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Call of Duty: WWII

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 18 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Call of Duty: WWII is a competitive release. Not by the virtue of its competitive elements, but because it almost certainly would not be what it is if it wasnít for its competition. Had Battlefield 1 not launched last year and made such a huge impact, I have no doubt in my mind that this review would be for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare 2. Not complaining, as I loved the first one, but it just goes to further prove that the game development industry isnít hermetically sealed. Whatís particularly interesting about Call of Duty: WWII is how fundamentally different it occasionally feels when compared to its most immediate predecessors. In many ways, itís a return to roots, but in others, it reflects a progressive design philosophy at work. Itís not as safe a game as you might expect this yearís Call of Duty to be, and for that, it deserves respect. It takes a couple of risks, and while in my opinion some of those risks donít pay off, Iím glad developer Sledgehammer Games decided to take them. Ultimately, I would argue that WWII is the best entry in the series since Advanced Warfare, if not Black Ops II.

If youíre going to give the Second World War any kind of media treatment, you canít skimp. You have to face it head-on and accept all its myriad horrors, several of which are of viscerally upsetting. Itís the difference between Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk. And while I hate to knock Christopher Nolanís masterpiece, itís a valid criticism; you cannot and should not get away with nearly-bloodless carnage in a war story. Call of Duty: WWII takes its cues from its last World War II outing, 2008ís excellent World at War. When a barrage of machine gun fire destroys someoneís head, it really doesnít matter if theyíre an ally or an enemy: the trauma is shared. The European front is shown through the filter of heavily-desaturated, oppressive gloom that is so commonly used for this particular setting. It's a great-looking game from both a technical perspective and an artistic one, though some of the lighting effects go overboard and break the illusion from time to time. Rounding things out nicely is the series of motion capture performances from the likes of Josh Duhamel, Jonathan Tucker, and others, whose characters may not be uniformly endearing, but aren't any less believable for it.

Call of Duty WWIIís marketing seems as if itís doing its best to say "we know what World War II" sounds like. And to be fair, the "ping" that marks the ejection of each M1 Garand cartridge is about as essential to the soundscape of that great conflict as you can get. Voice acting is passable, but overall not particularly memorable; with a lot of these lines, it really doesn't matter who says them. When you're waist-deep in the sh*t, voices have a tendency to bleed into each other. There's two kinds of voice performances in a game like Call of Duty: WWII: instruction and pain. And that's probably how it needs to be. However, Iím torn on the soundtrack. While the music is great in and of itself, it contributes fairly heavily to what I consider the gameís biggest flaw: its failure to achieve and stick with the right tone. Most combat encounters are accompanied by a bombastic orchestra, which in turn gives the game an action film aesthetic that this reviewer finds pretty unwelcome. More on that later.


Chronicling a specific period during the Second World War, Call of Duty: WWII is primarily the story of Ronald "Red" Daniels, a southern farm boy whoís found himself fighting tooth and nail against the greatest evil the twentieth century would ever know. It rounds several of the bases most of us are used to World War II games rounding, from the waking nightmare of D-Day through the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the Allies' victory at the Rhine. Much of the Campaign is dedicated to Daniels and his company bonding through all the bullets and flames and having their resolve tested by adverse conditions, infighting, and of course, the hell of war.

WWII aims to deliver memorable characters that you grow to care about, and while it establishes some intense, deeply personal stakes, very few of Danielsí comrades in arms are truly memorable, and even then, itís not always for the right reasons. The standout is Zussman, who is equal parts snark machine and deeply loyal friend; I wanted to hug this guy less than ten minutes in, and he only grew on me from there. The low note is Pierson, a Technical Sergeant with a massive chip on his shoulder; while his motivations and reasons for being so unpleasant are of course explored, most of his cutscene appearances had me groaning in annoyance.

In terms of the actual Campaign, itís solid throughout, provided you donít think about it too hard. Iím really not a fan of the "World War II as a thrill ride" approach, and even though itís the road more frequently traveled, itís still by and large the road of choice for Call of Duty: WWII. Perhaps Iíve been fooled by the marketing, but I went in expecting a dialed-back Call of Duty; one that seeks to deliver a portrayal of human historyís deadliest conflict with nothing but nuance and respect. And while it does that to an extent, it all too often delves into the cinematic excess that this series has become known for over the last decade. Moments of quiet intensity, uncomfortable deep-gray moralizing, and overt gut-wrenching horror are often undermined by the gameís tendency to bookend them with sequences that feature all the subtlety of a brick. And that's not even taking into account the obviously pandering exercise of historical license; there are a few awkward instances of that, and due to thin-skinned individuals who are both for and against its employment, I wonít get into it. There are obvious nods to Inglourious Basterds and gameplay sequences that feel like theyíve been pulled right out of an Uncharted game or a Michael Bay movie. Yes, itís fun to play and fun to watch, but it feels like it's kind of missing the point; Iíd be fine with it if the developers had settled on one comprehensive, cohesive tone instead of switching off every other mission. That being said, I admire Call of Duty: WWII's unexpectedly muted denouement, which, while a bit on the glurgey side, nevertheless has me completely sold.

