Call of Duty®: WWII was Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games' 2017 effort to revitalise an otherwise creatively stale series. The franchise had focused primarily on far-flung-future-themed shooters for some years prior to WWII's release and so Sledgehammer decided to instead look back in time for inspiration. It had been nearly a decade since Call of Duty: World at War was released — the last game in the series to have a story revolving around the Second World War — and so there was no better time to re-explore the genre, but with the latest game development technology.
What are people saying?
Call of Duty: WWII garnered generally positive reception on consoles, while the PC version (the version I played) received a more mixed response. I’m going to say immediately that these reviews are not what I would consider “fair”, on the whole. The majority of them are directed primarily at the multiplayer element and convey peoples’ annoyances more so than genuine critique — this is especially true on PC and is a recurring thing on Steam.
Is it actually any good?
Yes, it is. While most would agree that Call of Duty's campaigns are often a throwaway experience, WWII's is actually quite creative and very engaging for a few reasons.
There is a great feeling of team effort interwoven throughout the game. Not just in a traditional "this is the Second World War, so we all need to band together" sort of way, but through the actual mechanics. Killing enemies regenerate your team's abilities, which are a range of useful items to use in the heat of battle. Different members can throw you ammunition pouches, health kits (yes health kits, more on those below), spare grenades, and artillery targeting smoke canisters; one teammate even highlights enemies in the area for a short time. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect — even if it was somewhat unbalanced — as it strengthened the brotherhood element that a lot of World War II media tries but often fails to portray.
Not just that, but there are situations known as "Heroic Actions" that pop up throughout the campaign — usually at least a couple per level. They can involve dragging a wounded ally to safety, you and your squad forcing enemies to surrender, or escorting a demolitionist to clear a bunker. You can fail these if you do not act quick enough, but their outcomes don't adversely affect the game; they are just fun little extra objectives. Again, these all add to the togetherness aspect and show that the Second World War wasn't a one-man mission, which is often the perceived case in other shooters from this genre.
I also appreciated the political direction of the game, something I honestly never thought I'd say about an action game. The war situation is depicted as a great big shade of grey. It's pointed out that Germans do not automatically equate to Nazis, and that some of them are good people trying to live their lives like everyone else. You even risk your life at one point to save a group of German citizens caught up in a skirmish. On the flip side, one of your squad mates — an American soldier — is actually rather bigoted, showing that he is not particularly fond of either the Jewish or Black communities. Even though these people are his brothers-in-arms, he cannot leave his prejudices behind. Life isn't so cut and dry, and the representation of that here in a World War II game is a refreshing angle that I've never seen explored before.
The graphics are brilliant, as expected, and it's nice to see a game in a World War II setting with such visual fidelity. Obviously, games like World at War could only do so much with the technology available at the time. WWII, though, far better depicts the bloodiness and brutality of war. Heads pop, limbs are severed, and men are set alight with flamethrowers all around you, as you fight on through the streets, the beaches, the fields, and the snow. There is a great deal of variety in the visuals, more than enough to keep any gore-seeking FPS-lover happy.
Another thing FPS players should be happy to hear is that WWII has some very satisfying gunplay. Guns have a noticeable heftiness to them, and the feedback — when they’re used — is brilliant. From classic bolt-action rifles to thundering emplaced machine guns, everything snaps, clicks, and bangs just how you would expect it to. A perfectly balanced mix of realism and exaggerated truth for the sake of action; it's about as realistic as you are going to get from a fast-paced shooter in the Call of Duty series. For the history buffs, weapons are period-appropriate too, but Sledgehammer took some liberties with their implementation. I think that they did a decent job at offering weapon variety whilst not deviating too far from historical accuracy.
A final note on gameplay is the reintroduction of health kits and a health bar, both unorthodox additions in this day and age. For some time now, shooters have generally required you to briefly hide behind cover to heal up, but not here in WWII. It's not only a fun call back to the original Call of Duty and Call of Duty: Finest Hour but is a mechanic that genuinely has a place here. It was a welcome change, one which forces you to push through and play on — either to have your squad mate throw you a kit once you've earned it or for you to find one on a fallen foe. You can't just cower and wait for your health to return; you've got to keep moving and consider how you progress. This plays with the themes of courage, endurance, and resilience; all qualities shown by the brave men who took part in the conflict. It's just a shame that it's a little unbalanced, as it's far too easy to simply stock up on spare health kits. They are everywhere. I played through the game on the “Hardened” difficulty (CoD's standard hard mode), and I didn't struggle to keep a good supply of health kits on me at all times. It's an interesting idea, one that needs some tweaks to work better if it's to be included again in the future.
I don't have anything to say about multiplayer. It's your typical Call of Duty online multiplayer. One day the player base will disappear, and the servers will shut down, rendering this part of the game useless; it's already been half a decade since the game was released, at the time of writing. If multiplayer is your thing, I'd stick to the latest Call of Duty release. However, if you enjoy World War II shooters or just FPSs with an engaging story, plenty of action-heavy gameplay, and unique mechanics then this is a title well worth your time. It's an ideal 10-hour thrill ride for fans of the genre with little spare time.