Call of Duty has a bit of a stigma attached to it. Gone are its glory days, and instead it functions as a yearly franchise release with a Call of Duty game coming out every year since 2005. Perhaps stagnation is why 2016 saw the near-future Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare while this year has the World War II callback Call of Duty: WWII. It feels like publisher Activision is hedging their bets or tossing handfuls of war eras at their customers and hoping something sticks like Modern Warfare did. WWII was supposed to be a breath of fresh air or a return to its roots (depending on your perspective) but it has managed to accomplish the only thing: be just another “safe” Call of Duty game with little to no risk.
For those unaware, the Call of Duty franchise was originated by developed Infinity Ward, but development is juggled between three development studios: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games and Treyach. Sledgehammer Games had the development reigns on WWII and while they’re no stranger to developing Call of Duty games, they’ve only participated in making three of them. Despite being handled by multiple studios, Call of Duty has felt consistent over the years with no deviation to base mechanics. There’s an emphasis on multiplayer, regenerative health, emphasis on iron sight aiming, etc. I was hoping the World War II setting would be a callback to an earlier era in Call of Duty, but for better or worse it’s just more of the same.
I was also hoping for a World War II single player campaign to rival Call of Duty 2, but despite their obviously earnest attempt, it ends up being hackneyed. You play as some forgettable good ol’ boy who is facing the horrors of war for the first time. The single player campaign starts with a huge set piece invasion of Normandy. Yep, Omaha beach, Saving Private Ryan style. I’ve been storming that beach since at least 2002 and feel like that gaming trope should be put to rest. The rest of the single player campaign is mostly loud war with inconsequential dialogue. There are a few standout sections, most notably a section where you play as a woman spy infiltrating a Nazi base, but I’m not sure if that part was truly good or just stood out because it was a reprieve from the cacophony of generic video game war.
The multiplayer is just as you’d expect: fast-paced action in small(ish) maps, kill streaks and zombies. Instead of normally creating a class for your character, you choose which division you want to concentrate on. The more you play, the higher your rank in that division and the more skills and abilities unlock for you to play with. There is also a social hub called “the headquarters” which allows you to hang out with other players, accept orders and contracts, use a shooting gallery, and even publicly open (mostly) cosmetic item based loot boxes (yes, of course, there are loot boxes). Fortunately, you can earn loot boxes by completed orders and contracts allow you to pay in-game currency to challenge yourself to get a potentially large payout. It works out to be a very well-paced reward system that incentivizes play, but it does it so well I can’t help but feel like a rat pulling a lever for food – some games hide this, but for Call of Duty: WWII it’s just business as usual.
Multiplayer modes consist of the normal team deathmatch, capture the flag, domination modes, etc. but also added is a new “war” game mode. This mode aims to make multiplayer a more goal-oriented, story-like experience with players having to fight World War II inspired battles. It reminded me of Battlefield 1’s operations mode, but less epic in scope and with more quickfire type gameplay. The popular co-op zombie mode makes a return with some famous faces showing up.
The Nazi Zombies mode has changed a bit this time around. Instead of defending against waves of zombies in the usual fashion, there are different tools at your disposal as well as varied objectives to complete. There are four classes to choose from with different ability focuses: offense, crowd control, support and medic. There are also different loadouts and power ups that can be used as you and your team attempt to move through the levels. Killing zombies gives currency which can be spent on weapons or unlocking the way forward to complete objectives. Activision managed to snag some famous faces for their zombie mode, including Elodie Yung, David Tennant and Ving Rhames all contributing their voices and likeness- but it doesn’t add much. In fact, sometimes the lines are delivered in such a hammy, over-the-top way as to be immersion breaking, or the star power at the very most adds nothing as the characters rarely interact with each other, and have so little screen time they are barely characters at all. Playing Zombies mode with random strangers seems a bit harder now, too, as the objectives are more complicated than before and, if saddled with players that are unwilling or unable to communicate, rarely anything that needs to be done gets done.
Despite being a single product, zombie mode feels like a disparate product from the rest of WWII, and it acts like it. This leads to my biggest complaint in the game, and it’s one that only exists in the PC version. It’s incredibly inconvenient to switch game modes. There is no casual switching – instead, you have to essentially relaunch the game to play the new mode, which is more than a little frustrating and inconvenient.
Call of Duty remains games’ premier operant conditioning chamber with near-perfect pacing for rewards to keep you playing. The single player campaign feels like it had a lot of attention given to it, but is so generic and trite as to be forgettable. Zombie mode feels like its own experience, but not a very good one, especially with strangers. They should just call next year’s installment “CoD 2018” and get it over with. Call of Duty: WWII is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows.