Well, gentleman. Here we are.
10 years and 10 games since the first Modern Warfare ignited online multiplayer for the world to see, and 5 different sub-series beyond that, attracting the likes of Keifer Sutherland, Gary Oldman and Seth Green. MILLIONS of online multiplayer lobbies where you can be told your mother was #$@&%*! by a 14 year old from Stoke, and now we’ve gone full circle: World War 2: Electric Boogaloo.
It’s Sledgehammer Games’ turn to take the rein for this gargantuan series, with their first foray in the series since 2014’s Advanced Warfare, a now-haunted game. Since then, they’ve been “umm”‘ing and “err”‘ing about what to do next. With the general fanbase of Call of Duty mainly despising the futuristic entries because god forbid you try something new with a dying series, Sledgehammer saw fit to return to the ol’ boots-on-the-ground style, and somehow making a mockery of everything and anything in-between.
This isn’t to say that the game is bad. In fact, it almost recaptures the spirit and the (some would say) beauty of World at War, arguably the peak for the series. But to say this game is better, and/or the best Call of Duty to come out recently? No, sir. Just because it’s back in the clothes you love doesn’t mean the clothes are in the same condition. Sledgehammer has looked at the previous games in the series and spat on their legacy, attempting to lead the series in a new direction I don’t personally agree with.
Call of Duty has always been seen as an accessible arcade experience, something that you can just pick up and play at any given moment, with the mechanics being so simple a screeching 12 year old could understand them. That’s why it became such a massive hit. Now, after years of developers attempting to mimic CoD, WWII is now chasing the trends set by other games. The main victim here is Wolfenstein: The New Order.
The campaign reeks of Wolfenstein, to the point where I was expecting to see Adolf Hitler portrayed as a diaper wearing, drooling spastic, as seen in the recent Wolfenstein entry, The New Colossus. Nearly every follicle of WWII’s story copies the same mannerisms, with characterization, locations, and missions treading the same footsteps. Unfortunately, Sledgehammer didn’t execute it with the same nuance and grace that Machine Games did.
Let’s start with the blueprint first, shall we? You play as Private Ronald Daniels, known as “Red” to people he disappoints, the physical embodiment of Chad. He and his brothers-in-arms are on the ground liberating Europe from the Nazis, with the squad being as followed:
- Private First Class Zussman:- A Jewish medic who is going to be annoying you all game.
- Lieutenant Turner:- The secondary brains of the group, who looks so much like Matthew Broderick, it hurts. Fortunately, Turner is more charismatic.
- Pierson:- A “grr” no-nonsense type, who is only in the story for Daniels to impress, barking orders like someone urinated in his Lucky Charms.
- Private Drew Stiles:- A nerd who isn’t even a nerd, but he mentioned Schrödinger once, so that classifies him as a nerd.
- Aiello, a racist piece of shit who is so dull it’s a miracle that mirrors bother to show his reflection.
With your powers combined, along with a few other characters that show up once and take off immediately, you are here to break through the Nazi strongholds with gusto! It’s a pure power fantasy disguised as an “oooo, isn’t war so horrific?! look, that man got his leg blown off” attitude. That’s where my first problem lies with the story; its inconsistent tone.
It’s not the goriest Call of Duty ever made, but Sledgehammer is really keen on making you watch your buddies legs fly off from MG42 fire during D-Day. Of course, they airbrushed everything like they were afraid they might offend people.
Despite all the nastiness of war you’re about to see, this is probably the cleanest game based around almost-ultra-violence I’ve ever seen. Every limb that flies off, every charred and bloody body, and every battleground, is so clean and spick-and-span, that it’s a wonder I’m not watching a teleshopping advert for a cleaning product. Even in Nazi Zombies, the zombies themselves seem like they’re just caked in make-up, rendering all body horror pointless.
Regardless, as far as I’m aware, no Call of Duty has attempted to portray World War 2 in the light that 2017’s offering does. Even World At War didn’t do an Apocalypse Now on us, and that featured Gary Oldman blowing Nazis away as an eccentric Russian. Here though, we see Daniels apparently unable to comprehend war, and we chronicle him as just another GI, not ready to face the horrors he’s about to witness.
The gameplay for the campaign itself is a change, one of the few breaths of fresh air that are actually welcome throughout the whole package. Gone is the regenerating health of old, and now there’s a health bar, which can only be replenished by health packs given to you by Zussman. In fact, most of your general supplies and abilities are given to you by your squadmates.
