Call of Duty: WWII on PS4
As a return to its series’ roots, Call of Duty: WWII feels like a blockbuster title that draws inspiration from your favorite war movies and shows like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. The return to the western front and D-Day on the beaches of Normandy is familiar and predictable, but the knowledge of what’s about to happen as soon as you step off that boat doesn’t make WWII’s single-player campaign any less weighty or emotional.
This year, Call of Duty: WWII takes a step back from the futuristic warfare scene of wall parkour and jetpacks, opting instead for a ‘boots on the ground’ combat approach, where the gameplay is entirely dependent on your shooting skills. The gunplay itself is satisfying and punchy as ever, and it’s delivered across all three facets of WWII. The first – the single-player campaign – is a grisly six-to-seven-hour affair that follows Private Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels and the 1st Division as they journey through the western front before eventually taking back the Rhine from the Axis Powers. All at once, the characters feel familiar as well. Zussman is the good-natured, smartass best friend; Stiles is the nerdy college grad; Pierson takes the role of the no-nonsense sergeant, and Turner serves as the platoon leader who’s just trying to bring all his men home safely.
The story’s emotional weight relies entirely on your attachment to your fellow comrades and the bonds that are built up over the course of the story. For the most part, it works. Especially when you consider the lengths Sledgehammer has gone to incorporate that sense of camaraderie into the gameplay. Call of Duty: WWII removes automatic health regen, which means that you can’t just be a one-man army that tears through the Nazis alone with nothing but a rifle. Health packs are scattered across the battlefield, and you can request for an extra one from Zussman. Your allies can help you out in different ways as well – Pierson can mark enemies on the field, Stiles makes sure you never run out of grenades, and Turner replenishes your ammo when you need it. All these abilities are on cooldown, and they help the player feel like a proper part of the squad, as you’d usually require their assistance to stay alive in a firefight.
Call of Duty: WWII doesn’t shy away from the violence and cruelty that comes with war. While the gunfights and explosions are bombastic in their own right, at times the campaign slows down to give you a more intimate look at the conflict. You’ll spot a fellow soldier struggling as a German opponent attempts to knife him, or watch as another ally lays prone on the field, bleeding out from a sniper bullet wound. The campaign is peppered with Heroic Action moments where Red can risk his life to drag an ally to safety, or rescue a comrade from a fatal stab wound. Some of these are harder to pull off, adding to the gravitas of the story.
Sledgehammer also treads a fine line between humanizing the Germans and showing the atrocities committed by the Nazis during that period of time. The campaign is careful in illustrating that there are always casualties on both sides, a point that is made clear in a particularly harrowing mission where the 1st Division attempts to evacuate German civilians from a hotel in the middle of the Aachen war zone. You also can’t help but feel some sort of trepidation as the campaign nears its conclusion, and you realize that we’re getting closer to the topic of the Holocaust and the horrific concentration camps that came with it. Call of Duty: WWII’s depiction of the camps isn’t gratuitous, but at the same time, it feels watered down and slightly sanitized.
Ultimately, though, the single-player campaign left me feeling somewhat hollow and drained. Instead of celebrating the Allies’ victory over the Nazis at the end of the story, Sledgehammer opts for a more personal close that has Daniels reflect on the horrors that he survived, and the bonds that carried him through it.
It’s a bit of a jarring shift in tone, then, when we turn our attention to the multiplayer side of things. This year, the online multiplayer includes two big additions. The first is the implementation of the Headquarters social space, which is a hub where players can interact with each other and open their Supply Drops. Headquarters is a cute addition, and players can commend each other and also challenge others to 1v1 fights, or have competitive shootouts at the firing range. It encourages players to be more friendly and social with each other, which is nice, though inconsequential. The other, more exciting addition is the War game mode, which is probably the best multiplayer mode in WWII by far.
War mode pits two teams of six against each other, as both sides attempt to complete objectives to win the round. In Operation Neptune for instance, the Allies have to storm the beaches of Normandy and take over two bunkers, as the Axis Powers stop them by gunning them down with machine guns. Though the game mode usually favors the defenders rather than the attackers, these matches often end up being intense tactical affairs where you could easily lose an objective if you aren’t paying attention to your enemies’ positions. War also lends itself well to all sorts of play styles; you can bust out a sniper rifle to provide cover fire from afar as your allies try to build a bridge in an exposed area, or you could storm the enemy’s front door with a shotgun or a rifle and rely on pure mechanical skill to get through, or if you’re not particularly great at shooter games, you could sneak into an enemy base and steal the fuel you need to get your tank running again.
