The talent over at Sledgehammer Games have been diligently at work since their release of 2014’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Back then, it shook up the fundamentals of the modern first person shooter with regards to how players moved about the map with the introduction of the ‘Exo-Suits’, which would later be adopted and refined in Treyarch’s Black Ops 3, and even further with Infinity Ward’s Infinite Warfare. Still, Sledgehammer – Activision’s newest development team for the Call of Duty franchise – was ultimately responsible as the pioneer of the franchise’s new direction from a gameplay standpoint; rather than thinking wholly linearly with straight corridors, there were now much larger and broader maps that encouraged the use of wall-running and boost-jumping. It comes as no surprise that they’re at it once again, hoping to make a dramatic shift from the norm in today’s first person shooter genre. Only this time, they’re taking us back to World War 2.
Indeed, “Boots-to-Ground” was the trending hashtag that inspired a lot of hope in the fanbase that may have lost touch with the futuristic campaigns and settings in the last half a decade’s worth of Call of Duty games. The historical irony here is that Word War 2 games used to be that setting many gamers felt was stale, forcing developers to try at Modern, and subsequently Advanced Warfare. Now in 2017, we seem to have come full circle with the release of Sledgehammer’s highly anticipated Call of Duty: World War 2. Activision was kind enough to fly me out to San Francisco in which I was able to fully complete the story on Veteran, take part in countless hours of Multiplayer sessions and try at the first chapter in the much anticipated Nazi Zombies campaign.
Covering a single player campaign set around World War 2 is a particularly steep, uphill battle. One of the major reservations about that specific period was the mentality that most games tend to revisit the same famous battles and skirmishes. Some titles from the era of the World War 2 shooters managed to keep things fresher than most by offering multiple perspectives to get a grander appreciation of the sheer scope of the war.
While there are certain levels that deviate and give you a glimpse of other companies during the war, World War 2’s campaign focuses primarily around members of the 16th Infantry Regiment, of the 1st Infantry Division from 1944 to 1945, during the European theater. Players will follow Private Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels throughout the course of this tour, however the game does a sensible job in placing levels within the overarching story, offering unique perspectives from other forces.
The central plot revolves around Daniels, as we’re taken through some of the most iconic historical battles within the European Theater of conflict. Beginning with the Invading of Normandy, World War 2 naturally progresses through Caen during Operation Cobra, the Liberation of France, the battle of Aachen, the Battle of the Bulge, and the unexpected capture of the Ludendorff Bridge during the Battle of Remagen.
Each level is separated as individual missions, briefed and overviewed on a map of Europe that slowly shows your Infantry’s progression through a war-torn France, all the way up to the Rhine. To be frank, it is something that has been done in many War games to date, and all the same it is still fascinating and awe-inspiring to get such a small taste of how overwhelmingly against the odds the Allied forces were at the time, and how pivotal some missions ended up being.
The campaign does an admirable job ensuring that levels progress fairly differently from one another, within the context of each mission. Some require you to push through enemy lines, and will punish you if you try to hang back and pick enemies off. Others require you to hold position and maintain defenses. Some of the more interesting deviations were the stealth missions. There were actually quite a handful of them throughout the game’s 11 chapters, and had some of the most memorable moments. Some of these stealth settings also had a surprising amount of freedom with regards to how you wanted to progress, encouraging you to experiment with different routes, monitoring enemy movement and escaping undetected.
An impressive new gimmick that this story mode offers that I’m not too certain other World War games do, is something Sledgehammer have called “Heroic Actions.” It’s a mechanic that gives players time-sensitive situations in which they will deliberately pit themselves in tougher situations in order to save a fallen soldier. It was exhilarating storming Normandy, crouching behind any barrier you could find for cover; at one point you can hear someone cry for help and notice a soldier bleeding out. Of course, the odds aren’t in your favour as you will be running out into the onslaught of enemy fire, but by doing so you can slowly drag your ally to cover.
