennant, Elodie Yung, Ving Rhames, and also Katheryn Winnick, who I’ve never heard of, but does a decent job) fighting wave after wave of increasingly dangerous zombies. Players score points by killing zombies and spend them to access new sections of the level, unlock perks, and purchase weapons and ammo. Zombies also get tougher over time. In the later waves, zombies start running, get armor, helmets, and giant melee weapons. My first game was played with people who knew what they were doing, and lasted an incredible 49 minutes while I shot a lot of zombies in the head and they took care of all the objectives. My cinematic nerd mind liked to think of it as Dr. Who, Elektra, and Marcellus Wallace fighting zombies together. If you like PvE horde modes, you’ll get a decent charge out of this.