It may come as a surprise to hear this but a new Call of Duty game came out a little more than a week ago.
Shocking, I know.
This little known title is also moving units out the door, selling $500 million in its opening three days, reportedly twice the sales the previous installment Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare over the same amount of time (a much better comparison of sale figures than Activision’s own foolish comparison between their new game and the opening weekends of Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman combined…because you know a $59.99 retail priced game is EXACTLY the same thing as a movie ticket, average price in America being something close to $9.00).
Ill-framed sales comparisons aside, I was very interested in getting my hands on this game. Last year, despite comparatively poor sales numbers, I quite enjoyed Infinite Warfare labeling it one of my favorite single player campaigns of 2016 and putting it #5 on my top ten games of 2016 list as well. In my opinion it was the best Call of Duty since the original Black Ops.
Coming off the heels of that excellent, completely under appreciated game and having enjoyed my experiences in the “Open Beta” a few weeks back I was all but pacing back and forth waiting to see what was in store for the return to the roots of the series, World War 2.
Well I’ve spent the last two days with it and…well…I miss Ethan (E3N) and my spaceship.
I was on the edge of my seat anticipating the D-Day beach landing. Unfortunately the moment the action started the game couldn’t live up to the feeling of waiting for it to start.
As the title blatantly states, Call of Duty:WW2 takes us away from the near to far future battles of recent titles and brings us back to the European theater of World War 2. When I heard this I was very excited to see Activision leaving behind the jetpacks, wall running (or wall-plodding as I called it since it moved so sluggishly compared to the excellent mobility in Titanfall 2), robots, super powers and Sci-Fi weaponry in favor of more realistic and (hopefully) historically accurate combat.
After having my emotions manipulated by the excellent story telling of the previous game I was looking forward to experiencing the same emotional rollercoaster against the background of a truly world altering war.
Maybe the bar was set too high by the previous game or maybe I expected too much but the campaign of Call of Duty: WW2 falls well short of my expectations, delivering a stale, by the numbers to the point of being cliche story aping the best parts of excellent WW2 narratives like Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan but failing to resonate in the same way they do.
What it lacks in emotional impact it has in explosions.
The story focuses on Private First Class Ronald Daniels, a young man from Texas who is given the trope of longing for his beautiful young girlfriend/fiancé/wife (I don’t recall the nature of their relationship being spelled out in detail) and their potential post war life together and dreaming about an important event with his older brother from years ago…and that is about all the characterization we are given. That’s right, the main character is a guy from Texas who loves a woman he hopes is waiting for him and his buddies tease him about her and he sometimes recalls an event with his brother…that is how well defined he is.
It’s 2017 and apparently “I’m from Texas” counts as backstory.
But…there are explosions!
His buddies also come from standard war story tropes: Zussman the wise-cracking hustler who also happens to be Jewish, Stiles the bookish looking, college educated war photographer and Aiello the tough guy with a “casually racist” nature (who is “redeemed” later on by a handshake with and a kind word for an African-American solider who joins the plot late).
The four of them are led by Sergeant Pierson (played by Josh Duhamel), the typical hard as nails asshole NCO. Pierson’s nature is laid on so thick and a tragic past battle is referenced so many times that you’ll likely figure out the reasoning for his attitude long before it is finally explained. Pierson answers directly to Lieutenant Turner, a much more likable leader who predictably butts heads with Pierson throughout the campaign.
The campaign takes this crew of essentially stock characters and drags them through a buy the numbers “story” that more or less just checks off the boxes you’d expect in a Call of Duty (or just about any Triple-A shooter) with WW2 specific additions mixed in.
Normandy invasion? Check and not a particularly gripping take on the historically significant battle at that. There is a surprisingly fun Battle of the Bulge level later on in the game though, well if you take out the…
Poorly done aerial battle? Uh-huh, including what appears to be “assisted” flying when you lock in and the Luftwaffe fighters are maneuvering to escape your gunfire.
Tank section? You betcha, including pain in the ass “you have to get behind them because your shots bounce off their frontal armor but they can destroy you no matter where they hit you” mechanics.
