Call of Duty: WWII Review
The Call of Duty franchise began in 2003 with Call of Duty, a game set in World War II and, if you can believe it, without a multiplayer mode. The next two games in the series, Call of Duty 2 and 3, kept the series in World War II until Modern Warfare brought the series into modern times, added multiplayer, and set the series on its course to becoming one of the top gaming franchises in gaming today. The series only briefly visited World War II again in World at War, but that was nine years ago. Now, after pushing the franchise far into the future in the past few games, Call of Duty returns to its roots with Call of Duty: World War II.
Like the past several Call of Duty games, Call of Duty: WWII is really three games in a single package. There's a single player campaign, a multiplayer online mode, and the horde-mode-with-a-story mode, Zombies. I will start off by looking at the campaign because that's the way I always start playing a new Call of Duty game, jumping right into the campaign.
The campaign game in WWII follows Private Ronald "Red" Daniels, a soldier in the US Army assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, the storied Big Red One. The Fighting First served on the tip of the spear as Allied forces invaded Hitler's Fortress Europa at Normandy, crossed France and Belgium, and pushed into Germany and across the Rheine. This means that you'll accompany Red through some of the fiercest and most iconic battles of the war on the Western Front: D-Day, the Liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, Aachen, and the bridge at Remagen, to name just a few. While each mission opens with a cutscene that puts each battle into context within the war, those cutscenes primarily focus on the story of Red and his squad and so some prior knowledge of the events of World War II will certainly help in understanding the context, significance, and impact on the war of each of these battles.
The story itself has the feel of a classic war movie. Red is a Texas farm boy pining for his girl back home, and his squad includes his fast-talking, girl-crazy buddy, a street-wise Brooklynite, and a college boy whose intellectual humor is lost on the rest of the squad. The squad is commanded by a sergeant who is tougher than the enemy and carries a silent burden from earlier in the war and the professional soldier lieutenant who keeps them all together and focused on the mission. You could make a case that the characters are a bit cliched, but overall I didn't feel that the story was too derivative. The battles that you take place in are the real story here anyway.
Your interaction with your squad goes beyond watching them relate to each other during cutscenes - they're vital to your survival in battle. World War II dispenses with the regenerative health system that has been a part of the franchise for years. If you lose health, you aren't getting it back and the levels aren't littered with health packs. This is where your squad comes in. Each one provides a unique support role, providing you with health packs or ammo, or giving you the ability to mark enemies or even call in an artillery strike. These support abilities each have a cooldown timer so you can't have your squad mate spam health packs for you, and they have to be close by to provide you with support. There will be times when your squad will split up to complete an objective and you're going to have to choose which way to go depending on whether you think health packs or ammo will be more important during the battle.
The health pack system really makes the campaign more challenging. I suffered plenty of deaths playing through the campaign on the regular difficulty level even though I was actively trying to play smartly and cautiously. It definitely made me think about just how deadly that war was, and how GIs faced the raw firepower of Nazi weaponry wearing only a helmet and a canvas uniform. This added a level of intensity to the campaign's missions that I haven't experienced from the series over the past few years. When you're ducking behind a tank trap on the beach at Normandy while machine gun fire is whistling by on both sides of you and you know you won't have a health pack available until you reach the bunkers, it takes a force of will to rush out of cover during a brief pause in fire to scramble ahead to the next small obstacle.
Another change that took a little getting used to was using World War II era weapons. They're slower to use than their modern counterparts, have smaller magazines, and take a lot longer to load. You really need to keep an eye on your remaining bullet count because if you need to swap magazines while exposed and under fire then you will die. Again, a change that requires some adjustment after the past several Call of Duty games, but one that adds more tension to the battles.
