Call of Duty: WW2 offers the same thrill ride as past games, but doesn’t feel quite as authentic as it wants to.
Call of Duty: WW2’s return to its historical roots is not just a sudden change of scenery for the more recently high-tech franchise — it’s also a return to a more grounded kind of shooter in general. The advanced weaponry and enhanced mobility mechanics of the series’ last handful of games are obviously gone in favor of period-appropriate firearms and movement that doesn’t get much fancier than vaulting over cover.
How many of us are looking for a meaningful meditation on war from Call of Duty?
But Call of Duty: WW2 seems to be doing a bit more to magnify your character’s vulnerability in its single-player campaign, based on the 15-20 minute hands-off preview I saw at E3 2017. Those looking for the type of power fantasy offered by Advanced Warfare might not get the same kick out of crawling through the mud and having bell towers crumble down on you and your teammates, but it seems there are still plenty of big, cinematic set pieces to keep the experience as thrilling — just in new ways. Whether or not that’s compatible with the “authentic” World War experience its creative directors seem to be aiming for is another story. Then again, how many of us are looking for a touching, meaningful meditation on war’s atrocities from a series known for its action flick-style bombast?
What I saw of Call of Duty’s single-player was an intense, 15-20 snippet of gameplay set in a ruined European village. As we mentioned after our Sledgehammer studio visit back in April, you play Ronald “Red” Daniels, a 19-year-old from Texas. Red isn’t a super soldier — with no special forces training or even previous military experience, he’s just a kid with a gun in an unfamiliar setting. He might not be an archetype we’re used to in Call of Duty, but he still is an archetype nonetheless — a young American who wants to defend his country, but who is perhaps unaware of what he’s gotten himself into. We’ve seen this story time and time again, but the idea of Call of Duty making a sharp tonal shift after years of exploring the high-tech super wars of the future (which was itself a tonal shift from its own historical roots) could be admirable. I wanted to have an open mind.
The lack of health regen could open up interesting team-based dynamics in single-player.
During the short hands-off preview, I watched Red and his squad stumble through the mud, sprint behind cover, and nail headshots and expertly-timed grenade blasts on enemy forces. Collapsed cobblestone buildings, splintered wood, and makeshift cover dotted the ruined landscape. Screams of agony were punctuated by the pop of rifles, a grim ambience to underscore the dramatic strings of its soundtrack. Black smoke and fire filled the sky. A flag of red cloth and the unmistakable white circle stood shredded just short of the actual swastika symbol itself, which at first I attributed to the utter devastation of the town, but later found oddly tame. This new Call of Duty felt like it was trying to capture a new kind of intensity and grit, but I don’t know how much of that horror can be owed to the game’s design itself, or just our familiarity with the distinct violence of World War 2.
Perhaps the biggest change is the lack of health regeneration. Instead of letting you sit the fight out for a moment to regain HP, you now have to rely on NPC squadmates to patch you up. I like the idea of what this dynamic can bring to the table. Balancing vulnerability for the sake of a game’s tone and themes while still keeping it “fun” is tough, and for Call of Duty — a series that is definitely not going to go the way of Metal Gear Solid or Spec Ops: The Line in its exploration of war — something simple like removing health regen is a smart move.
Scripted sequences felt like all drama and style, without substance.
The rest of the horror I saw play out on screen seemed mostly scripted, which is keeping in line with Call of Duty’s “action movie” feel. A tank rolls up at just the right moment. Explosion. Red darts into a tower just in time for it to come crashing down. A man trying to help you has his head and chest blown off and the gory corpse remains in your line of sight as you struggle with the surrounding chaos. There’s a quick-time event to escape a massive bell that comes crashing down on you. These moments looked cool, but ultimately upped the stakes in uninteresting ways — Red was funneled into sequence after sequence of intense brushes with death, but there was nothing particularly special about those less flashy moments, when he was just a kid crouching nervously behind cover with a dirty M1 as his friends went down all around him. That’s the experience I want to see fleshed out. Based on what I saw in our relatively small preview, it just looked like more of the same.
If Call of Duty: WW2 wants to market itself as an “authentic, truthful” story as its directors told Mashable in April, it would be nice to actually see some of that here. It’s hard to avoid making war look fun in a genre that’s traditionally designed the mechanics of aiming and shooting to feel good with no real exploration of its consequences. Call of Duty doesn’t necessarily need to change that. But how can a World War 2 game “show atrocities” and “[go] there” if it’s apparently too afraid to display a swastika? How can a World War 2 game really be about the human cost of one of the world’s most devastating conflicts if it’s so concerned with dramatization? And if Call of Duty: WW2 wants to just be the same epic, action-packed thrill ride that the series is known for delivering, why can’t it just say so?
Chloi Rad is an Associate Editor for IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.
Source: IGN Video Games