Interestingly enough, each Heroic Action is rewarded with what I perceive as the best possible gift – nothing. It’s a way for a player to genuinely, and instinctively act for the greater good, with no true benefit other than risking your character’s life to save another. I would imagine these tasks are rather simplistic on the easier difficulties; however Veteran proved to be an incredibly tough challenge with regards to Heroic Actions. In fact there were many instances where the odds were just too overwhelming, and I was either too late, or couldn’t find an opportune moment to take advantage of and rescue that ally.
Another unique take on morality within World War 2 are instances where you overwhelm the Nazi forces, and watch certain groups surrender. It is entirely your choice how you handle it, and there have been multiple outcomes for some that I have experienced. You can of course comply with their surrender and hold them down, but having repeated that nearest checkpoint out of curiosity, I encountered a path that happens if I begin to initiate their surrender and falter or move my reticle away. The enemy AI recognizes this and attempts to flee or make one last attack. Similar to the Heroic Actions, they’re minute in comparison to what’s going on around you, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant portion of the playerbase miss these entirely; but the fact that Sledgehammer genuinely cared enough to want to incorporate some of these very real elements during a time of war stands out to me ahead of other World War 2 campaigns.
As many have come to expect from every annual Call of Duty release, there’s also their highly competitive, fast-paced online component. Despite the dramatic shift back down to a lack of Exo-Suits, Sledgehammer have thoughtfully designed their maps to cater to the traditional style of movement, and managed to keep things as fast as you would expect.
One fantastic addition to World War 2’s multiplayer component is the fact that it is now class based. This has been a longer haul for the franchise as it has slowly evolved from generic avatars to customizable characters. Black Ops 3 made the innovative adoption of actually becoming a specific character with unique abilities; Infinite Warfare took it further with having Combat Rigs that you can switch on the fly.
With World War 2, players can take part in one of five multinational Divisions, or classes. Each Division has unique Skills that are active abilities that you use in the heat of battle, Division Training that are passive abilities that alter your role, and Basic Training that offer a range of selectable perks that further define your character. The US Army Infantry is possibly the more well-rounded and balanced of classes. Infantrymen have the Bayonet Charge as their Skill which gives you an advantage in close range. Their Basic Training gives players the ability to become immune to shell shock and tactical equipment, along with an ability to reveal enemy equipment and take less explosion damage. Division Training allows Infantrymen to handle two extra attachments on your primary weapon, as well as one extra on your secondary.
The US Airborne Division is tailored for players who prefer to move a bit faster, and thus handle weapons like Sub-machine guns. Their Division Skill allows you to attach a suppressor to remove yourself from appearing on enemy radars when you fire at the cost of your range of fire; their Basic Training lets you carry an addition piece of lethal equipment, and offers quieter movement, invisibility to enemy radars, as well as nullifying fall damage. Their Division Training lets you sprint for longer distances, an increase in sprint speed and let you vault over objects faster.
The Royal British Armored Division is essentially the heavy class in World War 2. They tend to main light-machine guns and have anti-vehicle weapons such as Panzerschrecks. Their Skill allows you to stabilize your weapon by mounting it on a ledge or while prone. Armored’s Basic Training lets you handle extra magazines, reload faster, and move faster while aiming down sights. You will also get an extra attachment for your primary weapon. Their Division Training gives players the ability to carry a Rocket Launcher as a secondary weapon, and lets you throw equipment farther and faster while sprinting.
The Canadian Mountain Division is the game’s sniper or ranged class. Their Division Skill lets you acquire aim assist and enemy names at the cost of blocking out your surroundings. Mountain’s Basic Training lets you kill without revealing enemy death locations, your name will never appear on enemy scopes and enemy reticles never change color while you’re in their sights. On top of that you can swap weapons faster, and resupply ammo from dead enemies. With their Division Training, players can acquire enemy names from farther away, offer an increased mini-map and allow you to remain hidden from player-controlled streaks.
