Now reaching the fourteenth major instalment in the record-breaking franchise, there’s very few places that the Call Of Duty franchise hasn’t tried to explore over the years. Seemingly keen to leave no stone unturned across its mighty reign of the FPS market, what began as a series invested in World War 2 soon moved towards modern and more futuristic conflicts in the wake of dwindling interest. Though managing to keep things more interesting in the years that followed and achieving huge success during that time, releases such as Black Ops 3 and last years’ Infinite Warfare represented a series that had perhaps strayed too far from its original foundations. Growing almost unrecognisable to many, the Call Of Duty of 2017 hopes to remedy this issue by bringing the series full-circle.
Aiming to make a statement in more ways than one, Call Of Duty: WW2 without a doubt feels refreshing against the backdrop of years of more experimental, over-the-top shooters that couldn’t quite cure the itch for many in the community. Gone are spaceships, laser cannons, hero abilities, jetpacks and wall running, and in their place returns the classic “boots-on-the-ground” World War action that started it all. Though taking a more methodical approach in its design than the most recent offerings, there’s a definite sense of renewed interest within not just the historical-era setting, but within the stripped-back gameplay that once again forms the core experience. Retaining much of the tried-and-tested framework you’d expect of a typical Call Of Duty title, the general gameplay is as satisfying as it always has been across all of its modes, even if the game struggles to revolutionise the traditional CoD formula nor, in the case of the game’s single player campaign, capitalise on its lofty ambition.
Focussing less on the war at large in favour of a more personal, character-driver tale, the much touted campaign of WW2 is just as much about brotherhood, family, and the horrors of war as it is about shooting Nazi’s in the face, or at least that’s what the game would like you to believe. In truth, the roughly 6-hours of play time feels no different to the usual roller coaster ride of high-intensity scripted sequences, bloody shooting galleries and Hollywood-style action cliché. Framing itself around historical battles across the western front and experienced through the eyes of Private Daniels, a soldier of the 1st infantry division, the game desperately tries to build emotional weight through various means, none of which connect effectively.
Whether it’s the bond between Daniels and his group of ragtag squad mates, his conflict with the ever-generic ‘shouty-man with a tortured past’ Sergeant Pierson (played by Hollywood’s Josh Duhamel), or the various ‘shocking’ and gore-riddled moments throughout, none are written or handled well enough to bring the intended “war is hell” sentiment and emotional weight to any of the proceedings. This is only worsened by the game’s self-destructive desire to be a constant loud, unrealistic and outrageous action sequence from start to finish – except for only a few instances – resulting in an odd contrast of tones that never finds a happy medium. Yes, Call Of Duty: WW2 wants you to care deeply and grow attached, but on the other hand, it wants to be a bombastic Hollywood action movie. Unfortunately so, the game succeeds far better at achieving the latter.
While lacking in an impactful narrative, gunning your way through literal armies of Nazi soldiers is of course satisfying, but even its greatest quality doesn’t avoid criticism. Achieving a full-house on the Call Of Duty bingo card, from start to finish each mission along the way feels incredibly familiar and predictable as it progresses through, providing a familiar mix of turret sections, driving sections, escort sections, tank sections, stealth sections, sniper sections, ‘walking around with blurry vision and deafened ear’ sections and many more; they’re all there and feel nothing short of underwhelming. If you’ve played a Call Of Duty campaign before, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Considering there’s a narrative that at least tries to bring something new to the table, it’s a shame to find that the gameplay stays firmly put within its comfort zones. While there’s not an especially bad time to be had here, it is after all a borderline entertaining romp with astonishing visual-audio quality, there’s also not a particularly good one to be found, either. Except for one particular mission that has you acting undercover as a French spy, there are simply no surprises and very few genuine thrills found in-store that even dare to break the mould, and it’s a real shame.
Disappointing as it may be, however, the game’s campaign is not the main draw here for most and, as you would expect from a Call Of Duty title, it’s the multiplayer that forms the real meat and bones of the package. Immediately feeling fresh by comparison, straight out of the gate the grounded, back-to-basics gameplay works massively in the game’s favour, providing a much simpler multiplayer experience to Infinity Ward and Treyarch’s more recent creations. Even without the enhanced mechanics of those releases, WW2’s online skirmishes retain the high-speed, albeit at a slightly slower pace that benefits the classic-style gunplay. At the core of it all, though, the multiplayer remains largely untouched, at least where the mechanics are concerned. If you didn’t enjoy Call Of Duty before, this release is unlikely to change that. For those who enjoy a more standard CoD experience, though, the game is absolutely enjoyable and is not only capable of winning back older fans but, due to the added changes, will go appreciated amongst seasoned veterans.
Representing one of the larger differences thrown into the mix this year, the loadout system has once again seen an overhaul, bringing with it an updated means of player progression and customisability. Presented with five Divisions that serve as unique character classes to play as, all of which bring a mixture of unlockable abilities, equipment, and passive bonuses to the player, only one is selected per loadout and strongly influences the way you play. The Airborne class, for example, favours the use of SMG’s thanks to the inclusion of a weapon suppressor, as well as allowing speed and sprinting bonuses that unlock as you progress and earn experience. Meanwhile, a class such as Infantry provides a rifle bayonet for close-quarters one-hit kills, while also supporting additional bonuses in weapon attachments, increased ammo supplies, and movement speed while aiming. Essentially, Divisions are a collection of pre-existing perks that cover an assortment of play-styles. From there, the player can then choose which weapons they want to use and even select a perk of their own (known now as ‘Basic Training’) to grant further bonuses, mimicking somewhat the classic systems.
