Gaming doesn’t have a Hollywood, but if it did, Call of Duty: WWII would be its next huge blockbuster hit. If you look at recent hits, games like Cuphead has its insane difficulty and inkblot graphics, PUBG has its 100-player chaos and chicken dinners, and the list goes on. Many of these are just simple games, but all feature some new gimmick or feature that sets social media alight. They’re kind of pushing their genres forward while inventing new things that will shape the future of gaming for years to come.
Then we have Call of Duty, an annual franchise that has stumbled a bit over the last few years, but now looks to have found a fresh rhythm by returning to its World War II boots roots. Gone are the jet packs and electromagnetic things, and hover bikes, and digital future stuff. We’re now back in a muddy trench clutching an M1 Garand.
Say what you like, but nothing delivers a good old-fashioned action spectacle extravaganza like Call of Duty. Its quality cut-scenes, believable (if a little clichéd) characters, and immersive sound engineering all deliver a solid 6-8 hour single-player campaign that’ll leave you more than satisfied. Some people aren’t going to like it because it’s a little been there done that, but most people are going to love it because it does what it says on the box – grand scale blockbuster action video game.
The setting is World War II, and as a a retelling of history there’s not much you can do with the story except focus on a soldier/platoon/whatever experiencing exceptional circumstances. Like Saving Private Ryan, or more recently Hacksaw Ridge and Fury, when the story is generally known you need to find something exceptional to talk about, a unique angle. Call of Duty: WWII isn’t exceptional or terribly unique, but for the medium it’s working in, it’s as close as you’re going to get. In this game you play Ronald “Red” Daniels, a private that seems to be able to do everything from opening doors to manning AA guns. Of course, it would be rather dull just being some infantry grunt running into German machine gun fire, so the game keeps you busy by giving you jobs. It’s nothing really new and does feel like you’ve done these things before in other games, even in other Call of Duty games. It’s fun and engaging, however, and you’re never left wondering what needs to happen next.
Sometimes the action will switch to other characters that will see you controlling a tank or plane. The action is mixed between sneaking missions, and a fun infiltration mission where you play a French resistance female soldier, and then there’s the usual running and shooting and sniping and driving and dying. It seems the developers want to keep the player busy doing as many things as possible during the campaign. It works very well and you’re never doing the same thing in the same place. Each mission is set in a unique location that’ll have you doing something different to further the cause.
One minor issue is where the action switches from the usual WASD and mouse to pressing the F key while a dog or soldier tries to kill you. These are set moments where you need to perform certain key presses and mouse movements to complete a task. They’re not frequent and they do work as a way to tell a story. But not everyone is going to appreciate the method used here. Additionally, hidden around the maps are mementos you must find and collect. These include things like a lighter or a gas mask. If you’re looking to complete this objective you can add another few hours onto the game time. The large size of the maps and the randomness of the items will mean you’re going to be looking for a long time.
Beside that side job you’ll sometimes be presented with the opportunity to perform a heroic action like drag a wounded soldier out of danger or save a life. These heroic actions are also added to your end mission report, and each one is a fun distraction that’s hard to complete successfully.
The character and story and situations you’ll find yourself in are entertaining. The game doesn’t rely too much on clichéd characters to tell the story. There are some surprises and the story parts in between the action parts are rather well put together, almost movie-like in quality, and you can even get a sense of emotions from the characters, almost like you know that guy is hiding something just because of the way he looked at you. Yes, it’s that good. Of course you can’t get away from the fact that this is just another World War II game. There is a sense that the game knows that you’ve probably been on that beach on D-Day a hundred times already in your video gaming career, so it’s doesn’t linger too long on familiar ground. It’s subtle, but it’s there, a kind of self-awareness that you’ll appreciate if you notice it.
Overall, the technical stuff like guns, and graphics, and loading times, and difficulty settings are all there and perform as you’d expect from something like this. One area that needs special mention is the sound. Explosions, gun fire, tank tracks and screaming German soldiers all put you deep in the war and let you forget sometimes that you’re playing a video game.
For what it is the single player game is another high quality blockbuster event that delivers in all the right places. The negative issues are so minor they’re not worth talking about because they don’t detract from the game. It’s going to be very interesting to see where Activision takes us too next year because topping this is going to be hard.