Beyond the Campaign, Call of Duty: WWII offers what you'd expect it to offer at this point. It's a complete package, though depending on your tastes, it may not be more than the sum of its parts. Speaking purely for myself, I'd say it's a cut above most other shooters, but not quite reaching the same level as releases like Doom or Titanfall 2. It's more along the lines of what Destiny 2 has to offer, and those are words I assume the developers of Call of Duty: WWII would take as flattery, considering the lengths to which it goes in order to replicate certain elements from that game.

Competitive multiplayer in Call of Duty: WWII feels functionally different from the lone wolf battle arenas upon which the series has steadily built itself up over the last decade. It's simultaneously an advancement of that philosophy and a fundamental recalibration. This is reflected in the unspoken but clear emphasis Sledgehammer has placed on the mode it clearly considers its headliner: War. If you're a longtime veteran of the series, you might think it's a return of the mode popularized by Call of Duty 3 and World at War. But you'd be wrong: War in Call of Duty: WWII is a take on the increasingly popular mťlange of objective-based play. Whether you're defending or attacking, each match might charge you with escorting/ stopping a series of tanks, protecting valuable equipment, or planting/ defusing explosives. It's pure shooting action, and scorestreaks have no place in it. It's fast and exciting, though only time will tell if it remains a serious presence on Xbox Live.

If you're more of a traditionalist, Call of Duty: WWII has you covered, too. The standard spread of modes return in both standard and hardcore variants, from Team Deathmatch to Hardpoint to Search and Destroy. Wrapping it all together is the Headquarters, a social space that's basically Destiny's Tower, albeit with Allied soldiers instead of cosmic warriors. I'm not a fan of this kind of stuff, but some people are. With all the hoopla surrounding microtransactions, we've yet to see if Activision will be honorable or otherwise regarding this increasingly controversial practice.

I don't really know what it says about our society that the undead continues to sell. I won't even pretend to get it anymore; that certain memetic quality that sustained it in years past has long since expended its novelty for me. But of course, every Call of Duty has to have Zombies, and so does Call of Duty: WWII. The launch maps include The Final Reich and the unlockable survival map GrŲesten Haus, and the celebrity talent du jour are Ving Rhames, David Tennant, Katheryn Winnick, Elodie Yung, and Udo Kier. Zombies is a deeper affair than it's ever been in this game, and that's saying a lot, considering the occasional insanity in which this offshoot has periodically dabbled. It's more class-focused; there are specific roles to be played. Sure, everyone's got to use their guns, but it's more than that. Passive and active abilities lend some variety and serious potential for meaningful team play, and it's for those reasons that this incarnation of Zombies marks itself as one of the better ones we've yet seen.


Call of Duty: WWII may be, in many ways, a return to its past, but even its past included the classic four difficulty levels seen previously: Recruit, Regular, Hardened, and Veteran. If you go with Regular, you can expect the same level of challenge this default mode has consistently offered throughout the years. The auto-aim is beyond generous, and the focus mechanic makes sniping in particular a total breeze.

Reasons to return often exist in Call of Duty games in the form of multiplayer or zombies, but as always, the Campaign features its share of collectibles and other completionist milestones. Mementos are scattered throughout each level, and special Heroic Actions can be completed. It's standard stuff, but it's no less welcome because of its predictability.

Game Mechanics:

With Call of Duty: WWII, the series has momentarily paused its onslaught of futuristic shooters (each trying and ultimately failing to ape the Titanfall series) and delivered a slightly more grounded experience. Yes, there are some goofy diversions and some over-the-top set piece battles, but by and large, this is a very standard first-person war shooter. And it controls exactly as you'd want it to: sharply and precisely. But that being said, a few things do stand out.

Health doesnít regenerate in Call of Duty: WWII. Take a pause and let that sink in. Thatís massive. We havenít seen this in the series since the original 2003 release. No longer can you pop out from cover to eliminate a few enemies, take a few hits, get back into cover, and wait for your Wolverine-esque healing factor to kick in. For the first time in fourteen years in a Call of Duty game, youíve got a health bar to keep track of. This is fairly smart; it goes a long way in establishing the fact that youíre one of many, and it helps reinforce Danielsí perception of the family-like structure that heís now a part of.

You may be wondering what I mean by that last statement. Well, you see, in war, people have to carry a lot of stuff everywhere they go. From ammunition to medicine to explosives to everything in between, these things canít be consistently found through the base act of scavenging. You have to come prepared. Ronald Daniels is part of a squad, and that squad is prepared. So if youíre low on bullets, find the right guy and ask him for some. If you need health and the situation is right, someone will toss a care package your way. It's a bit contrived that you have to kill a requisite number of German soldiers in order to earn these benefits, but in the heat of the moment, it's a well-implemented mechanic that doubles as a clever little storytelling conceit.

Long-range engagements are perhaps more fun than they've ever been, thanks to the Focus mechanic. It's a casual concession to be sure, but it's not overused by any stretch. Holding your breath when aiming down a scope now slows time a bit; lining up shots is considerably easier during these moments, but the audiovisual feedback is supremely satisfying every time you land that headshot.

2017 has been an absolutely killer year for video games in general, though it surprisingly hasn't really been much of a year for first person shooters. Whether by omission or by merit, Call of Duty: WWII is a rousing but inconsistent installment in the long-running series that nevertheless stakes its claim as one of the better shooters of the year.

Activision provided me with a copy of the game to review. The opinions I share are my own.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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