Posted on 04 Nov 2017 by Jay Shaw

Call of Duty: WWII

The Defence

Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action, Shooter
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: No
Release date: 03 Nov 2017

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3.3 GHz
AMD Ryzen 5 3.2 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon HD 7850
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 90 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Before we begin in earnest: This is a single-player campaign review only. If you want impressions of the multiplayer modes you’ll have to go elsewhere because I couldn’t get that half of the game to even boot up at all. Every attempt just resulted in my machine locking up, even after a reinstall. This has not affected the given score as it’s only for the campaign. Without further ado, to the review.

You know the drill by now – Call of Duty comes out every year with a rotating cast of developers and the scenery changes but the shooting gallery remains the same. This year though, Call of Duty developers Sledgehammer Games are hoping to take the series back to its heyday with a return to a World War 2 setting. Absolutely nothing like a soldier on the front lines of the western front you’re going to have to trudge through the dirt and destruction of the review below to find out if they succeeded or not.

The Trial

Let’s assume you haven’t played Call Of Duty for years – it’s evolved from a fairly generic shooter for its time (albeit a good one) back with the original instalment and has slowly tacked on gimmicks like regenerating health, sliding around on your knees, wall running, exoskeletons, branching stories, space ships, and a weapon customisation menu over the years. Some of these additions have served to greatly enhance a somewhat stagnating series; the branching stories of Black Ops 2 and the weapon customisation menu added a reason to go back to the campaign and play a different way, or to experiment or just mess about.

Now you’re up to speed I can tell you that all of that is gone. WWII strips back everything. The first major change is the removal of regenerating health, instead of ducking into cover and licking the jam off the camera lens you carry a small supply of health packs that heal a portion of your health or a squad member can provide you with one extra every couple of minutes. They can also be found in the environment. They’re fairly plentiful is what I’m saying. The second change is the removal of the crosshair, aiming off the hip is more of a guessing game now, encouraging the use of the iron sights. The third big change is the removal of the weapon customisation and selection menu – a feature that I absolutely adore but wouldn’t fit with a WW2 setting where soldiers got standard equipment and had to make do so it’s sorely missed but understandably discharged.

Weapon attachments are understandably scarce in the single player campaign. There’s the occasional bayonet (which enables one-hit melee kills and bayonet charges) and 6x sniper scope equipped rifle but even rarer are more exotic modifications like rifle grenades and incendiary rounds for the Toggle Action – which is actually a rare Walther Automatic Shotgun created in 1918 with a Walther A115 box magazine (which isn’t even made for shotgun shells) frankensteined onto it because having a rare shotgun at your disposal apparently wasn’t cool enough. Additionally historical accuracy is up for grabs with the incendiary shells – I have never heard of and can find no proof of incendiary shotgun shells existing in WW2.

Similar tinkering happens in regards to history. Some fiction is absolutely expected for the sake of gameplay or storytelling but Sledgehammer didn’t invent a fictional military unit, instead they chose to pick the 1ST Infantry Division “Big Red One” and while the group’s motto is used as a rallying cry at one point, history is played fast and loose with historical facts. One instance of this that particularly rankled me was one of the Division’s senior officers stating they were the first to push the Germans back in WW1 – the “BRO” didn’t even fire a shell until 1917 while British and French forces caused a German retreat during the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. While I have to concede that this could simply be a character deliberately lying for the sake of raising the morale of his men I’m more inclined to believe that it’s simply American wankery based on the apple pie and down-home Texas boy protagonist.

Schütze Franz had been court martialled before for lighting his farts around the ammunition.

American self fellation has practically been the cornerstone of Call of Duty since its inception but it leaves a particularly sour taste in my mouth this time. Take for example the Battle Of The Bulge; in reality the last German offensive on the western front and a bloody, devastating battle in which the Americans alone lost somewhere between 89,500 and 105,100 men, not counting tanks, assault guns, and aircraft destroyed. But in Call of Duty: WWII the battle is reduced to a minor scrap over about 200 meters of snowy field and a knackered old shack. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s insulting and pathetic – even ignoring the historical inaccuracy we’ve got the computational power now to properly portray these events. The D-Day landings in Normandy are similarly reduced to a quick jaunt across a featureless beach dotted with tank traps, it was impressive when Medal Of Honour Allied Assault did it, because it pushed the limits available at the time but Call of Duty: WW2‘s rendition of the landings is both technically outdated and a pale imitation of Allied Assault‘s superior experience.

“But what about the gameplay!?” I hear you cry, frustrated that I’ve yet to talk about one of the core aspects of a game. Well, it’s okay. Call of Duty: WWII feels stilted to play, not because of any kind of input lag or anything like that but rather the exclusion of moves like the knee slide have made dropping to crouch while moving feel lame and you can’t drop to crouch from a sprint at all but you can go prone. Leaning is automated, with a gradual peeking around the edges of objects being applied as you aim down the sights, unfortunately for those of us who use toggle aiming this is still applied while reloading and is prone to freaking out on small objects like barrels which can result in protagonist Daniels doing an antsy little dance.

