Liberate Europe from the Third Reich.
PC Release: November 3, 2017
By Ian Coppock
Get to the chopper! No, wait, Call of Duty: WWII is set before the chopper’s invention, so that meme doesn’t work. After five years spent flooding the market with one futuristic CoD after another, Activision has finally gone back to its flagship series’ roots with WWII. Of course, the publisher acts like this decision came about as the product of wholly internal reflection… and not because everyone was screaming about how terrible Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was.
Call of Duty: WWII is the eleventh CoD to release since 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, making CoD the most sequel-happy franchise in triple-A gaming. The title was developed by neither Infinity Ward nor Treyarch, but Sledgehammer Games, developer of 2014’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Unlike its futuristic CoD debut, Sledgehammer’s newest game returns CoD to the World War II setting from whence the series spawned. The title is the first CoD in half a decade to not utilize a futuristic, sci-fi-rich setting.
Like every CoD that releases these days, Call of Duty: WWII features three modes: a single-player campaign, a multiplayer mode, and the series’ famous zombies mode. All three were announced to loud enthusiasm at this year’s E3, as fans who’d spent years yelling for CoD to abandon its sci-fi obsession finally got their wish. Even though Call of Duty: WWII‘s release was overshadowed by a poorly received PC beta and one of the most cynical patent applications in history, the title made it out of the starting gate and onto the beaches of Normandy.
The primary driver of all Call of Duty sales is the series’ multiplayer mode, and it returns little changed in Call of Duty: WWII. The mode features a middling selection of maps, each of which comprise the same set of open squares and constricting corridors that have comprised all CoD maps since the series’ genesis. WWII continues the series’ obsession with tiny maps, none of which hold a candle to Battlefield‘s own palette of war zones. Players who want expansive combat areas or dynamic environments will find neither in WWII; players who want only more of the same will get nothing but.
There is one shining exception to WWII‘s rehash of deathmatch and team match modes: war mode. Taking an obvious nod from Battlefield, CoD‘s new mode challenges players to complete a series of ever-changing objectives as they move around a map. Sometimes the team needs to escort a tank; other times, squadmates need to defend a tower. War mode is a welcome change to the monotony of CoD multiplayer and finally gives the series a team-building experience. The constant shifting of objectives helps the multiplayer feel fresh and organic.
WWII‘s multiplayer fun gets a big boost from the game’s solid system performance. Call of Duty: World War II runs pretty much bug free; players might get the occasional crash but the game by and large runs fine on PC. It would seem that Sledgehammer took the criticism over WWII‘s multiplayer beta to heart and went to work ironing out its kinks ahead of launch day. The game sports one of the series’ finest options menus; go ahead and adjust how objects look while viewed through a scope and at an angle.
Players who enjoy working as a team but are tired of CoD multiplayer’s conventions should check out WWII‘s zombies mode, which is far and away the best zombies experience of any CoD game. Created by some of the folks behind the Dead Space series (RIP Visceral), WWII‘s zombies mode streamlines the features of past zombies experiences and makes the creatures of the undead Final Reich surprisingly spooky. Zombie hunters and Tallahassee wannabees take note.
The third and arguably least relevant CoD mode is the single-player story campaign, which follows a twelve-man squad of American soldiers during the Allies’ push to Germany. Leading man Ronald “Red” Daniels is everything conventional about a CoD protagonist: young, handsome, played football in high school, and loves ‘murica oh so much. Daniels’ down-home Texan charm contrasts sharply with the New York wit of his best friend Robert Zussman, whom the game can’t seem to stop emphasizing is Jewish. Surely that plot point won’t come up again in a story about fighting Nazis!
Anyway, the campaign starts off by rushing players onto the beaches of Normandy and, from there, into the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe. As Red, players can partake in famous battles like the liberation of Paris and the infamous Battle of the Bulge. Occasionally, players take the reigns off of Red and swap him out for other characters, including—get this—a female character. That’s right folks, female player character confirmed in Call of Duty. What a time to be alive.