Headquarters, the new Destiny-styled hub world, is another welcome addition to the traditional formula that attempts to blend integral gameplay mechanics within a social environment. Set on the liberated shores of Normandy Beach, it’s within this area where players can pick up Service Orders (timed challenges that grant XP bonuses and rewards), test out weapons in the firing range, customise their player profile, challenge players in 1v1 battles and prestige weapons, classes, and player rank, amongst a few other additions. Honestly, it’s an interesting idea that clearly borrows its premise from Bungie’s latest and greatest, but it’s one that doesn’t hold the significant presence it desires within the overall experience. Often finding myself dipping in and out of this hub world very briefly between matches, I never felt encouraged to spend prolonged periods perusing its offerings.
Adding a new 6v6 objective based game mode set within specifically-catered map designs, one last significant addition is the inclusion of the ‘War’ game mode. With several separate objectives found within and a genuine requirement for team-work, it’s styled as a “narrative-driven” offering that surprisingly works well and stands out from the typical run-and-gun, lone-wolf game modes found elsewhere. Taking it in turns to play as the Allied Forces and the Axis, players must attack and defend a series of changing objectives against the opposing team. Despite only a limited map selection at launch, there’s a surprising amount of variety packed across the maps that ensures they avoid growing stale quickly. Showing a lot of promise, it’ll be interesting to see how this mode develops with post-release content, and if it proves successful, it’ll certainly make for an interesting addition in the series moving forward.
Aside from these aforementioned changes, the rest of the package is everything you’d come to expect from a Call Of Duty release. There’s a healthy selection of guns to unlock, upgrade and customise as well as basic training skills to unlock too, there’s a tonne of cosmetic items to earn through the game’s strong presence of loot boxes, and there’s of course the usual mix of classic multiplayer staples such as Team Deathmatch, Domination, Free For All and Capture The Flag that join more modern inclusions such as Kill Confirmed and Gridiron, a spin on Advanced Warfare’s Uplink mode. These game modes are all translated well into the 1940’s aesthetic too, though not all of them feel perfectly suitable for some of the more chaotic, claustrophobic map designs.
Bringing the conversation onto what is perhaps the biggest downfall of the multiplayer, the quality of the included maps is a little uneven when compared to previous instalments. While not necessarily a huge issue in the grand scheme of things, they mostly lean towards the smaller size which is great for most game modes, but not so much for a select few. A mode such as the aforementioned Gridiron can become incredibly messy at times to the point where it’s detriment to the game’s enjoyment. In addition to this, there’s also not so much variety to the map designs themselves either, typically based around a three-lane design they aren’t overly dissimilar to each other at a base-level aside from their own exclusive environments. One of the only real breaks in convention here is found in the map Gustav Cannon which provides an alternative thanks to its larger-scale and more open map design, though this doesn’t always work in the game’s favour. While the maps are far from awful and some are even brilliant, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the maps are feeling a little less inspired than usual this time around, once again another disappointment given the period-era setting and its potential.
Of course, a modern Call Of Duty title wouldn’t be complete without everyone’s favourite spin-off mode: Nazi Zombies, and this particular inclusion shakes things up in a way that makes the latest instalment even more interesting than the last. Taking greater inspiration within its horror elements and evoking more of an essence of Killing Floor, WW2’s healthy dose of wave-based action follows a squad of diverse characters portrayed by the likes of David Tennant, Ving Rhames, Élodie Yung, and Katheryn Winnick, as they battle through zombie-infested snowy streets, sinister labs, sewers and salt mines in a detailed and densely-packed environment that’s full of surprises, puzzles to solve and mysteries. Opting to base itself around a series of central objectives rather than the classic premise of surviving as many waves as possible, this version of zombies plays more like a story-driven mission than modes of the past and it’s integrated well into the gameplay despite how farfetched it becomes. While you can of course choose to ignore these objectives and instead focus solely on survival, these objectives form a significant part of the fun as teamwork is encouraged throughout.
Though it feels initially overwhelming, especially given the complexity of the map, it’s easy to spend straight hours trying time after time to reach the end and discover the many Easter eggs tucked away within the level’s confines. The game mode is difficult and takes a lot of time to master, but thanks to the mode’s very-own unlockable items, XP ranks and collectables, The Final Reich is a map that can easily see repeated through its superb level design and constantly rewarding nature. Displaying a tonne of potential straight away, I’m sure the mode will only get better as more content arrives post-launch.
Iterating upon the game’s systems, Call Of Duty: WW2 is able to provide enough new content to keep fans interested, but without significant change to the formula, it fails at becoming a standout release. Innovation is not one of the game’s strongest points and while the few new additions are certainly welcome and bring an added spice to overly familiar framework, if the game would have delivered on anything less, at least in regards to its multiplayer and campaign, it would have suffered as a result. Perhaps the game is more easily forgiven this year as it’s the first “boots-on-the-ground” release in some time, but it’s clear that if the series fails to push forward once more without huge differences, it’s unlikely to receive the same blessing.
Call Of Duty: WW2, then, is in truth a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s survived thanks to the continued strength of the core multiplayer framework and the surprising spin on its Nazi Zombies offering which work hand-in-hand to balance out the dreadfully uninteresting campaign. Successfully revitalising historical-shooters much in the same way as EA’s Battlefield 1 did only a year prior, WW2’s purer gameplay is a welcome alternative to what came previously. Though at its core it never commits to being much more than “just another Call Of Duty”, what remains here is undoubtedly a fun competitive shooter.