Since the release of Black Ops 2 in 2012, Call Of Duty has shifted away from its world war and modern warfare boundaries to focus on futuristic technology and boots-off-the-ground action. Upon the announcement and release of the series’ previous entry, Infinite Warfare, many fans were left alienated by the game’s space setting, which caused them to believe the series’ was undergoing a major identity crisis. A year later on, Sledgehammer games, the developers behind the well-received Advanced Warfare back in 2014, aim to turn the tables around and take the series back to its old roots with Call Of Duty: WWII. But does this hotly anticipated sequel make for a successful return to form for the franchise or does it show that it’s still running out of fuel?
The game takes place during the final years of World War 2, during the allied invasion of Europe. You play as Ronald “Red” Daniels, a farm-boy from Texas, who, along with a squadron of other soldiers, has been placed on the front lines to combat the Nazi forces in France. Accompanied by his squadron, including the charismatic Zussman and the no-nonsense Sargeant William Pearson (played by Josh Duhamel), the campaign takes players across Europe. Whilst there, you’ll take part in many decisive moments of the war, including the Normandy beach invasion and the Battle of the Buldge. The game constantly tries to flesh out Daniels and the brotherly bond between him and his squad mates by expressing their motives, back-stories and beliefs. The story of the game does have some powerful aspects to it. The cutscenes are easily the best looking in the entire series and they do an admirable job of immersing you in the war and the deadly situations the characters face. The graphical fidelity during gameplay doesn’t fare quite as well since they occasionally don’t show as much grit as they were advertised, but they convey a lot, thanks to sufficient destructibility in the environments, and impressive facial and motion capture work from the actors. The voice acting, on the whole, is spot on and each actor’s stellar performance helps to make each character feel more like a believable human being, with real personalities.
Despite these ambitions, however, many of the characters eventually begin to grow bland and uninteresting. This is mainly due to the dated story techniques used to make players care for them, such as Daniel’s pregnant girlfriend and considerable reliance on extreme heroism, to the point where it can become quite silly. This issue isn’t as severe as other rival campaigns like Battlefield 1’s but disappointingly, this direction in storytelling can become tiresome after some time. One of the more interesting characters is the first lieutenant Turner, who acts to bring determination to the group and shows a strong urge to keep his men alive. He is a welcoming presence whenever he shows up in a cutscene and along with some small flares of strength from the other characters, he helps in making the game’s storytelling more enticing. Speaking of occasional flares, the game tackles major themes such as anti-Semitism, disdain against German soldiers, and the forceful extermination of an entire culture. While these scenes are indeed appreciative and show the developer’s ambitions, they generally feel a bit wasted since they are focused on characters that you don’t really care that much about.
Innovation has always been a severe setback of Call Of Duty and in many huge areas, WWII has done little to advance the series forward in terms of its gameplay and structure. While there are some open-levelled areas, filled with over-the-top action, many of the levels are linear and fights devolve into simple cover-based shooting galleries. This is a direction of shooting that has been with the series for years and it’s puzzling why Sledgehammer hasn’t introduced an innovative or overhauled approach to gameplay alongside the return to world war 2. In spite of this, however, combat manages to remain fresh and the new old style of weapons are satisfying to use, thanks to their solid sound design and look. The overall feel of the weapons is almost identical to how they felt before but fighting and using all the gadgets at your disposal is still fun and trying to overcome overwhelming numbers can still be exhilarating. Characters are also much more useful here than they were in previous entries. Zussman and Turner, for example, have metres that fill up above panels in the corner of the screen, which show when certain items are ready to be used. Zussman, for instance, throws over medical kits, which are some of the most important items in the game, since regenerating health has been removed altogether. It’s a smart choice as this makes you much more vulnerable to enemy fire, as you could always run out of medkits.
Multiplayer has always been the weakest point of any Call Of Duty and in terms of its pace and level design, there has been very little improvement made. Across each of the game’s modes, each map consists of narrow corridors and small, contained, areas. This style of map design, combined with the fast pace of the combat make sessions extremely frustrating. You can run aimlessly for less than a minute before being blown up by a grenade or being shot down by an enemy player within a second. This direction also does a disservice towards the game’s customization options. Every gun can be upgraded with modifications such as sights and extended magazines and barrels. While these additions are exciting to equip and they provide more replayability to the gameplay, the time to kill players is so short that the guns all begin to feels the same and the new mods become less important as they mostly don’t do much to improve sessions.
