The Call of Duty series had been around for some time, and with each installment, we’ve progressed further and further away from the series’ roots. Starting in 2003, the first game in one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, began with World War II, and critics at the time praised how good Infinity Ward’s first game was. Last year’s Infinite Warfare took the series to the future, a place I don’t think we were ready to go just yet, adding wall jumps, jetpacks, and spaceships. Sledgehammer takes Call of Duty back to its roots for a fresh start.
Part of the appeal of returning to a simpler time, where outrageous laser shows and space travel were science fiction. I’d like to mention the dedication the studio put into researching and understanding the time period, spending nearly three years reading up and speaking to historians; the studio spent time going to iconic locations across Europe to get a better sense of what this war meant to the millions affected. By better understanding the subject matter, Sledgehammer Games crafted a story that thrives on its juicy details of the situation.
There are three components to WWII, the campaign, the multiplayer and the zombie mode the series has been adding since World at War.
Now, being a game that is primarily dominated by the multiplayer being the main draw, the campaign is often brushed to the side in lieu of the social aspect of the game. A lot of the games in the series have had good stories to tell, WWII puts a brotherhood in the center, a story, about a band of brothers. Playing as Private Ronald “Red” Daniels, a man from Texas, his squad, the 1st Infantry Division begin the game by storming Normandy Beach and move on as they make their way to Germany.
A big part of the campaign is the brother Daniels will forge with his squad, it’s even a mechanic built into the game, with each member of the platoon providing their own support by providing health kits (which return to the single player) ammo, and grenades. Others can provide strikes and highlight enemies to engage.
The campaign is full of iconic moments that the Second World War was known for. Opening the game as we storm the beach of Normandy on D-Day, and these events are sprinkled throughout the rest of the game, many of them frightening. Seeing these moments, which I’d seen in movies like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, in a new take that hits home how terrible war is, even all these years later. There is even one hair-raising and heart-pounding level that puts you in the Gestapo’s headquarters and is easily one of my standout experiences with WWII.
My biggest problem with many Call of Duty campaigns falls back to the basic formula of run and gun, and enemy hordes that continually come at you. The issue has been a part of the formula for a while now, and as with every campaign, does it offer more of the same each time. This isn’t to take away from the campaign, though, as the story evolves more fluidly than the series its made for and there’s something being offered here that’s a blast.
Multiplayer is like every year, the biggest draw to the series for the players, and for good reason. Continuing the tradition of fun, team and solo multiplayer, Sledgehammer delivers a wonderful new way to interact with each other and by eliminating the standard lobby and implementing a headquarters, an area where players can test guns at the gun range, spectate 1v1, socialize and open loot boxes that drop from the sky and obtain contracts and challenges to complete.
This year I feel like the new social space and loot boxes will offer a new way to play, the sizeable multiplayer experience being offered is new for Call of Duty, and from the response so far, it is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Instead of Create-A-Class, where players could make their ideal soldier for online player, now, players are able to choose from one of five Divisions that offer their own set of skills and weapons. Infantry is the best for beginnings, offering to ween players into the series and are best at mid to close range combat. Airborne allows players to be stealthier and offer a wide assortment of suppressors to keep enemies away, and sprint for longer periods of time. Armored offers heavy weaponry like LMG’s and can use rocket launchers and gain additional weapon slots. Mountain is good for mid to long range players who enjoy sniping from a distance and lastly, Expeditionary is good for close range combat with shotguns.
Team Deathmatch, as well as Domination, offer the staples of any online shooter, with the fun but frantic Kill Confirmed mode returning, too. It’s a decent offering of ways to play online with friends and strangers. The shooting mechanics don’t feel like they would work in a setting closer to the present, and what works here is the way combat feels, falling more in line with older titles than anything past Modern Warfare.
War Mode is something new to online this year and offers three maps: Operation Breakout, Operation Neptune, and Operation Griffin. These three maps offer intense gameplay with multiple objectives to compete against enemies. Each operation is a narrative-driven mode that asks players to unite and defeat their opponents, featuring many iconic World War II battles. Playing as either the Allies or Axis forces, each side has objectives to complete to advance, so if for example, your team is defending against opponents, you can win even after failing just by stopping the enemy from advancing, and then switching sides to see if the other team can meet their objectives.
Nazi Zombies mode returns once more. It’s also the scariest version I’ve played following the last three or four years of Zombie mode, which took a light and comedic approach to the entire mode. Sledgehammer included jump scares and intense action.
The story involves four artifact hunters voiced by ever-wonderful David Tennant, Elodie Yung, Kathryn Winnick, and Ving Rhames. Each actor does an excellent job bringing to life their characters, Tennant especially brings his signature touch to his work here and is a standout amongst the talented cast.
While attempting to recover priceless art (what else) from the Axis forces, Zombies are discovered in a village in Germany and soon after, it is up to these four to take on the undead. While I’ve never been attached to playing the included Zombie mode in the past, I’ve dabbled each year and find myself spending a fair amount of time returning to this year’s engaging version.
After years of moving forward and upward, Sledgehammer Games took two steps back, a decision that many people are happy was made. Returning to a familiar setting after taking the right amount of time away to explore other settings makes sense and while the series has grown stale the last few years, I feel WWII is the right direction for the series. With new social settings to interact with like-minded gamers and a retooled multiplayer that draws inspiration from the origins of the series, Call of Duty: WWII offers a complete experience that shouldn’t be missed.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]