Equally poorly done driving sequences? Yep, including one that ends in an absolutely absurd train crash that goes on about a minute too long and had me laughing out loud while it happened.
Forced stealth sections? Borrowing directly from the least exciting or fun parts of Battlefield 1, there are a handful of missions that require sneaking around for success, including one that no matter how much effort you put into sneaking eventually your NPC partners get spotted to trigger a battle that leads into the aforementioned chase sequence.
Quick time events? Unfortunately, several of them.
Get ready to mash those buttons just like your great-grandparents did.
Sniping sections, vehicle mounted turrets, taking on a tank as an infantry soldier, AA gun usage, hiding behind cover to heal, artillery strikes, dire situations that turn around just before you are killed? Yep all of the above, all the things you expect from a Call of Duty are here and accounted for.
Well hold on…”hiding behind cover to heal” that’s actually something they attempted to get “innovative” with this year and they removed it from the game in favor of med-packs.
Here me out though, what if instead of purely scattering them around the level (don’t worry there are a few sprinkled here and there…they aren’t crazy after all) what if you had to ask a member of your squad for them.
Isn’t that great?
You have to run down your AI squadmate and hit a button prompt mid-combat so he can toss a back.
Sounds great right?
How about if it operates on a cool down too? Wouldn’t that be fantastic?
That’s right health packs, ammo, grenades, marking enemies for a brief moment and artillery strikes are all things that you have to ask your squadmates for.
In the heat of battle.
While the AI often makes them run away from you, making you chase them…often exposing you to enemy fire and therefore the death you were trying desperately to avoid when you asked for health.
I mean it’s a game about being brothers in arms so why not make your buddies more than just a battlefield annoyance (like when they run into your line of sight as you are shooting and you “fail” because “friendly fire won’t be tolerated” as the enemy can shoot your main buddies all day long but only your bullets can kill them).
Another similar good idea on paper but not in practice are the “heroic moments” that either have you save a buddy locked in a life or death grapple with a Nazi or ask you to pull a random wounded soldier into cover. The former is annoying but passable but the latter frequently doesn’t work right getting you stuck on the geometry of the level while you take bullets until you die while unable to defend yourself or bugs out entirely.
I may have gotten hung up on the environment but unlike this fella I believe in the natural order and don’t thumb my nose at gravity.
There is no other way to say it so I’ll not waste any more time trying to cleverly break it down, the campaign is not good. It’s not horrible but it’s far from fun or entertaining. It completely lacks the emotionally gravity it tries so hard for. I felt nothing for my crew, except maybe irritation at Pierson for most of the game (and respect once I figured things out) and disgust at how one dimensional Aiello was as the “look how racist they were in the 1940s” guy who “sees the light” and all is seemingly forgiven because he apologizes. When various guys are in danger I didn’t feel a distinct tug on my heartstrings which is an utter failure of the writing.
Comparatively speaking I frequently felt sad at moments of heroic sacrifice doing the previous year’s campaign, going so far as to shed a few tears during the ending.
Simply put last year they nailed the emotional impact of war in a game about space warfare with a robotic buddy named Ethan and in a game about a very real, very dark, very emotional, very real war they dropped the ball. I am not being the least bit hyperbolic when I say this game was never better than it was when we were riding the Higgins Boats approaching the beaches of Normandy. My hair was standing on end and my skin was covered in goosebumps as I anticipated the charnel house that I new the characters were about to step into. Once the action started that mixture of dread and anticipation disappeared and I settled in for a dull and uninspired ride.
Even the concentration camp level near the end was largely devoid of impact…coming across as less emotional than even a museum exhibit.
But what about the multiplayer?
The multiplayer is actually alright. This is the one place where the lack of future tech and whatnot is actually welcome and makes the game better.
Returning to a more “realistic” style of combat is exactly what I’ve been missing from the series. The last multiplayer modes I truly enjoyed were Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops so doing away with slow wall running and double jumps and bringing back traditional weapons are things I’m very happy with.
