Like movies, video games have held a decades long fascination with Nazis, likely because they’re an easy villain and make for good target practice. After all, given the atrocities that Hitler and his regime committed throughout the Second World War, it’s tough to feel bad when you light them ablaze, blow them up or fill them with lead. History has taught us to hate Nazis, and for good reason, so it’s only natural that they’re one of our favourite things to kill in first-person shooters.
For years, Call of Duty (and its predecessor, EA’s Medal of Honor series) were steadfast World War II shooters. Like clockwork, they could be counted upon to deliver content based around taking on Hitler and company, through stories that were set within real-life battles. That all changed, though, when Infinity Ward debuted Modern Warfare and altered everything in the process.
Now, after a decade of (mostly) modern and futuristic experiences, Activision and its stable of developers have returned to the series’ roots, with Call of Duty: WWII. A Sledgehammer crafted outing, it combines today’s development tools and gaming devices with battles from the 1940s that continue to fascinate us.
Starring Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Safe Haven) and Jonathan Tucker (American Gods), Call of Duty: WWII‘s visceral campaign sets its sights on a fictional platoon filled with interesting personalities. Through this setup, players control Corporal Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels, a well rounded and people first soldier from the Texas heartland. Having left his wife and brother back on their ranch, he’s come to Europe to fight for his country and make a difference, with the hope of returning home a hero.
Ordered around by Duhamel’s troubled Sergeant Pierson, Red and his heroic brothers in arms find themselves fighting in some of the Second World War’s most important battles. Things begin on June 6th, 1944, with the dangerous D-Day beach landings, and continue on through such important engagements as the Battle of the Bulge. Amidst these epic battles lay quite a few other missions that present varying tasks, including protecting a convoy, going after a moving train and attempting to take a muddy hill.
With Red are Jonathan Tucker’s quirky Private First Class Robert Zussman, Private Drew Stiles, Technician Fifth Grade Frank Aiello and First Lieutenant Joseph Turner. Together, they all make up the First Infantry Division, and are tasked with risking their lives day in and day out. Individually, though, they’re all their own people, and have personalities that shine through the blood, sweat, mud and bullets of every skirmish. Zussman is especially memorable, and it’s he who stands out the most, thanks to his quirky personality and a good performance from Tucker, himself.
The game’s eleven or so missions are vintage Call of Duty, although some notable changes were made with this outing. First, there’s its health system, which goes old school by bringing back health packs. As such, one can no longer heal like a superhero while ducking behind cover. Then, there’s the way in which one gains said health packs, as well as bonus ammunition and extra grenades.
Although it’s still very easy to pick up and use a dropped enemy’s weapon, or to find ammo laying about, you can now request extra bullets from your team. The same is true of medkits, frag/smoke grenades and more. The best way to think of this is a timed perk system, wherein each ally can offer you something when his meter is full. Zussman will throw you a helpful medkit (of which four can be held at one time), another will offer you ammo and so on. When you take advantage of this, you do so knowing that a cool down period will ensue before the option will become available again. The good thing about this, though, outside of how helpful getting a bonus med pack can be, is the fact that it’s all handled on a soldier by soldier basis, meaning that the player can ask for help from more than one ally at a time.
It should also be noted that, in addition to the above, two other allies will also occasionally offer you their help through this mechanic. One will light up every enemy in sight, by placing a glowing white haze around them, while the other will offer a smoke grenade that acts as a signal for explosive artillery fire. They’re nice to have available during missions where enemies are plentiful, as well as whenever you must snipe foes from afar.
That said, this isn’t a perfect system, nor is it the best thing to ever happen to Call of Duty. Though it’s definitely helpful, it’s also quite distracting at times. You also need to be quite close to said person in order to call for help, which can occasionally become troublesome, especially when the game fails to allow you to call to them when they’re behind cover.
Each mission also features heroic moments, which give the player a chance to save allied soldiers from danger at the hands of Nazi grunts. This is in addition to 33 collectibles that are spread throughout them all.
Being that this is World War II, it’s safe to expect lots of tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and other types of vehicles and weaponry from that era. Like before, Call of Duty: WWII also puts its players in control of more than one vehicle, including a fast moving jeep (during a couple of hectic action sequences), and an ever badass tank. Things are a bit different this time around, though, because the action also shifts to the skies, during one segment where Nazi planes are threatening the safety of a large group of Allied ones. Thus ensues some decent dogfighting, which use the controller’s joysticks to control the plane’s speed, viewpoint and altitude.
For the most part, Call of Duty: WWII‘s six to eight hour long campaign is of quality. It’s chock full of action, has some easy to care about characters and touches your heart strings through them, while using the ages old ‘girl back home’ narrative ploy. Red is a very likeable protagonist, and how much he cares not only about his country, but also his comrades, is heartwarming. This is Call of Duty, though, and that means tons of bullets and lots of explosions, along with some violent melee takedowns. Like those before it, WWII has all three in spades, though its quick-time events take a frustrating form. That is, one where you must move the joystick into the middle of a somewhat small circle, then press the button that appears as a tiny prompt after doing so. Failure to do so in the rather brief, allotted time limit, means death.
