There’s a lot to be said about the Call of Duty franchise, as one of gaming’s most popular and most recognizable staple, it’s earned no small amount of prestige in it’s nearly 15 year tenure on the shelves. The game has evolved a lot over the years though has proven time and time again that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Through all of the series iterations, through the boots on the ground combat of World War II to the high flying acrobatic duels of the future, Call of Duty successfully delivers it’s trademark fast paced style of game play in it’s Multiplayer while delivering an adamant performance from renowned actors in it’s single player campaign.
Though there is one seemingly majorly overlooked element that is vital to story telling that Call of Duty has never been able to get quite right: The Human element. We’re no stranger to Gung-ho, seemingly unshakable, It’s black or white with no unknown grey area soldiers and silent protagonists who blindly obey orders without fear of injury or repercussion. Our squad leaders are normally infallible super men who never scare away from a gigantic task or question their ability to perform or the morality of the mission set before them, through robust Alpha male, teeth gritting, face punching, determination they always seem to get the impossible job done without fear of trauma.
Call of Duty: WWII seeks to introduce players to a side of the war that we’ve previously never explored. The men and women who don’t make it back okay, who suffer through loss, who feel fear and uncertainty in the face of great adversity, Sledgehammer made it their mission to show you the Human-being, not the hero, in a refreshing, though admittedly sometimes unsettling campaign through France and Germany in some of the most violent recorded battles of Histories bloodiest conflict.
You take the reigns as Pvt. Ronald “Red” Daniels, a freshly deployed farm boy from the heart of Texas as he tells his story through narrated letters to his wife, Hazel. Together with his comrades of the US Army’s First Infantry Division, the game opens on one of the many boats storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day June 6th, 1944. At this point, the tone of what will become an extensive campaign is set in stone as blood rains from bodies, limbs are torn from their sockets and droves of your allies are gunned down. A big point in what will later become a much more in depth first for the series is this isn’t solely a visual representation of carnage, as Daniels (Voiced by Brett Zimmerman) is heard attempting to fight back the panic and the overwhelming urge to hit the floor instead of barking at his comrades. A small entrance of the potential mental repercussions, which will become an on-going theme throughout the single player campaign, are shown during the conclusion of the first mission, as Daniels looks down at his shaking, blood soaked hands uncertain that he is cut out to be a Soldier.
That first mission ultimately sets the stage for what will become a pivotal plot point throughout the course of the game – How to continue fighting when you’re shaken to your core, fatigued beyond exhaustion and attempting to grieve. There’s no question that you lose people in war, but in previous Call of Duty games, deaths are usually unceremoniously confined to one mission and never referenced again, WWII changes that formula and displays the lasting effects of loss and showcases the influence that one person can have on an entire squad. We also discover that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, especially so if that potential faulty link is a commanding officer. For the first time in the series, every foiled plan, misstep and ambush are felt beyond the missions in which they occurred, we see a level of emotion, of doubt, of anger, of fear and yearning that are referenced several times throughout.
Of course, Sledgehammer does this through carefully engineered game play mechanics. The first thing players will notice in Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign is that for the first time your health doesn’t regenerate over time and in fact, you have a health bar that show’s the level of damage you’ve received. Players will now have to find First Aid Kits and use them to recover health. Keep in mind that depending on how much damage you’ve taken, one Health kit may not be enough to fully restore your health bar so careful resource management is key to survival and will certainly effect the pace in which you complete the mission, especially in the games higher difficulties. While this mechanic works quite well and doesn’t make the game a hellish nightmare to play, I was a little disappointed that losing too much health didn’t adversely affect your character, aside from the traditional glaring red borders that appear on your screen when you’re injured. I feel that a change in sprint speed or additional sway in your rifle while aiming with low health would have helped sell the “Human not inhuman” theme that dominates the campaign.
