I spent a few days toing and froing with the good folks at Microsoft and Activision customer support after Call of Duty: WWII never unlocked for me on release day. “You are too early” are now trigger words for this games journalist and I admit my excitement for CoD:WWII was truly dead by time I had to brute force matters with a second code.

Call of Duty: WWII
Fireworks celebrating a decent CoD for a change

It was a pleasant surprise to find that Call of Duty:WWII was more or less worth the wait. After a ‘mixed reception’ to their space-bound offerings, Sledgehammer haven’t quite nailed it but it is good.

A Familiar Setting for Call of Duty: WWII

Set twenty years after previous war, WWI and European imperialism is up to its old tricks again. This time however, instead of a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy-esque befuddler that prefaced WWI, CoD: WWII is much easier to follow with a satisfying but thought-provoking finale. No spoliers.

These guys are the baddies, you can tell by the race-related brutality

The main baddie is an off-screen charismatic racist named Adolf Hitler who is easy to hate in the mould of Bioshock Infinte’s Jeremiah Fink or real-life’s Piers Morgan. Some underbaddies even have a skull’n’crossbones on their uniform to easily mark them out as evil.

Several of WWI’s cast are mentioned in the sequel and some of the more popular locales return in the main campaign and new map variants across multiplayer. 

Remember the French forest from WWI, it’s full of trees instead of mud here. Good choice.

The plot centres on America beating the evil Nazis who formed just after the punishing ‘Reparations’ WWI DLC. The Nazis have spread across Europe and have been imposing their political will, attempting to erase cultures and much worse. No spoilers.

[CoD:WWII]…doesn’t feel the need to overburden the player with the broader context but sticks to the ‘personal’ experience – This may alienate those who bask in the sense of being a part of something bigger when progressing through a game

The Shortest Day

This games charlatan has complained about the length of games before – some outstay their welcome while some wrap up all too quickly. Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign is barely a tickle, really. With many QTE’s, millions of cut-scenes of various lengths and some forced walking sections making up a considerable fraction of the 6 hours, CoD:WWII is essentially a multiplayer game at this stage.

Your first escort quest has an immediate fail-state. Oh, no!

The glimpse into the horrors of war from a single soldier’s viewpoint across an important campaign works well as a way to immerse the player in the realities of how the war was won. It doesn’t feel the need to overburden the player with the broader context but sticks to the ‘personal’ experience. This may alienate those who bask in the sense of being a part of something bigger when progressing through a game.

Smoke and particle effects in tandem with swank 2017 fire rendering make the smouldering ruins of people’s lives look particularly amazing which is, surely, some consolation for the displaced

While the campaign has some ‘heart’ and you do grow to not be ambivalent to, at least, one of your squadmates, it’s ultimately just a series of fairly hollow set-pieces. One with a plane, one with a tank, one sneaker with immediate-fail states, a few with a sniper rifle.

Set-piece in a tank

The requisitions system is simply a matter hassling your still-standing war friends until they hand you stuff. This isn’t nearly as novel or complex as Sledgehammer think but it is handy. Calling in a mortar hit is a neat mechanic but it’s contextual to a point of being yet another set-piece.

CoD:WWII does very well to steer its dialogue towards ‘ignorable’ rather than ‘stomach churning’

Looks That Sometimes Kill

Call of Duty: WWII is stunning to behold. Just about every inch is crammed with detail, every frame is slathered in ultra-modern mapping and shading techniques to produce incredibly realistic war-worn lands for you to run around in. Star Wars Battlefront set new landscape texture and bump-mapping standards on its release in 2015 and on Xbox One X, CoD: WWII does the same.

A terrible beauty

The ruined buildings, the shiny new materiel and the desperate faces of exhausted GIs are all similarly ‘photo-realistic’, WWII looks every bit as horrific as it should. Smoke and particle effects in tandem with swank 2017 fire rendering make the smouldering ruins of people’s lives look particularly amazing which is, surely, some consolation for the displaced.

There is a robust character creator [that] will sate the ‘individual’ types’ need to stand out by looking slightly strange in a game being played by millions of people at any one time.

Word War II

The dialogue is usually the worst part of any war games but CoD:WWII does very well to steer it towards ‘ignorable’ rather than ‘stomach churning’. The ultra-dark themes contained within the plot were always going to need some nuance and avoiding ‘roided out Marcus-types was a solid casting decision in this respect. The player will meet all manner of Yankee everymen and then usually watch them be killed horrifically throughout the 5-7 hour campaign.

“And ‘BOOM!’ goes the dynamite”

A diverse selection of young people volunteer to save the day… again

Multiplayer CoD:WWII needed to be reasonably epic to win people over after a lukewarm campaign and honestly, it is. Lightning fast on dense, labyrinthine maps, matches have that shameless old-skool CoD vibe. Simple and hypnotic with some sweaty legend occupying top-spot with three times as many kills as everyone else combined.

