STAFF REVIEW of Call of Duty: WWII (Xbox One)

Friday, November 3, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Call of Duty: WWII Box art It’s been a few years since I truly cared about, or even really played, a Call of Duty title; since Black Ops II to be exact. I’m not sure why it fell off the radar for me, but the last three or so in the series simply didn’t connect with me. The series was, and still is, an absolute monster for sales though, as nearly every friend on my ‘friends list’ would be playing it at some point, though drastically less so in the last few releases. There was a time where a group of us would log on nightly at the exact same time and play Call of Duty until it was far too late to get up at a reasonable hour, every single night. I really miss those nights, playing classics like Gun Game mode on Nuke Town for the millionth time.

The World War II genre in games seemed to be over saturated at one point, but it’s been a few years now, so I was excited to see the Call of Duty franchise get back to its roots, to what defined the franchise over a decade ago. Three years in the making, by over 500 people, Call of Duty: WWII is finally upon us. I went in with zero expectations, as I wasn’t sure if Sledgehammer Games would bring back my excitement for the series that I once had years ago. Well, it looks like it’s time to get the squad back together, as Call of Duty: WWII is a brilliantly crafted cinematic experience with its campaign, an addictive multiplayer that will keep you up into the late hours of the morning, and an incredibly challenging and horror filled Zombies experience.

The game is essentially three different encounters, so I’ve broken each down into their own sections, as each is quite an in-depth and lengthy experience. First up, which is what I was looking most forward to: The Campaign.

The narrative focuses on the story about Ronald “Red” Daniels and the actions of his squad during 1944 to 1945 within the European theater of war. Daniels and his squad are part of the infamous US 1st Infantry Division. Your mission, so to speak, is to fight back the Reich as the Allied Forces start to gain a hold of more territory by taking it back from the Third Reich. Returning to its roots, the twelve-chapter campaign delivers a compelling narrative filled with unique and interesting characters as they fight their way into, and out of, seemingly impossible situations. You’ll visit many areas of war, from the D-Day beach storming of Normandy, which is an absolutely emotional journey to experience, to the liberation of Paris, and finally into Germany’s stronghold. Heroism isn’t a strong enough word to describe Red’s division by any means, but what Sledgehammer has done beautifully is craft a tale set within the actual confines of historical events. I was fully expecting the overused trope of ‘find and kill Hitler’ for the overall narrative, but it actually doesn’t go that way at all, instead focusing on a much smaller scoped tale, yet was absolutely instrumental in part of the Allies eventual victory in the war.

The chronicle feels much like you’re playing something straight out of Band of Brothers. You’re not a super soldier that will single handedly win the war, quite the opposite in fact, as developer Sledgehammer has opted to use a health pack system instead of regenerating health. At first I thought this was an odd decision, but after playing through the campaign in 8 or so hours, I completely understand the reasoning behind it. No regenerating health means that the gameplay slows down, you’re cautious about what you do, and each bullet that hits you feels like it truly matters. You’re able to hold onto a few health packs, using them when needed, but I’ll admit, I died quite a few times by simply from not realizing I was so low on health before getting hit one last time. Your health bar is always indicated on screen, but there’s no obvious red glow, or anything like that, to constantly remind you you’re low on health, so you need to get into the habit of monitoring it at all times. This is where your squad mates come into play. Each brother in your squad is a specialist with a unique ability that can be used every so often. One of those abilities is to toss you a med pack when available. The trick is to monitor when their abilities are ready so that you can use them as often as possible to maximize their effectiveness. You do need to be quite close to them to order them to assist you, but you’ll also eventually have their abilities to use too, like mortars, giving ammo and spotting all enemies in the vicinity. These abilities can be quite helpful when used and managed properly, so be sure to use them as often as possible.

Call of Duty is known to hire well-known actors, not just for their voices, but their appearance as well, and WWII is no different. There’s a handful of cast that is included, the most notable being Josh Duhamel (All my Children, Las Vegas, Battle Creek, 11.22.63 (TV Mini-Series)) for the campaign. Duhamel portrays your squad’s sergeant, and a large portion of the events that take place are focused in some way around his character. He’s a great actor and, needless to say, the voice acting from top to bottom was a huge standout. This helps you connect with your squad and the characters, and you actually start to care about your squad brothers, doing what you can to make sure you all go home alive after this war. As for the cutscenes, they look amazing, borderline realistic at times, and they are a visual treat to be rewarded with.