I say “realistic” because unlike the allegations of sexism levied at Battlefield 1 for not including women soldiers in a historic setting Call of Duty: World War 2 opens the flood gates and lets you play as either gender and a multitude of skin tones more or less standard stuff by now…even though it means you’ll see decidedly non-Aryan men and women fighting for the forces of The Third Reich..ahem…”Axis Forces”.
Also a number of historically inaccurate attachments are available for your weapons, meaning you can rock a red dot sight on your M1 Garand or “Grease Gun” among the many anachronistic choices you can make. You can also customize you soldiers based on “divisions” such as airborne and infantry, each with their own sets of perks and progression. Hell you can even “prestige” your division once you get its level high enough.
As for maps there are 9 of them at launch but you should know by now that more are likely coming in the form of paid DLC that will split the player base like it always does.
The standard modes: team deathmatch, kill confirmed, etc are all here with the big new addition being War. War is actually a lot of fun as the attacking team has a number of objectives from capturing an HQ to escorting a tank to destroying an ammo cache to building a bridge to accomplish while the defending team well defends said objectives or tries to stop the vehicle being escorted.
Also new, or ripped off if you prefer, is the Headquarters a social space akin to Destiny’s Tower where you ostensibly run around, emote at other players, check out leader boards and either open “supply drops” or watch others do so (which you’ll be rewarded points towards your “social ranking” for doing). There is plenty of customization options in these drops. If you are into such things, uniforms, helmets, “calling cards”, icons, and gun skins for some visual “flare”.
The problem I encountered was that I never once entered a Headquarters social space with any other players in it. I’m not sure what the issue was but the mode was exceptionally stupid without other non-NPCs in it and the supply drops while already equally lame and sinister were even lamer in an empty space.
Seriously I have a big problem with the whole loot box/microtransactions and they are not new to the series but this year they made a point of making so that others can watch you open them obviously in the hopes that by seeing someone get something you think is cool and then want it for yourself. As of yet you can’t buy into these supply drops with real money but digital versions of the game are advertised as coming with “CP” which many assume are paid currency “CoD Points” so you can safely assume it is coming.
It’s probably a good thing you can’t yet because the system is either very broken or the developers got lazy in designing it as, for example one of the many items you can get are emote many of which have different names but are the exact same animation (I unlocked a “Hey!” emote that was identical to my starting “Hi!” emote and have seen videos with identical emote animations named as “Gobbledygook” and “Dang Nabbit” both of which matched one of my unlocks “Take a Powder”).
Zombies are back….again….yay?!
Lastly they tucked in the now standard zombies mode entitled The Final Reich bringing in David Tennant, Ving Rhames, Elodie Yung and Katheryn Winnick as the heroes tasked with fighting Nazi zombies and stopping the villain played by Udo Kier.
Honestly I played about 30 minutes of it and quit. I fucking hate the zombies mode with a capital FUCKING, I don’t get why people find it fun. I don’t enjoy the wave based gameplay, the attempts at adding story to it have failed to make it more interesting. I don’t like the way combat works. Normally I don’t like the cycle of kill the zombies, rebuild defenses and buy new guns but the rebuild part seems to be gone this year so it’s a different kind of not fun. Last year at least had the silly 80s horror film thing going with David Hasselhoff playing DJ which was at least amusing for a few rounds. This year is much more straightforward and much less amusing as result.
Final Verdict: 5 out of 10. On my scale a 5 is a completely average game, a game that doesn’t succeed at doing anything new and feels like something you’ve seen before, a rote or even trite experience offering little in the way of fun or joy. Taken as a whole, average is a perfect description of this game.
I seriously hoped for better, I was excited by the return to its roots, even if I got tired of hearing them say “boots on the ground” in interviews. They missed the mark by mile with this game with a disappointing story, a merely serviceable multiplayer, a typically horrid zombies mode and a slew of bad and/or poorly executed ideas.
The series has definitely started to show its age and it isn’t aging well.
Sure is a good thing that this one sold a boat load isn’t it?