There’s something oddly appropriate about reviewing this around Armistice weekend. Call of Duty: WWII has decided to revisit its roots with a historical setting. Activision and Sledgehammer are hoping the nostalgia can tempt lapsed fans back to the ailing franchise. As one of those myself, I approached this with caution. I slipped away from the series after Modern Warfare 2 and, in many ways, this package tries to harken back to some simpler times, whilst being wrapped up in some modern expectations.
I tend to come to these games for the campaign and, whilst I’m in the minority on that, the idea of a 7-hour fireworks display still excites me. You spend the majority of your time in the square jaw of Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels. He’s a Texan farm boy on the front-line longing to return back home. He’s tight with his squad-mates and his Sergeant is a predictable hard-arse with a troubled past. Characterisation is a little obvious and well-trodden. You get the moments of insubordination and strife as you butt heads with Sergeant Pierson and your squad features some familiar archetypes. You see comrades die but we really have no attachment to them. At times, it feels flat and lightweight. That’s not to say it’s not well acted.
The supporting cast put in good performances whilst your protagonist kinda suffers from being a blank slate. He has motivations and hopes but his Texan drawl doesn’t lend itself best to emotion. They’re all rendered fantastically with facial animations being very on point. They don’t tend to jar and it’s quite nice to see in motion. Whilst the storytelling fails to really pack a punch, you can tell where this game’s budget lies. Presentation in Call of Duty: WWII is top notch. Environments look equally stunning. Your trek takes you deep into winter, across urban and rural locales. Sound and music does well to portray epic firefights and tension, even if the objective design tends to revolve around killing things to progress or hitting the next checkpoint.
Across eleven missions, the campaign stays focused on the war’s tail end. It’s all set in mainland Europe with Normandy’s D-Day landings getting another run-out to open the show. Whilst they have tried to focus on the trials of Daniels’ squad, the global scale of the conflict has been lost. As I was playing this, I remember how fondly I thought of Call of Duty 2‘s campaign. Maybe it’s tougher to tell new stories within a theatre so well-documented but this feels safe and without risk. There are genuine instances where they could’ve stepped up the intensity and then pulled back. I still had fun but you can see opportunities being missed. The campaign’s more interesting moments are fleeting but tend to involve time away from the main crew. There’s a marvellous diversion involving a member of the French resistance and a segment where you pilot a bomber in formation against German adversaries. In practice, that last one provides some genuine frustration but vehicle and turret segments are kept to a minimum. They break things up but I do miss juggling multiple narratives.
Much has been said of Call of Duty: WWII‘s servers at launch. Thankfully, one week on, they’re stable with plenty of options to consider for a multiplayer session. It might not be my focus but they’ve constructed a robust package with the modes fans have become very accustomed to over the years. You pick your division to start with and each of them have their own specialties. You can switch between them at will and you unlock extra loadout slots swiftly. Normandy serves as the game’s social hub where you can meet up with your squad, accept dailies, train and open lootboxes.
I know that’s a trigger phrase these days and, to be honest, I’ve not found them invasive. From ones I’ve opened, they’ve yielded cosmetic rewards. I can’t imagine this becomes a pay-to-win scenario. You receive a regular payout from your division and can pick several bounties and challenges to aim towards. The multiplayer experience is rewarding enough and the idea of boxes that hand you emotes and calling cards shouldn’t deter you from it.
The two more involved modes, War and Domination, focus on point control. I’m enjoying it as someone who doesn’t really hold his own with kills. It’s a meat grinder but you can contribute little by little and, whilst communication can help, you can get by without it. There’s no shortage of players so the lobbies fill up quite quickly and performance holds up. I’ve not noticed any lag so far so the gremlins of launch week have been combated. Maps are intricate, although it makes me wish some areas featured in the campaign. I like the idea of fighting on Tower Bridge, although some maps work out better than others.
Nazi Zombies continues with a celebrity edge to it’s narrative. This time Ving Rhames and David Tennant add to the cast of cheesy characters. There’s nothing new about progression as you defeat waves and spend volts on weaponry, ammo and unlock gates. With friends, it’s a good time as you try to coordinate defensive positions and complete objectives. It’s a commitment which usually ends in defeat but helps extend your cooperative options.
Call of Duty: WWII‘s campaign reminds me of the series’ distant past whilst offering an impressive visual treatment and presentation. It’s safe and lacks impact whilst the multiplayer aspects remain familiar but with some new maps and some antique hardware. It’s hard for me to say where it sits in the pantheon of these games but it’s executed pretty well, if a little lukewarm. It’s been good to return to the series but I’m not sure how the fatigued will feel. It’s a change of scenery, if nothing else.
+ Character models look fantastic.
+ Campaign is entertaining, if a little narrow in its focus.
+ Multiplayer remains compelling and addictive.
- Some of the vehicle sequences feel clumsy.
- The package feels very safe and doesn't provide anything majorly new.