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Call of Duty: WWII - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Aiming with console controller is comfortable and responsive
  • The undercover Liberation mission
  • Campaign cutscenes mask loading
  • Multiplayer progression does not seem compromised by pay-to-win
  • Online War mode involves completing themed objectives
  • Includes local bot matches

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Shooting gallery level design
  • Shallow stealth, driving, and flying
  • Campaign squadmates are borderline useless
  • Final campaign mission is anti-climactic and full of bugs
  • Battlefields feel confined and lack any sense of scale
  • Using other players as billboards for micro-transactions
  • No pilot-able vehicles in multiplayer?
  • Can't mute chat in multiplayer?
  • Campaign seems to be designed for VR and headphones, but doesn't include VR support

Overall Impression : D
Rote, Repetitive, and Stale

Call of Duty: WWII - cover

Developers:
Sledgehammer Games,
Raven Software

Publisher:
Activision

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 4 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox One (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $60 USD

Original release date:
3 November 2017

Genre(s):
historic first-person shooter

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

Player(s):
single player campaign, up to 18 player online multiplayer

Official site:
www.callofduty.com/wwii

I haven't played a Call of Duty game since World At War on the PS3 almost 10 years ago. I really liked the first two CoD games on PC, but after Infinity Ward stopped developing the games, they increasingly focused on spectacle rather than any attempt to accurately portray war. After throwing back more enemy grenades in the first mission of World At War than were probably ever manufactured in all of World War II (I'm exaggerating a little bit), I got sick of that game and basically gave up on the franchise.

After having a little bit of fun with EA's Battlefield 1, I decided to pick up a used copy of Call of Duty World War II from eBay. I was curious if the return to World War II would be taken a little bit more seriously by Activision. It wasn't. This is the same old stale Call of Duty that I've been actively avoiding for the past decade. The single-player campaign didn't do anything to pull me in.

A light-gun shooting gallery

Probably the biggest problem with the campaign is just how rote and repetitive it feels. Almost all of the game's missions boil down to moving from one shooting gallery to another. When you aren't in an outright combat tunnel (like a bunker or trench), you're only given about a hundred feet of lateral space to work with. The whole game feels very confined and small in scale, with very few opportunities for any tactical movement such as flanking maneuvers. Just sit behind cover and pop out to take a few shots, then repeat. It might as well be an on-rails shooter, or one of those pop-out-and-shoot light-gun arcade machines like Time Crisis. I wonder if this was maybe done to make the game work better in VR? Maybe they wanted to reduce the amount of movement so that players don't get motion sick? But it's not VR, so it just comes off as lazy and tedious.

Almost all the missions boil down to moving from one narrow shooting gallery to another.

Even when the game tries to do something a little different, it usually still finds a way to make it uninteresting, or to outright get it wrong. There are some stealth mechanics shoe-horned into the game -- because of course there's stealth mechanics. They are rudimentary and very unforgiving. It's clear that certain segments are intended to be played stealthily, but you just don't have the tools necessary to make it work, and the levels aren't designed very well for stealth. Your limited field of view makes environmental and situational awareness very difficult. It's hard to tell where enemies are, and it's also hard to tell if your'e hidden behind cover. Even if you are effectively hidden, you can't peek out of cover to monitor the enemy's position or movements.

After stealth killing one or two enemies, I almost always got caught and was forced into more shoot-outs. Many of these scenarios involve the player being isolated and usually disarmed, so that you don't have the firepower to easily deal with a shootout when it inevitably happens. Put simply, the stealth is only barely functional and might as well not even have been included.

The undercover "Liberation" mission is the only level that is actually built around stealth.

