World War Oooooooh….
Game: Call of Duty: WW2
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Call of Duty finally returns to its roots and brings with it the series’ trademark set-pieces and fast-paced gun fights. With a strong campaign, some good multiplayer ideas and plenty of modes and progression to keep you hooked, Sledgehammer’s historic shooter is one of the more memorable iterations we’ve seen for a while. That said, for all the reinvigoration, there’s still something undeniably stale about Call of Duty: WW2, even with those boots firmly back on the ground.
So, we’ve come full circle. From historic portrayals, to modern warfare, black-ops, ghosts, sci-fi and back again. Here, we’re back in the trenches to where the goliath gaming franchise first cut their teeth and for me personally, it’s a relief. For perspective, you’re reading a review from someone who was passionate about the first 4-5 games the series, only to slowly fade out of love with yearly iterations and a direction that didn’t suit my tastes. So even though I was happy to see the series take a deep breath, I still entered the campaign with a certain amount of trepidation.
If the majority are like me, the campaign was always second to the multiplayer; something to dip in and out of when you needed a little break between a prestige grind; I’m sure some even bypassed it altogether. If you were planning something along those lines in this game you may be doing yourself a disservice, as you’ll be missing one of the best campaigns the series has ever produced. Part of that is probably down to the historical impact of WWII and knowing Sledgehammer’s intense Hollywood twists are outrageous fabrication, heavily dusting over some harrowing truths. But the narrative remains engaging enough, and character portrayals strong enough, to keep you invested in its Band of Brothers-esque trope across the Western front from the outset of the D-Day landings.
Whilst the game doesn’t really break from the typical Call of Duty wave shooting and cinematic set-piece staples, it does throw in some truly nerve-wracking moments that have you heavily invested in the action, some of which are glorious, some heart-breaking. In fact, immersion feels better than it has for a while. CoD: WW2’s presentation is exemplary, bringing a visceral feel to its battle grounds from the chaos on the beaches of Normandy to the icy cold of the Ardennes Forest, each bringing its own sense of peril and growing comradery amongst the cast.
This comradery and immersion is aided by the decision to use health packs and then further pushing the mechanic by having your squad be responsible for issuing med-kits or granting you ammo. Each member develops a role to aid you in the fight and can be called on whenever you need something. Calling on one will have him scout and give you locations of enemy fighters, whilst another will toss you a coloured smoke to throw and call in a support strike on that location. It all does well to keep you immersed in the fight and creates some important gameplay choices such as knowing when use a health pack against focusing enemy fire, or using artillery at the right moment, to get you out of a fix.
There’s certainly something to be said about the vulnerability of a 1940’s soldier. Without high-tech gadgetry and less exotic weapon load-outs you end up feeling less powerful, and as a result each fight feels like there’s more at stake. The campaign overall is guilty of treading old ground in the way mission objectives put you to task and sometimes the impactful action sequences don’t always sit well with the ‘horror of war’ tone that CoD: WW2 often tries to portray. In truth, some of the finest moments in the campaign come from the downtime sequences; walking ammo across the Ardennes Forest to resupply a team whilst soaking in the bleak atmosphere is particularly well done. That said, the entire campaign kept me interested until the end and presents itself particularly well on the whole.
For the most part the regression to WWII also benefits the multiplayer. The new mode War takes a little inspiration from Battlefield and its similar CoD3 mode and it works well in tandem with frantic respawning mechanics and the way defensive positions are set up. You also have your tried and tested modes such as free-for-all, deathmatch and domination and all feel like a Call of Duty title albeit with historical weaponry. The biggest problem I’ve found is the superlative atmosphere built by the campaign is severely lacking in multiplayer. Stepping into games can feel claustrophobic at times and combat is a little rigid compared to some other shooters. Often I found myself underwhelmed by the lack of urgency that’s inevitably more apparent in the twitch shooting itself, than the surroundings and soundscape.
There’s certainly something positive to be said about CoD’s fast, contained cycle of spawn/kill/death but even if the War mode does create some good moments, overall multiplayer lacks the dynamic narrative of open warfare you might see in Battlefield’s large-scaled fights, for instance. However, if you like your gameplay more focused, Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer is rock solid without breaking out of too much CoD tradition, for better or worse. It’s a very good shooter, perhaps tighter now thanks to being retrospective, than it was with the freedom of science fiction.
Outside of multiplayer you’ll find a new social space set on Normandy’s beach head. It’s a mish-mash of complex levelling through a new ‘Divisions’ system and cool distractions, which actually turns out particularly well. Picking up bounties, testing out killstreaks on the practice range, engaging in a 1v1 mode and even messing around in some retro Activision titles all sit well, even if not really in line with the location and narrative. Zombies mode also returns with its fast paced, light-hearted wave based shooting with some light puzzles worked in for good measure. I can’t see the mode’s loyal community having many issue with it, even though it’s not really my go-to mode out of the three.
So, in a franchise that hits us so regularly, the choice to go back to its roots seems a good one. Here you’ll find a beautiful and engaging campaign, backed up with a typically solid multiplayer and zombie modes to create an excellent package all round. Call of Duty: WW2 certainly isn’t a rehash or a team running out of ideas, and although the majority is what you might expect from the series without pushing any boundaries, it does it all well and in some places, a dash of style.