Reviews// Call of Duty: WWII

Posted 30 Nov 2017 15:16 by
I rather enjoyed Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and feel that the lukewarm response it received was a little unfair. Although comparisons with Black Ops 3 were largely justified, it did attempt to do something new and the cast of characters were certainly more memorable than other recent releases in the Call of Duty franchise.

With the series finally reaching the final frontier where could it go next? Following the success of EA's Battlefield 1 last year, the answer seems to have been pretty clear to Activision: back to where the series began, back to the Second World War.

I can't say that I was particularly enthused by this decision, even though I always greatly enjoyed Call of Duty games set during this time period. The decision felt cynical, an attempt to reboot a franchise that, although still enormously successful, has begun to reach a creative dead-end.

My time with Sledgehammer Games's WW2 has both confirmed and allayed my fears. The game does take some of the worst excesses of more recent entries in the series and amplify them in an environment where this does not feel entirely appropriate. However, the more poignant moments of early games in the series are also well represented. Consequently, WW2 is one of the most confused Call of Duty games in recent years.

First let's talk about what the game gets right. Combat in WW2 is excellent. I always much preferred the slower pace found in games depicting this era, it provides opportunities for more careful consideration and tactical play. In addition, Sledgehammer has altered the way that health management works, returning to the earlier system of health packs. My initial fears about this change proved to be unfounded and the decision does add an extra layer of strategy to gameplay.

In addition to finding health packs dotted around each level the player can also request them from AI controlled team-mates. As well as providing health, other squad members can also be called upon to provide ammunition and enemy sighting. The intention here is clearly to return the series to the original premise, that the player is a single solider in a larger effort and that victory can only be achieved by working together as a team.

The system largely works. However, in earlier parts of the game Sledgehammer unfortunately returns to more recent series staples. After an excellent set of opening missions, the action began to focus on set pieces designed to make the player feel like a super soldier.

One stage in particular, based around an attempt to board a moving train, is the nadir of this approach. Any attempt at creating a more realistic depiction of the events of the war are thrown by the wayside as the player engages in frankly ridiculous feats that very nearly fatally undermine the integrity of the campaign.

Fortunately, following this early misstep there is a real upturn in quality and although the campaign does feel rather uneven by the final third, it really does begin to hit its stride.

This is particularly apparent in the game's attempt at dealing with the holocaust. It's generally handled sensitively, although it does feel that Sledgehammer was not quite confident enough to really engage with the horrors of occupation and systematic genocide. This is perhaps understandable, although it does feel as if the developers did want to say more but were unable to fully articulate themselves. Overall the campaign, although uneven, is generally solid and certainly worth spending time with.

Visually, Call of Duty: WW2 is stunning with battlefields, war torn cities and the churned-up French countryside presented in amazing detail.

However, there is a touch of Michael Bay about the way in which the developers have decided to use the graphical power at their disposal. Explosions and set pieces in some areas, particularly towards the start of the game, feel excessive and although they certainly provide spectacle they struggle to convey the horror and confusion of war in quite the same way as the desolate wastelands of later, more muted, parts of the game.

One area in which modern consoles can certainly exceed their predecessors is in the sheer number of troops involved at any one time. Battles, particularly within woodland areas in WW2 are chaotic and hugely enjoyable. It would be fantastic to see Activision return to this era again, but perhaps focus on some other theatres of conflict. I would really like to see something on the scale of the battle of Kursk using this game engine.

In addition to changes in design for the single-player campaign, Sledgehammer has made some significant modifications to the game's online systems. Unfortunately for the first week or so that the game was released the online functions were unavailable. This has since been fixed and the new system 'Headquarters', appears to be working.

'Headquarters' provides online players with a social environment within which they can interact with purchased loot boxes and take on new missions. It feels very much as if Sledgehammer is attempting to emulate the hub areas of Destiny, albeit on a smaller scale with the addition of more obvious micro-transactions.

Aside from this hub area, multiplayer options consist of the familiar capture the flag, death match and team death match options. Because of the slower nature of combat in this period, the game is perhaps more forgiving for newcomers. It will be interesting to see how the addition of loot crates impacts the Call of Duty online community.

One final aspect of the game that deserves some consideration is the 'Zombies' mode. I have never been a particular fan of this mode of play and in WW2 it feels rather crass. Sledgehammer has clearly tried hard to create a respectful and engaging campaign and the addition of this mode doesn't quite fit with the rest of the package and I can't say that I found it to be particularly enjoyable. The tonal shift just feels wrong, but perhaps that's just me.

It was a risk for Activision to return to World War 2 with the Call of Duty series. Overall the gamble has largely paid off. It has delivered one of the more interesting campaigns of the last few years and I certainly hope we will see a return to this period in the not too distant future. Where Call of Duty goes next it is hard to guess, I just hope that the series continues to build on its roots rather than the more outlandish 'super soldier' elements of more recent games. WW2 is a solid and enjoyable game that is worth your time.

Pros:
+ Visually stunning.
+ Changes to combat systems are well thought out.
+ Excellent attention to detail.

Cons:
- Uneven campaign.
- Loot crates for online.
- Zombies mode feels out of place.

SPOnG Score: 7/10

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