It’s here, what we’ve all been waiting for. A return to a twentieth century setting for first-person-shooter stalwart Call of Duty. Rumbling, squeaking tanks, the French countryside, D-Day, and plenty of Nazi killing—although the violence is surprisingly subdued. Oh, and that only describes one third of it. The game, as many undoubtedly know, is divided into three segments: single-player campaign, multiplayer, and zombies. To get this right off the bat, multiplayer is where players will be spending most of their time. If you’ve read my posts on the site, you’ll know that I haven’t played or owned a Call of Duty in a good many years. And I’ve got to say that I was excited to get back into the old school WWII shooters that made Call of Duty what it is. So, does all that “boots on the ground” talk that was heavily advertised stack up in this latest title? Let’s find out.
The first part of the game that I tried was the single-player. It’s short. Playing on Hardened difficulty (because you know I am not a chump), I beat it between work and classes in a single day in the span of about eight hours. The three most critical aspects of the campaign were the characters, the story, and the level design. Those can seem broad, but there is plenty of room for dissection of each. Let’s start with the characters. Who are these guys that Private “Red” Daniels introduces to players in the beginning? Well, there’s Aiello, a guy from the Bronx; Stiles, a guy everyone nicknames “college” because he says something about Nietzche like one time; and Zussmann, Red’s wisecracking best friend. That covers the squad, now let’s look at the officers. There’s Pierson, played very intensely by Josh Duhamel. He’s a hardened, hard-drinking veteran of North Africa, and he does not go easy on the player for the majority of the game. The squad leader is Lieutenant Turner, a good guy who cares about his soldiers, but knows that he has to follow orders. Seems simple, right? It is. These characters are simple. And throughout the narrative, they do not grow, although the writing tries to make you think they do.
There was some serious potential throughout the entirety of this story. Pierson’s and Turner’s near-philosophical arguments about not getting men killed even when the mission might turn out that way. Zussmann’s Jewish heritage almost getting him sent to a concentration camp. Aiello’s racism. It’s unfortunate that they’re only touched on. Out of the six squad members, only two are real characters: Pierson and Zussmann, and I’m not saying they have anything beyond their personalities as described above. Describing how disappointing these characters are would lead to spoilers. I don’t want to do that. My only statement on this aspect of the campaign is that if a writer is going to even bother expositing in the beginning the personalities of this group, which Red does, then they need to back it up with scenes that flesh out the characters beyond just a mere quip and the beginning cutscene, which is the best written part of the game. And having them supply the player with critical equipment such as health packs and ammunition doesn’t count as characterization either.
That segues into the level design. As has been noted, squad-based mechanics are part of the single-player campaign. Zussmann provides you with health packs, Turner with ammo, Stiles with grenades, Aiello with mortars, and Pierson with spotting enemies. I’ve realized that, in addition to counting as a sort of condiment to the weak characterization in this game, the squad mechanics mainly function as a crutch to the game’s level design. Put simply, the design is this: kill some Nazis, move up to a place where there are more Nazis to kill, then move up again, now defend this place where there isn’t a lot of maneuverability and kill Nazis that are all bunched up together. The player’s health will deplete, and unfortunately, some of the AI squadmates aren’t too keen on preventing Nazis from getting into the defending zone. Anytime you run out of ammunition or health, you have to crawl or run your way through the crossfire to get to them, then run back and shoot some more guys.
Except for perhaps the Battle of the Bulge set piece, and a sequence where you’re running through a hotel, attempting to save a civilian, there is no momentum to the gameplay. You are stuck, hunkered down and killing anything that moves while occasionally dodging for cover. What sets the Battle of the Bulge set piece apart is that there is a real sense of urgency to the action. The Nazis are everywhere, and often, you are out in the open, only able to hide behind the scant pieces of cover that are there. It’s too bad that that mission is broken by a flying sequence that, although good and fit enough for its own dedicated mission, destroys the pacing of the level. Replaying the D-Day mission, I was reminded of the various on-rails sequences and quick time events that try and fail to amp the nerves. There are also stealth missions, but those devolve into shooting galleries as if they were scripted to—which they are.
And now, after all the talk of poor characterization and lazy level design, how does the story add up? Well, if you’ve played any of the previous WWII-era Call of Duty games, you’ll remember that the single-player literally follows a campaign across a theater of war. The squad goes from place to place without any external drive besides the fact that orders took them there. This is actually fine. But what should have been the emphasis is actual character development, as stated above. It’s what would have gotten me to enjoy the game. That, and more memorable levels.