The only stealth level that worked was the undercover "Liberation" mission with the Marquis (which you mostly play as a different character). You have to show papers when asked, and will occasionally be given dialogue prompts that require you to have remembered your cover story (or be good at making 50-50 guesses). It's very under-developed, but it's functional. Even after your cover gets blown, the entire rest of the level is built to accommodate stealth. It's a fairly large, open level with multiple routes and options for proceeding. There's a very nostalgic Medal of Honor vibe to the whole thing (that's classic Medal of Honor on the PS1, not the crappy newer versions). This mission also features an almost Quentin Tarantino-esque dialogue with a Nazi officer. It's very short and nowhere near as well-written as a good Tarantino bit, but it's a little tense. Kudos for trying.

The most common break from shooting galleries comes in the form of the obligatory driving and turret sections. Often, they involve the player character taking the wheel of a jeep, driving for a bit, then having the passenger take the wheel so that you can take over the turret. I really hate this gameplay cliche. Why the heck can't the passenger take the turret? But it's Call of Duty, so there has to be driving and turret sections, right? Activision could just as easily had one mission in which you take the wheel, and another mission in which you man the turret, but instead they rely on this nonsensical musical chairs bullshit that completely breaks the suspension of disbelief and reminds you that you're in a video game.

Driving and turret sections come up occasionally, but none are particularly good.

There's one brief section in which you pilot a tank and have to battle with a few German tanks amidst some demolished buildings. This section shows a little bit of promise, but -- much like the rest of the missions -- it's undermined by the annoyingly-confined environment. It doesn't feel like a cat-and-mouse engagement. You just drive around in circles around a single blown out building until you can shoot the enemy tank's side, then do it two more times to two other tanks.

You also get a very brief fighter pilot segment during the Battle of the Bulge mission (which is one of the few decent missions in the game). The plane controls were very awkward for me. The game prompted me if I wanted to invert the Y-stick, and I selected "yes", even though the setting was already inverted. So the game un-inverted the setting. Thanks for being so unspecific. Sadly, there is no setting that makes the controls feel anything like an actual flight stick, so I just never felt comfortable flying the plane.

Dogfights have a neat zoom effect when targeting enemy planes.

Again, environmental and situational awareness becomes a problem here. Without the ability to rotate the camera, I found myself repeatedly running into the heavy bombers that I was supposed to be escorting and protecting. The one neat thing that the dogfighting has for it is a zoom effect when targeting an enemy plane. It's a very cinematic effect, but you have to be careful about using it because it even further limits your field of vision and can lead to more collisions. I'd much rather have just had a cockpit view with a free-look assigned to the right stick.

Not that these sections need much refinement, because the tank and plane sections last all of 5-10 minutes each, and then these vehicles never show up again -- not even in multiplayer.

Thanks for nothing, squad

The whole campaign suffers from a lot of trial-and-error. Despite being in a squad with about a dozen other soldiers, the game expects the player character to do virtually everything. Your squadmates do jack squat.

The game is constantly pinning you behind machine gun fire, while your squadmates do nothing to help.

Pinned down by three machine gun nests? You have to single-handedly take out all three while all ten of your squadmates cower behind cover, even though you're just as pinned as they are. This leads to a lot of cheap deaths, and further shatters the suspension of disbelief. In fact, pinning you down is one of the game's favorite things to do, and it is annoying as hell.

Squadmates will toss you supplies on-demand.

The only reason that your squadmates are here is because they serve as a set of special abilities. Each squadmates can be "activated" to provide some support for the player. One is a spotter who highlights enemies in a white glow for a duration of time. The rest are just walking supply caches who toss ammo, grenades, or first aid kits to you on demand.

Each squadmate's ability is tied to a cool-down, and you have to be close to them to use the ability. There may also be some other restrictions that the game doesn't bother to tell you because I died numerous times while standing right next to Zussman, smashing the "toss me a first aid kit" button to no avail.

