Call of Duty has spent the last few years trying to go further and further into the future, from Modern Warfare to Advanced Warfare to Infinite Warfare which took the fast and furious combat all the way into space. While the advancements made for some interesting ideas with technology and weaponry, it lost some of its heart and soul which made COD so enjoyable to begin with. Call of Duty: WWII recaptures this feeling, with an intense and enjoyable campaign backed up by a strong multiplayer suite and Nazi Zombies mode, overall making this a difficult package to fault and one of the strongest entries the series has had in a long time.
World War II is a harrowing setting, and while it’s not original to see it represented in a video game, it’s done here with a cinematic excellence that constantly had my heart in my throat, as I rushed into giant skirmishes, bullets flying past and the loud click of my weapon as I desperately reloaded before getting overwhelmed with enemies. It’s moments like these that keep the campaign moving along swiftly and without room for pause, ensuring that you’re never comfortable for too long.
By having large battlefields and twisting labyrinthine-like bunkers with Nazi’s around every corner, it’s easy to feel insignificant by comparison. Your character has a back-story and somebody waiting at home for him sure, but reintroducing the idea of med kits to regain health means you feel like someone who can actually die at any moment if you’re not cautious. For years we’ve been having our health automatically regenerate if you just stay behind cover for a couple of seconds, creating a super-soldier feeling. This is no longer the case here. It’s incredibly stressful when you are low on health and know that there is likely a couple of groups of Nazi’s between you and the next med kit you so desperately need, and it will make you think far more tactically than you have in previous games.
Your squad also feel more important, especially the bloke who can provide you with a med kit on occasion. They can provide you with ammo, opportunities for air-strikes or even binoculars to make you aware of enemy positioning, and these abilities recharge over time. It certainly comes in handy in tricky moments, and ensures that you’re staying with them, as they’re a genuine benefit in a tight pinch. They also often shout commands and direct you on where to go, which adds to the atmosphere and really makes you feel like you’re fighting in a war, with loud explosions going off everywhere as you rush from one checkpoint to the next.
Even though it’s a historic setting, that doesn’t mean that the campaign doesn’t have its share of over-the-top action movie moments that would make Michael Bay blush. While it isn’t very long, it moves from chapter to chapter, making sure there are no lulls as you move from trying to catch a runaway train to flying through the skies in aerial warfare, or plowing through a desolate, destroyed town in a heavily armored tank. There are some quieter moments that involve stealthily taking out enemies and gathering intel, but for the most part there is just laughable amounts of destruction and chaos, making for a super-fun (if not nonsensical) experience.
“…laughable amounts of destruction and chaos, making for a super-fun (if not nonsensical) experience.”
When it comes to the more heartfelt moments the game struggles a little – it is Call of Duty, after all. I didn’t particularly connect with the characters in my squad, although I did at least care about maybe one of them by the time the credits rolled. Dialogue is throwaway and a bit cheesy, but it does go hand and hand with the large set-pieces that make up the explosive campaign.
The only criticism I have is that we’ve seen this before. It’s a flaw with the World War II setting, but it’s tough to create unique stories here when it’s been tackled in pop culture so frequently. I still enjoyed myself throughout, but I wasn’t at any point surprised or blown away by what I was doing. Weapons are also old-school by nature. They still pack a punch but there is certainly no high-tech gear to be found here.
That being said, the visuals and production values across the board definitely impress. Perhaps it’s the yearly releases, but not enough praise is given for what is one of the best looking franchises in video games today. The spot-on motion capture of the actors, the way the mud glistens with the wet as you stomp through it, the planes zooming overhead and the clever use of blur and smoke to give it a truly memorable atmosphere… these details are small but they give a true sense that you’re a part of this devastating war, and I would have stopped to take it all in on many occasions if the games blistering pace ever allowed me to.
The sound design is also on point, with commands being shouted, gunfire echoing in the distance, the loud and bold sound of each bullet you fire and the screams of your friends and foes dying around you. It’s a level of intensity I haven’t felt from a Call of Duty game in a long time, and it’s due to the incredibly high production that grabs hold of you, refusing to let go.
Once you’re done with the single player, there’s a large amount to do afterwards with the infamous multiplayer that keeps us coming back year after year. The progression here is as satisfying as ever, with lots of perks, weapons, attachments and abilities unlocking as you play more. This does mean that new players will already be coming in at a disadvantage, and trust me there are plenty of people that have been playing non-stop since the game launched just a few days ago that consistently made me feel inadequate as a gamer, but I will get better. There are orders and contracts, smaller targets you can aim for as you play that assist with progression, which can all be accessed in the new hub called Headquarters.
It’s a lot to take in at first as you stroll around trying to get your bearings in what feels very similar to The Tower in Destiny 2. There is training you can do, additional content you can find such as old school Activision games and also supply drops (loot boxes) that you can call to drop in front of you from the sky above. You’ll also align with a specific Division (faction) with its own perks and leveling up, adding additional perks to your character based on class choice; though you can have multiple characters each aligned with different Divisions, so the choice doesn’t feel too final. There’s also plenty of customization options (and women!) so overall it’s a successful step forward in making the space feel more personalized and social.
The coolest addition to multiplayer for my money is War, which strays from the expected Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed or Capture the Flag modes that usually feature. In War, there are team based objectives in stages; for example, in the first stage you’ll try to push forward with multiple tanks, before having to gather fuel for them, capture the flag style, and then escort one tank through the map like a payload while your opponents try to defend and push you back. It’s a perfect, unexpected addition that doesn’t reach too far outside the box, but does just enough to make COD multiplayer feel special again.
Nazi Zombies has evolved the zombie mode yet again, and it’s no wonder that this remains to be one of the most popular parts of the Call of Duty universe. It has a sense of fun and craziness to it that is totally different and lighter in tone compared to the serious nature of the rest of the campaign, with undead creatures lumbering towards you and your mates as you rack up high scores for headshots and get access to upgrades and new buffs and bonuses on the fly.
You get to choose your character (and I can’t help but want to be Ving Rhames every time and relive my Dawn of the Dead fantasy) and work together to survive as long as possible. There’s a lot of gore, jump scares and traditional horror staples that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Resident Evil game, along with the required silliness to accept that you’re trying to kill a bunch of zombies in a game that makes such an effort to be realistic in all its other scenarios. This is the mode you’re likely to play co-op with your mates for the longest and wraps up the package nicely.
The Bottom Line
Sledgehammer Games have reinvigorated what was, for me at least, a franchise that seemed to be trying too hard. Call of Duty: WWII takes us back to where it all began, but with very strong production values and a well-crafted campaign full of memorable, silly action-movie moments, it feels mostly fresh, intense and exciting. Throw in some welcome advancements in the multiplayer with the new War mode and social hub and the always entertaining Zombie mode that has become an important staple, and you have a game that is just full of value. It’s not necessarily going to inspire you with its originality, but there’s a reason why this super solid series always manages to make an impact. Quite simply, it’s a helluva lot of fun.