Call of Duty: WW2 Review
A great but flawed return to Call of Duty’s origins.
Call of Duty’s return to World War II is surprisingly a fast-paced rendition on the classic setting. It provides for a good campaign, a great new mode in multiplayer among other good changes, and a creepier, dense version of Nazi Zombies. However, each core part of Call of Duty: WW2 is marred by inconsistencies and minor flaws that hold it back from being a landmark in the series. Still, it’s a solid Call of Duty game and I’ve enjoyed the many hours I’ve already poured into it.
While my personal custom is to skip a Call of Duty campaign and jump straight into the multiplayer, this year I was happy to start Call of Duty: WW2 with this very personal-feeling but typical war story. The campaign, which follows Private “Red” Daniels through pivotal moments like D-Day (of course) and the liberation of Paris, is a good primer for what’s to come. It shows how well Call of Duty’s combat adjusts back into a historical setting for the first time since 2008’s World at War, and, more importantly, tells a good story with some fun action movie-style spectacle.
Over the short (or average, for this series) five- to six-hour campaign, I slowly but surely found empathy for Daniels and his squad. The story is built mostly through excellently animated cutscenes and in narration after missions – the standard Call of Duty fare. I appreciate that while Daniels and his squad fought the obvious Nazi enemy, the tension between characters also developed as they found themselves deeper and deeper in the war, and that drove much of the drama. The squad isn’t trying to take down the biggest, baddest enemy they can find; they’re just trying to survive and do their best to make a difference as things get progressively worse. It’s a more human perspective than we’ve seen in recent years.
Teamwork is a nice substitution for technology.
The 1944 European setting definitely provides for an interesting Call of Duty experience. Taking a step away from a long stint of futuristic shooters – including last year’s far-future Infinite Warfare – this Call of Duty understandably loses a lot of the past games’ verticality and speed, but that’s not to say that combat is slow. It does require a bit more patience in identifying targets, more accurate shooting without the assistance of a variety of high-tech scopes and sights, and it tacks on a campaign exclusive health bar for Daniels that requires constant attention, but enemies still drop fast and I still needed to keep constantly moving to stay alive.
It’s refreshing: it felt good to be a little grounded, vulnerable, and have a less flashy HUD. But WW2 doesn’t leave you high and dry when it comes to equipment and options. Instead of relying on exosuits and drones for assistance to turn you into a one-man army, you depend on a squad to behave like an actual army. Daniels’ teammates each have an item ability – ammo, grenades, enemy callouts, artillery strikes, first aid kits – that charges up as you kill enemies, and they certainly pulled their weight as I called on them to resupply me in battle. It’s a tradeoff, as I found I had to stay close to them to redeem their perks, limiting my movement a bit. Overall, teamwork is a nice substitution for technology.
As I played, I was happily surprised to see that Daniels isn’t the only star of the campaign; though he’s a competent soldier, he’s not cut out for espionage, operating a tank, or piloting a fighter plane. Instead, WW2 set Daniels aside and even upstaged him as I played through other intriguing missions as even more interesting characters, whose nature I won’t spoil. Their varied tasks were a welcome change to Daniels’ cycle of clearing and capturing areas or destroying artillery.
That’s not to say the basic gunplay isn’t solid, as it typically is with Call of Duty, but the Daniels’ part in the war is a little more limited in terms of objectives and moment-to-moment gameplay. Though their appearances were fleeting, I appreciated the few diverse characters that highlighted the work of soldiers and resistance groups other than white American men in WW2.
WW2’s weaponry is effective but well-worn.
They all use a similar set of tools, though, and the M1A1 Carbine was my best friend by the time I finished the campaign. Even without fancy sights or scopes, the rifles felt best in the predominantly medium to large firefight areas. Generally, though, WW2’s weaponry is effective but well-worn – this game isn’t rewriting history, so it’s pretty much all weaponry we’ve seen before in dozens of other games set in this period. The only gun I was in a hurry to drop is the default pistol, especially when I came across a rare rifle that had an attachable grenade launcher or shotgun with incendiary shells. Those were awesome.
Aside from mowing down Nazis with all manner of guns, Daniels is also charged with manning specialty weapons like rocket launchers and sniper rifles. Rockets are somewhat rare – and fun, as blowing things into smithereens is always satisfying – but the sniping was more of a chore than a treat. There’s nothing wrong with the guns themselves, but the cover fire tasks you’re assigned are often tedious. Clearing waves of enemies was fun at first, but as they just kept coming and I wasn’t allowed to leave my post to maneuver and change things up, I got a little tired of the job. It started to feel like work, and I couldn’t help but wonder why someone else wasn’t providing the cover fire for me so I could do the fun stuff of destroying mortars or fighting Nazis face to face.
The stealth missions are also a little frustrating. Though infrequent and usually not essential, the times I had to sneak around and thrust a knife in enemy throats often went terribly wrong. I’d eliminate the few men that had their backs to me, but the instant I tried to kill someone that wasn’t facing 180 degrees away from me my character would use the butt of their gun instead of a knife when I hit the melee button. No guaranteed instant kill means alarms go off. I didn’t mind it transitioning into a firefight that much, but the overly picky positioning requirements to execute a knife kill were irritating. And because this isn’t really a stealth game, there’s no way to move an enemy into position by attracting or distracting them with sound.
The biggest problem with the campaign is that some of the big action-heavy moments in the first half sometimes feel at odds with what WW2 tries to do tonally. At one point I felt like Indiana Jones was going to pop out and join Daniels in his death-defying escape. It wasn’t a jovial scene, but the persistence of that church bell chasing me through the collapsing building was certainly more on the silly side. Having that right after a scene meant to evoke the horrors and personal loss of war was jarring.