I think that it would be a fair assessment to say that for at least seven years, the Call of Duty franchise has been a joke. In fact, the problems it has had can easily be summarized by the jokes that have been made about it. “Press F to Pay Respects” represents the absurd attempts by the writers to create player emotion, while still giving players something to do. “Call of Duty Dog” was the response to Ghosts running out of interesting ideas for interesting game play by giving the player a robot dog who gets more sympathy from your character when he dies than half of your squad. “Children’s Online Daycare” and the numerous parodies of kill montages show two different sides of the fan base; the children often featured in videos of them raging, and the hard core players who continuously demand more twitch-based game play, to a point that Infinite Warfare was barely accessible to new players.
The announcement of a Call of Duty (COD) that would take place in the Second World War excited many; despite the overabundance of WWII shooters during the 2000s, the franchise released its best games during this era. Titles like Call of Duty 2 and World at War were solid, and incentivized individual excellence and strategy without making the learning curve next to impossible. The single player stories also attempted to tell a story similar to the ones told by actual soldiers, or at least within the limits of a video game. The promise of the setting became associated with a return to engaging game play and a solid story.
Things started off pretty rocky, however. For starters, Sledgehammer Games and Activision got in trouble for good and bad reasons. The announcement that loot boxes would be in the game set off alarms for many observers; its glorified gambling system of paying for a chance at an item startled many.
Other reasons were far less legitimate; the game allows for players to make their character female, which meant that if you customized your character a certain way, you could have a black female Nazi. While I found this funny, and actually looked forward to seeing it, many in the fan base were furious; cries about how the evil “social justice warriors” were ruining video games were heard, and some even wanted to boycott the game on release. The game also carried the stigma of being a COD game, and for good reason; it will still be the choice of incredibly obnoxious and toxic people of all ages (make no mistake though, it will mostly be white guys).
The infamous memes will also carry over: the comedians at Funhaus documented ridiculous player names like Blunt_Blowerr, xDDEPRAT3Rx, DAT_BOI_DAN, and more, and put sunglasses, energy drink packs and a virtual reality (VR) headset on Lawrence Sonntag, who responded “I’m ready to COD, drop me in.”
Despite all of this, Call of Duty: WWII has been a solid experience; not perfect or without flaws, but a genuinely great time.
First, we have the single player campaign, which is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the plot line of the game is nothing original; as Russ Frushtick of Polygon says in his review, “If you’ve seen “Band of Brothers,” “Saving Private Ryan” or frankly any other World War II flick made during the last 30 years, you’ll be trekking over familiar ground in the Call of Duty: WWII campaign.” The game opens with the Normandy landings and treads ground very similar to the opening of “Saving Private Ryan,” with machine gun fire tearing through American soldiers as they desperately attempt to breach the German line. This pattern continues throughout the story, with story beats that a very similar, such as a “Band of Brothers” style winter battle against the advancing Wehrmacht in the Battle of the Bulge, and a bell tower sniper battle reminiscent to the end of Ryan. However, this does not make the campaign bad; it’s fine, but it does get predictable, and it only really gets saved by the excellent voice acting. That being said, it is far better than the plots of previous games, with its ridiculous plot twists, embarrassing attempts at philosophical concepts and action sequences that better resemble stunt shows than actual game play. Still, certain parts, such as the portrayal of Germans as “not all bad” is pretty worrying, and a later section dealing with a concentration camp was not disrespectful, just lacking in emotion.
WWII has made most of its improvements in its multi-player mode, and it shows. For starters, the older weapons means that using weapons is a lot simpler than previous titles, which has made the game play more accessible while still not sacrificing core mechanics. Upgrading weapons and classes has also been made better with the introduction of the Divisions system. The system allows for a player to pick a division, which gives you different abilities depending on its play style. For example, the Armored Division specializes in perks that revolve around using light machine guns and explosives, such as extra magazines and the ability to move faster while aiming down the sights of the weapon. Of course, you can pick a division and use a different class of weapon, and that is a legitimate tactic, but playing to the strengths of your division could be better. This focus on specialization is not unique, but is a welcome addition.
On top of that, the game also added a new mode, called War. In the game, one team fights to complete a series of objectives, while the other team tries to prevent them from completing these objectives. These objectives can include escorting tanks, building bridges, assaulting enemy positions, etc. The mode adds a lot to the game play, despite sounding so simple. For one, it incentivizes teamwork, by getting players to play off different skills to hold or take a point, while still focusing on individual contribution. The size of the maps also allows for more mobility and movement, allowing for flanking routes and chokepoints that either team can seize and use to their advantage. The game mode is incredibly fun, and is by far the best improvement made to the multi-player.
The final game mode is the “Nazi Zombies” game mode, which I cared about the least. Let me be clear; I think mechanically, for the most part, the mode is fine. It incentivizes teamwork and doing weird challenges to complete an objective, and that’s fine. Two things, however, stood out to me; for one, the loot box system gives you better gear, which means that you could theoretically pay more to do better. Secondly, zombies has always been kind of a boring concept, at least for me; the focus is more on the characters, and there’s only so much you can do with that formula until it just gets worse and worse (case in point, “The Walking Dead” after the first season). So while many will enjoy this, at least for me, it was uninteresting and repetitive.
That being said, even with the controversies and stigma, the game has bounced back into being an enjoyable and addictive experience, with a better campaign and a much improved multi-player experience. Sledgehammer Games still has more work to do, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.
Colin Meehan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org