I actually wouldn't mind the classic-style healing system. I've been a long-time advocate for these sorts of old-school gameplay systems. Unfortunately, it doesn't work here. The small scale of the levels, and the frequency of checkpoints just completely kills the effectiveness of this system. Frequent checkpoints means that deaths come quickly and frequently, and very little progress is ever lost when you save. This encourages a reckless gameplay attitude and a lot of trial-and-error. Having to consistently stop to bandage yourself just gets tedious. With less frequent deaths, and fewer checkpoints, you might actually feel compelled to play cautiously and deliberately, and conserving your health would actually be necessary. But such is not the case.

Injured squadmates sometimes need to be
dragged to safety - if you can find them.

There's also times when wounded allies call for help, and you're supposed to drag them to safety to improve your mission performance. The problem is that the game does nothing to indicate where such a soldier is. Sometimes, there will be a little red icon over them, if you're close enough; other times, I just hear them crying out, but can't find the person who is screaming. Maybe if I had surround sound or headphones, I'd be able to figure out which direction the sound is coming from, but without such hardware, I can't find them when there's no icon. Is this a bug? Or is this just ambient background noise? If so, I can't tell the difference between when there's someone to rescue and when there isn't -- absolutely, inexcusably terrible design!

It's one thing to have an improved experience for people with VR and/or headphones/surround sound, but the game should still be functional without such hardware. Visual and UI aides need to be provided for players who don't have the freedom to look around and listen for where a sound is coming from. Just make those aides an option that VR players can turn off if they don't want them.

Except here's the kicker: the game doesn't support VR. At least, not as of the time of this writing. So ... I don't know what Activision's excuse is...

We who are about to die...

The overall uselessness of the squadmates in actual gameplay is only exacerbated by the fact that some of the characters are unlikable, obnoxious assholes. Part of the campaign's story is centered around a conflict in command styles between the squad's CO and his second. One is a gung-ho hard-ass who follows orders with little-or-no regard for the safety of his troops; while the other is more cautious and compassionate. They spend the entire first half of the campaign bickering and making the whole thing depressing.

The XO bickers with the CO over how reckless he is with the squad's lives.

Now, this is a gritty, semi-realistic war story, so it shouldn't be all sunshine and rainbows. The dichotomy in command styles might create interesting drama if the squadmates weren't just useless wastes of space during the actual game, and if there were actually a sense of danger and consequence from dying (rather than being checkpointed every minute). If my squadmates were actually doing their damn jobs and watching my back and proactively completing an objective here and there, then I'd give a shit about whether they live or die. But they don't, so I don't. So all this drama about risking the squad's safety because the commander is mindlessly following orders just rings hollow.

I also find it a little odd that the ESRB flagged this game for violence, blood, and language, but not for depictions of racism and genocide? So you warn parents and sensitive players that the game drops F-bombs, but not that it uses the Holocaust as a major plot point? I guess the Holocaust falls under the category of "violence", but I do think that it's a specific enough kind of violence to warrant a warning label on the box. I mean, if the ESRB is going to flag games for "nudity" because they have women wearing skimpy outfits (even without showing any digital nipples), then I think they should maybe also label racism and genocide.

There is a visit to a concentration camp, but it doesn't get too graphic.

It doesn't get too graphic, but there is a visit to a concentration camp. It's very subdued though, and almost feels like an afterthought. The whole sequence is tucked away in an epilogue scene after the final mission, and you just walk through a deserted camp. It's nothing even close to the camp liberation from the HBO series Band of Brothers. I wonder if the developers had more planned, but the publisher nixed the ideas out of fear of offending. It's certainly a sensitive issue, but the execution in this game admittedly feels very limp and insecure. If games want to be taken seriously aside film and literature, then they have to have the courage to tackle issues like this in a more thoughtful and confident manner.

My squadmates bugged out and
were frozen in T-poses.

In addition to the lackluster epilogue, final mission was also severely undermined by several major bugs. In one instance, a door wouldn't open, and so I couldn't progress the level. I had to restart from an earlier checkpoint (hey, I guess it's good that checkpoints are so close together after all!). I also saw some of my NPC squadmates frozen in a T-pose after coming out of a cutscene. Guess I won't be getting any ammo from him...

