System Played On: PS4
Like so many others, the Call of Duty franchise has fallen out of favor with me. The recent Call of Duty entries has done little to interest me. Despite the three developer rotation (Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer Games), the series had grown stale with nearly all of the Call of Duty games seemingly about future warfare.
It was a breath of fresh air to see Sledgehammer games return to the roots of the COD franchise with the WWII setting (not seen since Call of Duty: World at War). The excitement wasn’t limited to just the setting, the marketing had been excellent and the promise that Sledgehammer Games was going to be authentic and explore the horrors of war made it especially interesting.
Now, roughly after three weeks of gameplay and finally completing the campaign I can safely say while Call of Duty: WWII is a step up from some of the most recent Call of Duty entries, it is a far cry from the glory days of the franchise.
The campaign perhaps intrigued me the most coming out of the marketing. The story follows private Ronald “Red” Davis (Brett Zimerman) who joins World War II during the invasion of Normandy and fights in the European Theater alongside his Infantry Division led by the tough Sergeant William Pierson (Josh Duhamel).
It is no secret that COD games have long taken their inspiration from the film medium. Modern Warfare ripped moments straight out of Michael Bay movies, and Black Ops took great inspiration from movies such as Deer Hunter. WWII is no different. Playing through the game, film fans will notice moments taken from Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.
The disappointing part is the developers forgot to add the chaos, intensity, and horrific nature of war from these films. The promise leading into WWII was the game was not going to shy away from these themes. While your characters do stop and observe a badly wounded soldier every once in a while, this campaign does little to explore war in a way that previous games haven’t. Exploring these types of topics can be tricky but rewarding. WWII, unfortunately, feels restrained and confused. The campaign feels stuck in between wanting to be a more realistic story and having the over the top action movie moments of previous games.
The frantic pace never encourages the player to slow down and take in their surroundings or observe the situation at hand. In typical COD fashion, you will continue to plow ahead killing enemy soldier after enemy soldier, barely breathing to take cover. In many ways, WWII feels far less brave and mature than the gusty moves made by Infinity Ward to place you behind the role of a terrorist in MW2.
The characters of the game are equally as disappointing. WWII has the same stock characters that have been populating stories from World War II since the end of the actual war. The hard-ass, the country boy, the fast talker and so on, the characters in WWII don’t evolve much past that. Despite there being some attempts throughout the campaign to develop them, they never feel like much more than two dimensional NPCs. The main character “Red” is equally flat and his narration comes off as cheesy.
The level design of the game doesn’t improve things either. The first half of the 11 mission long campaign is frequently boring and short. Long term, the game also features repetitive mission designs that almost always seem to end with a massive firefight in an open field. Missions that include you taking over a tank or a P-47 Thunderbolt offer breaks from the standard formula. Another mission includes you going undercover as a German spy and is easily another standout. Despite these missions, the game never feels like it is able to break its own mold leaving the campaign feeling disappointing.
The Call of Duty franchise’s bread and butter for years has been it’s been it’s addictive (albeit repetitive) multiplayer. The ingenious aspect about recent Call of Duty’s multiplayer was it designed for uniformity on console gameplay. Anyone that picked up a copy of Call of Duty all had the same chance as anyone else as long as they kept playing. It’s a lightweight, quick, and action-heavy multiplayer that becomes more of who pulls the trigger first rather than who was the most tactical. There isn’t anything wrong with this and history has proven this approach, effective. Fast deaths but even quicker respawn time has worked for Call of Duty for years.
As a player who enjoyed Call of Duty in the yesteryears, I found the online component to be once again addicting but not without its frustrations. The gameplay itself felt smooth and weapons, for the most part, were well balanced. The troubles for WWII‘s multiplayer really come into play with the maps themselves. There are 10 maps on the disk and are mostly poorly designed. The maps are mostly small in scale and are reliant on close quarter combat. There are too many corners in the maps with far too many places to get shot from. The Call of Duty franchise is built to be a fast run and gun style of gameplay but the maps work against this. You’ll be too afraid to run around a corner because you’ll get shot from three or four different directions. The small standouts of the maps were Gustav Cannon and USS Texas.
The biggest addition to the Multiplayer is the new War mode. War mode is narrative driven and has team-based objectives that were sort of a mix between Overwatch, Halo 5’s Warzone, and Battlefield’s Rush modes. This is by far the best addition Sledgehammer Games has made to the game’s online multiplayer. One map had two big teams exchanging sniper fire through smoke while one team attempts to build a bridge. This is some of the most fun I have had playing Call of Duty in years. It’s just enough of departure from typical COD gameplay to feel fresh but not alien to longtime players.
The new headquarters mode, while interesting, was little more than wasted space to drop loot boxes. There isn’t a whole lot of reason spend time walking around your camp to get information that Sledgehammer should have just put on menu screens anyways.
Unfortunately, the game also includes microtransactions. I didn’t feel the game was really creating a situation that would force me to buy them (this could be because I don’t play the multiplayer as extensively as others). But regardless they are there and shouldn’t be.
There are numerous technical issues I’ve encountered as well. The hit detection is very fickled and incredibly frustrating. I’ve also noticed that the game board did not count several of my kills during matches. These are things that should have easily been fixed through the development of the game.
All in all, the Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer ranks on the more positive side than negative. The War mode appears to be the mode that is going to take up the majority of my time as a player. If only the rest of the maps and spawn points were better thought out this could have been an amazing multiplayer like older Call of Duty games.
The Zombies mode has been my favorite game mode in Call of Duty for a long time. While it started off as a simple survival mode for Call of Duty: World At War, it has taken off with a life of its own with now over a dozen zombie maps to date. The mode has had a simple formula in the past and arguably peaked with Call of Duty: Black Ops. Sledgehammer has taken the Treyarch led the project and really made it their own. While once again this isn’t really anything brand new, Sledgehammer takes the strengths of Zombies and adds a bit new of a new paint coating and delivers two excellent Zombies maps to boot.
Under Sledgehammer Games, the gameplay feels a bit smoother and I felt I had better control of my character than in previous outings. Early rounds give you the feeling that you can take more a punch than in previous games. But, don’t let that fool you once you get deeper into your matches these zombies are mean, fast and ready to eat your guts. The goofier elements of the Zombie mode have been stripped away and replaced with a dark and somber tone. This is the most horror driven Zombies has been in a long time.
There are only two maps at launch but that is really all that is needed for this game. The Final Reich is a sprawling map and arguably one of the best the series has ever produced. It has complexity but yet feels simple. There is almost always a strategy that the player(s) can employ to get out of tough situations yet it is still challenging all the same. There is a lot to explore with the map; I feel I am constantly finding new rooms, sewers, and new ways to play. There are boss fights, Easter eggs, and quest like objectives, with plenty of variety in the gameplay.
The second map is called Groesten Haus. This is a basic map that is simply just a two-story house. There isn’t much to it but remains a fun time waster and a fast-paced zombie map. It is very stripped down with limited guns and limited perks. I’m very excited to see how Sledgehammer will expand their Zombie mode in the future.
Call of Duty: World War II is a mixed bag. While stronger than the previous Call of Duty games it still has a number of problems that hold it back from being a great game. The campaign is disappointing and repetitive and the multiplayer, while still addicting, suffers hugely from a lack of strong maps. The Zombies mode is easily the strongest mode the game has to offer and has taken up the majority of my gameplay hours. This does, however, have enough to offer that makes it worth picking up (although I would wait until the price is discounted). The new War mode is fun and the setting is a breath of fresh air. The strengths of the game does represent a small step back in the right direction for the franchise. It is not though the savior that some were hoping for but instead will be a good building block for the future.