The shooting feels like a step back too. Ever since Modern Warfare the series has managed to make shooting feel slick and natural, removing all the unnecessary fluff between clicking and the dispensation of a droplet of endorphin by your satisfied mammal brain. WWII fucks this up by having weapons that are woefully underpowered and the classic X hit marker that indicates when you’ve hit an enemy by flashing white, and red for a kill, appear several times per enemy you fire on. Any automatic weapon or any semi-automatic rifle at a range of more than about 20 feet can take anywhere from 4-10 rounds to kill an enemy and you’re painfully aware the whole time that you’re simply chipping away at a hidden HP value like a crap JRPG boss fight, except it’s the whole game.

Illogical weapon balance can be necessary to make weapons feel distinct from each other – after all there’d be no point picking up an M1A1 Carbine if it felt exactly the same as an M1 Garand – but the balance is all over the place. The American guns just feel more powerful and more accurate than the German ones, and the Soviet weapons are laughable at best. Sure there’s variety but a lack of diversity in weapons still manages to present itself. Sure, fire rates and recoil patterns change, as do the visuals, but weapons fall into broad categories here with little reason to distinguish between them other than preference of iron sights – for example the Waffe 28 is pretty much a copy-paste of the PPSh-41 and vice-versa. Same goes for the SVT 40 and M1A1 Carbine. StG-44, FG-42. Thompson, MP 40. You get the idea.

GOTTVERDAMMT FRANZ! Do you know how much a Hanomag costs?

Speaking of those Soviet weapons, they’re used by German soldiers. For the sake of argument let’s say they’re captured enemy weapons – what are Soviet arms doing on the western front and why are the Germans using them over their own well supplied and familiar gear? There are no Soviet soldiers in the game, there’s not even a mention of them that I can remember but their weapons pop up in the hands of Hans and Gruber without so much as an explanation or passing comment about how utterly stupid it feels. It honestly feels like a Soviet section was cut from the game but the weapons were already completed so they just stuck them in anyway.

The visuals are, as usual, nothing spectacular but it’s still capable of looking decent. There’s plenty of graphical errors – notably tank shells that reflect off armour just become a straight beam of light that lingers for far too long like someone just poked a lightsaber out of a viewport or explosions that look like a partially corrupted jpeg file that show up in an anti-aircraft section. Smoke and projectile clipping are kept at a minimum and increased FOV rarely results in seeing the rough edges of models. It’s technically proficient but graphics scaling isn’t always the best, rendering at lower resolutions than you display (which the game does by default) does the already lame filtering no favours and colours are all clumped up firmly around the browns, greys, and approximately three shades of orange. This is especially notable on a properly calibrated screen where you suddenly realise that the Windows 10 UI is a riot of colour compared to Call of Duty WW2. Also of note are hilarious facial animations where characters regularly flap their bottom lip about like a muppet with lockjaw.

Sound design is just as lacking. Call of Duty doesn’t aim for realistic weapon sounds and lacks the punch and range of frequencies that a proper weapon report produces but it’s especially lacking here; you’re firing weapons that use some fairly large ammunition and they sound like a badly lubricated airsoft weapon. The M1 Garand and MG 42 are particularly bad offenders of this, the former is missing a lot of the sounds that make it distinct while the latter sounds less like “Hitler’s Buzzsaw” and more like “Hitler’s Electric Toothbrush.”

The voice actors are similarly badly used. Some are Call of Duty veterans; Ghosts Merrick actor, Jeffrey Pierce makes a return but sounds like he was paid exclusively in actual peanuts if his performance is anything to go by. It’s hard to tell whether the mediocrity is caused by uninterested/uninspired cast, an inexperienced director, or the shoestring script but the result is all the drama of one of the world’s most destructive conflicts as performed via a middle school drama group on Valium. While we’re on the topic of script, there’s no real clear villain to fight against. In the late game a scar-faced Nazi is introduced in cutscenes but lacks any menace or on-screen presence at all and may as well be a swastika shaped fart for all the impact he has on anything.

Perhaps the writers were aiming to portray just how little a single person means in a global conflict but the lack of a clear villain other than the nebulous Nazi threat is a real let down. Your time playing feels less like a story being told and more like a whistle-stop tour of scenes that have some vague resemblance to history, like you’re walking through a funhouse hall of mirrors with a set of photographs of the western front. So much is a distorted, and often deformed, imitation of other things that WW2 never feels like it has any merit of its own; it’s all borrowed fame, borrowed set pieces, borrowed ideas, and they’re all returned with a set of fresh scuffs that weren’t there when their original owner parted with them.

Obersturmbannführer Mohr banned Franz from eating sauerkraut for a month after he took out a second vehicle in the same convoy.

