“Call of Duty: WWII” is a return to the series’ historic setting and “boots on the ground” gameplay. In some ways it succeeds, but the final product is a jack of all trades rather than a quality experience throughout.
“WWII’s” six-hour campaign borrows heavily from other World War II stories, namely “Band of Brothers” and “Saving Private Ryan.” This campaign’s portrayal of the Battle of Normandy makes for a bold introduction, but others have depicted the event more effectively.
Although cutscenes feature excellent facial animations, the cast of characters are cardboard cutouts of soldiers. The story does little to make players grow attached to these people — save for Robert Zussman, the main protagonist’s best friend. This is problematic, especially when the game focuses on the conflicts between these characters instead of World War II as a whole. Rather than taking any narrative risks, “WWII” opts to play it safe, and as a result, it feels cliched.
For a game delving into history, Sledgehammer’s reimagining of World War II is a superficial one. If you’re interested in a game that has a unique take on the past, check out our online review of “Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus.” “WWII”’s single player mode may not tell as compelling a story, but it does a fair job easing you into the game’s mechanics.
The removal of health regeneration in the campaign makes players take more caution during firefights since survival is contingent on taking cover and using first-aid kits. Squadmates also provide unique abilities that recharge over time such as tossing ammo and health packs, and while the feature was useful, it didn’t save me from getting killed by random explosives. These are adequate additions, but anyone who has played past “Call of Duty” campaigns will feel fatigued by the familiarity.
Action set-pieces are over-the-top, with scenes directed less like a Spielberg war epic and more like a Michael Bay blockbuster. One moment in particular has a train crash that goes on far too long, to the point of being laughable. Levels with mounted turrets, tanks, planes and stealth sections have all been executed better in previous entries, and the quick-time events present only added to the campaign’s scripted feeling.
Even the multiplayer mode in “WWII” can feel predictable, as you’ll constantly encounter players who camp in corners with shotguns to farm for scorestreaks. That said, the online is still a solid aspect of the game. The new Divisions replace the usual perk system. I mostly used the Airborne Division, as its set of perks allows for quickened movement and the silencer attachment for SMGs. For those unaccustomed to “Call of Duty,” the time-to-kill (TTK) is quite low; killing, dying and respawning is an instantaneous sequence, but the fast pace is a series staple.
The multiplayer features nine different modes, with this year’s centerpiece being the brand-new “War” mode, which takes the cinematic feel of the campaign and makes it playable for up to 12 players. This addition is new to “Call of Duty,” but those who have played “Battlefield 1” will notice it’s just a smaller scale version of “Rush” and “Operations.”
In “War,” each team must complete multiple objectives, with cutscenes filling in the gaps. These objectives vary on each map, such as how “Operation Griffin” has the attacking team escort tanks across a bridge. If the timer runs out before the objective is complete, the match goes into an overtime mode that gives the team one last chance. While enjoyable, this is no different than escorting the payload in “Overwatch.” Inspiration from Blizzard’s team-based shooter doesn’t end there, as matches replace the “Final Killcam” — except in “Search and Destroy” — with a Bronze Star, which is nothing more than a glorified “Play of the Game.”
“WWII” also borrows from its contemporaries with the new “Headquarters” mode, which lets you socialize with other players in a third-person hub world in between matches. If this sounds familiar, it’s because “Headquarters” is essentially “The Tower” from “Destiny.” You can also collect loot from airdropped supply crates, which randomly distribute cosmetic collectibles. Most of the time these crates just gave me “Epic” weapon grips and other lackluster prizes, but those with more luck have a chance to earn greater rewards. “Headquarters” is a nice addition, but it feels unnecessary.
While playing through the game’s nine maps online this past weekend, I encountered a host of server issues. On Sunday afternoon, the servers crashed completely on my PS4, and I couldn’t log on until hours later. When it works, matchmaking is seamless, but it’s strange that a game with so many active players struggled to find full matches, as I was often put into games of eight or 10 players when there can be up to 12.
Performance issues carried into the campaign as well, because I came across a hard crash that made me restart an entire mission instead of the last checkpoint. The mode with the fewest technical problems was “Nazi Zombies,” an inclusion that also keeps “WWII” from being too light on content.
In other “Call of Duty” games, I always felt that Zombies were too formulaic — once you found which order to open doors and which weapons to unlock first, things felt less dynamic and more routine to me, though one can argue that the fun comes from unraveling the perfect strategy. With a new class system and wealth of one-time use consumables, discovering this strategy with other players online makes this an engaging process.
The founders of Sledgehammer created the original “Dead Space,” a game that terrified my 12-year-old self. Their credentials are displayed in their horrific zombie designs, and “The Final Reiche” map has lower chambers that are equally effective at creating an enticing, albeit unsettling, atmosphere. The hysterical banter of the four playable characters breaks this tension, but it’s still nice to see Sledgehammer taking their survival horror background and implementing it into “WWII.”
With three unique modes ranging in quality, “Call of Duty: WWII” is a solid game, but one that doesn’t reinvent the franchise. To really return to the series’ glory days, taking a step back in time isn’t enough. Future releases need to strive for more innovation: not just within the franchise itself, but innovations that revolutionize the entire genre.
“Call of Duty” used to be at the forefront of shooters, and while it still is financially — the game made $500 million its opening weekend — it no longer leads creatively. For now, “Call of Duty: WWII” will suffice for the “CoD” faithful, but with today’s market saturated with competition, those not as fond of the series are better off getting their first-person-shooter fix elsewhere.