Locked in a Skinner Loot Box

Much like I said in my Battlefield 1 review, most players probably aren't here for the campaign. Well, I am; but most of the rest of you probably aren't. Again, I'm not much of a fan of online multiplayer, nor am I particularly good at it. If online shooters are your thing, then you probably won't find much (if any) of my commentary useful or relevant. At the very least, however, maybe it will give you an insight into why the rest of us have so much trouble getting into these sorts of games.

My first online match resulted in numerous deaths to a level 55 player with a scoped auto-rifle.

As expected, the barrier of entry is pretty high. As a level 1 rookie, I was immediately thrust into matches against players up to level 55. These players had scoped machine guns that my slow reflexes and petty carbine were no match for. The small, confined nature of the arenas allowed me to keep my kill-to-death ratio fairly respectable (just above 1:2) because I was able to get lots of cheap kills by coming around corners to find an unsuspecting enemy with his back turned. So, the skill floor doesn't seem quite as high as Battlefield 1, which is probably frustrating for higher-level players because they get cheap deaths from poor players like me.

At least you can practice with
bot matches and a shooting range.

Fortunately, leveling happens fairly quickly, and the game actually does provide plenty of tools to help the player get better. This game actually includes local bot matches that you can use to learn and practice the various arenas -- something that Battlefield 1 (with its bigger levels) didn't bother including. The Normandy Beach hub also has a convenient shooting gallery for trying out new weapons, and you can even challenge other players to one-on-one duels.

Unfortunately, the only other thing that this hub is good for is being a disgusting display of Activision's corporate avarice. The Normandy Hub's primary reason for existing is to allow players to act as walking, talking advertisements for purchasing loot boxes. Whenever a player opens a loot box, it literally falls from the sky, and every other player in the hub gets to watch you open it and see what you get. This might be somewhat redeemed if there was a trading economy that allowed players to exchange loot with each other, but you can't. This unboxing feature is literally just shameless self-promotion. Some executive at Activision saw the popularity of loot unboxing videos on Youtube, and said "How can we leverage that within game?" As if unboxing videos weren't already disgusting enough, and everyone who makes them should be ashamed of themselves.

Loot boxes fall from the sky so that everyone else can watch you open them.

If that weren't bad enough, the hub is also happy to remind you to visit the quartermaster, and to sit down and literally watch advertisement videos in exchange for a trickle of experience. Oh, and you can also apparently gain experience from watching other players open their loot boxes.

There's also a series of easy "tutorial" objectives to help you earn some quick and easy experience. In addition, almost every match gave me a level. The downside is that levels feel relatively inconsequential. Each level only provides a couple of perks, most of which aren't even immediately useful. Worse yet, the game almost immediately gave me a tutorial objective that required me to spend real money to buy an item from the quartermaster. Since I refused to give Activision any money for this sleazy multiplayer fiasco, I was unable to get the free "tutorial" experience and unlock the next set of tutorial objectives (if there are any).

Completing the tutorial objectives requires spending real money to buy a loot box.

To the game's credit however, I didn't get the impression that the character progression is compromised by a pay-to-win paragdigm in the way that, say, Madden Ultimate Team is. As far as I could tell, supply drops only contain "cosmetic" items that can be used to customize outfits and the aesthetics of weapons -- not their actual functionality. This doesn't make the loot boxes any less sleazy, but at least it doesn't further imbalance the playing field in favor of players with more disposable income. Unlocking new weapons, weapon upgrades, and abilities seemed to be [as far as I could tell] exclusively tied to your character's level advancement or the completion of objectives. I can't guarantee that there aren't any weapons or unlock tokens hidden within the higher-tier loot boxes, nor can I guarantee that the game's economy won't change after the publication of this review, but I certainly didn't see any in my time with the game. Maybe the loot boxes might contain experience boosts that might allow players to grind a little more quickly to the higher-level weapons, but that's about it.