The booster is nice, at least

Some modes have an addictive rhythm to them once you are suitably suited, booted and locked in the groove. Scorestreaks are your reward for ‘gitting gud’ with some tasty free-kill options like the guided bomb or the ball-turret. The first few unlock levels are fairly terrible by comparison but useful nonetheless. However, it is a bit dispiriting to watch my flimsy recon plane be swatted out of the sky by some level 60 player’s twin-engine fighter.

Play some classics at HQ. Albeit with valuable in-game currency.

The first three hours or so will be tough as the new maps, over-bearing aim-assist and upgrade path all conspire to bring your time-till-death down to fractions of a second. The multiplayer opens up once you familiarise yourself with objective and spawn points, pick up some attachments for your favourite gun and master the “pump left-trigger, pepper till opponent dies” mechanic that is console Call of Duty combat.

This is about as much context as you need/get

Variety: The Allies Secret Weapon

There are a dozen modes to try out and while TDM, Cap-the-flag, War and Domination will be three main modes that everyone plays 95% of the time, Gridiron and Hardpoint are fine diversions. Gridiron is a game of old-timey American Football which is oddly engaging. Hardpoint moves a single capture-point around a map and then 6v6 mayhem ensues. There are ten maps dedicated to general MP combat.

A shooting gallery in the skies

War mode is an attempt at narrative multiplayer combat and while it falls short of immersing one in a war, it’s a lot of fun. The constantly changing nature of the battlefield combined with the asymmetric goals of the opposing sides makes each round a sweatfest dream with wins or losses much less predictable than in other modes. However, you can predict the map you will be playing on quite easily as there are only three maps in this mode. While the maps are large(-ish) and the fully-crafted battle experience is every bit as intense and gruelling as it should be, three maps is just not enough.

There is a robust character creator to match a needlessly large number of items to customise. This will sate the ‘individual’ types’ need to stand out by looking slightly strange in a game being played by millions of people at any one time.

Each division makes a charming presentation for your enlistment

Replacing classes with ‘divisions’ is only a little more than a superficial change. Each one carries different abilities and buffs with unique upgrade paths assigned to them. However, the ‘divisions’ all carry the same guns and ammo to choose from.

Chilling out at the base, not being shot at is surprisingly amongst the best parts of WWII…

Hardcore Light

For those who want something more skillful, hardcore mode is available on four modes. The game’s mini-map is taken away, lethality is increased and friendly fire is enabled with a vengeance. TDM, Domination, Free-for-All and Search’n’Destroy are elevated in hardcore; tense, swift and gratifying.

Another of CoD:WWII campaign’s many shooting galleries

Awaiting Orders at HQ

Chilling out at the base, not being shot at is surprisingly amongst the best parts of WWII. While previous CoDs had lobby areas and weird spatial menus before, the headquarters here has several fun activities like practising scorestreak bonuses or target shooting for your characters many loadouts. There are also some weird unlockables like hidden footballs and secret shooting range patterns – finding these by accident brought me straight to the internet where I instantly spoiled the surprise. The 21st century in a nutshell, amirite?

Scorestreak glide-bombs are just free kills

Players also unlock dropboxes here. These are inoffensive non-gameplay items to make your character look slightly different with a new net for your helmet or pearl-handled grips for your quickdraw attachment. This makes a nice change from the pay-to-win loot available in many games, meaning those who don’t care for such superficialities can skip the entire affair.

The Annual Answering of Dolores O’ Riordan’s Question

Thanks to the once-ubiquitous ‘zombie’ presence in mass media and the continuing popularity of CoD zombie mode we can demonstrate, once again, the content of the undead’s crania. It’s still endless waves of Nazi zombies to co-op through with the usual exquisite map design, power-up application and resource doling. For all the abuse that the public lavishes upon zombie mode’s continued existence, it hits all the right notes when it comes to friendly MP mayhem.  

Casualties and Losses

Along with the campaign’s shortcomings, the lack of variety in map size is grating. Most maps are very small to small meaning that each one may look different while playing essentially the same. Differing terrain and elevation can only do so much to break up the meta and lend some variety to how the matches play. While the fantastic array of modes covers for this, some players might feel discouraged from spending long periods on a single mode. Ending up like a ‘hot potato’ being passed around the modes.

Let’s find out what’s in his head…

There is a bafflingly low player limit of 6 per side across all modes. Maps can feel strangely empty or asphyxiatingly populated depending on which MP game you swing for – not all modes really suit 6v6.

CoD:WWII shines in the co-op and multiplayer sections of the game bringing back simple ‘point & click’ mechanics to vegetate to for hours at a time

Confined to History

Call of Duty: WWII is about as good as Sledgehammer, Activision and series fans could hope for after Advanced and Infinite Warfare. It shines in the co-op and multiplayer sections of the game, bringing back simple ‘move, point & click’ mechanics to vegetate to for hours at a time. The campaign isn’t awful but the days of Modern Warfare are long gone. The story of Private Daniels is just a footnote in gaming history which is probably a metaphor for something.

Xbox One X review codes provided by both Microsoft and Activision, oddly enough

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