War as we know it has been a boots on the ground battle, with of course the exception of vehicles such as airplanes and tanks. And as of late, the Call of Duty franchise has shaken up the formula and taken both a modern and futuristic approach. With enhanced weapons and tech that would greatly be an advantage to new soldiers in modern warfare, while even taking the series to space and new planets, Call of Duty had started to fall down a slope. Aside from the futuristic weapons, mods and attachments, there were jetpacks and robots, which provided a new and fun way to play the fast paced shooter, and albeit fundamentally useful for tactics and positioning, it became flawed and nonsensical to what defined Call of Duty as a franchise.
Call of Duty: WWII however returns with the definition of boots on the ground, allowing for a refreshing return to that style of combat in the FPS genre. With cinematic inspiration from movies and television such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, CoD: WWII provides an intimate window into the routine of a small platoon while highlighting the struggle between maintaining a brotherhood with the soldiers around you and wanting to safely get back home to family.
Rather than portraying key missions from throughout the entirety of the Second World War, Call of Duty: WWII opens in 1944 while storming the beaches of Normandy in what is greatly known as D-Day. The story continues into the months following D-Day through the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge and into Germany as the Allied Forces achieve victory to end the war in 1945.
With a brief narrated vignette, similar to reading a journal entry, the campaign is played out as interactive memories of sorts, and focuses on the unbreakable brotherhood between Private Ronald “Red” Daniels and a selection of elite soldiers within his platoon. This team, like any other, is comprised of soldiers who would do anything to protect one another on the battlefield for the freedom of their allied countries. While friendly between combat, past events and egos however get in the way, tensions rise, and it nearly costs the survival of the entire platoon.
Deeper yet is the emotional memory between Daniels and his brother who taught him to hunt, and was a driving inspiration for him to join the army. Daniels struggles with the tough decisions of war, much like he did when he was younger when staring death in the eye, but with more at stake, including his army brotherhood. With a promotion, and a friend missing, Daniels must step up to save his one of his own, while making it safely home to his wife and soon to be born child.
The routine action packed campaign you come to expect from Call of Duty is apparent. With shots coming from all angles from an onslaught of enemy soldiers, snipers hiding above, buildings collapsing all around you, mortar shells landing nearby, and train cars exploding and rolling over you with near death experiences. Yet, surprisingly after it all, you somehow manage to escape.
Although over the top for cinematic beauty, it really puts you into the shoes of a soldier and instills fear of the battlefield. One minute you are at a seemingly safe checkpoint on the frontline chatting with your buds or briefing a mission when unexpectedly a barrage of bombs or bullets from a swarm of enemies hits the camp.
Much of the gameplay involves the player leading Private Daniels through iconic missions during the war while his squadmates follow along to provide support via their tactical specialties. However some missions involve the story of other characters to mix up the style of gameplay and focus on their expertise rather than making Daniels a jack of all trades. For instance, a mission may require tank support to clear out a large number of enemies troops whereas you are given the ability to drive a tank around while portraying another character. A surprising moment to me was when you are given a moment of aerial combat to protect your bombers as they flew into position above coordinates provided by Daniels.
Perhaps the most captivating moment of CoD: WWII, is the varied stealth missions, most notably the espionage mission. These missions are mostly portrayed by Daniels on a solo or duo mission to flank the enemy or rescue a captured soldier. However one exhilarating mission in particular is when you play as a French spy named Rousseau in which she must infiltrate a German command post in Paris. In addition to being invited into the building, using her cunning wits and charm, she is able to flawlessly sneak around the buildings restricted areas and use the shadows of the night to eliminate guards from behind, while pushing forward to complete the objective of planting bombs to provide entry points for her team. The mission is a key turning point in the middle of the campaign and sets this year’s release apart from previous entries in the franchise. One downside with the stealth missions is the simplicity, and non-responsive enemies. For instance, if you take down an enemy and another walks near or over his dead body, he doesn’t tend to react with suspicion. He just simply walks on. If you focus on the objective ahead and ignore the simple mechanics, you likely won’t notice this issue, but it does take away from the fear of getting caught.
As mentioned earlier, your squad is equipped with numerous items given their class. These are unlocked much like killstreaks in that you kill enemies and gain points towards them.