The campaign is filled with memorable moments, a few are of the familiar Call of Duty action sequence variety, but a lot of them are memorable for other reasons. I'll note a few of them here, so let this serve as your spoiler alert. Jump ahead to the next paragraph if you want to leave everything in the campaign a surprise. It's OK, I'd do the same thing. ... ... ... OK, for those of you still with me here, a few, but not all, of my favorite sequences from the campaign include an aerial battle in which you fly a P-47 escorting B-17s on a daylight bombing raid over Germany. Diving through the bomber formations filling the sky while pursuing German interceptors made for a thrilling battle. Another memorable battle involves a cat and mouse game with you at the controls of a Sherman tank that is isolated and being hunted by a King Tiger and some Panzer IVs. You must circle your outgunned, out-armored tank through a war-torn city looking to take shots at the enemy tanks from the rear while avoiding their deadly guns. And the mission in which you play a member of the French Resistance infiltrating a Nazi headquarters building in Paris delivers a whole new level of tension as you walk among the enemy doing your best to avoid being discovered as a spy.
Overall, I really enjoyed the campaign. It reminded me of the campaigns in the first games in the series, games that delivered some tense and exciting battles that I can still remember years after playing the games. My only real complaint is that I wish it was longer. If you are one of those gamers that plays Call of Duty games exclusively for the campaigns, it's hard to imagine that you'll be disappointed with World War II.
Of course World War II comes with a full multiplayer mode, and this time out it will be at once familiar and a different experience. You'll recognize most of the game modes and a few multiplayer staples like calling cards and score streaks, but the game will feel decidedly different than the fast-paced, maneuverability-focused games of the past couple of years.
When you first enter the game's multiplayer mode you'll be taken to the Headquarters. This is a new social space where players can interact, practice with weapons or score streaks, pick up new challenges to complete in the matches, and more, all without losing their place in a game lobby that's queueing up the next match. There are enough little time wasters in Headquarters that you might want to take yourself out of the match queue for a bit anyway. You can challenge other players to one-on-one matches, play classic Activision games from the Atari 2600 days, or catch some films in the theater. It's a good addition to the game to have an area where you can take part in activities while waiting for a match instead of just sitting there staring at a loading screen, and it's one of those things that makes you wonder why it took so long to add a feature like this to a game.
The first thing you'll do in Headquarters, though is choose your first division. Divisions are essentially the game's multiplayer classes and there are five of them available: Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mountain, and Expeditionary. These each correspond to a primary weapon class, rifles, SMGs, LMGs, sniper rifles, and shotguns, respectively, and although you can use any weapon type with any division, equipping a weapon from the preferred class gives you a level one division perk. For example, an infantry player equipping a rifle gets the bayonet charge ability. As you play more with a single division you'll level-up in that division, earning additional division perks. Pick the one that suits your playstyle best at first, but you'll eventually be able to unlock access to all of the divisions and then you can begin selecting your division based on the game mode and map.
The game's multiplayer modes will all be familiar to Call of Duty players except for two of them. The familiar modes include Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Hardpoint, Capture the Flag, and Search and Destroy. If you can't decide, Mosh Pit offers a rotation of modes. It's a good mix of modes and everyone has their favorite among them. Infinite Warfare's Uplink mode has gone through a time-appropriate transformation and become Gridiron. Two teams compete to grab a leather ball and advance it to the enemy team's goal. Running the ball through the goal scores seven points, while throwing it in scores three. When running with the ball you can't wield your weapon, which preserves the popular tactic from Uplink in which the ball carrier tosses the ball to an enemy, shoots the enemy, and then scoops up the fumble and moves on. I had a great time playing this mode, it's fast-paced and each game leads to some crazy moments like a knife fight over a fumbled ball lying on the ground.
World War II also introduces a new objective-based mode called War. War proceeds in phases in which the attacking team is given an objective and a time limit to accomplish it and the defending team tries to prevent them from doing so. If the attacking team completes all objectives, they win. If the defenders stop them at any objective, they win. Teams then switch sides and do it all over again. There are three War mode operations available at launch, Omaha Beach, Operation Breakout, and Operation Griffin. Omaha Beach is a Normandy-based operation in which the attacking team spawns in the surf and must storm the beach fortifications. Operation Breakout requires the attackers to fight through a fortified manor house, rebuild a bridge, and then escort a tank to take out anti-aircraft artillery. Operation Griffin involves escorting multiple tanks on separate lanes, securing fuel for them, and then pushing a tank across a bridge. I absolutely love this mode - it provides the opportunity to employ a number of strategies on both offense and defense, and there are always a few surprise moments in a match. While there are objective-based modes in the other multiplayer modes, War manages to feel like it requires more of a team effort than any of those other modes. It's also a mode in which each player can play an important role, even if they can't generate a decent KDR in the other game modes. You can be the player who mans a machine gun position to cover the bridge and prevent it from being built, or the first one to cross the beach alive and set the Bangalore that will breach the last line of obstacles before the bunkers, and make a real contribution to your team's victory.
