I liked last year’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. I know there were a lot of fans that didn’t, mainly because it got a little too futuristic for its own good, but I found tremendous value in the single player campaign, along with the enhanced multiplayer and the fun-as-hell Zombies In Spaceland. But I couldn’t help but yearn for the simpler times in the series, like other nostalgia-based players, looking for something where it was more about earning your kills, instead of using high-tech gadgets to rack them up. And that’s where Call of Duty: WWII has just the right timing – it’s coming along just when fans of the series really need it.
That’s not to say the game is simple, to say the least. In fact, with its revamped systems, this Call of Duty could be the toughest we’ve seen in years. But considering how war is hell to begin with, that may have been an obvious choice for Sledgehammer Games, the team behind the 2014 release Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Here, they’re much more grounded, trying to get team support implemented into gameplay, rather than gimmicks that make you feel invincible. This is all about fighting for survival.
The campaign is the main focus of the game, as you play Private “Red” Daniels, a young member of the Bloody 1st, another name for America’s First Infantry Division. After getting introduced to fellow members of your squad (who will play a vital part in the story – even the not-so-likable Technical Sergeant Pierson, you’re hitting the beach right off the bat, facing heavy Nazi fire as you try to turn the tide of war in your favor.
It’s here that you see just what kind of game Call of Duty: WWII is – gritty and not holding back with its content. You practically have to rush across the beach to avoid getting laid to waste in gunfire, and even then, your job isn’t done, as you invade bunker after bunker, using whatever firearms you can get your hands on to clear out the Nazis. And this is just the beginning, as following missions have you and your squad facing off against the regime, trying to stay alive every step of the way.
Oh, and there’s no regenerating health bar here. WWII relies on a health bar that basically means “you run out of health and you die.” Fortunately, first aid kids are sparingly spread out throughout the game, and the checkpoint system is more than fair. Plus, you’ll get some unlikely help from your squad, which you can read more about below.
Call of Duty: WWII will make you earn your keep, but it’s absolutely rewarding in how you do so. The gameplay feels gritty and down-to-basics, along the same lines as earlier games in the series. Nailing head shots and keeping your footing when it comes to firing a sniper rifle are superb, along with utilizing secondary weapons, like grenades and turrets that will prove useful. There are slightly annoying quick-time events that pop up, making all the difference between life and death because you weren’t able to drag a cursor over a certain circle on-screen. But, thankfully, they don’t come up that often.
What’s more, your team plays a vital part in the story, and not just serving as character models. They can help you by throwing a first aid kit your way, as well as extra ammunition and spotting enemies so that it’s easier to take them out. You’ll have to pace out these abilities so you don’t wear out their welcome, but they’re awesome to have on hand when you need them the most – especially on the game’s higher difficulty settings. Now that’s a firefight you’re going to need to work to survive.
Along with the gameplay, which Sledgehammer Games studied vigilantly to get back that “old” Call of Duty feeling, the presentation is remarkable and absolutely bloody. You’ll be thrust right into the heat of war, without anything held back. Dudes getting roasted by a guy with a flamethrower? Yep. Bloodied bodies on the beach? You bet. And that doesn’t even count for half the carnage you’ll see in the Zombies mode, which we’ll get to in a minute. But, again, war isn’t easy, and Sledgehammer did a splendid job capturing the authenticity of the era, not to mention its faithful recreations of key locales and its steady frame rate.
The game also didn’t overdo it when it came to star power. While he can’t quite match up with what Kiefer Sutherland did for World At War, Josh Duhamel does a good job at Pierson, even if he is kind of a “dick” most of the time. (Hey, maybe he just got pushed to his limits, yeah? It happens.) The rest of the team sounds great, too, and the music score is perfect, recapturing the terror and triumph of the World War II era.
Story-wise, the campaign does a great job, but that’s just part of the picture, as multiplayer also plays a big part. The new Headquarters campaign may not be as cool as Destiny’s tower, but it’s a great place to goof off while you’re waiting for the next match to happen. Plus, it’s not every day you find a working Atari 2600 in the 1940’s, complete with a pretty good Activision classic game library.
Once the multiplayer starts, you’ll find an experience equivalent to the classic Call of Duty games. Nicely grounded combat wins the day here, but there are some neat little perks as well, like those magical loot drops (a bit weird, but convenient) and the killstreaks, which you can build up with ease.
That said, the map size is a bit more miniscule than I would’ve preferred. Sure, they’re tight and make it easy to get into combat right away, but they can throw off some of the strategies players have made in bigger areas. Hopefully, the DLC that’s being introduced in WWII will have a bit more room to run around.
Fortunately, there are some nice improvements here and there with not only performance, but additions. One key one is War, a new multiplayer mode set up in six by six, with matches that can take a lot longer. These are best recommended for those that are patient with their multiplayer match-ups, but well worth it for those looking to level up or better themselves in the heat of combat. Just remember, you don’t necessarily earn points in the leaderboard – this is all about the sake of staying alive. But some folks will be fine with that.
Finally, there’s Zombies. I think I prefer the loose and easy feeling of what Zombies In Spaceland had last year, as this mode is a bit on the tough side. In fact, a few of us have yet to reach the first boss zombie, just because it’s so damn hard. But Sledgehammer is to be commended, reaching a level of terror that we haven’t seen since many of its team members worked on the Dead Space saga back at Visceral Games. On top of that, the character work is superb, and being able to have individual perks for each character is a nice touch. Get the right squad going and you can really put all of them to good use.
Call of Duty: WWII returns to basics, and yet not-so-basics, since it’s an entry that really puts you to the test. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not only does Sledgehammer pay tribute to the classic games that got this series started in the first place, but it throws its own special touches into the mix to make it fresher and gutsier than ever before. The single player campaign, combined with a solid (and tough) Zombies mode and a robust multiplayer set-up, makes this the most balanced Call of Duty we’ve seen in some time.
Where Call of Duty goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I’m happy to see where WWII wound up – and it really does show that Sledgehammer belongs firmly in the development circle for the series alongside Infinity Ward and Treyarch. I can’t wait to see what it cooks up in 2020.
RATING: Four and a half out of five stars.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.