Call of Duty: WWII Review

Thanks to Xbox for the code!

Jenksie here and I'll be reviewing this years installment in the Call of Duty series, we're going back in time for a change for Call of Duty: WWII. This will be the first part of the review covering the campaign and the multiplayer review will be published in the coming weeks.

After introducing you to your character and your squad mates and setting up the story, you find yourself in a landing craft approaching the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Yes that's right the developers chose probably the most memorable moment in Europe in World War 2, that has not only been extensively covered in film, but also successfully delivered in other games. The beach landing itself seems designed to replicate the confusion and chaos of the real event. Though in reality it is a frustrating affair that seems a step backwards in terms of gameplay. The earliest part of the game also feels the most unfair and made me want to put my pad down and walk away. I'm glad I stuck with the game as the game play improves significantly and offers a range of missions including vehicle combat, chase scenes and generally well executed stealth sequences.

Thematically the game evokes some memories of the hit drama Band of Brothers and the characters are quite easy to warm to. The path from Normandy to the Rhine is captured along with the relationships between your character Private Daniels and the rest of the squad. The characters start out as you'd expect, and it feels like they'll head towards stereotypes. Fortunately there is some excellent writing in the game and towards the end of the game you feel a real bond with some of the characters. Some of the more more harrowing themes of war are also sensitively dealt with and not avoided.

The Call of Duty games have always been known as the king of set pieces. Tight, well executed and often dramatic encounters and CoD:WW2 tries hard to deliver on this. There are several very enjoyable sections that show the CoD pedigree but these are interspersed with formulaic or frustrating encounters.

The game has a feature called squad abilities. In essence the key squad members each have an ability such as providing med kits, providing mortar strikes or spotting enemies. These abilities are recharged by either getting kills or performing heroic actions (such as dragging a fallen comrade to safety). The system works well as you can't just sit back and wait for all of your abilities to respawn, you have to take the fight to the enemy. Overall the feature is a nice touch and requires a little resource management. Often you are forced to make a snap choice when pinned down, such as using a mortar strike which you soon regret when faced with a larger more effective group of enemies. My main issues with the system is that some of the abilities make it feel like you have ammo and health pinatas following you around dishing out resources when needed and you don't always have the 'squad' feeling that the game is supposed to deliver. This especially stands out as it feels your squad are entirely incapable of killing enemies. Also there is nothing in the way of ability development or customisation with the game offering a more traditional first person shooter experience. Though to the systems credit when you are occasionally separated from the squad you do feel isolated and a desperate need to get back to the guys. In terms of game play my biggest gripe is the weapon damage. Some of the weapons in the game do so little damage it feels like during staples at the enemy. At times it genuinely feels like I'd do more damage throwing the gun at the enemy. Though overall the in game physics are fairly well tuned and the game feels tight. On the subject of the game engine the game looks how you'd expect a AAA game to look. Character models are detailed and the frame rate is solid. There is huge variety across the levels from urban areas to rural and with each dripping in detail and ambience.

Perhaps the greatest praise I can offer is also the most scathing criticism and that is that Call of Duty WW2 is an entirely competent first person shooter story experience.

When we consider Ghillies in the Mist from Modern Warfare or No Russian from Modern Warfare 2 we see intense and memorable experiences. We are now a long long way from those high points in the Call of Duty series. Whilst generally well executed and largely enjoyable, the 6-7 hour campaign does little to push the standards of single player games and innovation is virtually none existent. The game relies heavily on the foundations of the series with some well done storytelling to mask the lack of interesting features.

A significant obstacle for any developer basing their game in a well documented and familiar historical event is that you have to limit the story to within the accepted history. Developers can't step too far outside the known history without gamers being critical of the game and it stepping out into fantasy. This limits the amount of twists that the story can offer in a broader sense. We already know that D-Day was the first major step in liberating France and marked the beginning of the march towards the Rhine. We ultimately know that the axis forces fell and the allies were victorious and this does rob the game of some of the creativity found in other games in the series. Ultimately the setting is a double edged sword, gamers want creativity but a more familiar setting and Cod WW2 only really delivers on one of those aspects. It does feel like a missed opportunity in that the story is well delivered despite the developers hands being tied, but the game play does nothing to innovate despite the apparent freedom.

Despite my criticisms of the lack of innovation, overall it is an enjoyable experience, with a solid story line some high energy or tense experiences and straightforward enjoyable combat, though it just doesn't feel in the same league as the best in the Call of Duty series. As a standalone experience it would be difficult to recommend based on the price but fortunately there is still the multiplayer and Nazi zombie co-op experience and so based on this being only a third of the product I'd have to say the game is 'Worth Getting'