Stiles gives you the grenades, Turner gives you the ammo, Pierson can spot enemies from light years away, and Aiello can throw you smoke grenades for mortar strikes called down by God himself. It’s a neat touch, as it escapes the boundaries of what you’ve come to expect from Call of Duty, and it forces you to become a lot more conservative with how you play. The other new addition is the, err… “horrors” of war.
Throughout the campaign, you and Daniels will be first-hand spectators to such grotesque actions as people getting their limbs and torsos ripped apart by MG fire and flak cannons, Nazi’s committing war crimes, and one concentration camp. All of this reaches a surreal high when you confront one of the German commanding officers, Heinrich, a suave and masochistic man who— Actually, real quick question; do you remember that scene from Wolfenstein: The New Order? The one where you’re on the train with your new found love, and B.J. is confronted by Engel and Bubi, and throughout the scene, the tension is at an all-time high for video games?
My point being, is that Sledgehammer thought they could recreate the same feeling Machine Games could, with Heinrich talking about how the French can kill a bird to make good food, before trying to stab you in the chest. Although, the copycatting involved is not why I hate this scene… no, the reason why I hate this part in particular, is because the woman you play as during this sequence, IS ONLY THE DAMN LEADER OF THE FRENCH RESISTANCE, who Heinrich has been personally hunting down, and culling her family one by one..
I didn’t mention her yet, but in one of the obligatory stealth missions, “Liberation”, you play as Rousseau, an obligatory sexy French resistance gal, who helps you out of a jam and then tells you to help settle a personal vendetta. She is one of the many, many pointless side characters who show up once and disappear forever, and she tells her story like we’re supposed to care, and we don’t. As far as we’re aware, she’s just a lass in a bit of a pickle, and the death of her husband doesn’t concern me.
Despite Sledgehammer’s attempts to make World War 2 more progressive than what it was, they can’t help but make women soldiers than overly glorified stereotypes, and borderline damsels in distress. I’m well aware of just how involved women were during the war, but it seems Sledgehammer aren’t, leaving them to be basic femme fatales; foreign assassins with quips and a implicit sexiness about them.
The rest of the campaign progression, is standard stuff. Sledgehammer makes everything explode around you, like there’s bunches of TNT hidden around Daniels that go off when they’re in his proximity. There’s the usual stealth affair that you can usually cheese by hugging the invisible war to the exit. Fortunately, there’s no “Battle Ender™ item” you use for only one mission, and for that, Sledgehammer gets one of their two gold stars, clap clap.
The only thing that the campaign has to do now is give us some charismatic characters, and like the Meatloaf song goes, “1 Out of 6 Characters Being Likable Ain’t Bad”. Given that Sledgehammer are showing the reality of war, it’s pretty impressive that out of all the characters only Turner gets the arc they aimed for, and everyone else is background to his dark past. As it stands, I wouldn’t want the rest in a drug awareness video.
Zussman is the biggest culprit of all these dull characters, as his Jewish heritage is only mentioned so we can show 5 minutes of holocaust footage. It has no other effect on the story, as it’s not a cause of conflict anywhere else, and yeah, maybe it shouldn’t be. At the same time, though, maybe Sledgehammer should have worked harder on making his heritage less than a perpetual name tag.
As for the rest of your squad, they’re about as one note as you can get. Daniels’ character arc to impress his brother doesn’t have the payoff you’d think. Stiles is an insufferable smartass, with his only purpose being to irritate the soldiers around him, including the player. Pierson barks and whines until he finally breaks down in the last ten minutes of the story. Aiello’s racism isn’t mentioned until the 2nd to last mission, and it is resolved in the next one. Well, thank you for bringing light to current matters, Sledgehammer. I almost got invested.
That’s the campaign. In layman’s terms, it doesn’t even hold a candle to other WW2 entries, and it even fails to have more interesting characters than the slates in Ghosts. It kind of depresses me, as I’m 1 of the 7 people who still give a deep-fried shit about the story of Call of Duty titles. It hit me when after I had finished playing this 5 hour long campaign, I only wanted Turner to live. But then, that’s not what you’re here for.
No, you want to hear about the main course, and from what I’ve seen, you’re looking at more of a starter pack. Yes, for all the innovations Sledgehammer made in the campaign, it’s miserable to see that the multiplayer part of the game is the most meagre package of all Call of Duty game to date, and simultaneously, one of the buggiest.
Your first taste of the new multiplayer will be in the new social space, Headquarters, an idea ripped straight from MMOs. I think it’s supposed to be like Destiny’s, where you interact with the world and all the people within… which might be fun, if my game didn’t glitch, I’d be able to do that. Due to a glitch involving me Prestige-ing and then playing a private match, I lost the ability to actually interact with the headquarters. Kudos, Sledgehammer, once again. Regardless, it’s neat, even if it disregards the fact that even though you’re meant to be surrounded by other players, you’ll always enter a headquarters hosted by you.
