Reviews February 26, 2018

Call of Duty: WWII

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr
System: Xbox One (Also on PS4, PC)
Genre: FPS
Rated: M
Players: 1-2 (2-18 online)
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 11/03/2017
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Sledgehammer Games

It was only a matter of time before the next Call of Duty theme reverted to simpler times. Whether it was due to the nostalgic trappings of older titles or the clamor of the fans who disliked where the franchise was headed, the writing was on the wall. That doesn’t mean the decision to tackle an old war was a good one – the success of EA’s Battlefield I notwithstanding. There are multiple reasons why developers moved away from historically- based shooters, one of which being how worn the subject has become.

Call of Duty: WWII stood poised to showcase its European theatre by opening with an Allied invasion of Normandy. Army Private First Class Ronald Daniels, the star of the show, battles his way up the beach with his fellow countrymen. Orders are barked by his Sergeant as he moves through trenches, clearing out Nazis on the way to the enemy’s bunkers and machine gun encampments. The scene is mostly chaotic. Enemy artillery pounds the beach, leaving crimson painted craters and scattered limbs in their wake.

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The explosive display was sure to wow newer audience members. Long time patrons would’ve noticed the similarities to older scripts; the events of D-Day (and World War II in general) have been covered extensively in past titles. And while some of the campaign’s major events included new locations and unfamiliar faces, they were often utilized in the typical CoD fashion. When it comes to our heroes, we get some banter about who’s waiting for them back in the states and how much of a jerk their commanding officer was. A lot of the talking dealt with the coming mission though, making it difficult to care about these characters at first. Brief chats and cliché lines surrounded by war jargon hinderd the narrative. On the gameplay side, we got stealthy treks behind enemy lines, bombastic car chases, and desperate charges against overwhelming odds moments before the cavalry arrives. Basically, more of what we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

None of this redundancy would cause gamers to stop playing in protest of course. Even though it treads familiar ground, the action is palpable at times; my stomach dropped when I witnessed Daniels’ fall from an exploding bell tower. Whether they occurred during the fortification of a prized location or while providing support for fellow countrymen, the frenzied fire fights always got the blood pumping. Sledgehammer, like the other CoD developers, knows how to create engaging action sequences. Small but impactful changes to the formula (like the removal of regenerating health) heightened these encounters. I especially liked the heroic actions – times where Daniels would choose to save fellow countrymen by dragging them to safety or by slaying their attacker – as it allowed for instances of self-sacrifice that weren’t exclusively cinematic. No, that sort of treatment was saved for the larger than life moments. Like when a train is derailed and its cars rain down around our heroes after being flipped into the air.

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The story also picks up a bit towards the end. It’s only after spending a significant amount of time with Daniels’ squad do we start to see how well they’re handling their predicaments. It never reaches the heights of  Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan, which seemed to be the goal alongside providing an authentic depiction of the war, but it did give the viewers heroes to root for. This is true even for some of the supporting characters…

Some of the best segments were the ones that were absent of the normal run and gun. Take the “Liberation” chapter, where our focus shifts to  Camille Denis (or Rosseau), one of the leaders of the French Resistance. Camille and her partner were tasked with infiltrating the German headquarters located in Paris. Their goal was to collect a briefcase armed with explosives from an informant; they were to be planted in strategic locations, signaling the moment when their allies waiting outside were to attack. Unlike the other missions, majority of this one was handled without firing a single shot. Things were still tense though. Not only did Camille have to keep up her disguise, where giving the wrong answer to a scrutinizing Nazi soldier could mean death, she also had to hide her emotions. Her cover was that of a Nazi official sent to deliver travel documents to Polizeifuhrer Heinrich, the SS Police Leader of France. A hated individual, Heinrich was also the man responsible for the death of Camille’s family. Their inevitable meeting was easily one of the most memorable moments of the game.

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All and all, CoD: WWII delivered a decent campaign. The cast was well voiced, drama ensued, and there were interesting breaks from the normal routine. Sledgehammer played it a bit too safe when it came to the overall gameplay and plot, but you can’t really blame them. I’d imagine most of the stories pulled from WWII would have similar unfolding of events. Or at the very least, they’d be forced through the same lens to make them enjoyable for Call of Duty fans looking for an action-packed experience. At the end of the day, this is entertainment. And the campaign, despite its weaknesses , is entertaining.

The multiplayer offerings are also entertaining but for a different reason. Instead of adding more options, a ton of gaming elements were stripped away/toned down. There are still classes, perks, and killstreaks but they are streamlined into easily digestible versions. For example, the classes (called Divisions) provide one major and three minor perks this time around. None of them are super impactful – the Airborne Division allows you to add silencers to certain guns, the ability to vault over obstacles quicker, and to run slightly faster and longer than normal. Weapons have the normal unlockable add-ons like better scopes and grips that reduce recoil. Gone are the crazy perks, special abilities (like being able to rewind time), craft table stat-boosting for weapons and so on. This translates to more even gunplay and less confusion preparing for it. Players can focus on shooting each other as opposed to crunching the numbers on all the different “options” at their fingertips.