Call of Duty: WWII even tries its hand at vehicle segments: you get to drive and gun from both a Jeep and Kubelwagen, you get to drive a tank, and pilot a fighter plane. The Jeep/Kubelwagen sections suffer from narrow, linear level design and turret aiming that would make a game from 1997 embarrassed to be seen with them. The tank section borrows heavily from Allied Assault‘s legendary Day Of The Tiger mission and executes it poorly with enemy tanks straight-up being invincible from the front and overly sensitive and accelerated mouse movement for aiming, I actually had to switch gamepad controls on to get through this bit. Similarly jerky is the aircraft section which suffers from a pathetic attempt to allow players to defend a bomber formation from German fighters – unclear UI makes the way the aircraft behaves in relation to mouse movement a chore right up to the end. Alternative control schemes and viewpoints are completely absent too, so if like me you have trouble acclimatising you may be shit out of luck if you don’t have a controller on hand to make them more bearable.

Speaking of the Day Of The Tiger mission from Allied Assault – almost all of the sniping sections in Call of Duty: WWII feel like they’re liberally “inspired” by that game’s sniping sections. It’s all so second-rate execution that there’s none of the tension or satisfaction you’d get in a good sniping section from other games. The humdrum cycle of aim, slow time, click, repeat, occasionally reload bores its way into your consciousness like an obnoxious guest at a party getting in the way of you looking for fun. Sure, it’s passable, but barely tolerable. These sniping sections neither fetishize the sniper or acknowledge the skill required, you just pick up a rifle and chip away at enemy numbers until the game decides you’ve hit your quota of pedestrian plinking and allows you to move on to the next set piece. And yes, half this paragraph is deliberately as many synonyms for “mediocre” as I can realistically cram in, just like the game does with boring sniper sections.

The campaign goes on for about five and a half hours first time through, all the cutscenes included, and it far outstays its welcome. There’s no real resolution, no driving motivation to keep going, and no attachment to any of the characters. You can’t even look forward to the newest set piece because you know it’ll be lifted from a game that already did it better: oh, we’re crossing the Rhine on a bridge, wonder if it’ll be a bollocks copy of the bridge attack from Modern Warfare 3. Oh look, it is. One notable exception to this is a wonderful train crash that goes on entirely too long but is thrilling to watch. By the time the campaign ends, you’re 5-ish hours out of your life and left wondering why you didn’t quit and do something else like wash the windows or check your dog for fleas.

We haven’t even gotten to the coup-de-grace of hacky game design either; QTEs. Not even hard, or visually entertaining QTEs but boring and easy ones. The events they cover are usually brief hand to hand skirmishes with German soldiers in which you’ll move the mouse cursor to a circle and hit the indicated button or mash the use key like it’ll will a handgun into existence so you can put yourself out of this misery. All of the events could just have been in-engine cutscenes and would have been better for it, especially when you take into consideration that the game needs keys like “hold to crouch” bound in order to get through them. Sorry toggle-crouchers, you’re either going to have to bind a key just for QTEs, which for me resulted in having to watch a Nazi stab me about 10 times while I fiddled with the options menu looking for which unbound key the game wanted. The sooner game developers realise that QTEs are terrible the better – and how has that lesson not been learned already, they get panned by almost everyone every time they rear their ugly head.

The Verdict

Overall, Call of Duty: WWII was fun but feels like it borrowed too much from other, better games to have any standing of its own. The campaign structure is practically Battlefield 1 minus the horse bit and good tank level and that’s not a good thing. There’s not really anything original here, not that we were expecting much from a WW2 game (it is established events after all) and there’s only so much you can do with it but Sledgehammer scraped by with the minimum amount of effort and questionable artistic integrity. The kindest thing I can say about it is that it’s vanilla – it’s not openly offensive but a mouthful of it is hard to swallow.

Case Review

  • Visuals: It looks pretty and is fairly well optimised.

  • Bren: You get one for about a minute and it tears through enemies.

  • Sneaky: There’s a stealth section that’s a throwback to Allied Assault.

  • Throwback: It’s nothing but throwbacks to other games.

  • Loadout: Just stick with your starting guns. They’re all naff anyway.

  • Blah Blah Blah: You could replace the dialogue entirely with burbling mouth sounds and lose nothing.

1.5 Score: 1.5/5
At least Ghosts isn't the worst Call of Duty campaign now.

Evidence

  • Graphics: There's a solid amount of options for customising the look of the game and tuning performance. FOV is measured vertically, making it a bit fiddly to set in the sweet spot but options for render resolution allow for large gains in performance without much loss in visual quality.
  • Audio: There's a volume slider and subtitle options. I didn't encounter any issues that would require more advanced options, the sound balance is all modged together in the middle so individual sliders for voice/SFX/music aren't really necessary.
  • Controls: Keyboard and mouse are fully rebindable while the controller has a pretty standard set of sensitivity and assist options. Better mouse sensitivity tuning or options to manually configure it for the vehicles really needs to happen.

Comments (1)


Posts: 299
L Coulsen
Posted 08 Nov 2017, 11:32
That graphics paragraph, dude XD