With these changes, the loadouts and classes have also been devolved almost entirely, with trademark perks split up into much smaller perks, and you’re allowed only one of these small slices. I assume it’s to eliminate the sense of feeling overpowered, but now the perks have such little effect on gameplay, they might as well not exist. Only “Instincts” changes how you play the most, and even then, I’ve got the feeling it’s glitched as well.
As usual, there’s the One Gun That Will be Nerfed, with this years entry being the BAR, a one hit machine that can’t be beaten in any gunfight. Another pointless entry is score/kill-streaks, with the WW2 version of a Predator Missile being the only gameplay changer, as the UAV // Counter UAV is rendered useless due to built-in class mods. I just… there’s no experimentation, it’s literally just shooting people without any metaphorical life to it.
The usual game modes are here, with the only major overhaul taking place in the fan favourite War/Momentum. Here, you recreate monster missions, such as D-Day and the like, and it’s more akin to a mixture of the games modes featured in Overwatch, with payloads to escort, capturing flags, or fuel. The only issue is that there’s 3 exclusive maps for this game mode, added on from the 9 maps used for every other game mode.
Even though these 9 maps + 3 War exclusives are fun to barrel through, this is the smallest Call of Duty we’ve had offered to us since Black Ops 1, with that title also only having 12. However, Treyarch never had the audacity to lock out 3 to one specific game mode. Then, after gazing at my physical copy of WWII, I noticed it: “SEASON PASS: GET IT NOW”, and that hits the message home, doesn’t it? Here we are, with the most shallow Call of Duty yet, and Sledgehammer and Activision are sitting here with disgusting smug smiles, demanding you drop another fifty bucks for absolutely NOTHING.
I know this is par for the course, and it has been since 2010, but this is the first time where I have seen a Call of Duty be released with such a huge aura of contempt and disapproval for the fanbase. There’s barely a shred of developer pride here, almost every part of this entire game was slapped on to stop the fanbase from crying about change. Even Ghosts didn’t have this level of cynicism about it, and that featured FISH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.
Ugh. Finally we come to the last third of your Activision-Mandated FPS Meal; Nazi Zombies, a part of the game which feels like it’s just grudgingly pushed in at this point. The celebrities who begged for a check this year are Katheryn Winnick, star of… err… there’s also David Tennant, who’s trying his best Limmy impression. Ving Rhames has also arrived, unable to do Death Race 4 or Pulp Fiction 2, and Elodie Yung, who plays Elektra in Netflix’s Daredevil. It’s a fair mix, and they have some decent banter between each other.
The Prologue map shows the tonal change Sledgehammer are going for. Instead of the Hammer Horror cheese that was embraced and enjoyed in the past, things are taking a darker approach. Now, scripted jumpscares are the main source of horror, and pro tip, Sledgehammer: adding a music sting whenever a zombie on it’s own is right behind you is one of the most obnoxious design choices I’ve ever seen in a video game.
With this however, it turns out that the base Zombies map, The Final Reich, is fucking great! Originally, I left behind the Zombie modes in Call of Duty as they removed the fun elements of infinite wave defense, and decided to turn the Zombie maps in later CoDs into complex goose chases. I stopped after Black Ops 2, as “Origins” almost broke me, but now, Sledgehammer has managed to find that perfect balance between a scavenger hunt and a simple run ‘n’ gun affair.
The perks are balanced correctly, the objectives are no longer disgustingly obtuse, and David Tennant makes this shit for you. Another addition is a boss fight, which is impressive, and the fight that unfolds is a spectacle, even if the battleground is extremely claustrophobic. It’s fun, admittedly, and until they fix the multiplayer, it’s the only fun part of the game.
After all that, we’re here at the end. 75 hours of non-stop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I leave the experience empty. Not because of the horrors I’ve seen, but the lack of everything inside. The campaign is a hollow retreat through a comfy seat of patriotism, the multiplayer seems unfinished, and the zombies? It might just be the only good part of this, until they fix everything else and add the DLC— *RETCH*
As it stands, WWII is the first Call of Duty where I’ve felt more like a customer instead of a player. Even though it might revive the love for World War 2 shooters, it has nothing on previous efforts. World at War, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, Red Orchestra. Fuck, even Velvet Assassin offered a more consistent and worthwhile package than this. Given the sales figures, however, that doesn’t matter, and that’s the way, ain’t it? Money talks, and the bullshit follows suit.
This review of Call of Duty: WWII Review is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
The worst Call of Duty in years, but the best World War II game in recent memory.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.