Unfortunately, the narrative mode does stumble at times, and presents a few questionable design choices.
Stealth sequences force players to quietly creep around sometimes large environments, in an attempt to get to their objectives without being spotted, as doing so will cause chaos to erupt. At times, these segments are more frustrating than they are fun, and lack polish. It can also be annoying to, upon completing one, die at the start of the next engagement and have to go back and redo the stealth sequence over again for no good reason.
The above happened to me several times during a mission where Red and company were attempting to catch up to a moving train. Not only did the stealth sequence before the train have a time limit, but said limit carried through to the next section where loads of enemies (and some vicious dogs) awaited. This wouldn’t have been an issue if there was enough time to deal with both, but the level’s time limit is shockingly brief, and failure to reach the train within it results in having to go back and redo at least part of said stealth sequence. I eventually got a checkpoint to trigger half-way through it, but still found the time limit to be surprisingly short, and had to run past some enemies as they came close to killing me.
At other times, it simply felt like something was missing. The campaign doesn’t start off all that well, thanks to a middling D-Day mission and a second one that won’t set the world on fire, but it picks up steam as it goes along, getting better with pretty much every additional stage. It still stumbles from time to time, though, and has some questionably designed engagements that also hold it back from achieving greatness.
Flanking the narrative are two additional modes, with the first being the one that most people buy these games for: competitive multiplayer. It’s here where the action never stops, thanks to lots of familiar modes and a decent set of maps that offer some nice variety. There’s a massive battleship, the British territory of Gibraltar, a bombed out battlefield complete with bunkers, a snowy environment and London’s docks, just to name some. Perhaps there aren’t as many as in past games, but there’s a good amount of variety within them.
Multiplayer is a more social experience in Call of Duty: WWII, which is evidenced by its beached headquarters. There, players can engage with not only each other, but also highlighted NPCs that act as trainers, mail deliverers and also a quartermaster. Through them, one will learn about and choose his class from a list of several, receive credits that can be used to purchase new gear, weapons, profile banners and more, take on challenges and reap rewards. Said rewards can come in the form of supply drops, which offer common, uncommon and even rare items that can be used to improve or alter one’s created character.
What is sure to rub many the wrong way is how these supply drops are implemented. You see, not only are they visible to all when called down from the sky, but they’re also used in daily challenges, where players are asked to watch others open perhaps three of the things. Supply drops are also going to be purchasable with real life currency, giving those who are willing to pay real money a bit of an advantage. It’s a questionable practice, through and through, but isn’t a new one, nor is it only found in Call of Duty games.
The last Call of Duty multiplayer mode I played was Black Ops III, which made switching to World War II a strange experience. After all, wall running is no more, and there’s nothing in the way of modern technology to be found. It took a bit of time to get used to, but once I got the hang of things I started to enjoy myself a lot more. Overall, this is a very solid and immersive multiplayer mode, although it’s not the series’ best (and I honestly preferred Black Ops III‘s).
The last of the three modes happens to be Nazi Zombies, which returns seeking more digital brains.
This time around, the narrative is all about a group that has been researching Nazi science experiments and comes face to face with them in a small, country town following a mishap. Starring Ving Rhames, former Doctor Who David Tennant, and familiar face Udo Kier, it’s a quality take on the popular multiplayer mode. One that begins with a single player prologue, before showing its core Zombies maps: The Final Reich and Groesten Haus.
Truth be told, Zombies has never done much for me. I’m not exactly sure of why, but I think it’s a combination of things, including the poor hit detection, frustrating difficulty and co-op focus. This is one of the better Zombies modes, though, especially since its hit detection seems to be better. The Prologue was fun, and so was what I played of the rest. That said, I still don’t see myself returning to it regularly, unlike the core multiplayer.
Presentation-wise, Call of Duty: WWII is an impressive beast. Boasting some stunningly realistic cutscenes, great facial animations and mostly impressive gameplay visuals, it’s definitely far from a slouch, especially on the Xbox One X. The sound is also boisterous, and is complemented by some very good voice acting, quality writing, and great sound effects. There is an issue, though, where the cutscenes are quieter than the actual gameplay, making it hard to find that one perfect volume level. The same can also be true of the in-game dialogue, as some of it is hard to hear over the gunfire and explosions that make up so much of this experience.
It should also be noted that there’s a bit of blur to be found during gameplay. As a result, a few of the campaign’s scenes weren’t as sharp as expected.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to recommend Call of Duty: WWII. With it, Sledgehammer and its supporting studios (Raven, Beenox, etc.) have created something that is not only impressive, but entertaining and somewhat memorable as well. While it’s not all that it could’ve been, there’s lots to like, and a quality multiplayer mode means that the series’ hardcore fans will be both happy and busy over the next twelve months.
**This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, and was played on an Xbox One X. We were provided with a review copy.**
- Realistic campaign storytelling, which takes advantage of some stunningly detailed cinematics
- Three deep modes (campaign, Zombies, multiplayer)
- Unlimited replay value
- The campaign stumbles at times
- Stealth and Call of Duty don't really mix all that well
- The volume is unneven and differs between cutscenes and gameplay