Call of Duty: World War II – Proof that you can teach an old COD new tricks
It wouldn’t be Call of Duty without vehicles and mounted gun sections.
WAR, IT SEEMS, changes on an annual basis, and sometimes comes full circle. The decision to return to World War II was controversial, but a reboot could help revitalize a series that’s been looking a bit tired, if not lacking in imagination, across its most recent installments. Single-player is treated less as training for multiplayer this time, and benefits hugely from it.
Here we have war divided into 45-minute packages, in which huge events are thrown away, and drama is found in the small moments that matter to one or two lives, rather than hundreds. The game’s opening is the D-Day beach landings, yet it’s swiftly dealt with in favor of clearing bunkers. This may be a wise decision, as while the amphibious invasion was a turning point for the war, it’s become familiar from constant exposure in games, TV, movies.
So, while we get a bit of shaking and roaring, running between cover and getting repeatedly shot by machine gunners we can’t see, one blast through a wall and it’s into the bunkers. This is where COD: WWII’s smaller scale asserts itself. Much of the game is about five guys being buddies against a backdrop of horror, and you’re tied to your pals as they keep you supplied with ammo and health packs (which, Medal of Honor-style, require a few seconds in cover to top up your non-recharging health bar), as well as spotting enemies, and calling in mortar strikes. Each of these abilities is tied to a cool-down timer, and each squadmate can only do one thing—so finding the right one in the heat of battle is essential.
It’s an artificial-feeling system—though no more so than Black Ops’ invisible cyborgs, and we rarely needed to ask for ammo, as there are plenty of German guns laying around, as well as universal refill chests—but it underlines the friendships that are formed in battle, and means when one gets wounded, you feel it all the sharper. There are peripheral characters as well: gruff officers and little girls to rescue, and the player character’s brother seen only in flashback. COD: WWII works hard to make you care, slipping in Heroic Actions, in which you rescue allies, drag wounded to safety, and the like. This presentation of war as a series of small dramas is effective, and a nice contrast to the epic presentations of conflict we’ve seen previously.
So, COD: WWII is earnest and respectful, and tries to be historically accurate, then there are Nazi zombies. The horror-tinged co-op wave defense mode has more flesh on its bones, with a cast of recognizable names, and that this apparently throwaway mode has been treated this way is indicative of the level of care lavished on the game. The expansive multiplayer benefits from the new old setting in terms of atmosphere and intimacy (set someone on fire for really intimate sound effects), but the lack of mobility caused by soldiers who can’t literally fly means this is a return to the days of twitch kills and death from someone you’ve not seen. But the guns have heft, and their bullets hit hard, something that can be said of every mode, so there’s great satisfaction to be had from the blasting.
A new Call of Duty is always an event— however, despite producing the best campaign in years, backed up by a bulging package of multiplayer and zombies, the rest of the industry has moved on. There are better playgrounds in which to shoot Nazis these days. -IAN evenden
Call of Duty: World War II
+ WARFARE Gritty, detailed look; well-composed campaign.
– WELFARE Can be very brown and gray; other games have already surpassed it.
RECOMMENDED SPECS Core i3-3225 3.3GHz or Ryzen 5 1400, 8GB, GTX 660 or RX 550 with 2GB of VRAM, or better.