The campaign will take you across many countries, and even vary in different set pieces as you make your way to Germany. The opening mission is immensely intense, as you are tasked with storming Omaha Beach on D-Day. Not even the soldiers themselves knew what to expect and this gives you a small glimpse of the horrors of war as you are tasked with clearing the bunkers in the distance. There are segments where you’ll get to drive a vehicle in pursuit, and escape, and even though these are guided linear sections, they aren’t completely on rails, giving the player a sense of excitement and action you’d come to expect from a Call of Duty game.

I don’t want to give away too much of the campaign’s gameplay surprises, but one of the more memorable missions involved sniping from the top of a church before it becomes a target. There’s even another mission where you have to make your way to the sniper tower that has your squad pinned down. This is what Call of Duty: WWII does best, making nearly every mission feel unique, complete with a grand set piece that makes it memorable. One such mission was Collateral Damage, where you’re piloting a tank within a nearly destroyed city. You feel vastly overpowered, able to shoot anything down the narrow roads that gets in your way. That is, until you have to take on a tank that flanks you from behind, then two at once. This was interesting, because in most games tank missions are set in widely open fields, giving you plenty of space to circle around and flank, but in narrow streets with buildings all around, you feel suffocated, unable to maneuver how you want to in a dire situation. Another favorite mission is the infamous Battle of the Bulge, piloting one of the ‘boys in the sky’ to drive back forces before you need to hold off incoming tanks with airstrikes. Missions like these really tend to break up the standard shooting, giving you another view of the war from a different perspective.

Another mechanic that you’ll need to learn during a handful of the campaign missions is based around a stealth component. You’re given a silenced pistol and can melee from behind, but being spotted or heard will alert everyone in the vicinity, making the mission much more challenging. One such mission is Liberation in Paris, where you’re one of the females, posing as an undercover Nazi. What’s unique about this mission is that you’re given your documents to review about your cover story, as you’ll be questioned as you progress deeper within the compound, so you better know who you are and what your business so you can answer the questions asked. The last part of this mission involves trying to accomplish an objective from a stealth perspective. From nearly everyone else that played through the campaign at the review event we attended, all said the same thing, that when they broke stealth, either by purpose or accident, they had to finish the mission by shooting their way out. There’s an indicator for when a Nazi sees you, causing an alarm when it’s full, but since there’s no real map, it’s difficult to plan your best route without spending a long time watching for guard paths. I loved the whole campaign, except for the stealth sections.

I found that they were not as fun as one might hope, and I was unable to complete any of the missions without being caught for one reason or another, except for the one mission where you’re forced to complete it without being noticed, though that took many retries to do. The stealth moments provide a change of gameplay for sure, which some will enjoy, but there are many sections like this and, in my humble opinion, they are easily the low point of the campaign. One checkpoint seemed to auto save after I was detected, so when I died it reloaded and I was still under fire. You’re simply not given enough tools to make the stealth gameplay compelling or fun during these sections.

Authenticity was a huge pillar in creating Call of Duty: WWII, as Michael Condrey, Director of WWII stated, and they went across the globe to make sure they got to personally see some of the areas where battles took place and they even recruited a notable historian. This made for a more authentic and true to fact experience, many of which your average gamer won’t notice or appreciate, but war buffs certainly should. One example was how they had placed bunkers in one of the forest levels, yet when they went to the actual site, they realized that the doors weren’t placed in the right direction and they weren’t even in the right plane on the hills either, so they went back and made changes to represent what they saw making it a more authentic experience.

The next major component to World War II is its multiplayer mode.

I honestly expected a simple re-skin of previous Call of Duty multiplayer experiences, but playing it safe wasn’t good enough for Sledgehammer Games, as they’ve crafted a multiplayer that I have a feeling will bring friends back together for more online shenanigans. In nearly every multiplayer game you click on to play, you are put into a static lobby and as it populates and fills with enough players it will then begin each match. Post games are the same, as you wait around while all the work in the backend does what it needs to do before placing you in another. Turns out the developers realized that staring at a static room isn’t a fun experience, and so, Headquarters was born.

Headquarters is essentially the same idea of waiting in a lobby for the next match to begin, but now it’s a hub where 48 players can gather together in a virtual space when not in a match. Here you can run around in a compound-like area, able to interact with one another, competing in activities, picking up missions and more. Here is where you’ll open your supply drops or watch others open theirs, challenge others in quick 1 vs 1 standoffs, use the firing range and even test out the scorestreaks. That’s right, you can finally test out every scorestreak to see not only which ones you enjoy, but how to use them properly before wasting them in an online match. I didn’t think I would make much use of the 1 vs 1 challenges, but it’s quite fun, as it’s’ first to 3 kills with a short time limit. You’re given a list of 3 random weapons at the beginning, with each player able to veto one weapon, leaving the unchosen one as the weapon each player is forced to use. There are challenges that relate to the 1 vs 1 arena to, and I can see myself finally settling who is better amongst my friends. Headquarters may just simply be an interactive lobby when it comes down to it, but it’s incredibly smart and well done, as there were times where I wanted to simply hang around the HQ with others instead of jumping into a match right away.