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Contrary to what one may think, the removal of the extra fluff and introduction of classic weapons doesn’t slow things down a bit. Players won’t be wallrunning or double jumping around a map this time around. Still, it doesn’t take long to sprint to a contested location during a given match. There’s no guarantee you’ll make it there of course, as fire fights are rampant and death comes quick. This is due to how powerful the WWII arsenal is, regardless of the respective rates of fire. The balance is a little off causing players to lean towards certain weapons – the shotguns and submachine gun are especially lethal.

All of the classic match types – Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Capture the Flag, etc. – make the cut. A new arrival, called War, looked to shake things up. It’s similar to other objective based modes in other shooters, where one team has to complete a set of tasks while the opposing team tries to stop them. The offensive team will have to do things like guide a tank to a certain location or plant and guard a bomb, all within a given time limit. It’s the defensive team’s job to hold the lines until the clock hits zero. Whatever the outcome, at the end of a round, the roles are switched. The winner is determined by how successful they were in each role. If there’s a tie – like both teams won a round a piece – then they’ll be judged by how quickly they completed their objectives. War isn’t the most unique mode ever and won’t compete with Overwatch (or any other objective based game). It is, however, a fun alternative to the bread and butter options found in every CoD.

There’s also a new public space called Headquarters, where players can pick up contracts (time sensitive assignments that net XP, in-game currency, and supply drops), test out their weapons at a gun range, watch pro CoD matches, try out some mini-games and so on. It’s a nice idea, as social hubs go, and I love how you can try out scorestreaks on AI controlled enemies. I was a little concerned with how it serves as a means of getting people to purchase loot crates though. While visiting the headquarters, players can call down supply drops, the contains of which can be seen by anyone nearby. Offered as a means for the player to brag about the cosmetic items being unlocked, it’s also a way of tempting others to buy them. This is especially true when someone snags something rare. One can argue that this practice isn’t entirely immoral, as it’s possible to win these boxes through continual play. It does feel a little heavy handed though, considering how Sledgehammer didn’t hide their motives; there’s a “social mission” that actually rewards players for watching other people unlock items. 

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Most players will be satisfied with the game’s competitive options. Some of the maps have more effective layouts than others in terms of spawns and choke points, there’s the occasional bug to contend with, and the systems developed to push loot boxes and microtransactions isn’t entirely welcome, regardless of how cool Headquarters is conceptually. Beyond those things though, CoD: WWII’s running and gunning is as exciting as it ever was. That’s not the case with the ever-popular Zombies mode. And by that, I mean this is the one area where Sledgehammer totally knocked it out of the park. New features like a prologue that teaches newcomers what to expect and guided objectives prop up its simple, yet allusive narrative. The visual improvements also help by replacing the campy vibes with “realistic” depictions of the undead; Zombies is more horror than comedy this time around. An extensive list of straight forward perks makes surviving with friends (or strangers) a little easier.  

All of these things increase Zombies’ accessibility. While it doesn’t show players how to solve the story-based puzzles, the guided objectives at least give them an idea of what to do. The abilities and perks help staving off death slightly longer than before, creating a “just one more time” affect. And the fact that the perks aren’t confusing makes them more desirable. It’s easier to see how effective an unlimited ammo perk is vs. a “burn zombies who attack you” ability (though to be fair, there are perks that act in a similar fashion in this game as well). Teamwork is required to survive for any solid length of time. Overcoming the odds feels great but failing isn’t so bad either. There are secrets that can be discovered, additional objectives to find, and extra characters to unlock with each playthrough. Basically, Zombies has been elevated above its horde mode trappings to provide a generally entertaining experience regardless of how well each player performs. That isn’t an easy thing to do!

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Call of Duty: WWII is the throwback that fans wanted. Sure, the move past modern warfare didn’t always fair well. While I’ve always felt that the franchise maintained a certain “DNA”, the push towards futuristic engagements caused Call of Duty to teeter on the edge of its subgenre; it wasn’t Halo, but (for some) it wasn’t exactly CoD either. So, it should come to no surprise that this WWII was well received. Personally, the risks that were taken and the changes to the formula are what excites me most about this yearly released title. I’m not looking for a developer to reinvent the wheel, just to do something interesting with it. And in that regard, Sledgehammer did an ok job. Thankfully, they also delivered on what was expected of them.

Gameplay: 9
The campaign offers an engaging experience. It does rely heavily on the past; Sledgehammer played it a little too safe. The good news is that the multiplayer and Zombie modes make up for the “by the numbers” story.

Graphics: 10
Call of Duty: WWII might be the best-looking Call of Duty ever, especially on the Xbox One X!

Sound: 10
The voice work, sound effects, and music (regardless of mode) is well implemented.

Replay Value: 9
The competitive multiplayer has been made accessible again and Zombies is at its best!

Final Score:

9.5