Online war

Once you get passed the economic frustrations and actually start playing multiplayer, the biggest weakness of Call of Duty's online multiplayer compared to Battlefield 1 is its relatively low player count and tiny maps. Matches only support 12-18 players, which just completely fails to provide the sense of scale that World War II battles deserve.

This is most apparent in the most potential-filled of the game's online multiplayer modes: War. This seems to be Call of Duty's response to Battlefield 1's Operations. It's like a miniature multiplayer campaign. It doesn't span across multiple maps like Battlefield 1's Operations do, but it does have one interesting gimmick: instead of simply taking or losing victory points, CoD's War mode requires completing themed objectives. These objectives may include taking certain strategic points, or it could be to blow up or rebuild a bridge, or to escort tanks across the arena (all 100 feet of it). When an objective is completed, the losers fall back behind their lines to a new region of the map while the winners advance. There's even convenient guide lines to show the retreating players exactly where to retreat to (which seems to be a direct response to a complaint that I had with Battlefield 1's operations).

War requires each team to complete a set of objectives, as opposed to simply taking or holding territory.

The small maps and low player counts hold this mode back from being as good as it could have been. With only a handful of enemies present on a map, it's far too easy for a single skilled, high-level player to camp at (or near) an objective and eliminate any enemies that wander into the objective area. If players were more coordinated, this probably wouldn't be a problem, but since all the matches are with randos, communication and coordination doesn't really happen. In fact, I actually wish I could disable chat because I'm sick of listening to 13 year olds brag about fraggin someone or shouting random profanities throughout an 8-minute match (besides, my girlfriend hears enough of that at the school she teaches at, she doesn't need to come home and listen to it from the PS4 too). Also, if you have a crying baby in the background, you should really not be on voice chat.

Perhaps the biggest letdown in the multiplayer is that there doesn't appear to be any vehicles to pilot. Considering the tiny maps, this actually makes a lot of sense. Instead of having vehicles or planes on the battlefield that players can drive, such vehicles are relegated to being escort objectives in War or summonable "Scorestreaks" superpowers. These Scorestreaks allow you to rain death down on your enemies, or aid onto your allies. This includes supply drops, artillery barrages, being given a mortar or flamethrower, summoning bombing runs, or requesting strafing runs. In the case of strafing runs, you get to sort-of "pilot" a fighter plane for all of 5 seconds as you simply steer it towards enemies on the ground and fire the guns. That's it. That is the extent of your ability to pilot vehicles.

High-scoring players can summon powerful weapons, artillery barrages, bombing runs, and strafing runs.

I mean, they have tank-driving and flying planes in single-player missions. I had assumed that was supposed to be "practice" for using these vehicles in multiplayer. But no.

Why does this game exist?

Yeah, sure, there's a campaign here, but it really isn't worth jumping on the bandwagon for. Not even close! This Call of Duty is still firmly a lackluster Skinner Box of a multiplayer game. Which is a shame. The series does have some solid gunplay. Each weapon has a nice sense of weight and kickback to it, and no two weapon classes feel alike. Aiming is responsive and fluid, and I was actually surprised by how well I was able to track and hit moving enemies on a console controller. Years of refining console shooter controls really does show through, even for an amateur like me. Unfortunately, the game's limited scope really holds it back. Its small map sizes and limited player count means that it never captures the feeling of a large-scale war.

Call of Duty WWII does not feel like a game that Activision made as a result of any sort of artistic vision. It's an annual cash-cow that exists for the sole purpose of being a vehicle for this Normandy Beach micro-transaction loot-unboxing casino. There's nothing new or creative or interesting here in terms of gameplay; only new and disgustingly-insidious ways to take players' money.

I was very hard on Battlefield 1 when I reviewed it, but Call of Duty WWII has made me like that game a lot better in retrospect.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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