The first thing you’re going to do is choose your division from five groups: Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mountain and Expeditionary. These are essentially classes and you’ll be given a tutorial video of how each one plays into specific strengths. Depending on your preferred playstyle, each class will be better suited depending how you want to play. I started with Armored for example, as I always gravitate towards the LMG’s, whereas snipers will want the Airborne class. You can eventually unlock all the divisions, so you’re not permanently locked in by any means. While you don’t absolutely need to use the weapons that the class is meant to play, you do get specific perks that make it worthwhile. For example, I got a bipod for my LMG’s as an Armored class, not that another class couldn’t pick up my LMG when I die, or that I couldn’t pick up another class’s rifle, but I won’t be as proficient with it if I do. It’s a clever way to encourage you to stick with the weapon types each that class is most proficient in, which also allows you to level up specific weapons quicker when you’re not constantly switching weaponry.

As you level up by getting kills and winning matches, you’ll earn experience (XP) and credits. These credits can be used to unlock portions of weapons and outfits, and should you save up enough to purchase every piece, you’ll be granted some of the best weapons or coolest looking outfits (visual only) in the game. You’ll also earn Supply Drops from time to time which will net you anything from Common to Legendary emblems, weapons, emotes, XP bonuses and more. These are really exciting to open in the HQ, as other players can watch and see what you get from them as well.

You can expect many authentic World War II era guns, from LMG’s, Rifles, SMG’s, Shotguns, and more, each of which is better suited for one of the divisions. Each gun you use individually levels up as well, unlocking attachments as you go, helping work towards unlocking the camouflage and skins. You’re even able to prestige your weapons once they hit max level, adding things like your Clan Tag or Score Counter to the gun, but doing so will reset its progress and attachments to level 1, just like doing a regular prestige for your character (which yes, is included as well). You’ll also have equipment, such as common grenades, eventually unlocking smoke and stun grenades, mines, and other tools to help you in your multiplayer matches. There’s only a handful of this equipment to unlock, and I know it has to stay within the era range to be included, but there’s definitely not as much of a focus on it compared to previous Call of Duty titles.

Map selection was quite decent, with a handful of maps (with more to come as DLC in the future) that range from close quarter combat within a village, to a vast open field with a massive cannon parked on the railway in the middle. Combat is fast paced and grounded, though it didn’t take me long to figure out that mounted machine guns are incredibly deadly to unsuspecting enemies filing down an objective lane. One problem that always frustrated me with Call of Duty multiplayer was the constant flipping of spawns when players died, meaning you got shot in the back more often than not. Gladly, I didn’t find this to be the case nearly as much as previous titles. That’s not to say it’s nonexistent, but it’s surely not as prevalent.

War Mode is a completely new narrative driven experience to multiplayer that was assisted in its development by Raven Software, who has helped build Call of Duty components in the past as well. War Mode is a 6 vs 6 of Axis and Allies with a varying three tier objective. You could be tasked with destroying radios, blowing up artillery, stealing gas for your tanks that you just escorted, building a bridge and more. Each objective is an offense versus defense with a strict time limit, and you’re unable to move onto the next objective until you complete the previous one first, much like Rush Mode from the Battlefield series. Sure, at its core it’s simply objective attack versus defend, but the 6 vs 6 gameplay really makes it much more exciting, as I’ve lost a match with our escorted tank at 99% because of certain bottlenecks the defense created, and I had a great time even though I lost in the end. Communication and squad diversity will play huge roles for War Mode, as trying to build the bridge for your tank to cross without someone using smoke grenades was near impossible, as was trying to defend without a sniper or two.

If more traditional modes are to your liking, WWII has you covered as well. You’ve got your Team Death Match, Free For All, Domination, Hardpoint, Domination, Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy, and an odd one that I initially thought I wouldn’t enjoy as much, Gridiron. Mosh Pit is random fan favorite mode that rotates and I was glad to see Hardcore included as well, though there’s only Team Death Match, Domination, Search and Destroy and Free For All for Hardcore players like myself. You may notice that Gun Game is omitted, which was a surprise for a few of us at the event, and while it’s not out of the realm of possibility to have it included in future, it’s an odd mode to not be initially included as it’s quite popular.

