I really enjoyed the original Call of Duty when it arrived during the first major wave of World War 2 shooters in the early 2000s. The campaigns for the base game and it’s United Offensive expansion pack were standout gaming experiences in their time, when many of its competitors lacked the same polish and action-packed set pieces. Fast forward almost 15 years and the series is back where it kicked off and does not appear to have advanced the gameplay or feel of the experience in any meaningful way.
Hey Frank, This Guy Says Germans Are Bad!
The setup for Call of Duty: WW2 is exactly what you expected: a series of linear amusement park missions with violin breaks to remind you to feel somber about the sacrifice that some good men made for the betterment of the world. A few vehicle-based chapters are peppered into the mix to distract you from the realization that you’ve done nothing between bouts of shooting carnival targets other than stare at each other in three or four-man huddles. The sales numbers say that someone out there must still be enjoying this stuff, so this regurgitation of the same tired formula is what we get year after year.
You play as a corn-fed white boy named Daniels from the 1st Infantry Division and do war things with your best friend Zussman, a Jewish guy from New York that the rest of your platoon rags on for being Jewish, except for the parts where they complain about serving with the one black guy who assists you during the Battle of the Bulge. Your unfriendly platoon leader is played by Josh Duhamel, of Transformers fame. His character appears to be incapable of unsquinting his eyes. The face model looks more real than Kevin Spacey did in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but still feels lifeless.
When you aren’t bullet-time sniping krauts or running from UI marker to UI marker under a barrage of artillery shell impacts, you sit in foxholes staring at Zussman while old Dookhamel yells at you. Daniels’ backstory and motivations are conveyed via voice-overs that recite letters to his gal back on the homefront. Occasionally, various members of the platoon joke about how all of them are banging each other’s mothers. All of the casual racism and locker room talk helped me buy into the plight of these unfortunate soldiers and makes it very emotional when they get murdered in cutscenes heavy with motion blur and excessive depth of field effects.
A Pretty War
Visually, the game has its moments, though most of them are in the real-time cutscenes rather than when actually playing. The character models look good and have a great amount of detail. Shadows are where they should be and the lighting is pretty great overall. Pre-rendered cutscenes are also spliced into the proceedings and are quite jarring, due to large color balance shifts versus what you are seeing in game and the use of a strong film grain post-process effect. The sound is ok. I don’t think it comes close to the quality you would get in a Battlefield game, but there are standout sound effects here and there. The “ping” from the M1 Garand’s clip ejection is spot on and helps make it the most exciting gun to use in the game (surprise).
Reviewing the PC version of the game, I found performance to be pretty good overall. I encountered some stutters during the early beach landing at Normandy, but the game kept up the trademark Call of Duty smoothness throughout the rest of the campaign and multiplayer. Cranking all the settings to maximum and 4K resolution still allowed for a locked 60fps, even with a single GPU. I played the first 3 chapters with HDR enabled, but decided to turn it off since using the screenshot button or opening the Steam overlay caused an instant GPU driver crash. Honestly, the game looks good enough without it and it did not add much other than making explosions more intensely bright.
Shouldn’t Killing Nazis Be More Fun Than This?
I found the entire experience to be a bore. The game carries on with the exact same feel it’s had from the start. Fans of the series’ gunplay will be happy, but I find myself hoping for a meaningful change. I only pushed further into the campaign because I had to. I did find a few sequences to be genuinely engaging, but most of those occurrences were short-lived. The previously mentioned vehicle-based chapters are a special kind of awful.
One of the vehicle chapters involves guiding a tank through war torn streets in an attempt to provide the hero platoon some support at a theater where they are being overrun. The tank gun movement is inverted from the vertical movement that the rest of the game uses and cannot be toggled in the options menu. As if that didn’t make aiming tough enough, the tank itself would turn every time you moved the mouse. This made navigation during a tank hunting sequence a nightmare. You are expected to flank a pair of German tanks hunting for you but can only take shots directly from the front of the tank. I failed this particular sequence over and over. By far the worst single moment of gaming I’ve experienced in 2017.
Easy Company Would Have Had It Easier With These Loot Crates
I spent the bare minimum amount of time in multiplayer mode so I could see what it looked like. It is the standard Call of Duty fare, just without jetpacks and helicopter killstreaks. People looking forward to it will undoubtedly enjoy it, but it is not my cup of tea. Players congregate in the online HQ, a happening spot where your soldier moves around in third person so you can get a good look at your outfit and make sure you are pretty for the other soldiers, just like your grandpa did when he was in the Great War.
Because things are always better when other people watch, loot crates are opened for others to see and applaud you for getting that sweet pearloid grip on your 1911. The crates fall out out of the sky like Looney Tunes. The process of opening them becomes a spectator sport as the game rewards players willing to watch other soldiers open crates with a chance to win their own. I opened one and got an emote and a gun skin. I’m not sure how exciting it was for the other schlubs who saw it go down. I’m sure there was at least one crate voyeur who really got off on it.
Call of Duty: WW2 is competently made by a skilled team. I just wish some of that talent and skill could be put towards anything other than this yearly pile of linear shooting rehash. The game runs well and is very playable, so things aren’t all that bad, they just feel soulless. All I could think of while playing is how I would rather be killing Nazis in Wolfenstein 2. 5/10 sad violin interludes
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. Call of Duty: WW2 was made available for Windows, Xbox One, and PS4 on November 3, for $59.99. The game is rated Mature.