I got to watch about fifteen minutes of the single player campaign in Call of Duty: World War II, and afterwards play a few rounds of the multiplayer, including the new War mode. For the screening of the campaign mode, we were treated to a battle against the Nazis in a pretty standard warzone in WWII Europe.
The demo featured the American protagonist, a young Texan named Robert “Red” Daniels, who is aggressively dull. However, if Activision and Sledgehammer are to be believed, this is a deliberate choice to show how a kid gets thrown into a war and experiences the horrors within it. However, to quote Nick Statt’s great hands-on article in The Verge
“[T]he game doesn’t give [Daniels], or you as the player, a directive other than to survive, kill, and advance. The primary perspective on view is that of the American soldier — a viewpoint that’s been explored time and again.”
Zoning in on that first sentence, the lack of directive other than to blast your way through a warzone, using tactical grenades to get the upper-hand, apprehend a tank and gun down some twenty German soldiers, makes the game appear more or less like every other COD that came before it.
That being said, I’d be remiss to mention that what I saw, while rote, was well designed, comprehendible without being transparent, and featured delineated goals along the battlefield that felt seamless and driving. At one point, you end up in a church, and are treated to harrowing, gripping series of QTEs as a church-tower crumbles from above you, taking the massive church bell with it. It’s this kind of cinematic style that has come to characterize the Call of Duty franchise the same it does the Uncharted franchise, and it is glorious to behold. It’s also utterly deafening. Obviously one could attribute that to the screening, but there’s no doubt that the game’s soundmix heavily favors the bangs, clanks, kerchows, and explosions that forcibly transport you to the hellish battlefield.
The multiplayer demo I played after showcased the game’s greatest strength – its impressive, super sticky gameplay loop. I played the infantry classes almost exclusively, though there are other classes that have different secondary weapons and abilities, like the sniper class, the scout class (shotgun, close quarters and infiltration focused), or the heavy class (armored class with anti-tank grenades and a bazooka too). Part of this is due to how tight everything feels. Few shooters feel so good, and have such a grasp on lighting up the brain’s pleasure centers. The small ding when I get a kill, the way an automatic feels as I empty the magazine, the terrific sensitivity and goldilocks weighting of your characters (not Battlefield heavy, but in no way CS:GO floaty). It’s all there, all as impressive as ever.
I am going to focus on the new War Mode since the other modes I got to play, team deathmatch and domination mode are more or less the same. War Mode basically plays like Battlefield 1’s Operations mode. In multiple battles meant to illustrate a larger conflict, one team tries to stop the opposing team from carrying out a mission you’d see in war, like bombing supplies, or building a bridge, or infiltrating a base. The preventative-team will need to build walls, defuse bombs, and the like to succeed. The mission-oriented team needs to carry out this task before time runs out, and the preventative-team’s reinforcements arrive. Once the mission completes, or time runs out, we move on to the next round, with a different mission and a different method of preventing that mission’s completion. It’s meant to help generate a narrative, kind of an emergent narrative mode, if you will.
It was cool to have more delineated goals, and try out new maps designed to suit these specific conflicts, but it also doesn’t feel too different from domination mode. Of course, this is speaking from someone not heavily invested in the meta for this franchise, and also I wasn’t coordinating with my fellow players. I imagine those two aspects will elevate this mode.
Overall, I enjoyed experiencing this new COD. I wasn’t blown away by it. It was a solid shooter from a solid, if uninspired franchise. Look for the beta to come out in August.
I also highly recommend reading Tyler Wilde’s excellent piece on the kind of falsehoods EA and Sledgehammer are trying to sell this game on.