Gridiron is 12 players fighting for the single ball on the map, attempting to score in their opponent’s zone at opposite ends of the map. Sure, it’s Call of Duty’s take on Halo’s Griffball, but man, there were some intense matches, with a few ending in a tie with double overtime. There’s a lot of strategy to Gridiron, as someone needs to carry the ball, unable to shoot when doing so, so you’ll need escorts and defenders, as you can toss the ball a fair distance. You’re also able to throw it out of bounds of the map, causing it to spawn in the default spot in the middle of the map. This was a viable strategy we used on defense many times, so I’m curious to see the strategies teams will come up with to be wildly successful, as communication is key once again.

Last up is the ever-popular Zombie’s Mode, though aptly titled Nazi Zombies here.

This is a horror story co-op based mode for Zombies fans. I’ll admit, and I’m not sure why, but ever since its first introduction many Call of Duty’s ago, the Zombie mode never struck a chord with me for whatever reason. I was really hoping something would be different here with Nazi Zombies, but even after a full day of playing it numerous times with different people, it still hasn’t stuck on me. That’s not to say that it’s not well done, as fans of the mode will appreciate the additions, but its core still feels plays and feels the same, albeit with a horror theme. There’s an overarching plot that takes place, centered around a team of four that is exploring a small village in Mittleburg, Germany, attempting to reclaim priceless stolen artwork back from the Third Reich. Something is not right though, as the undead start to attack, and as you make your way deeper into the village and uncover its secrets, the more nefarious a plot you discover to help you understand what’s going on and why.

If you’ve never played a Call of Duty Zombie’s mode before, it’s a 4-player cooperative mode that puts you against increasingly difficult waves of undead, but there’s more to it than a simple Horde-like mode, as there are many secrets to uncover if you want to not simply fight the undead forever. Just like the campaign, Nazi Zombies uses famous actors’ likeness and voice as well, as you’ll get to choose from Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible Series, Pulp Fiction, Con Air) and David Tennant (Jessica Jones, Doctor Who, The Escape Artist, Star Wars: The Clone Wars), just to name two. Sure, it doesn’t add anything to the gameplay per se, but when you have an awesome actor like Ving included, it’s really cool to experience it, more so if you’re a fan of them, though the only difference between each character is purely cosmetic, regardless of the class you choose.

Just like the regular multiplayer, you will earn Supply Drops for leveling up in this mode as well, earning you more gear and bonuses, eventually being able to truly customize your character to suit your playstyle. You’ll come across multiple types of zombies, some requiring some massive firepower to take out, so you better have some great communication and coordination with the rest of your team. You’re only given subtle hints of what you’re supposed to do, but not really how or where, so there’s a lot of experimentation that’s involved before you’re able to truly see how large the map is with the underground tunnels and secret pathways.

Killing zombies earns you currency, which can be spent on new weapons and other powers and upgrades, but you’ll also need to save that money for unlocking gates to progress forward as well. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into how your team plays, as each wave becomes increasingly more difficult, so sometimes it’s best to leave a few zombies alive while you run around, scrounging for supplies or trying to solve the next step of the overall mystery. Fans who love figuring this stuff out on their own will no doubt have a good time doing so, as for me, I wish a little more direction was given, as I had no clue what to do and constantly had pressure from the horde of zombies trying to kill me.

Call of Duty used to be the flagship title for World War II shooters, but it’s been quite a few years, almost a decade, since it started to transition to a more modern and futuristic setting instead. The timing for Call of Duty: WWII is perfect, as the World War II genre isn’t stale anymore and fidelity has come a long way, as playing in 4K was an amazing experience, unlike any other Call of Duty I’ve experienced before. The wheel may not have been reinvented, but what has been done here make me excited about playing Call of Duty once again. There’s something here for everyone, as it feels like almost three separate games based on what you prefer to play. Sledgehammer Games has become a great storyteller with their (mostly) exciting campaign, solid multiplayer that keeps you hooked as you level up and earn Supply Drops, and a Nazi Zombie mode that’s sure to have you and your friends scratching your heads trying to solve its mysteries. They could have played it safe, but they weren’t happy with the status quo, which is where Headquarters and War spawned from, a great multiplayer addition to the series, and one that I hope stays going forward. It’s time to get the squad back together and get back into some intense World War II action as Call of Duty is indeed back and this year’s entry is pretty much a ‘must play’ for fans of the series, and fans of video games alike.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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