When the first Call of Duty game was released, shooter fans were exceedingly excited thanks to glowing reviews. One of the many selling points was that — unlike Medal of Warfare — players could become American, British, and Soviet soldiers, experiencing a variety of fresh perspectives. The second game continued the tradition and came with one of the best Call of Duty campaign levels of all time: the D-Day assault of Pointe du Hoc.
Call of Duty: WW2’s campaign starts with a very similar level: you play as an American Private nicknamed Red, part of the 1st Infantry Division, tasked with storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day. You start on a boat and then, beat by beat, the story imitates Saving Private Ryan — your character becomes shellshocked, blows up the initial German defence, storms the bunkers.
Michael Condrey, Sledgehammer’s studio head, previously mentioned Saving Private Ryan as an inspiration. And, yes, that’s what happened on those French beaches where men died fighting for a better future. But COD: WW2 never goes beyond merely imitating the Steven Spielberg’s epic, presenting surface-level similarities without presenting anything deeper.
Progressing further, I realised COD: WW2 borrows from other classic World War II stories, ranging from those initial COD and MOH games to Band of Brothers. The images are evocative, of course — How can they not be? — but they’re not evocative because of this game, but because of the associations we already have.
As a result, COD: WW2 left me in an emotional state. The game imitates other presentations of the war without understanding what’s beneath the surface. Even the characters — nearly all American, hard-as-nail types — are stereotypes, borrowed from other media forms. That’s perhaps thanks to the story’s pace, never letting up over five hours, quickly pushing us through the war. Where Saving Private Ryan had a heart, COD: WW2 merely tries to borrow one.
Perhaps this would be a good time to mention Battlefield 1, a game which offered a genuinely harrowing and human experience. While the overall campaign was also short, there were new, exciting stories being told that were often deeply affecting. The game also took players around the world, showcasing different perspectives, one even featuring an unreliable narrator. Yes, some of these should have been explored further. But COD: WW2, which focusses on the American throughout, cannot muster up any of those same emotions.
Once you’ve rushed through the campaign, players will inevitably end up playing multiplayer. Despite having the 1940s setting, COD:WW2 plays like every other Modern Warfare game, each map a fast-paced arena featuring players who run around, blasting others with shotguns. It’s a tried and tested formula that doesn’t change the formula established since the first Modern Warfare. COD fans will no doubt be happy to have new maps and weapons, others will be wishing for something more. Plus, there the Zombie mode which remains entertaining enough but — again — feels by-the-numbers.
After playing through COD: WW2, I can’t escape the feeling that the World War II setting was merely just another way for Sledgehammer to re-skin the same Call of Duty formula that inevitably always sells millions of copies. The studio does just enough to stop the game being disrespectful — even if they make a big deal out of Nazi Zombies — but you won’t find a meaningful playing experience here. Where that first Call of Duty game felt fresh, COD: WW2 is the exact opposite.
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