The latest game in the Call of Duty franchise was set to be a true return to form -- a game that had learned from the successes and failures of over ten years and 14 main titles. But in an age of political commentary, Call of Duty: WWII's attempt at pushing realism feels lacking -- but that's not totally a bad thing.
Don't get me wrong. Mechanically, the game is great. In terms of by-the-books first-person gameplay, Activision, Sledgehammer Games and its development teams have perfected the formula. But if you're looking for more than a summer blockbuster stuffed into an eight-hour game, you might not walk out satisfied.
Call of Duty: WWII returns players to the European Theatre of war, moments before the storming of Normandy. You play as Private First Class Ronald "Red" Daniels of the U.S. Army, surrounded by a colorful cast of characters -- off-the-wall Robert Zussman, the photo junkie Joseph Turner and the war vet Frank Aiello. Your squad is commanded by William Pierson, played by Josh Duhamel (of Transformers fame) and First Lieutenant Joseph Turner.
Throughout the game's campaign, you and your player squad will take part in a handful of infamous moments from World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day. In addition, you'll spend missions infiltrating Nazi strongholds and collecting intel for allied forces.
The strongest campaign beat comes in the form of the game's Paris-set mission, where you take a break from playing as "Red" and sneak into a German garrison while playing as French Resistance leader Rousseau. This part tries something new for the franchise, and has you studying Rousseau's assumed identity's "papers," as you'll be quizzed on your background by German guards as you make your way around the garrison.
To some, this part may feel forced. But for a game mostly about shooting, hiding, and shooting some more, it's a nice change of pace to develop the game's characters. It also adds a very real sense of consequence and tension to the game -- and might actually do this part better than October's Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
Speaking of The New Colossus, it's hard not to compare the two first-person games. Where Wolfenstein uses its political relevance to speak to the trials of modern society, Call of Duty plays it safe and by-the-books. Even the horrors of war in WWII feel more like a classic war movie than a dialogue on politics.
But despite it's treading-the-line mentality, Call of Duty: WWII does succeed in bringing the series back to its roots, and bringing a challenge along with it. That challenge is in the form of a revamped health system and your squad mates.
Instead of utilizing regenerative health (like many first-person games), WWII uses health packs, meaning players will have to hunt down first aid kits to heal up, rather than go prone and hide until your "health" comes back. Fortunately, your squad mates can help, as each carry some sort of aid for you, whether its health packs, grenades or ammunition.
The addition of this squad system is actually pretty stellar, because it doesn't break the flow of gameplay. All you do is look at one of your team members, press the corresponding D-pad button and they toss you whatever you need. One squad member even has an ability that highlights enemies in the area, allowing you to use the new "focus" mode, essentially bullet time but for any of your weapons.
Doesn't sound like too much of a challenge, huh? Well, there's a cool down on each of these skills and things get even harder when you amp the difficulty up. Even playing through the game on a medium difficulty setting meant dying and restarting a few times.
And in what might be my greatest applause for this game comes in the form of its last mission. Without spoiling its contents, the game refuses to end on a climactic note. Previous Call of Duty titles had you throwing knives at bad guys' faces or stabbing someone with a flag pole on the steps of the Reichstag, but WWII ends on a soft and somber note, the perfect not-so-happy happy ending for the games' characters.
Aside from the campaign, WWII also sports a fully-fledged Call of Duty multiplayer suite that borrows heavily from the shared-world hubs of games like Destiny and The Division. With that in mind, the suite is also packed with micro transactions and loot crates, which may work for some but for fans just looking for a fun multiplayer experience, it makes it a little uncomfortable.
The Nazi Zombies mode is also back, and while I haven't spent too much time with it, it seems like a worthy addition to a series staple.
All in all, Call of Duty: WWII is a hearty game that plays it safe in execution, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a great experience.
Rating: Eight out of ten.