Squad specialist helps with restocking items. Giving ammo, grenades, first aid, highlighting enemies ahead. Much like scorestreaks. As you kill, you add points to the squadmate circle until it is full and you can be rewarded with what they offer.
Each mission offers heroic actions which can optionally be completed which involve saving a fellow soldier in various situations. Sometimes it involves you pulling a soldier behind cover who has been shot down and exposed. It may involve a hostage situation where a soldier is held captive at gunpoint and you must talk him into releasing him or a well placed shot causing him to let the soldier go. It may also involve you coming across a few enemy soldiers willing to surrender and the decision is yours to let them drop their guns and live.
After futuristic combat with jetpacks and crazy gun options, Call of Duty: WWII returns to its roots with boots on the ground combat. Multiplayer is the bread and butter of Call of Duty and this year’s entry is no different in terms of replayability and variety in gametypes.
A new narrative multiplayer mode called War puts players into one of 3 progressive operations with multiple capture points as you and 5 squadmates push the frontline against 6 enemy players. War mode mixes the usual multiplayer gun combat, but players can also patch up walls, barricade doors and setup barb wire coils to slow the progression of the enemy. As well, tanks are available at the beginning of one mission in a linear path which seems like it would be an easy push forward, but the enemy is given many sneaky flank routes to eliminate the tanks if played strategically.
Fret not, the Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search and Destroy, Hardpoint and Kill Confirmed modes that players love are still available. 9 maps are available at launch, with the 10th, Carentan available with the purchase of a Season Pass or Deluxe version of the game. Each map feels balanced and fun to play on, with the exception of 1 or 2 being small and difficult to manage the spawn rotations.
Call of Duty: WWII multiplayer continues with small narratives via the Headquarters set on the beach of Normandy. The Headquarters is a new social hub for players to interact with each other and to talk to NPC characters. Multiple divisions are available with various class bonuses and you can talk to characters to prestige the division and weapons. Also in the headquarters you can check your mail, pick up daily missions for enhanced EXP and even open your supply drops in front of others to either boast your rewards or be made fun of for the poor RNG luck. Within the headquarters, you can also set up to the shooting range and enter 1v1 arena all in one fluid environment. This sounds all well and great, except, only when it actually works. At launch, the system was either too premature for launch, or the servers couldn’t handle the amount of players in the game. Not only was it difficult to get into the social hub to interact with NPC players, but the matchmaking of games was difficult to actually get into and laggy at best. Although it was a poor launch, the servers were fixed within a few weeks time.
Another popular mode, at least, within a niche player base, is the zombie mode. Featuring yet another varied narrative with an alternate zombie twist on history, you and a squad of mercenaries, each with their own buffs for combat, fend off hordes of zombies while running around the map completing objectives to net you money to buy new weapons, defensive objects and unlock new parts of the map.
The visuals in Call of Duty: WWII varies between cinematic realism with pre-rendered cutscenes, while blending in first person action shots and mission briefings that seamlessly put you right into the action in one take. Occasionally the animations are rough, as if missing a final pass in fine tuning, but it is minimal and doesn’t detract too much from the emotion you are meant to feel.
Music is reminiscent of Star Wars at times, not only with with the horns and drawn out strings, but with the sound style to deliver in an upbeat, mysterious and action packed soundtrack. There are many key emotional queues within, to engage a reaction which help heighten the visual moment on screen and progress the mission with an intended mindset. It delivers a unique sound to the game but is familiar to the series with many stabbing hits.
Gameplay features an unnerving, threatening soundscape with bullets flying past your ears, screams of pain from soldiers nearby who have been shot or have had limbs blown off by explosions. The deafening ringing and blurring vision as grenades nearly miss you with just the remnants/edges of the blast radius stunning you. The callouts of your fellow troops nearby and the fear of what German soldiers are saying on the other side of the wall or trench as you point guns at each other.
With only the sounds of muddy boots sloshing through the mud or crunching on gravel, the distant pop of gunfire, the only fearful sound is the charging scream of a soldier with a bayonet.
Should you keep it enabled and choose to listen for it, their is an option for ghost troops to call out enemy positions as you move about in a multiplayer match, much like single player. It is an immersive feature to contain the player within the fight and make it seem like there are more troops nearby and I found myself slowing down as I hear the callout for the location ahead so I can line up my shot for the enemy to run into rather than myself running into bullet fire unprepared.