The latest Call of Duty entry from Sledgehammer Games is Call of Duty: WWII, marking a return to its origins for Activisions powerhouse franchise. A smart move? We focused on the single player campaign for the purpose of this review.
After Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released, the series quickly shifted to a more multiplayer-focused experience. At the same time, the single player portion to each new game became more cinematic than before – and critics will quickly point out that the campaigns also got shorter. In that sense, Call of Duty: WWII is exactly the same as the games that went before it, but it does break with an important recent trend.
While the last few Call of Duty titles moved us further and further into the future, WWII proves that there is life left in a return to the past after all. When the first three Call of Duty games (and their expansions) came out it felt like everyone was cranking out WWII shooters and gamers grew tired as a result, but last year’s Battlefield 1 proved that gamers are still perfectly comfortable without wall-running and jetpacks.
In WWII’s campaign, the action immediately shifts to one of the most iconic moment in the history of the Second World War – the invasion of Normandy’s beaches. It was a big deal in Saving Private Ryan, it was a hallmark moment in videogaming history when it was recreated in the early Medal of Honor days, and now it’s Call of Duty’s turn. For obvious technical reasons, World War II has never had a better audiovisual delivery than it does here. The story delivery doesn’t just hinge on the excellent visuals though – it’s how fleshed out yet human the characters are that carry the bulk of the work here.
For the majority of the campaign, you assume the role of Ronald Daniels, called “Red” by his squadmates. Coming from a small town in the US, WWII immediately plunges him into the depths of the Normandy invasion – and things don’t get better for him after that, as he struggles to survive alongside his squad. This squad plays a crucial role in the campaign as well, both in terms of gameplay and the narrative experience. Starting with the latter, you develop personal relationships with a few of them, and they interact with each other as well – bumping heads over life and death decisions and finding support with each other.
Your most trusted friend is the squad’s medic, Zussman. Besides your friend, he’s also a major factor in how the game plays out, and the reason for that is that self-healing is out the window this time. Imagine my surprise when I rushed straight into the game, sustained a bit of health damage, ducked into a corner to regenerate my health, only to see…. nothing. In WWII, you have to rely on good old health packs, and the majority of them will come from your buddy Zussman. The same dynamic applies to ammo, which you can usually get from your squadmates as well. This means you simply cannot go “lone ranger” with any great amount of success, especially on the harder difficulty level – and it’s a much more realistic approach than the self-healing we’ve been taking for granted.
Despite this more realistic approach and a more human-focused story, Call of Duty: WWII still has its epic set pieces and action sequences. The massive scale of this particular war and the abundance of vehicles make for several memorable scenes, including one that involves a bunch of trains that’s just spectacular to watch. It’s not all heart-pounding action though, as the campaign’s human touch includes moments of reflection as well as missions and sequences that provide a break in pace, including a stealth-oriented section and a mission where you play as a female resistance member in Paris.
The recent Wolfenstein II and Call of Duty: WWII have both been real treats for the single player first person shooter enthusiast. WWII is one of the best campaigns in the series so far, even though it’s still on the short side. Of course a major part of WWII’s content lies with the multiplayer side of things and the zombies mode, which makes it a shame that Activision doesn’t release more versions of the game – like a campaign-only version that’s cheaper than the full thing. Single player fans might shy away from the full priced package available today, even though it’s one of the best available on the market. Those who cough up the money won’t be disappointed though, especially if there’s an interest in multiplayer there as well.