Honestly, the only drawback to War is that there are far too few maps available for it at launch. And out of the three maps, Operation Neptune feels like the most unbalanced one by far, as the defenders are often given such a clear line of sight of the aggressors’ spawn points that it’s easy to choke them out even before they can complete the very first objective.
WWII also sees the return of more classic modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Capture the Flag. The Gridiron mode (the ‘boots on the ground’ version of Uplink) also proves that an American football take on the Capture the Flag formula can be a ton of fun, too. By grabbing a ball in both hands, players are unable to shoot, and are tasked with scoring it in the opponent’s goal. You can throw the ball at an ally, or even at an enemy to free your hands and fire at them before they can react. The wide variety of multiplayer modes ensures that you’ll never get bored with the game’s online play, especially when you consider the amount of freedom you have when it comes to Divisions and class-changing.
Call of Duty: WWII’s five Divisions all cater to specific play styles, but just because you’re in the sniper-oriented Mountain Division doesn’t mean you can’t switch to a shotgun loadout in the middle of the match. As you level up your character, you’re able to unlock the rest of the Divisions (which you can swap between at Headquarters) and more loadout options to shake up your gunplay in the multiplayer modes. Each Division has to be ranked up individually as well, so there’s plenty to work towards if you want to collect all the Division-specific rewards, too.
It should go without saying, but the shooting feels wonderful in WWII. Every gun is nuanced, each with their own kinks and recoil patterns to get used to. The little ‘clink’ sound you hear when you eject a cartridge from the M1 Garand gives you a sense of satisfaction like no other, and don’t even get me started on that subtle typewriter-like ‘clack’ sound effect that plays when you land shots on an opponent. The weapons come with beautifully elaborate reload animations, and it’s easy to fall in love with the gunplay alone. There are, of course, a whole multitude of attachments you can use to customize your favorite guns – better sights, grips to lower recoil, predictable weapon sway, you name it.
Tying all of this together is the Supply Drops system, which is Call of Duty’s version of loot crates. This time around, Sledgehammer has opted to make the loot crate items purely cosmetic, which means that there’s no stat advantage to be had from getting Epic drops in your boxes. Gun and gear variants give you experience boosts and pretty looking equipment, but that’s about it. Given how the topic of loot crates has been so contentious recently, it’s nice to be able to enjoy the multiplayer modes without having to worry about other players being more powerful than you because they got luckier in their drops, or were willing to spend some real cash on the game.
However, loot crates do have a more substantial impact on the schlocky Nazi Zombies mode. Dubbed The Final Reich, WWII’s Zombies mode pits four players against an endless wave of undead zombies as they attempt to uncover secrets and Easter eggs in the map. This year’s Zombies cast also features the likes of David Tennant and Ving Rhames, who both give lovely and tacky performances to bring their characters to life. The casual and hardcore routes of the mode will keep you glued to the screen for hours at a time, and though a zombie-shooting horde mode sounds like a relaxing fun time, you’d be kidding yourself if you think you can clear even the casual route in just two or three attempts.
The biggest problem with Call of Duty: WWII is that it feels like three different games packed into one. On one hand, you’ve got an emotional tale about the 1st Division as they trudge through war zone after war zone to win the fight against the Nazis. And on the other side, you have more comical instances in the B-grade campy horror movie-styled Nazi Zombies, where you blast through a lovely rural village with a Tesla gun and lightning bolts. Call of Duty’s annual releases have been packaged this way for a long time now, but they feel especially jarring this year, perhaps due to the heavy story and performances delivered in the single-player campaign. It’s a Franken-game, one where its parts don’t always fit well with one another, and will probably give you tonal whiplash jumping from Daniels’ somber reflection into a silly match of Gridiron football. But if you’re able to overlook one aspect in favor of the others, Call of Duty: WWII delivers on everything it’s expected to.
Score: 4/5 – Great
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