The Normandy landing has become gaming’s equivalent of a classic story destined to be retold throughout the ages. Or, at least for as long as it’s commercially wise to focus on the main military engagement that makes Americans look good.
It’s our Romeo & Juliet, our Journey to the West, our Gilgamesh. Call of Duty WWII faithfully regales us with the already-known details of this tale, picking the road most travelled and staying well between the lines.
It hits a checklist of all the things you’d expect in a World War II game. There’s the Normandy landing, retaking Paris, advancing into Germany, a bridge mission on the Rhine. There’s a tank mission, a plane mission, a stealth mission. The most interesting mission was as a spy, when you have to remember some basic things about your cover.
All of these are punctuated with great looking cutscenes with wonderfully crafted faces. The expressions! The wrinkles! It’s impressive how great these faces are, and yet, somehow Sledgehammer’s sliders weren’t wide enough to make one face that stands out from the crowd.
Despite the great facial tech, all the faces are the same, and the game relies on props to tell its soldiers apart. There’s the strong-jawed caucasian with the glasses, the strong-jawed caucasian who’s always smoking, and the ridiculously strong-jawed caucasian with a southern accent.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting this is the side combatting the Aryan ideal.
Like everything else in the game, these characters are there to tick boxes and make Americans look good. Just when dialogue starts to accidentally drift into exploring how war can make men morose and sociopathic, it promptly doesn’t.
How many times can you hear a retelling of Journey to the West before you lose interest? Eventually you need some kind of interesting take on it, or you don’t get much value. That’s where we’re at with just about every iconic mission in WWII.
Let’s Talk About the Combat
High production values aren’t always synonymous with quality, but it is when talking about WWII‘s large set pieces. Often you’re dumped into a linear scenario with a lot going on, and the audio/visual appeal of it is enjoyment enough.
Much of this is just playing CoD. You’ll play CoD on the beaches. You’ll play CoD in the streets and fields. But once or twice, there’s a set piece that almost gets back to that jaw-dropping immersion from the first Modern Warfare.
One mission involved a whole front line being smoked out. Seeing Germans emerge from the smoke to start the firefight was a cool effect.
This is one of the rare memorable sequences that occured in gameplay, though.
Occasionally You Press a Button
The comparison to Modern Warfare is apt because much of the great material from that game was in gameplay or leading directly into gameplay. In contrast, WWII takes control from the player far too casually.
Moreso than previous games, Call of Duty WWII leans into the “quicktime event,” which is basically a movie that requires you to press the right button at the right moment to progress. An indicator will come up, and pressing it in time is the difference between who kills who in a close-quarters melee.
Quicktime events are a poor substitute for gameplay but these are, again, highly produced. They always have fantastic graphics and sound. Occasionally they might even feel tense.
Other sections of the game give the illusion of control. Dragging a wounded soldier to cover might trigger one of these situations. Press any direction you like, and you’ll still go the way the game wants. It’s literally a binary input that plays the game as if it were a movie.
Even in the thickest combat, Call of Duty WWII doesn’t ask much of you.
The autoaim is strong with this one. Coming around the corner and having your gun pointed in the general vicinity of an enemy means you can confidently press LT and fire without even confirming it’ll hit. It will. Pump in the necessary two bullets for a kill.
I’ll give it this, it does make you feel badass. The first few bullets from an AI as you pop around a corner are guaranteed to miss you, so in a few seconds you can press L2 and R2 very quickly and perhaps even clear out a whole room.
In the end, I turned off aim assist. The game is enough like a movie already.
Multiplayer — Boots on the Ground
Many were worried that moving from futuristic jetpack warfare back to World War II would create an unbearably slow gameplay experience that required less skill. The good news is, that’s definitely not the case.
Acceleration and speed is still quite fast, and recoil is still very much present. Maps are well designed for the various different modes you’ll find. Competitive teams have supported the game fully, sorting out their esports rosters well in advance of release.
Being in a time without flashy technology, Sledgehammer has had to come up with a new version of Uplink called Gridiron. It’s basically a sans-jetpack version of the same game mode, with the goal area clued to the ground. That could actually require a more skillful throw to score though, as the ball’s arc into the goal will be more challenging when it’s lower.
A Few Steps Forward
The best part of Call of Duty WWII’s multiplayer is its War Mode, which has been unashamedly stolen from Battlefield’s Rush mode, which unashamedly stole that from Enemy Territory.
But in this case, being ripped from another game doesn’t make it any less fun.
In this mode, there are large maps with a series of objectives. As the attacking team completes missions, the spawns change and the line of battle advances through the map.
It’s also free of perks, killstreaks and other clutter the franchise has picked up over the years. It’s almost like you’re playing the game for fun instead of prestige points. Crazy.
Then there’s the Hammer Cam, which is an addition so good it needs to be in every competitive FPS game to come.
First-person shooters have long struggled with the spectator element of esports. Camera operators will often jerk back and forth between multiple perspectives. It’s yet another hurdle for spectators to overcome, and as a result these games aren’t as easy to instantly understand as something like Rocket League.
Enter the Hammer Cam, which floats away from the current view into that of the birds-eye. From there you can select another player and it will zoom into that perspective, clearly displaying who you’re now watching.
When you’re viewing from above, it’s not just a minimap — it’s the actual match. You can see bullets and flamethrowers and everything else as it plays out. It’s another camera.
Why hasn’t this been invented before now?
Is ‘Call of Duty WWII’ Good?
Call of Duty WWII plays like high production values were applied to a WWII game checklist. It’s a short blockbuster campaign going through the motions. Maybe that’s all you want.
There are a couple of good things added into the multiplayer, the most innovative being Hammer Cam. This in particular is a step forward not just for the franchise, but for FPS. It’s just a shame none of that innovative spirit touched the rest of the game.
If you don’t play many shooters and haven’t seen what the genre has been up to in the last few years, its additions might seem fresh enough. If you’re the type to buy FPS games often, you won’t find much new or impressive here.