The FPS games of the noughties were almost exclusively set in the World Wars, an era that has seemingly endless stories to tell. However as time went on and year after year brought yet another World War based FPS to the table I grew tired of the setting and, for the most part, left the FPS genre behind. When the settings began to move towards the modern era towards the end of that decade I found myself coming back; my interest in the genre reignited by the utter ridiculousness that the Call of Duty franchise offered. From then on every year I found myself coming back, my obsession with the series peaking with Black Ops 3 with some 150 hours sunk into the multi-player. So when it was announced that the next instalment would return the series to its roots I was a little sceptical as the original Call of Duty wasn’t the one I fell in love with.
Call of Duty: WWII follows the story of the 1st Infantry Division’s Red Daniels, a first-class private who’s military career begins at the bloody Normandy landings. It’s there that you come face to face with the grim realities of war as bear witness to many of your fellow soldiers cut down in front of you. From there you continue your campaign through the western front, pushing back the axis line as you march steadily towards the centre of their war effort. It’s never easy however and the strain begins to wear on you and your commanding officers. Do you have the strength to continue on, after all the horrors you’ve witnessed?
The previous generation of games was dominated by the muted, drab colour palette that just so happened to be perfect for the World War 2 setting. This helped with the technical limitations of the time, the constrained visual diversity serving as a bit of a fudge to make things more realistic than they’d otherwise appear. As time went on the visuals became cleaner, crisper and the colours became much more vibrant as a result. The return to the WWII setting brings that drab colour palette back but with the visual fidelity of the current generation. The result is a game that, on first blush, feels like it’s a step behind due to low visual variation. However the game does manage to surprise you at times, especially when it comes to the in-game cut-scenes. The automatic graphics settings wizard doesn’t do a particularly good job however, erring on the side of performance over visuals a little too heavily. Even on my near 3 year old rig I could push pretty much everything up to maximum @ 1080p and still maintain a consistent frame rate.
WWII is innovative in the sense that it takes the series back to its roots, ditching the past 8 years or so of a trend towards modern and futuristic, at times fantastical, warfare. Gone is the infinite health regeneration system, instead returning to the health bar and first aid packs system of yesteryear (for single player only though, however), The two weapon system remains and your selection of armaments is your typical WWII affair. The campaign is a set of relatively linear missions containing the usual mix of straight up corridor shooting, vehicle sections and the tried and true tacked on stealth sections. Unlike the previous 3 or so COD games there’s no upgrade or progression system to speak of, just you and whatever armaments you can find on the battlefield. Multiplayer is still the same core experience with levels, loot crates and weapon progression but there’s a few new things thrown in the mix to make things interesting. Overall it feels like a return to basics for the Call of Duty franchise, for better or for worse.
Unfortunately that return to basics seems to have brought with it the unrefined combat mechanics that we left behind a decade ago. The Call of Duty series has always set the bar for fast paced, highly polished action but WWII doesn’t meet the standards I’ve come to expect. Sure the action is as fast paced as ever and the sense of scale is still there but when it comes to actually taking down enemies the guns feel ineffective and the controls sluggish. This is most certainly a design choice, wanting to emulate the real world weapons and combat more accurately, but it does mean that the overall game experience feels more clunky than it has in previous instalments. Indeed for someone like me who’s enjoyed the trend towards utterly ridiculous, almost fantasy level combat, this feels like a big step backwards.
One positive thing to come out of this return to basics is the simplification of the campaign. It’s your standard play one mission, advance to the next deal with a handful of collectables scattered throughout the mission for you to find. Each of the missions also has a set of “heroic acts” for you to complete which are usually taking out an enemy who’s about to kill one of your squad or dragging a fallen soldier back to safety. Some of the missions have stealth sections which are, for the most part, very simplistic in their implementation. The few vehicle sections are a nice way to break up the combat and, unlike previous COD games, aren’t overdone to the point of being monotonous. All said and done the campaign will probably only take you 5 hours to get through which is close to what used to be the standard for the COD franchise. Honestly I quite like that length, especially with it broken up over 10 missions or so.
The plot of the campaign is your typical WWII affair with a heavy focus on you and your fellow war buddies. Sure they dip into the main character’s history a bit, even trying to throw you for a loop by pitting him as an unreliable narrator, but the story is pretty predictable. It does try to touch on some of the pertinent issues of the time such as gender and race equality but, this being a WWII game, the heroes are still your typical American GIs fighting the good fight against the Nazis. Honestly this setting has been done to death so much that I really don’t find much to enjoy in it anymore, especially in the medium of video games. Perhaps one day that will change, I’m always open to a compelling story, but for now the story that Call of Duty WWII presents is nothing above what I’ve come to expect from the series in a setting that I personally find uninteresting.
The multiplayer didn’t undergo the same return to basics that the rest of the game did with the new system staying true to the current norms. The difference comes from how the usual COD perks are acquired which are now part of Divisions. At the start you’ll pledge to one Division (you can unlock the rest later with an unlock token) and as you level them you’ll unlock certain benefits. Those benefits are all broadly aligned to a certain kind of playstyle but you’re no longer able to mix and match to the extent you were in previous titles. This means there’s a little less variety in how you build your load out but it should make balancing things a lot easier. Loot crates are still a thing and, like always, can be purchased using in-game currency or cold hard cash. Thankfully it seems to be limited to cosmetics only so you won’t be going up against people who’ve splashed cash to get a leg up on everyone else.
There are differences of course, the main one being an interactive social area where you can go to get missions, try out score streaks or weapons and open up your supply drops in front of everyone. Unfortunately it’s not an optional area, you will have to go there to do all these activities whether you like it or not. Personally I much preferred the older, more streamlined systems which didn’t require me to drop out of the matchmaking system. There’s also a few new game modes although most people are still playing team deathmatch or domination, just like they always are.
I’ve spent a few hours in the multiplayer and honestly I can’t see myself spending much more time in there. The same sluggishness present in the singleplayer is there in the multi as well which, when coupled with the P2P networking (which has always been a little iffy), makes for some not so great online play. It’s a shame really as it looks like the new loadout system could be something of a winner but I just don’t have the patience to keep on playing when the core mechanics just don’t feel as crisp as they used to.
Call of Duty: WWII takes the series back to its roots and in doing so loses many of the things that drew me back into the series. Gone is the highly polished, fast paced combat which it was known for, replaced with a system that feels deliberately sluggish. The campaign’s simplified nature is certainly welcome although without the solid FPS combat to back it up it’s just not as satisfying as it could be. The slight change ups in multiplayer are interesting but not enough to the carry the game on its own. Indeed whilst fans of the setting or early COD games might find something to love here I simply can’t see it. My only hope is that Treyarch can pull this franchise out of the ditch it’s found itself in as the last 2 instalments have been nothing short of disappointing.
Call of Duty: WWII is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours in single player and 2 hours in multi with 43% and 7% of the achievements unlocked.