Call of Duty WWII is here to tell us about the horrors of World War II. The loss of life, the tragedies and atrocities of the war… and zombies, quick scoping and camping. Call of Duty’s strongest asset, its size and scope, also seems to be its Achilles heel.
Call of Duty’s singleplayer seems to be battling with the story it wants to tell and mechanics and staples of the first person action genre. The game has moved away from regenerating health bars to using medkits. These medkits are dotted around the levels, or one of your squadmates can toss you one if enough time has passed or you killed enough Nazis. Despite the removal of regeneration, as the game passes on the feeling of a super soldier killing his way through corridors of enemies quickly settles in.
Despite the removal of regeneration, as the game passes on the feeling of a super soldier killing his way through corridors of enemies quickly settles in.
The game starts with a crew getting ready for beaching Normandy (because any game about WWII *has* to have the meatgrinder of the beaching of Normandy) and you are, through what is going on, supposed to infer that these are your friends. Your comrades. Without even bothering to tell you who is who, besides a name popping up if they are in the centre of your screen, you are shoved into the beaching and watch everything get blown to pieces. Somehow most of the crew you just met is alive still, or at least I think they are because you have spent so little time with these characters that any potential impact of loss here is negated completely.
At this point, I have to give it to the modelling team. The character models and their faces are impressive, to the point that I want to see this tech used in an RPG, wrinkles and frowns and scared eyes move around as the sardine tin you are in is propelled towards a beach full of cannons. The cannon fire, the staccato of machine guns and the music hit a crescendo as you are about to hit the beach. Then almost everyone in your APC is killed. You barely make it and it feels like the horrors of war are about to be shown to you. The powerlessness of the soldiers, the savage loss of life on all sides laid bare. Your non-regenerating health is only too apparent as you try to move closer to an entrenched enemy position full of machine guns. All around you your brothers in arms die, sometimes in a grisly shower of gore. The loss of life is apparent everywhere on your screen.
But as you play, the further you get into the campaign, the more you realise that despite all the marketing promises of remembering the war, of making it about re-living that horror, the game slowly devolves into what we have always seen in FPS titles: action hero deluxe. At one point you derail an armoured train, by accident with the Jeep you are driving. Your character bails out of the vehicle at top speed, landing safely before the train derails. It explodes around you fantastically, showing off the sheer destruction that the engine is capable of, heavy hunks of metal narrowly missing you with every train carriage, every exploding tank shell somehow passing inches away from you. It is spectacular yet completely against the original idea.
At one point you derail an armoured train, by accident with the Jeep you are driving.
That promise of a powerful history lesson during all the marketing lead up to this game? Stripped down into a single scene, an epilogue of awareness after an entire campaign of action sequences that Michael Bay would be proud of in both their dialogue as well as their explosion count. There was room for something special here, but it feels like the punch was pulled and ends up failing to hit the mark. Your character, despite being a private, has to do pretty much everything for his squad and you quickly realise that most of your squad is inept at shooting enemies and can take unlimited damage unless it is for a heroic moment or a scripted section.
There are two missions that really stick out for me after the campaign. One involves you storming a building and trying to keep it out of Nazi hands. You are quickly surrounded and have to call in for armoured support. The camera flies up into the sky and you become the driver of the armoured support you just called for. Off you drive, hearing your squad (and your normal character) shouting for status updates and help as you wind your way through ravaged buildings. Another mission that sticks out is a stealth mission into a Nazi stronghold. With papers and a uniform, you walk into the front door and get to see what the Nazis are doing when they aren’t running around trying to shoot you. You have to secure explosives from a spy in their ranks, talk your way out of a few situations and plant explosives before an attack can happen. It makes it feel like the stealth is necessary, something many of the other stealthy sections battle to get across.
But most people don’t really play Call of Duty for the single-player campaign, right? Judging by the levels of those playing this first weekend and the trophy rarity of single-player objectives vs multiplayer ones, it looks like many went straight to the multiplayer to shoot their friends. There are nine modes to get yourself lost in and while I spent most of my time hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered, I had a good time. I quickly grew bored of the War mode, the objectives based fight that very quickly devolved into a team of enemy snipers camping where we were trying to build a bridge. Both sides failed to take that bridge and I have a feeling that either some co-ordinated teamwork is required or the map needs a bit more cover for those building the bridge.
Team deathmatch is where the action is and while you are waiting for a game to start up, you can explore the social hub or customise your soldier. There is a lot of content to unlock by playing as a specific division or getting kills with your favourite weapon and you can get orders from your commander, which are basically quests that you can complete for bonus XP or currency. While I admit that I like having goals to work towards in a game, a lot of the social hub feels a lot like something out of a free-to-play title. Elements like getting your pay (a chunk of currency) every so hours from the mailbox, to daily login rewards and loot boxes for long or difficult orders, it ends up sitting poorly. It isn’t even done in a way that is covert either. Whenever you are in the social area a large prompt for opening loot boxes sits in your UI and when someone else opens a loot box in the social hub you see it arriving from the sky and you can look if they got an epic helmet or a legendary emote. The first few levels are full of free loot boxes but I am sure as I climb higher in ranks they will become rarer and I will wish for that quick fix of shiny loot dropping like mana from the heavens.
While I admit that I like having goals to work towards in a game, a lot of the social hub feels a lot like something out of a free-to-play title.
The option to have everyone’s microphone on by default might seem great on paper, but in reality, you listen to people cough, sniff, moan at the TV or like one match I played, listen to their music the entire match. Luckily you can mute everyone easily enough from the score screen, but I have to wonder why they thought this would be a good choice. At the end of the map everyone is in the same voice chat, so you can tell the person that got the play of the game (sorry a Bronze Star) that they suck, or cheated or whatever. In most cases, it is just someone camping and quick scoping. What skill.
Zombies oh my
If you want to play the game with friends but not against other campers, Zombie mode is where you will find a lot of fun. Gone are the cartoony zombies and building barricades on windows and doors. This feels like the team took some design cues from Doom and horror games. The enemies are horrifying and your character will often gasp or shout when caught by surprise.
You can try to play in a small house and survive as long as possible, or start in a small village and find and complete the many objectives. So far I can’t work out what to do after clearing the sewers and starting the power up, but I will keep trying and levelling up my Zombie slayer profile. This allows you to unlock attachments for the weapons you pick up, or to customise your class for your playstyle. You can even equip a few powerups for those dangerous situations where you need a nuke or instant kill.
Here in Zombie mode, like the single-player, you are all too aware of how good the sound direction is in the game. Characters are tense and odd sounds give you a warning of what is about to happen. An earthquake rumbles through the town, shattering windows and tearing barricades down. A noisy gate creaks open, letting you know someone opened up a new area. Buzzing flies warns you of a quick new enemy on its way to you shortly
Call of Duty is broad enough in modes that there is something you will find in it to enjoy, but it feels in the end that a strong desire to spread a message about the war is weighed down by Call of Duty’s heritage, expectations of the FPS genre and a lot more. The history angle quickly bails out of the window as the hero does everything, survives everything and cuts countless Nazis down. Considering how much time was spent saying that this Call of Duty would be different, it is shocking how similar it all is. Maybe it is true that War… War never changes.