Finally, the French Résistance Expeditionary Forces are the close-quarters Division, equipped with Shotguns as their primary. Their Division Skill allows players to unleash a devastating Incendiary shell for shotguns that can burn enemies to death. Their Basic Training grants a cost reduction for Scorestreaks, the ability to re-roll on Care Packages, and gain two attachments on your Secondary weapon. Their Division Training allows you to carry extra magazines, grants immunity to shell shock and take less explosive damage.
Having handled all five Divisions, I was more accustomed to the Expeditionary class; that being said, each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and no Division outclasses the other. Sledgehammer has done an admirable job in ensuring each Division is balanced. I made the point of highlighting each Division’s prescribed Primary Weapon, and feel I need to mention that you are still free to utilize any other weapon of your choice; just be cautious of what you may be missing out on regarding your Division Skills. While playing as Expeditionary, I could freely select my M1 Garand loadout, however it was disadvantageous to me as I would then not be able to utilize the Incendiary Skill.
After initially selecting your Division, you can then customize your avatar’s facial features, and gender. As you progress through each level you can be rewarded with Call of Duty’s take on “loot crates” which give you unique Emblems, Display Titles, weapons, and skins for characters. This is a bit of a step back from how customizable characters were in the last few Call of Duty titles; however it’s also welcome in the sense that I haven’t been exposed to out-of-place neon-green looking avatars or outlandishly looking soldiers. Instead, the cosmetics are sensible and try more at being period-accurate. Of course, there are the higher-tiered weapons that are gold-plated and the like, but for your actual player avatar, expect natural looking costumes that are fitting for each unique Division.
One of the disappointing things to note regarding the Multiplayer component is that there are only 10 regular maps, and 3 War Mode maps – which is a new mode I will expand upon later on. Those who have purchased the Season’s Pass will have access to an additional map, but especially when we consider most DLC map packs contain an additional 4 maps per quarterly pack, 10 seems far too limited for a first person shooter.
Most of the typical Multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, Domination and Search and Destroy return in World War 2. That being said, Sledgehammer has offered a few new additions to try and set itself ahead of the curve. Gridiron is the natural evolution of the instant classic Uplink mode that was introduced in Advanced Warfare. This time, it’s given players a more period-accurate Gridiron ball to handle and pass to teammates, or strategically throw at enemies to catch which removes their weapon. The levels designed around Gridiron are tailored to hectic skirmishes as you race to either goalpost, and it is an absurd amount of fun.
War Mode is an attempt at a narrative-driven multiplayer experience. Players are required to work as a team on the Allied or Axis sides to take part in assault or defensive objectives. We were given two unique levels for War Mode: Operation Neptune and Operation Griffin. There will be a third one – Operation Breakout available at launch. Operation Neptune has Allied forces storm Omaha Beach on D-Day to capture an enemy bunker, and eventually disable their communication systems. Operation Griffin has Allied forces escort at least two of their three tanks to their strategic placements. From there, they must infiltrate pre-set gas stations, and siphon the Axis gas to refuel the tanks and lead on to the final destination. As the Axis, you’re tasked with shutting down their advancements by setting up walls the Allied forces will need to breach, setting blockades, and manning turrets to hopefully exhaust the clock.
War Mode is best compared to Killzone 3’s Operations mode, which offered a similar narrative-driven experience. It was in my opinion Killzone’s best multiplayer mode, and one they quickly abandoned – having never offered a single new map post-launch. War may not replace Gridiron as my favourite mode, but it is nevertheless an exceptionally designed and highly competitive mode. It seems as though Sledgehammer have offered an additional map for season’s pass holders, I hope Sledgehammer continues to expand upon this mode as it offers something truly unique, and is far more team-based compared to the typical Deathmatch and Domination modes.
