Sledgehammer Games finally gave fans what they wanted with Call of Duty: WWII. It dragged players away from the far-flung futuristic settings the series had recently taken place in, and dropped us into a more traditional and familiar setting. Of course, one based on real-life events doesn’t leave much room for surprises or massive twists and turns in the overarching plot, but Sledgehammer carefully evaded this. It instead placed focus on a more personal story. Not just that of the protagonist ‘Red’ Daniels, but of his fellow squadmates and the significance of camaraderie among soldiers.
In an attempt to freshen up the titan series’ single-player offering, Sledgehammer puts the focus on your allies and working as a team. A number of your fellow soldiers have abilities you’ll charge up with kills, or Heroic Actions (we’ll get to these in a minute) such as giving you a health pack, topping up your grenades or ammo, or highlighting enemy positions on the battlefield. It helps to make you feel less like a one-man killing machine, and more a significant part of a unit. Even if you are just constantly leeching off your buddies’ supplies.
But that’s where Heroic Actions come to try and balance the give and take between you and your team. Every so often, you’ll have the ability to drag a bleeding-out teammate out of danger and into cover, shoot an enemy they’re physically struggling against, or even just make enemy soldiers surrender. Again, these are minor moments, but they help lend to the gravitas and immersion of the gritty WWII story in a way that previous titles rarely could. By the end of Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign, I was less concerned with the overall war effort and more with the members of the First Infantry Division I’d fought alongside. That’s certainly to the credit of Sledgehammer for some great storytelling and finding a unique way of making a familiar story feel somewhat fresh again. Yet, it also had me wondering why in the world it wasn’t a co-op experience.
Each and every time I pressed up on the d-pad to request some form of aid from one of my squad, I wondered why I wasn’t just asking a friend over voice chat. Every time I dragged an AI ally out of danger, I wondered why it wasn’t my friend frantically screaming down my ear that they were down. Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign talks about camaraderie, but asking the AI for ammo restocks or health didn’t really feel like camaraderie. It provided the illusion of it, but in reality, I was just the one-man killing machine who occasionally had to sprint out of my way across the front line to get a few extra clips from a soldier who rarely did anything else.
On the other hand, imagine being literally pinned down by more substantial suppressing fire from enemies while your real-life friends shouted at you for ammo or needed dragging into cover. Leaving your friend to die in a co-op campaign could be the difference between success and failure. Not only because of the ability they brought to the team, but because they’re far more efficient at disposing enemies than your average AI counterpart. Assigning each player one of these unique abilities would have required a further degree of teamwork and communication, and provided a much more realistic and co-dependent experience. Forget to give your buddy some ammo before he starts flanking the opposition and he’s gonna have a bad time. Your friend who could highlight enemy positions down and out? It’s going to be a much tougher battle. Don’t get me wrong, for a single-player experience, Sledgehammer’s system worked well. However, not even having co-op as an option for the campaign feels like a particularly notable omission, especially considering the source material Sledgehammer were working with.
While we’re not going to dive too much into Call of Duty: WWII’s story here, it’s safe to say that it has its emotional moments. Seeing all the things that Daniels, Zussman, Pierson and the rest all went through really emphasizes how dark and harrowing World War II was and how important it was to have people you could rely on by your side. Being able to put yourself (and your friends) into those roles, as a result, would have made the whole thing feel far more personal and impactful, even if there are a couple of laughs among friends along the way.
I’m sure Sledgehammer didn’t want the banter and laughter that often comes with co-op play to dilute the gritty, serious experience it has in its campaign, but when you’ve got Zombies mode nestled in alongside the multiplayer and campaign, it becomes a bit of a moot point. Oh, and to add insult to injury, Zombies and multiplayer both have co-op options, too.
Ultimately, Sledgehammer hasn’t done a bad job with Call of Duty: WWII. In fact, it’s arguably the most enjoyable campaign and multiplayer experience I’ve had with the series in years. But that doesn’t mean it’s free of missed potential. In a genre that the Call of Duty series arguably shaped the modern-day landscape of, and where the competition is constantly pushing the boundaries and finding new and exciting ways to immerse players in the action, Call of Duty needs to start taking these chances if it hopes to stay on top.