What’s more, there are a slew of other changes as well, for starters your squad mates are now more than just names on a screen that you blindly follow. The supporting cast of actors lend their voices to not only aid you through vocal queues, but also come with a helpful feature called Squad Rewards, which can be utilized periodically through missions as you shoot the mean nasty Nazis. One squad member will throw you First Aid Kits, while another will resupply your Ammo, as you progress you’ll run into squad mates who can spot enemies, call in mortar strikes and resupply both your Lethal and tactical grenades. You’ll gain a large boost in cool down reduction for these abilities through “Heroic Actions” an optional new campaign mechanic that will have you rescuing wounded soldiers, or capturing surrendering enemies periodically through out each mission.
Though the campaign introduces much more dramatic overtones, it’s all too easy to lose that sense of urgency and grasp the intentions of the character as like most shooters, those pivotal story moments are often bogged down by repetitive, uninteresting waves of large scale slaughter and reoccurring mission tasks. Regroup with Person A, take control of building B and the ever infamous “Clear the area completely to continue to the next area.” Despite changing the formula on the narrative, there isn’t much new to see in the way of mission structure. So be prepared for a lot of sprinting and shooting in large intervals.
But on to the important stuff, what would Call of Duty be without it’s world renowned Multiplayer modes? Players will immediately notice that not surprisingly, you no longer have an exo-suit or jetpack to hurl you wildly through the air like a lethal gun-toting ballerina. This time around Call of Duty has returned to it’s roots in what is a strictly boots on the ground battle to the death! This transition was at first a little odd, but I quickly adapted to the Call of Duty gameplay that I remember from the past days which was an incredibly refreshing experience, the familiarity of pace while still learning how the new Create a Class system operated, and working with different weapons to see how they perform in different situations. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Though slightly more restricting than the past pick 10 or even pick 13 systems, the Call of Duty: WWII offers a dynamic and fun experience to customize your character. It forces you to think objectively and tailor a class to a specific style of play instead of dumping massive, over portioned amounts of food onto one plate. To start, you’ll be asked to pick a division which will effect how your character interacts with the guns you’ll be using and a variety of Class specific unlocks that increase your proficiency with a particular weapon tree. Infantry specializes in Assault rifles and earns an additional attachment slot early on, Expeditionary focuses on shotguns and equip those guns with incendiary rounds, Mountaineers specialize in Sniper Rifles and a focus mode which slightly slows movement and greatly decreases weapon sway while Airborne takes over as the “Ghost” class, allowing the player to move silently and allowing them to attach or remove silencers to submachine guns at any time during gameplay. The game also allows you to select a ribbon for added benefits. Though the list is quite extensive, one will allow you to replace your secondary with a rocket launcher, while another will display an on-screen popup while being shot from off-screen.
For the first time in Call of Duty history, Multiplayer now offers a sort of “Hub” a social space not completely reminiscent from what we’ve seen from Bungie in Destiny. 48 players can load into the space at once and it provides a number of activities within it’s boundaries. Players can open supply drops, accept challenges and missions, switch from Multiplayer to Zombies mode, take aim in the shooting range for all available weapons and even partake in 1v1 duels which players can spectate while in the space.
Though I haven’t played much of the new Zombies mode, what I have experienced was hectic, Zombies are no longer confined to just jumping through boarded windows, but can now come out of the ground itself, the mystery box returns though has a brand new look and doesn’t give off light to display it’s location. Power must still be activated to access electronic doors and perks and pickups make a triumphant return, though at present I haven’t seen any exclusive to WWII. For the first time in Call of Duty history there is an entire list of heroes in the new Zombies mode and the game lets you select them at will, you’re no longer lock to a character by chance each time you start the match.
Perhaps most interesting about the new Zombies formula is that it’s now classed based and is defined by 5 pre-built classes, each containing a default weapon load out complete with specific grenades, passive abilities and an activated special ability. While playing the offensive class, I can activate a special ability that gives me infinite Ammo that never empties the magazine for the duration of the ability, eliminating the need to reload entirely. There also appears to be Armor in lieu of the Juggernaut perk, which can be purchased from a machine for an incrementally increasing amount of points. Though I can’t confirm at this time, one would assume that the more points you spend on armor, the more hits you can take from the raging armies of the undead.