World War II's multiplayer feels significantly different than it has in the prior few years. The game now has a lot less of an emphasis on speed and mobility, and more on using position, cover, and sight lines to catch other players as they are advancing. And just as in the single player game, you'll need to get used to using weapons with smaller magazines and longer reload times.
As in the past, Call of Duty WWII multiplayer can be pretty brutal to casual players or those just starting out with the game. You'll need to take your lumps until you can level up your soldier and weapons to make you more competitive against the higher level and more experienced players. While I would like to see a casual mode added to the game for new players or those who just want average competition, War mode does provide a good venue for picking up some much needed XP without having to spend as much time helping to pad high level players' kill totals. Overall, though, I feel that WWII does deliver a great multiplayer experience and the franchise is at the top of its game here.
WWII also includes a Zombies mode, and while it is still a survival-mode-with-a-story the mode has a different feel to it this year. The camp of last year's mode has been replaced with a horror story feel, featuring a mad Nazi scientist who is using a newly discovered form of energy to create an army of zombie soldiers. You and up to three other players can still play Zombies mode as a horde mode exercise, killing zombies in an effort to reach a new high watermark in total waves survived, but there's a story to complete here as well. Doing so will require unlocking a number of secrets, and that will take a lot of experimentation and trial and error, although it's entirely possible to learn the game's secrets with some persistence. Pursuing the story's goals turns the mode's focus away from surviving waves of zombies, but the game prevents you from simply leaving one zombie alive by requiring you to power some items with zombie bodies and triggering zombie attacks after you complete certain actions. Getting deep enough into the mode to complete the narrative will require a lot of teamwork and coordination, as well as assigning roles using the available class types. For example, one class is good at drawing zombie aggro, while another can unleash an unlimited ammo super that can clear out a mob of zombies that has the team pinned in.
I put some time into Zombies mode, but my team wasn't quite able to complete the story. Our best round lasted over an hour and I think we came close to completing the final objectives, but we were finally overcome before we could find out. During that long session, though, we discovered that there is actually a more difficult path through the storyline to complete in the mode, and doing so will give you a more complete game narrative. This is just the opening act of the story, too, as it will be continued in future expansions for the game.
I like what the developers have done with the Zombie mode in WWII. It fits within the game's World War II setting while having a creepy, survival horror feel to it all of its own. And while the initial zombies are the expected undead army soldiers and officers, as you progress deeper into the mode you'll encounter some really horrific monstrosities. It would be a fun survival horror game in its own right, but the fact that such a complete mode is packaged with a full Call of Duty game adds a lot of entertainment value for your money here.
I had a great time playing WWII. Maybe that's partially due to my fond memories of the first games in the series, but I genuinely enjoyed playing the campaign in WWII and it ranks among the best in the series in my opinion. I liked the game's return to a more methodical style of play in the multiplayer mode; I had fun with the past few iterations but the emphasis on taking good shots and picking your sightlines fits my style of play better than a reliance on speed and maneuverability. The new War mode is an absolutely great addition to the game, and I'll be spending a lot of time in it for months to come. Lastly, the Zombies mode feels both the same and different, being familiar enough to preserve a lot of what made the mode so good in the first place while being different enough to feel fresh and unique. Overall there's a tremendous amount of entertainment value in World War II, and it breathes new life into the series. If you've sat out some of the last few Call of Duty games, now's the time to reenlist.
Final Rating: 90% - You'll want to enlist in this fight.