One of the most controversial aspects of multiplayer is that players can now play as a female. Alongside emblems and icons, players can select between various faces of men and women, which carries on into matches. Since its reveal many people have found their presence to be offensive and that they “disrespect the men who fought in the war”. This complaint is nonsense since multiplayer matches are entirely fictional and don’t represent the soldiers or tactics used in real-world battles. The characters you play as have absolutely no personality to them aside from their appearance and their various yells and scream. This feature is a welcoming addition since it provides much more diversity in multiplayer and also gives female players the opportunity to play as a character more like them than having to always play as a male.
What is multiplayer’s greatest aspect, however, is the new mode known as War. in War, one team of players must carry out a set of tasks such as escorting a tank or building a bridge, while the other team tries to stop them. When the match ends, the two teams switch places to try and beat the other team’s score. While the pacing remains the same and the levels feel almost identical to those found in Team Deathmatch, it requires much more strategic thinking than the other modes and it provides a much stronger sense of progression since you are taking out more lifelike objectives. War is easily the best mode in the game and it marks solid foundation for future modes in the series. If the levels relied much less on fast-paced corridor shooting and the scale was increased, the mode, along with the rest of multiplayer would have become the stuff of legend.
Once again, the fan-favourite Zombies mode returns for another round. The mode titled the Final Reich takes place within an abandoned German village which holds a dangerous secret. Players are tasked with exploring the village and secret research labs to uncover a set of precious artworks stolen by the Axis powers, all the while battling hordes of Nazi zombies. Like previous entries, up to four players could take part in online or split-screen multiplayer. The individual characters such as Drostan Hynd provide some amusing dialogue and the inclusion of cutscenes gives the story the substance it needs to remain intriguing. The mode’s greatest aspects come from its difficulty and complexity. As zombie numbers rise, players are challenged with using everything at their disposal to stay alive. Progressively unveiling every section of the town, as well as solving each part of the puzzle that stretched throughout the entire area is deeply satisfying and it further strengthens each player’s strive to push forward. On the weaker side, however, the game is not as frightening as it was advertised. Zombies very often appear in cheap and ineffective jumpscares and some of the more fearsome monsters like the Wustling aren’t given intimidating introductions. The mode isn’t quite as immersive as previous modes of its kind like in the Black Ops series, and the Spec Ops levels from Modern Warfare are still sourly missed, but it nevertheless remains an enjoyable and addicting distraction.
WWII introduces a social hub area called Headquarters. Much like recent MMO style games like Destiny 2, players could interact with each other through a range of activities such as old Atari games, a shooting range, and a small 1-on-1 arena, where two players fight against each other while other players spectate from outside the area. Headquarters also acts as a mail and gunsmith centre so players could upgrade their guns with attachments and cosmetics. The modes most troubling aspect, however, is its assignment and tasks system, which is related to the series’ continuous use of loot boxes, known by the name of supply drops. Supply drops are awarded to players who complete a certain tasks given to them. Once these tasks are completed, players are given supply drops, which contain cosmetic items for multiplayer and consumable items for Zombies. The items you receive in multiplayer could simply amount to gun skins and emblems and most of these aren’t particularly interesting to collect. What makes matters worse though is that these crates are dropped in front of all other players and through the game’s reward system, players are rewarded for actually watching players open their own supply crates.
It’s good to have World War II return to Call of Duty. It’s refreshing to return to the series roots after so many detours into the future, both good and bad. But despite its numerous ambitions it’s difficult not to be let down just by how little the game tries to move the series forward. There is a distinct lack of innovation in its campaign and multiplayer in spite of some engaging moments and the game stumbles with characterisation. The combat is still enjoyable, War mode is a bright new edition and has a lot of potential and Zombies is as crazy and addicting as ever. WWII is a light step in the right direction for the Call Of Duty but while it isn’t on the lower end of the series, the experience present is overall unimaginative and rather forgettable.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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