Call of Duty: WWII Review

Posted on November 25, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox, Xbox One with 10 Comments

Call of Duty: WWII is a welcome surprise, with a solid single player campaign, diverse multiplayer modes, and a new take on Zombies. As a throwback to the game series’ early days, it shouldn’t work so well. But Call of Duty: WWII is the most enjoyable COD in years.

Single player

I first wrote about the Call of Duty: WWII single-player campaign about two and a half weeks ago. At the time, I was probably about 70 or 75 percent done with that part of the game, and it was so fun that I actually spent that entire weekend finishing—and live tweeting—it.

The story is the familiar U.S.-centric view of World War II, and it opens and closes with, and consists entirely of, our country’s involvement in the European theater. For a student of history, that seems unfair—the Soviet Union played a far bigger role in that victory than the U.S., and suffered far more greatly—but it serves a solid narrative purpose: The game game mostly focuses on a single team—a band of brothers, if you will—making its way from Normandy to Germany, with a nice side-trip to Paris. It’s far less disjointed than the constantly-shifting viewpoint in Battlefield 1, which is, perhaps, one of the few legitimate gripes about that game.

This story line also answers an open question that I had about the impact of Call of Duty returning to World War II, at least for the single-player campaign: Given how played-out this war is, so to speak, how could it possibly sustain the three game arc that you know Activision is eager to achieve? As was the case with earlier COD titles, sequels to this game could spread out to cover the Soviet Union and the Pacific theater, respectively, making for a nice trilogy. (That said, multiplayer is sure to get a bit stale over these games, unless the game desginers can come up with some truly thrilling maps.)

Anyway, aside from some truly terrible 2017-era “everyone’s a winner” dialog—including a groan-inducing and inconceivable moment where the U.S. soldiers heading into battle on the backs of tanks discuss the good things that Germany has given to the world, the story is mostly tight, with great characters, great dialog and voice acting, and tight, taut action.

One big difference between this game and its predecessors is that you don’t just heal when hurt. Instead, in a bid to emphasize the “we’re in it together” thing that was very much the case for the U.S. military in WWII, your teammates each have some role to play: One supplies health kits, one has ammo, and so on. I only played through on the normal skill level, so this wasn’t particularly onerous. But I could imagine wasting a lot of time on harder skill levels trying to find the health and ammo I need.

Overally, the game play is nicely diverse, and includes some firsts for Call of Duty, including a truly fun stealth level in which you—as a woman in the French resistance disguised as a German secretary—infiltrate a Nazi stronghold in Paris. Yes, there’s a bit of history-bending with the characters that ties this to the character you usually play, plus your teammate. But it’s such a great addition, and this aspect of WWII has never made it into a COD game.

Sneaking up on the Nazis in Paris.

But it is a typical COD game in many ways. There are the standard COD set-pieces, including scenes where you have to shoot down planes, pilot planes, drive trucks, man the machine gun on the back of trucks, and so on. And the also-typical “hold this location until help arrives” moments where you’re just meant to survive wave after wave of attacks. Curiously, these moments are, to a one, not as tedious as I found such things in previous games, so kudos to the game designers. Every COD game has at least one tedious moment, but I found the entire single player campaign to be incredible fun. I couldn’t put it down.

Part of the enticement here is that COD:WWII doesn’t shy away from some of the less politically correct elements of that war. Racism and the Nazi internment camps and up front and center, and a key part of the story. And in the latter case, those camps form the emotional conclusion of the story, just as they did in World War II.

Overall, the Call of Duty:WWII single player campaign is the most approachable and enjoyable COD in years. I strongly recommend the game for this reason alone, especially for people who are fascinated by this period of time or are ex-CODers who drifted off as the game series got more and more futuristic. This is a wonderful return to forum.

Spoiler alert: World War II ends well for the Allies.

Multiplayer

On that note, multiplayer in Call of Duty:WWII* is less successful in the sense that it continues to add complexity to what should be a simpler, throwback experience. Starting with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, COD multiplayer games have gotten ever more complex and less approachable. And COD:WWII continues this trend. I don’t know how anyone who has not been playing each game, in turn, would ever pick this thing up and be successful at it.

