Back to the Front
I’ve never been a part of the “Call of Duty sucks because it exists” crowd. Aside from a few missteps, I’ve generally found the never-ending CoD series to feature enjoyable, high-quality titles. I think Modern Warfare 1 & 2 are uniformly excellent, and Black Ops II has a clever and gripping single player campaign, one of my favourite shooter stories, in fact. I also find the multiplayer quite addictive, perhaps due to its high tension and non-stop action.
But I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Other than some brief time spent with Black Ops III, I’m a little behind on the franchise. It’s after this break from the billion-selling series that I come to Activision’s Call of Duty: WWII, ironically at a time where the publisher is essentially resetting the brand, replacing jet-booted wall-running with crawling through the mud, and interstellar space battles with a grim charge up Normandy beach… again.
Here are my brief thoughts so far on the anticipated new title, seeing as I have somehow become Destructoid’s resident Nazi-smasher. A full review can be expected soon.
Call of Duty: WWII (PS4 [reviewed], PC, Xbox One)
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Released: November 3, 2017
Playing the single player campaign, I was immediately hit by two things (three if you count a mortar shell). Firstly, that the game is visually impressive, with well-layered textures, detailed character models and smart smoke, weather and debris effects. The second is that the story is cramming in every single WWII movie trope: the young, naive G.I, his sweetheart back home, his ultra-aggressive unit commander who probably has a heart of gold, an upbeat buddy who may not make it to the final reel, the femme-fatale French resistance agent. This all combines to take away from the drama, making events predictable and somewhat hokey.
The moral hot-button of “playing” such horrific events as the D-Day landings is something that can be discussed another time, but for now, any such fears I had about the shocking portrayal of 1944’s Paris campaign washed away pretty quickly once I ran up the beach and straight into fantasy land, where car chases along train tracks, death-defying leaps from collapsing clock towers and pulling a drive-by on an exploding train segued the horrors of war into a Michael Bay movie.
I have spent four hours on the single player campaign and I appear to have only a couple of missions left. It has been pretty pedestrian so far, especially by Call of Duty standards, but it does look great and has featured at least one cool section of espionage action, which I’ll touch upon another time.
That leaves what has, for many years, been the meat of CoD: Zombies and Multiplayer. I haven’t spent enough time with Zombies to form an opinion of it, but the creatures themselves are well designed (better than the humans, in fact) and remains suitably suffocating and creepy. As usual, a meagre currency (Volts) is earned then spent on weaponry and defences against waves of shuffling ghouls, with a variety of objectives allowing access to new areas to fight off the Nazi’s undead regiment.
Multiplayer in CoD has been tuned to a fine art by now. It is expected to run well, expected to have given modes, expected to have a ton of frustrating campers, and you’re expected to suck at it (well, the last one might just be me). WWII is no exception. I jumped straight into battle and got right back into getting my ass handed to me via a smooth online experience. My only concern was just how recognisable it is to me. Given that the last CoD game I put a lot of time into was back in 2012, should things seem so identical five years on, particularly in a title designed to launch a new era of the franchise?
The biggest addition to WWII is the “HQ” hub, where players can collect in-game currency, be issued “orders” (essentially daily and weekly challenges), kit out their soldier, and call in the much-mocked “supply drops”, that can be purchased and will supply the player with random goodies, including time-based XP boosts, character emotes, weapon skins, and more.
My initial feelings on Call of Duty: WWII are positive but mixed. The campaign is doing little for me, from a dramatic, character or action perspective, but it’s still a short blast of entertainment. From what I’ve played of multiplayer and zombies thus far, I think die-hard CoD-ers have little reason to be concerned. The modes seem as reliable, as playable and as intense as always, with an insane amount of grinds and unlocks awaiting the dedicated.
Yet I have a nagging feeling that, given WWII’s attempt to rewind the clock to franchise beginnings, that this is the perfect opportunity to capitalise on fresh ideas, new directions and, dare I say, experimentation? I think a return to the wars and weapons of old is an interesting choice, perhaps Activision’s only choice, but why hit the reset button only to then march the same roads once again?
[This Review in Progress is based on a retail build supplied by the publisher]