No matter which character the player is, they can expect CoD‘s gunplay to be about the same as in previous titles. Unlike recent CoDs, players can’t pick their weapons before each mission and start out with whatever the game deems appropriate. Not to worry, though, because players can also find other guns in the level or just pick up the Nazis’ weapons after pumping them full of lead. WWII allows players to get certain items from their squadmates, including ammunition and grenades. Some missions also feature small bites of stealth gameplay.
The biggest shakeup, though, that WWII makes to the CoD campaign formula is the health system. WWII swaps out the series’ conventional health regeneration in favor of an old-school-style health bar with medkits. For the first time since the very first Call of Duty, players have to patch themselves up with a first aid kit instead of by taking cover behind a wall and waiting for regen. Players can find health kits out in the world or get them from Zussman (usually accompanied by a sarcastic remark).
WWII‘s health system is a refreshing change of pace for Call of Duty. Players can no longer just wait behind a pile of sandbags for their health to go back up, which forces them to be more cautious in combat. This change gives a greater emphasis to tactics than brute force, as players now have to be mindful of how much health that reckless charge into combat could cost. All of that said, Red can absorb bullets like a champ, so it’s not like the campaign implements PvP difficulty into those Nazis (this health system only applies to the campaign, by the way; multiplayer has the usual health regen mechanic).
Although the new health system is the biggest gameplay change CoD‘s made in years, that’s about the only gameplay change that series veterans can expect. Everything else comprises the same round of linear shooting already seen 10 times since 2007. March down corridors or up hills, chuck grenades, and empty that bolt-action rifle into the nearest bratwurst-loving German. Occasionally players can also save fallen comrades from certain death, but this has no bearing on the campaign’s outcome.
Call of Duty: World War II doesn’t stray as far from the franchise’s gameplay tendencies as Activision would like players to believe, but the narrative is another story. Though Red Daniels is hardly the first bright-eyed soldier to be a CoD protagonist, voice actor Brett Zimmerman did a superb job injecting nuance and emotion into the character. Red’s musings are about what war does to a person instead of abstract notions of patriotism, which is highly unusual for CoD. The game’s introduction of scared squadmates and an alcoholic sergeant pay further heed to how traumatizing war actually is.
Additionally, WWII goes the extra mile in putting the series’ long-vaunted affinity for brotherhood under a microscope. When Zussman gets captured by those Jew-hungry Nazis, Red vows to move heaven and earth to find him again. It’s not Oscar material, but the main character’s determination to not give up on his friend makes for the most heartwarming CoD narrative in years. WWII also goes beyond other World War II games by portraying the Holocaust in a poignant—if brief—mission. It’s a little shallow, but that solemn interlude of wandering through a concentration camp is CoD‘s most profound moment since the nuke went off in Modern Warfare. It seems ridiculous to type, but Call of Duty pulled off portraying the Holocaust.
If Call of Duty: WWII feels dark and depressing, that might be due as much to the game’s environment and visuals as its story. Though the series’ IW engine is starting to show its age, Sledgehammer Games went to great effort in creating a bombed-out Europe. The levels run the risk of looking samey (once Red’s seen one bombed-out Belgian village, he’s seen ’em all), but the environments get a big boost from impressive weather effects and dour volumetric lighting. The game’s textures and object detail look pretty good, too.
Sledgehammer Games has also proven to be a quick student of sound design, following Infinity Ward’s lead in creating bombastic sounds. Everything from Red’s boots squelching through mud to the crumbling of mortar under missiles sounds awesome; it certainly gives the ole headphones a good rumble. The game’s music isn’t as worth writing home about, even if the main theme is admittedly catchy.
Call of Duty: WWII doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what gameplay changes the title does make result in a gritty experience that fans of old-school shooters may enjoy. Between the multiplayer war mode, the amped-up zombies, and the surprisingly poignant story, WWII might just be the best CoD since Modern Warfare. At the very least, the game is a welcome change of pace from the endless onslaught of futuristic CoDs, and it does an unparalleled job of examining the bonds forged in war.
You can buy Call of Duty: WWII here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.