One of the most interesting innovations that Multiplayer offers this time around is Headquarters. Headquarters is the game’s social gathering of sorts that acts as a fully 3D live lobby, dressed up as a military base that you can explore in between rounds. It’s a wonderful step up from simply staring at a static screen, and it’s clear that Sledgehammer were conscious of that fact. It gives you something to do while you’re waiting for a match to start. It also has visual representations of all the upgradable outlets you can go to. The Quartermaster returns, and is your one stop shop for gear, weapons, and other types of loot. The Gunsmith lets you browse, test, customize and equip your Scorestreaks. The Armory is where you can spend your COD Points (via paid DLC) or Armory (earned organically through Multiplayer). Headquarter’s Command will reward players with Armory Credits to spend on supplies, so you can check back every so often to claim them. The Contracts station lets you take on unique tasks and challenges while in game, and are rewarded upon completion. Daily and Weekly orders are distributed for you and will offer you the highest amount of rewards. There’s a mail station similar to Destiny where you can collect your wages, and rewards from HQ.
Another great implementation is how they redesigned the Prestige System. Normally, it’s just pressing through a series of windows that are prompted, making you absolutely certain that you wish to reset everything. In World War 2, Sledgehammer has set aside a unique Prestige area in Headquarters where you are greeted and congratulated by the General. This is also all running in real time, so you and your friends can see the celebration that ensues as you rise to Prestige. It’s definitely an over-the-top component, but I can respect the fact that the developers want you to feel rewarded and more like you’ve accomplished something epic, rather than dully clicking through a bunch of windows.
It has almost become customary now for every Call of Duty title to have a Zombies mode as their third form of gameplay. Beginning with Treyarch’s memorable World at War, Nazi Zombies have evolved and changed with every installment in the franchise. Infinity Ward’s Infinite Warfare last left fans with a campy, neon-80s inspired “Zombies in Spaceland.” I was, and will always be a fan of the campy 80s aesthetic, but I can understand how and why it may have rubbed purists of the Zombies mode the wrong way as it sacrificed the creepiness factor for silliness. For those who may be unaware, Sledgehammer games is composed of talented folks who previously worked on titles such as the Dead Space series, so the Horror genre is certainly not unfamiliar with them. This time around, Nazi Zombies in World War 2 will depart from the creepy, and the campy, and fully embrace the horror genre.
I was given the privilege of chatting with Zombies’ Creative Director, Cameron Dayton – who fans may recognize as the former Blizzard employee who wrote short stories for Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo. He is an individual that is well equipped with handling a narrative that unfolds as players explore and that is precisely the nature of World War 2’s Nazi Zombies. Dayton explained that they really wanted to change the typical notion of Zombies that were represented in previous games, and try and blend the scientific advancements that Germany developed at the time, along with the niche Nazi organizations that dabbled in the occult to offer a more natural explanation for how and why these twisted creations could be formed. And I do mean twisted; the Zombie designs are genuinely creepy and disturbing this time around. A lot of time and care went into making them as repulsive as possible.
The story to Zombies is an interesting take on the Monuments Men, or MFAA formed in 1943 where individuals were tasked in preserving the fine arts and cultural monuments that were stolen by Nazis or hidden. David Tennant, Katheryn Winnick, Elodie Yung and Ving Rhames offer their facial and vocal talents as the mode’s four playable characters. Each have their own unique abilities and classes, and all are required to form a competent team as you progress through each wave.
The Final Reich is the first playable chapter in Nazi Zombies, and has players explore an abandoned Bovarian village, that is suddenly overrun with Zombies. As you progress and find the subtle objectives scattered throughout the map, you will uncover the Axis’ darker schemes and discover more about the tests they conducted that ultimately led to these creations.