Worse—for me, at least—I’m not successful at it, though I am slowly crawling my way back out of the K/D—kills/deaths—hole that I’ve found myself in. That is, one could view their record in COD multiplayer in various ways—wins/losses, perhaps, or less obvious things like upgrading guns and gun types—but what I look at is K/D. Which is the ratio of times I’ve killed over times I’ve been killed. The minimum is a positive K/D—meaning I’ve killed more than I’ve been killed—but ideally it’s better than that. 2:1 perhaps. Certainly 1.5:1.

Not so far. When I reached first prestige—which is to say I’ve “leveled up,” in this case to level 55, and have opted to start over—I had a negative K/D. It was close, something like a .95 percent record. But unacceptable.

I’m trying to figure out why that is so. Could be that me playing over Wi-Fi is adding some lag. My son believes that playing on a very big screen actually introduces lag, and he suggested trying a 27-inch display again. Heck, I could just be getting older and slower, for sure. But I’ve usually done pretty well at these things. Anyway, I’m working on it.

Long story short, multiplayer is mostly excellent, assuming you can handle the complexity—you can chart your path through all kinds of perks, achievements, upgrades, challenges, and more—and aren’t frustrated by the skill of the human opponents who appear to literally live in these levels online. As with previous COD games, it suffers initially from a small selection of levels, which of course get boring quickly. But more are on the way, in the form of DLC (downloadable content), which you have to pay for, of course. And Sledgehammer has introduced an interesting new game type called War that adds a new level of team play that I find lacking in the game mode—Hardcore Team Deathmatch—that I prefer.

COD succumbed to loot boxes before this game.

One thing I really do like about multiplayer is that the weapons and play styles are delightfully old-school: When you reload a BAR, for example, there is a grin-inducing metallic CHUNK that adds to the realism. And when you get a headshot, there is a less realistic, but no less enjoyable metallic PING sound as a point of emphasis. The presentation is just top-notch.

Zombies

Back in the day, by which I mean “through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4,” I used to play the single player campaign straight through before jumping into multiplayer, and then I’d spend the rest of that one-year period before the next COD playing that. And then I’d rinse, wash, and repeat.

Two things have changed over the subsequent years. One, I’ve stopped playing single player first, because doing so left me behind the hordes of players who jumped on multiplayer on day one and figured it out immediately, leaving me at a disadvantage. And, two, Zombies became a thing.

I’ve always really enjoyed the presentation of the various renditions of Zombies, but I’ve never really enjoyed or played this game type very much. And, yes, I know I’m pretty much alone on that one: Today, Zombies is a key selling point for any COD title, and it sits alongside multiplayer as a key component of each game’s replayability.

Traditionally, Zombies has basically worked like a modern version of Space Invaders: Wave after wave of enemies attack you and a small group of co-players in a fixed location, or a series of fixed locations, and you must fight back and build up defenses. Over time, you get better and better weapons, but the game gets harder and harder. Eventually, you will lose. There’s no “winning” Zombies, per se. Just wave after wave after wave … until you all die, and it ends.

For COD:WWII, we get a new take on Zombies, and it may be enough to entice me to give it a shot. For the first time, there is a real story that frames the action, and … I’m intrigued. The story serves to “explain” Zombies—because this can make sense in some universe, I guess—and to introduce the player to how the game works.

The presentation is fantastic, as always, and the dark and gloomy settings are fun. I haven’t played it enough to issue any kind of opinion on how well it all works, but based on discussions I’ve had with my son and others Zombies fans, it looks solid. Plus, Ving Rhames is in it. Literally.

Final thoughts

Call of Duty: WWII is the best Call of Duty in years. It combines a truly excellent single player campaign with a modern multiplayer experience that should appeal mostly to those who have stuck with the series over the years. And, of course, there is a new Zombies game in there as well, providing an extra dose of diversity and replayability. If you felt betrayed by the jetpack jumping and wall-running of recent COD titles, Call of Duty: WWII is a nice return to form. And a nice throwback to the series’ roots.

Highly recommended. I played Xbox One version of the game, which is enhanced nicely for Xbox One X.

 

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