A last note on the campaign: immersion. On the minor positive, the reticle is absent, at least on veteran difficulty. I don’t know if this has been the case for previous titles, but it’s a step towards realistic shooting that is greatly appreciated. Borrowed from Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway, it shows that the developers had at least a bit of good inspiration. The second point, one that in my view hurts the game, is that the game’s violence is surprisingly subdued. After the fantastic shooter Wolfenstein II, and with the promise of a grittier Call of Duty, I was expecting more than I got. True, the D-Day sequence is the most violent in the game, with limbs flying off and even part of a soldier’s head being blown open, but that sort of violence is rare, if nonexistent, in the gameplay. Remember World at War? If the player went up to an enemy and got them with the shotgun, they were guaranteed gore. Why is that absent from this game? It killed the immersion for me, and although I acknowledge that this is a somewhat personal gripe, this hurts the game, rendering it like a rated Teen title. And lastly, there is the treatment of the Holocaust. Well, players never actually see a death camp. It’s something close, but we don’t get to see the atrocity in action. I’m not saying I wanted to, but it would have showed that the developers had some guts.
Okay, now we can get to the other two parts of the game. First, we’ll look at zombies. This time around, it adopts a sort of narrative, where players control Allied soldiers trying to recover art from Nazi thieves. There is also a class system, including support and offensive, medic, and the like. The first time I tried to play, people took too long to ready up, so I had to disconnect, then reconnect to find a better match. My best game lasted about 24 rounds, which I think is pretty good. I had a good team that consisted of a seeming expert who ran circuits around the map, a player of intermediate skill, and me. Just to get this out of the way, you need a great team makeup, or to get together with friends, if you want to stay coordinated and not die. Zombies, with some taking inspiration from Resident Evil, come quick, and pack a hard punch. Couple that with the objectives that clearly state what you need to do but give you almost no idea how to do it, and you’ve got one hectic game mode. Although this zombies mode provided plenty of maneuverability and was at times, downright easy. The objectives and the puzzles accompanying it can be downright confusing. Overall, the game mode is okay. But I don’t find myself going back to it as much as the real kicker in this game.
The multiplayer in this game is fun as hell. There are up to 10 modes, including objective-based Domination, War, Capture the Flag, and Hardpoint. There are also the mainstays like Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch. There is also a hub of sorts, where it was advertised that players could comingle before joining a match, but in the days that I’ve been playing it, I have encountered no one. The multiplayer provides a sense of pace that the campaign was lacking. The momentum of each match, especially with the objective-based modes, is standard-bearing.
The class system is a standout. Streamlined and simplified, they come in five varieties: Infantry, Airborne, Expeditionary, Armored, and Mountain. Infantry contains rifles and assault rifles like the M1 Garand and the STG44; Airborne has submachine guns and focuses on getting the player around the map quickly; Expeditionary is the shotgun class (not much more to say about that); Armored contains the LMGs; and Mountain has everything a sniper could want. Within each of these come class-specific upgrades, which further individualizes the player in their thirst for online domination.
Matchmaking, for me, has been pretty fluid. I’m actually able to drop right back into the hub to check on orders (stuff you do to earn gear) or collections (of gear). The game is easy for people to get into, and the classes clearly differentiate the experts from the casual gamers.
I’ve been having plenty of fun with the Armored class, with an Epic category weapon called Blade. It’s clearly a fictional creation, an LMG made up of many guns, but with the attachments I’ve gotten for it, it’s a stable killing machine that has helped me many times.
The maps of WWII’s multiplayer almost never get old. Simple, layered, and crisscrossed with corridors almost every way you can think of, the variation in navigational approaches makes for a new experience almost every time I play.
Of course, that’s also where the one flaw I found in multiplayer also resides. The maps are almost too perfect. Whether they’re symmetrically designed, or just have too many flanking routes, the layout of the maps allow for too many variables to calculate when the action goes high octane. Although standing on the edge of the map for a greater advantage isn’t really a thing anymore, you’ll still run into people waiting to ambush you from an angle that won’t let you track two targets at once. The trick to this is teamwork, but that’s another variable that is merely optional.
Call of Duty WWII dashed my hopes for a quality single player, but restored my happiness with adrenaline-fueled multiplayer that almost never loses its edge. The zombies is okay, but it's not something I plan on returning to. Well, here's hoping they'll learn their lesson for next year's release.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I am Nicholas Leon. My nickname is Nick, and it all started when I fired up Super Mario 64. I then moved on to the Zelda series (I beat Wind Waker on my dad's old save file a couple years ago) and other Nintendo products. I then moved on to Microsoft products where I have played the majority of my games. I got into first-person shooters in middle school, and although my interest in them has subsided over time, there are still plenty of interesting titles in that area. My first foray into online gaming happened in high school with Battlefield 3. Now, I'm getting more into PC gaming, and I also just bought my first PS4. and own my very first Pokemon game in Moon.
I love intelligent games. That doesn't mean they have to be smart, they just have to know what they are. Action, horror, RPGs, Wii Sports, you name it. I'm always down for new adventures.
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