When Call Of Duty first entered the world, its FPS playground was the second great war. The year was 2003 and developers didn’t have to address the battleground’s periphery.
Back then, an FPS was just an excuse to squeeze the trigger. Graphics couldn’t achieve anywhere near the real-world representation they now can on the current gen. No one would ever mistake the opening level of Call Of Duty 2 for the curtain raiser in Saving Private Ryan.
That’s not the case these days. Motion capture performances, HD visuals and sound effects that have been meticulously catalogued to sound like the real thing combine to bring the horror of World War II into players’ living rooms. Setting an FPS in this time zone presents myriad pitfalls for developers who choose gung-ho action over sensitivity. You’d think a Call Of Duty game would be ripe for this trap.
So it’s rather gratifying – and surprising in a way – that Sledgehammer Games has made every effort to treat the grist for its latest FPS mill with the utmost respect. Well, apart from the game’s zombie mode, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
In a way it makes sense for COD to return to its WWII roots. Between the last two Black Ops games, Advanced Warfare and, most recently, Infinite War, COD was in danger of stagnating in the future. The annual COD iterations Activision has insisted on pumping out between Sledgehammer, Infinity Ward and Treyarch have, in recent times, started to look like an amalgamation of assets rather than genuine steps forward in the franchise.
The fact that DICE cleaned house by throwing Battlefield’s environment back into the past probably didn’t hurt either.
So now we have the first Call Of Duty game set in World War II on a current gen console, and dammit, if it doesn’t breathe life into this warhorse. There’s nothing here that can compete with the sturm and drang of the Modern Warfare series and COD:WWII takes more than a few cues from cinematic source material.
But the game’s single-player campaign seems – for the first time in ages – aimed at telling a story that’s more about camaraderie and brotherhood rather than showing off a range of fantastic weapons. The campaign’s plot follows a squad of American troops from the beaches of Normandy through to the liberation of Paris to the Battle Of The Bulge and beyond.
It hits beats that’ll be familiar to long time fans – a couple of stealth sections and two vehicle-based altercations break up what is essentially a series of shooting galleries – but Sledgehammer’s added a couple of new kinks.
First off, players now have to keep an eye on a health bar; unlike in previous iterations, players can’t simply run around a corner and heal if they take too many hits. Second, the player’s squad mates can dispense useful items such as first aid kits, ammo clips, grenades and, in later stages mortar markers and the ability to highlight enemies through smoke. These don’t come in steady supply; once an item or ability is requested, there’s a reload time before it can be requested again.
The campaign is six-to-eight hours long and it tells a decent story (although hardly mind-blowing), but as always, the meat in a COD game is its multiplayer and WWII is no different. In matches the action is exactly as veterans would expect; the maps can sometimes feel too close quarters or too sniper friendly and those players with the fastest twitch trigger fingers come out on top.
Alongside COD regular match types such as Free-For-All, Team Deathmatch and Domination, there are one or two newcomers that may pique players’ interests. Gridiron is essentially a game of American Football in which players have to get a ball into the enemy’s end zone to score. While you’re carrying the ball, you can’t shoot, but in a neat twist, you can hand off the ball to opponent and gun them down before retrieving it. Being the wide receiver, then, doesn’t exactly make you helpless.
The pick of the bunch, though, is War, an objective-based skirmish between Allied and Axis forces in three-stage scenarios. Squaring off against human opponents in missions such as Operation Neptune (the battle of Normandy) or Operation Breakout (which involves building a bridge – or stopping it) adds an extra level of sweaty-palmed tension to the proceedings. One just doesn’t feel as safe as one would against the campaign’s AI in these scenarios.
There’s a central hub to the multiplayer, which offers players a chance to kit out their avatars and play mini-games to improve their chances in the multiplayer. There are even rewards for being nice – commending other players on their actions can net you exclusive gear – which is probably the last feature one expected from a COD game.
Finally, the Nazi Zombies co-op mode rounds out the package. And what a finish! Nazi Zombies is an incredibly polished single- and multi-player arcade horde mode that stands on its own, even against the might of the emotional single-player campaign and frenetic multiplayer. It’s clever, there’s a story to it, the graphics are utterly incredible, you can play as Ving Rhames (yes really!), the zombies are disgusting, and you can play it on your own or with up to four mates. I played on my own, mostly, and still had a blast.
The first map – and one you must beat before the second unlocks – is called Final Reich, and is set in a sleepy German mining town. There is so much going on here that the quiet, dull, European vibe it initially presents is quickly forgotten as you sprint from objective to objective, shooting zombies, earning Jolts (the in-game currency used to unlock weapons/perks/resupply ammo), and unlocking new parts of the map (including a blood-soaked sewer area), culminating in a massive showdown with the level’s boss.
As the waves progress, the zombies get faster and more difficult to take down (with mini boss zombies appearing every five rounds or so), so you have to use your reflexes, your guns, the environment, and whatever perks you can afford to beat them all. You need to git gud, basically, otherwise the zombies will take you down.
And you don’t want that to happen before the final boss arrives, because holy shit, it’s spectacular. Think “Umbrella, Satan, and LexCorp got together to design a boss monster” and you’re still nowhere close to how awful this thing is.
Once you’ve completed the map, the second map unlocks, called “Groesten Haus”. But instead of another sprawling, maze-like level to explore, you’re stuck in a teeny tiny house, with an upstairs and a downstairs and not much else. It’s quite a stark contrast to the first map, but that just makes it more intense as you’re fighting in very close quarters all the time.
This map is claustrophobic, and it’s thus easy to find yourself cornered. My advice: just keep moving. Grab those powerups, use the random perk machine, and shoot shoot shoot until you’re done. It’s an incredibly tense experience, but (to me) even more enjoyable as it requires more raw FPS skill than Final Reich does. It’s also less, er, scary – Final Reich’s creepy atmosphere, gory zombies, and disturbing scenery will creep you out and have you nipping straws the first few times you play.
There are even Easter Eggs to unlock, which you can look up online if you like, plus each of the locked characters requires that you pull off various – really difficult – challenges before you can play as them (a guide will probably be necessary, though). There are four characters to choose from initially, with another six to unlock. Each one plays a specific role, with specific perks, and choosing your character impacts on how you play.
Basically, there’s a lot of game here.
And that’s why I am super impressed with Nazi Zombies. Sledgehammer appears to have put in a huge effort to make it as enjoyable as possible, and to my mind, they succeeded.
Call Of Duty: WWII – Verdict
The different parts of Call Of Duty: WWII feel like strange bedfellows. The achingly sincere campaign jars horribly against the nightmarish zombie mode, while the multiplayer ignores both sides and offers a twitchy fragfest. As a package, this is an odd duck.
But if one can get past the fact that COD:WWII offers three contradictory experiences, this is money well spent. For all its failures as a cohesive package, COD:WWII is easily one of the best titles this franchise has seen in ages – and it’s also one of this year’s essential buys.
- Call Of Duty: WWII was reviewed on an Xbox One. A retail code was provided by the publisher.