My collapse in excitement between the initial reveal of Call of Duty: WWII and its eventual release is where the worry sets in. Going back to World War 2 is what I’ve wanted from the series for years. In fact, I never wanted the series to leave it. But the decision has ultimately ended up a double-edged sword, one which has forced me to look at the series in a harsher light than I previously had done. Call of Duty’s continuing expansion to new eras, eventually even new planets, helped paper over the cracks; the worrying design decisions and the staleness of its ideas. Bringing the series back to where it all started does nothing but bring its flaws into sharp focus.
One thing you can never deny a Call of Duty game is its sheer wealth of content. There’s a heck of a lot of COD: WWII but it’s certainly spread unevenly. We’ll begin with the campaign, easily the least substantial of COD: World War 2’s offerings. It’s brief. Very brief. Clocking in at around five hours playtime on the normal difficulty, it’s a classic example of style over substance. Without a doubt, this is the best looking World War 2 shooter that’s ever been made. It’s been draped over one of the most bog standard campaigns of all time though. What was bewildering to me was just how similar it all is to the original Call of Duty and Medal of Honor games from 14 years ago. From a gameplay perspective, the advances made are practically zero. Scrabbling around in the dark for a difference, I guess getting med-packs and ammo from your squad mates is a new addition.
If you’ve played a WW2 shooter, you’ve seen everything Call of Duty: WWII has to offer before. Seemingly learning nothing from the original COD’s trailblazing trifecta of single-player greatness that offered US, Russian and British campaigns, COD: WWII is happy to assume World War 2 started on June 6th, 1944. It opens with yet another take on the Omaha Beach landing, complete with the exact same cinematography we’ve seen from Saving Private Ryan and games it inspired countless times since. There’s the preamble as you make your way towards the shore. The dropping of the bow ramp. The bullets ripping through the soldiers in front of the player. A bloke losing a limb and looking for it on the beach. Shellshock. Using a Bangalore to breach the beach defences. It’s the same game we played over 15 years ago. At the very least there were four other beach landings we could’ve taken part in. For all the flaws with Battlefield 1’s campaign, DICE was prepared to try something new with its focus on lesser known parts of World War One. COD: WW2 plays it dangerously safe. After the beach landing, you’re storming Normandy farmhouses, taking down AA guns and artillery emplacements, driving jeeps from point to point and sniping from a church bell tower. Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before. To top it all off there’s the brain-dead AI and the classic ‘monster closets’. You know what I mean, the seemingly endless streaming of Nazis that are somehow emerging single-file from a small barn.
The only real positives I can glean from the single-player campaign is that it’s not exactly terrible, just hugely uninspiring. I found myself playing purely on the hunt for the next wow factor from a set piece, but it never really reached the heights I was expecting. It’s not saved by a lacklustre story either, one which never really stretches beyond a handful of soldiers exchanging banter and dragging each other out of precarious situations. In fact, it’s at its best when you’re not even playing as the main character at all. Stack it up against Wolfenstein and it’s frankly embarrassing. It’s an exercise in ‘just enough’, saved by the occasionally satisfying feel of the gunplay. All in all, if you’re planning to buy COD: WWII for the single-player then we wholeheartedly recommend you wait for a steep, steep discount, or just don’t bother at all. There are stronger alternatives out there. Fortunately, Black Ops 3 rescues it from having the worst Call of Duty campaign yet.
For a lot of folks though, the multiplayer is the bigger draw of Call of Duty: WWII. Much has been made of Activision’s ‘boots on the ground’ spiel, and it is a return to simpler times. The core of Call of Duty (post Modern Warfare) still remains though. It’s fast-paced, has a low time to kill, and capitalises on cramped map designs. It’s a blessed relief to lose the jetpacks and other baggage which has encroached on the series, and it feels great fun to play in bursts. As usual, it’s all about the loadouts, with an array of scorestreaks to unlock and additionally reward players who are dominating. If you’ve played a Call of Duty game you know exactly how it feels by now, and Call of Duty: WWII’s shift to a historical era doesn’t exactly do a great deal to change it up. If you just want more of the same, that's no bad thing.
One of the main additions to the multiplayer is the new War mode. This is asymmetric objective-based multiplayer that brings COD:WWII more in line with the Day of Defeats of this world. One team must advance while the other defends, with basic objectives such as building bridges or securing capture points. It’s a nice breather from the usual run and gun play and it also promotes differing tactics. Finally, you get some use out of that mounted machine gun. The downside is there are only three War maps, with more coming as part of the heinously expensive $50 season pass. Three maps just is not enough to support an entire game mode, and it’s easy to see through Activision’s monetisation plans here.
Aside from War mode, it’s business as usual in Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer component. There are heaps of mode variations and a lengthy treadmill to hop aboard, and the World War 2 is sure to appease many.
Lastly, there’s the token Zombies co-op mode. This is a lot less obtuse than it’s been over the years, along with a more violent grindhouse twist. It’s quite by the numbers, tasking players with fending off ever-increasing waves of zombies. Teamwork is absolutely crucial here, and I suspect it’s the element of Call of Duty: WWII which will have the longest legs for me. The actual odds of ever playing this game after reviewing it though? Doubtful.
I think we’re at the stage now where ‘good enough’ just doesn’t cut it with Call of Duty. There are so many alternatives out there that an average COD isn’t just a waste of money, it’s a waste of time. If you want the full experience and continued support from the map packs, you’re looking at a $100 outlay. That’s on top of the insidious loot crate mechanics. While it’s purely cosmetic based, for now, data mining has hinted weapon drops will be coming in loot crates soon. Call of Duty: WWII really isn’t a good enough game to justify those costs. The three game modes mean there’s probably something in here for everyone, but it’s doubtful many will get their money’s worth when you take the short campaign and the obligatory map pack into account.