As mentioned before, Nazi Zombies this time around is trying at a purer form of horror, and having played through The Final Reich (until we all died miserably; of course), I can safely say they achieved that. The village’s atmosphere is very creepy; there are a few jump-scares to expect with the zombies that gave me a spook – more so than most self-proclaimed horror games of late. Still, one of the most interesting aspects of Nazi Zombies is the way they cleverly weave the story and lore into the complexities of your objectives. Not only that, but they make sure to have include bits of background story in certain rooms, encouraging you to explore your surroundings. The Zombies themselves evolve as most Zombie modes do; they’re effortlessly easy within the first 4-5 waves, and swiftly increase in power and quantity as the waves continue on.
Sledgehammer was the first developer in the Call of Duty franchise to depart from the IW Engine – which was built from the 1999 id Tech 3 engine, and instead use an engine built from the ground up (while still retaining traces of code pertaining to the original). World War 2 continues on with that in-house engine, and looks quite graphically impressive for what it sets out to be. The cinematic cutscenes in the story are wonderfully shot, and choreographed. Some of the set pieces for the iconic battles like D-Day really capture the sheer chaos as you storm the beaches. The textures can range from exceptionally detailed to rougher patches in places that you probably aren't focusing on. Player models look exceptionally well done and the facial animations in the cutscenes are spot-on.
There will always be those who wish to endlessly compare Call of Duty to Battlefield in terms of visual fidelity. Players will always have their preferences as to which series they resonate most with, however there are benefits and detriments to both types of engines on consoles. Battlefield’s Frostbite 3.0 engine may render larger scaled maps and offer more in a sense of destructibility, but it comes at the cost of sacrificing framerate stability during heavy loads. The PS4 version dropped approximately 14 frames behind their target 60fps target for the single player; multiplayer games would drop to 30 when a lot was going on. With Call of Duty: World War 2, where it lacks in size and scope, it more than makes up for in framerate stability. The PS4 and PS4 Pro performances retain a solid 60 frames per second, as the franchise has been known for. Where the two consoles differ are the native resolutions. The PS4 has a dynamic resolution that ranges from 960x1080 to 1920x1080; the Pro also utilizes a dynamic resolution, but ranges from 1440x1620 to 2880x1620.
Overall, Call of Duty: World War 2 is perhaps the best Call of Duty to date. I was one of the vocal minorities who actually very much preferred the Exo-Suits/Combat Rig control scheme of the futuristic installments. That being said, a return to World War 2 feels ironically refreshing after all this time spent in Modern and Futuristic warfare. While the story dabbles in familiarity with regards to recycled levels that countless other WW2 games have used over the years, Sledgehammer did their best in crafting a story that tries to really establish a bond between you and Private Daniels, along with his fellow infantrymen of the 16th Regiment. My biggest issue with the campaign was how short it felt; I understand that D-Day is a particularly strong place to start a WW2 game, but 11 chapters still felt like there could have been more they could have covered. Online is an absolute blast, with a terrific array of modes and the successful gimmick of incorporating a live lobby via Headquarters mode. Nazi Zombies is probably my favourite iteration of the mode, fully embracing its horror roots in a story that tries to make as much logical sense as the topic of Zombies would allow, while also trying to tie itself firmly to the Axis’ achievements in the sciences and the creepier dabbling in the occult and supernatural. The end product is a first chapter that captured my interest immediately and I look forward to the following installments.Call of Duty: World War 2 was reviewed using a PS4 Physical Copy provided by Activision. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Historically Iconic battles like Battle of the Bulge, Operation Cobra, the Liberation of France and the Battle of Remagen are sensibly emulated throughout the campaign in a tasteful way.|
|War Mode is a triumphant experiment in a narrative-driven experience that forces players to work as a team.|
|Nazi Zombies is a terrific mode that genuinely feels like a horror title, and has an interesting take on the Monuments Men aspect of the war.|
|The game performs exceptionally well at a solid 60 frames per second.|
|While the story was very well done, 11 chapters still felt very short, even on Veteran mode|
|Map selection out of the box is far too few for regular maps and War Mode.|