Call of Duty starts a new era for the longest on-going shooter brand in gaming history. At least for now, at least for 2017, the Michael Bay factor is gone. This here is no Transformers-like experience with five exploding helicopters per minute and more particles than you can count – even though Transformers 5: The Last Knight protagonist Josh Duhamel actually plays a huge role. But really, Call of Duty: WW II has two faces. There is the trailer which is Hollywood-style in a nutshell. It presents soldiers as heroes, ready to fight for their country in a glorious battle.
However, that’s not what the gameplay is about. The gameplay is a very emotional and an extremely brutal recreation of that famous Omaha Beach scene from Steven Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan: it’s chaotic, anarchic and bloody. We get thrown into the uniform of a young soldier named Red Daniels. He is the opposite of Josh Duhamel, who sort of portrays the Special Forces stereotype: an excellent physique, the grimy face, and hardened combat warrior. Red is none of that, he is your average Joe with an average body, not ready for what he and his comrades of the 1st Infantry Division need to achieve in this landing and their way from Pointe du Hoc over the city of Saint-Lô under Operation Cobra and basically all the way to Paris and finally Germany, potentially Aachen and Hürtgenwald, including the famous Hill 232 plus the Battle of the Bulge – the last giant, extremely bloody battle before the end of World War II.
Red Daniels is different and that’s a good thing
Red is a fascinating character because I can totally relate to him. He reacts in a way most of us would: He is shaking, barely able to run, and has no clue what to do. What was supposed to be a coordinated landing operation turned into a slaughter house – especially at Omaha Beach, where most tanks sank before they’ve reached the beach and bombardments failed to destroy German bunkers. When the landing bridge lowers, MG 42 salvos literally cut through Red’s squad. When some of his comrades try to leave the boat on the side, they are losing their legs and blood is all over the place. Red is barely able to move, certainly cannot fight and only thanks to a scripted event does he survive the day – his captain grabs his arm, throws him into cover, screaming at him. Only at that moment, he is ready to tackle the enemy.
I like that it’s believable and different. When it comes down to Call of Duty, we are pretty much used to the Jack Bauer stereotype. All protagonists in the modern Call of Duty titles were elite Special Forces. Guys that knew what to do in whatever situation. The last time we’ve played a foot soldier was Call of Duty 2. You probably remember that scene where you are a Russian soldier and you ask Commissar Letlev: “Why are we using potatoes instead of real grenades?” And he answers: “Because they are valuable. In fact, they are worth a lot more than you are.” Now, the Americans gave their men everything they need, they don’t have an equipment problem. While a lot of British soldiers already had combat experience, the majority from the US and Canada didn’t and Sledgehammer uses this not just for atmospheric purposes, but also their gameplay: Red failed his comrades in important situations. When he is not able to assemble and detonate a Bangalore. For clarification: Germans used multiple lines of barbwire that prevented US forces to go for a direct attack on bunkers. Engineers then invented a torpedo that basically works like a real torpedo, only on land, to tear apart the wiring.
Is this really a playable Band of Brothers?
“We want you to take something away from this. We want you to understand these guys and really form a bond with them. A certain bond that you can only find in the brutality of war”
Says Glen Schofield, who is not only the co-founder of Sledgehammer Games and one of the creative brains behind the new Call of Duty, but also directly affected by World War II.
“The father of my grandmother was killed during the Blitzkrieg by the Germans, and my grandfather fought in Montgomery Army in North Africa. Unfortunately, he never wanted to talk about it.”
Sure, there might be some PR and marketing spin around that, but from what I’ve seen so far it does feel like Sledgehammer wants to reinvent the brand. Which is interesting because so far Treyarch is the company with the best Call of Duty stories – I mean, the ones from Black Ops 1 and 2 were really well-written. Call of Duty was always lacking character. While doing research, I had a tough time to remember all these names that popped up in the latest titles, even though I’ve just played them recently. Chances are that Call of Duty: WW II changes this formula.
There will be some missions where you play as a French female resistance fighter or a British officer, but the story is heavily centered around this squad, especially two interesting guys named William Pierson, Technical Sergeant and Joseph Turner, 1st Lieutenant. “How many casualties,” screams Turner after a brutal attack on a German hold city that cost a ton of his mens’ lives. “We’ve executed the mission, that’s what matters,” answers Pierson. Turner is furious: “How many?” “We had our orders,” – Turner punches him in the face, they are wrestling on the ground. Josh Duhamel is playing the Technical Sergeant and highest in command for this company, and I have the feeling he is doing a good job even though we haven’t seen too many scenes with him so far. The story gives me a good Band of Brothers vibe because these characters remind me of people like Winters, Christenson, and Nixon who all struggle between command and mission on one hand and the responsibility for their men on the other. Duhamel actually returns to his Hollywood role as Captain Lennox in Transformers 5: The Last Knight in June, where he plays the role of the leader of a special forces unit that fights off the first wave of attack of a new Deception invasion – which in a weird way is led by Optimus Prime. Yeah, that Optimus Prime, former leader of the Autobots.
The Multiplayer: No more auto-heal, a class system and a very different weapon feel
Now let’s talk multiplayer. It will be very interesting to see how especially the younger audience likes Call of Duty: WW II because this is a different game. Sure, you have the Thompson and their German counterparts that have almost the same firepower like a modern MP5. But they weren’t as precise and it wasn’t common in World War II to use attachments. The aiming is all about iron sights: you lean in, look through the sight but there is no zoom or glasses involved. The Thompson was famous for their counter pressure when firing.
No worries, at least from what I have seen, Call of Duty is not going to turn into an ArmA 3 or similar military simulation, but there certainly is more recoil. And when we talk about the M1 Garand the feeling is sort of comparable to Battlefield 1. Meaning when you reload, the bullet drops out and your hand is – automatically – filling in new rounds. That costs a good second, so while Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare were all about a very aggressive, fast-paced gameplay, Call of Duty: WW II is a bit more about taking cover, reloading, and precision shots. And there will be no auto-heal anymore, neither in single player, nor in multiplayer. But Sledgehammer already hints at a system very similar to Battlefield 4 where you actually had a support class supplying the entire squad. Maybe there will be Medics? It would thus be Battlefield and not Call of Duty, but hey, why not change the formula a bit after 25 games?
What’s your take on the 2017 Call of Duty? Personally, I love competitive action, but I’ve also played through every single campaign thus far. So, if this one here is a bit more like Band of Brothers – more heart, more thought, better writing – I’d be more than happy. What about you? Will you miss the jump-packs and the modern weaponry or are you ready to roll again with the good old Garand?