Let’s just get this out the way before anything else is said. Call of Duty: WWII is exactly the same Call of Duty we’ve all been playing for years. It seems the only things you need to learn each year is where the weapon upgrades slot are so you can upgrade your guns and how the new menus work. The game has five different classes – Infantry (assault), Airborne (SMG), Armored (LMG), Mountain (sniper), and Expeditionary (shotgun) divisions. There’s enough variation right at the start to satisfy most playing styles, and of course as you rank up, you start unlocking new guns and abilities and before you can shout “CAMPER!”, you’ll be customising everything as you see fit. The old WWII guns are always fun to use, and we haven’t seen these weapons since that enduring NAG favourite, Call of Duty: World at War. Which was also, incidentally, the one that first introduced us to the famed Zombies mode. More on that later.
Being set in World War II means no fancy HUD or crazy jet packs. It really is boots in the mud and nothing will be missed from the last few versions of this franchise. But that said, it’s still the exact same game you’ve been playing for the last six years – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Call of Duty has a certain feel to it that satisfies a need in the gaming community.
Speaking of the community – this also hasn’t changed. Just a day into the release people are already into their prestige levels, mapped out all the grenade spots, and found all the camping nests, and there’s a lot of moaning and complaining about camping, sniping, and shotguns. So it’s the usual story. The other niggle is that the South African Call of Duty player base only seems to want to play TDM, and Hardcore, War, Search and Destroy are deserted most of the time. This is sad because War is a nice addition, featuring map objectives, like defend this point or escort that tank. If your team is successful the next objective is flagged until you win the round or repel the enemy. It’s fun and forces everyone to play properly.
There are nine general access maps and three War maps on offer. They’re all lovely to look at and feature enough ways around preventing any team gaining too much of an advantage. The maps are functional, but not exceptional. In the collection there are no stand out maps like Firing Range, Summit, or Estate, and nothing fun and cool like Hijack or Nuketown. One or two of them might end up being memorable, but for the most part they do the job and don’t ask any questions.
Outside of the action is a place called Headquarters where players are supposed to open supply drops (loot boxes), get paid, and do other things like pick up challenges or unlock skins. The only decent thing in this part of the game is the ability to test score streaks out on a live fire range. The Headquarters concept fails because you have to exit the game lobby and then load the Headquarters map. If the developers were smart they should have hosted this feature on the map currently about to be played or had just been played. People don’t like leaving their game to check email and click on things the designers thought were fun. It’s almost like they don’t play the game they’re making. But it’s not a big thing – just a silly thing. In summary, the action is good. All the things that were dragging the series down are gone, and in their place is some good old-fashioned fighting. How it all plays out is only something time will tell, but it’s safe to say this Call of Duty is the best one we’ve seen since Black Ops II.
There’s not much to say here other than the team that developed the Zombies mode is Raven Software, who you may remember from Heretic II and Soldier of Fortune. Besides those golden oldies, Raven has also been working on Call of Duty games since Black Ops. But that’s enough with the history lesson.
This is the seventh Zombies mode since it all started in Call of Duty: World at War, and kind of returns to the roots of the sub-genre because you’re shooting Nazi zombies. The main game is still convoluted from an objective point of view, so you’ll be opening valves and spending money to access new areas, and desperately playing the magic box (which feels like it opens up much slower than normal and also has far too many sniper rifles in its warehouse). You do all this objective work while avoiding the zombies, who just don’t respect your personal space… at all.
It’s a ton of fun, includes some new classes and abilities, and there’s a map that’s just a two-story house. No unlocking doors, or starting generators, or dicking around here. In this house, it’s survive until you die, just like the classic Nacht der Untoten map – the one that started it all. Of course, that’s not to say this small map doesn’t hide any secrets. The Zombies experience is always a fun and panicked ride, and Raven has given it a fresh coat of paint without adding anything too different or crazy. One nice additional touch is a dab of dramatic music when a zombie just appears in front of your character or climb through a window – it keeps you on your toes, but other than that that it all feels like a safe choice in a very unsafe, flesh-gnawing environment.