Call Of Duty: WW2 Brings The Franchise Full Circle With A Classic Shooter Experience
Another year, another Call Of Duty. But things are different this time around. Things are more familiar, yet things are altogether new again. This time, it's safe to say long-time fans are a bit more excited for a return to form for the franchise, to boots on the ground, to a band of soldiers trudging through war-torn Europe on the way to Germany.
And in essence, that's what they'll get.
Overall, this Call of Duty experience is quite similar to what you've come to expect from Call Of Duty year after year. But surprisingly, CoD: WW2 manages to distinguish itself from the series even more than Infinite Warfare did -- and without resorting to any spaceship dog fights!
There were plenty of assumptions about the game made by the keyboard warriors of the world ahead of time, with some that were right on the money... and some that were very, very wrong.
Call of Duty, Old And New
While movement and level design will feel familiar to anyone who has played the last six or seven CoD entries, there are some solid differences in how the guns handle this time around. The old-timey feel comes across really well in this iteration's arsenal -- especially in the single player campaign -- with far fewer of the crazy scopes and gadgets more recent iterations have seen.
Although you won't fly around in power armor or have grenades that scuttle off toward heat signatures, there's still plenty of weaponry to keep the FPS fan happy. And in particular, there's a meatiness to the weaponry that brings the world of CoD: WW2 to life.
For example, there's a really satisfying sound and feel to the spray of bullets when you pull the trigger on the PPSh-41. And there's an extremely heavy, clunky feeling (and exceedingly long duration) while reloading the Iron Sights, one that's radically different from the high-tech weapons of recent games.
But not everything feels great, with a few gunplay hiccups here and there. While dismounting an MG15 and using it with the sight is a totally different experience and one of the best gun options in the campaign -- even if it takes up a huge portion of the screen -- the standard machine gun dismounted from a nest is wildly inaccurate and difficult to use, making it more useful if left stationary.
The divergent familiarity doesn't end there.
Plenty of tried and true Call Of Duty tropes are on display throughout the campaign, but several of them are presented a bit differently. The close combat mini-games for instance get an overhaul in how you line up and press buttons to avoid getting shanked.
Instead of the snowmobile chase from Modern Warfare 2 or any of those "back of the vehicle" segments from other CoD games, this time around, there's a frantic sequence where two squads on unarmored Jeeps have to make it through enemy lines when tank support isn't available.
It's clear we're still in Call Of Duty territory, it's just been transported to an earlier stage in history.
And as an aside, sitting on the hand crank-operated, '40s style anti-aircraft gun is a real time trip and one of the more fun parts of the game. That behemoth of a gun is a beast to aim and hit, but when you take down those Stukas ripping into the Allied armor, there is an undeniable sense of satisfaction.
Returning To War-Torn Europe
The game's environments match the feel of the setting really well, although they don't (in general) go too far outside preset Call Of Duty standards. Graphically, each area looks about as good as can be expected from this aging engine, with some nice little touches that draw you into the world.
I was surprised to realize the farm tools hanging up on a barnyard wall weren't just set pieces, but actual rendered objects, when they suddenly clattered to the ground as a grenade went off nearby.
It's not just the environments that create that '40s feel, though: it's also in how some of the gameplay has been tweaked. WW2 sees the return of health packs (called med kits this time around) and that was clearly done on purpose to further reinforce the classic, old-time feel.
While I'm not usually a fan of health packs in shooters, they are integrated into this system well, and are a critical part of the new squad abilities.
Band Of Brothers
Working alongside your squad is critical this time around -- especially since you aren't a super-powered robot god that can hack turrets or germinate evil digital bees like in the last few games.
The more kills you get and heroic actions you perform, the more you can utilize squad abilities, like having a comrade pass you some ammo or toss you a health pack.
The storyline does occasionally switch between different characters -- including a European resistance member fighting behind enemy lines -- but the focus is on one American squad doing their tour of duty. They start all doe eyed and lovable, but don't stay that way for long as the reality of the Allied invasion sets in.
WW2's campaign features a harrowing opening on D-Day, and it's as deadly as you'd think storming the beaches of Normandy would be. I can pretty much guarantee you're going to die a couple of times before crossing the beach and hitting the bunkers in the trenches.
Overall, the storyline and character interactions are significantly more personal and close knit than is usual for a Call Of Duty game, and it's interesting to see the focus shift from "action-movie heroics" to "basically just trying not to die while following orders."
Bring On The Zombies!
The single-player campaign is just one element of the game, though, with the real life of the party on the multiplayer side of things. Of course, Zombie Mode returns, with Ving Rhames and David Tennant on board this time, and as expected, it's an absolute blast.
If you loved the intricate maps and secrets to be found from Zombies In Spaceland, Attack Of The Radioactive Thing, or Shadows Of Evil, you will be right at home in the Final Reich map.
There are some cool new abilities to play with, like camouflaging yourself from zombies so they ignore you for a short time, but otherwise, everything you know and love from the Pack-A-Punch to the Easter Egg hunt returns in stellar form.
The Bottom Line
So here's the thing you need to know -- Sledgehammer didn't totally reinvent the wheel here, but there's a solid mix of what you've come to expect with a few twists along the way to keep players happy.
The WWII setting is a welcome return to course, and clearly there a ton of similarities and parallels with epic movies like Saving Private Ryan, so if you are into that sort of flick, do yourself a favor and play the campaign.
I don't know if Red and Zussman are necessarily going to replace Soap and Price in our hearts, but they make a valiant effort and at least give us something a little different than what's been on display for characters in recent Call Of Duty entries.
While it won't be long before we're really going to need the CoD developers to do a full ground-up overhaul of the engine to keep the series alive, for now, this return to a classic style is pretty much anything you could ask for in the series. Boot up and get ready for war, soldier!