After flinging the franchise into the future with Infinite Warfare, Activision takes Call of Duty back to familiar territory with Call of Duty: World War II. Foregoing future tech and alien landscapes, players are now flung back into the hellish landscape of World War II, and the results are fantastic. While the short single-player campaign is the game’s only real shortcoming, Call of Duty: World War II is easily the best recent installment of the annual franchise.
While multiplayer is usually the name of the game when it comes to Call of Duty, the game’s single-player campaign should not be overlooked. It’s a beautifully rendered adventure that’s stirringly told, hampered only by its short length and arrested ambition. The story focuses on Private Ronald Daniels, a Texas-born patriot who’s part of a platoon pushing through a swath of Nazis during 1944-1945. Through Daniels’ character, players will experience key historic moments from the war while bonding with fellow soldiers. The campaign features the best Call of Duty graphics in recent memory, with moments easily mistakable for a big screen live-action war epic. Whether it’s the dark, grimy mud, or a dense forest, or even a populated camp or the inside of an office, everything looks absolutely stunning. Even the most mundane things, like a desk or a chair, or a tent, everything looks intricately crafted. Character design is spot on, with actor-based characters blending in perfectly with the rest of the grunts.
The campaign’s only real issues come from it’s short length and inability to really stick the landing. It’s a great story of our heroes attempting to thwart the Nazi scourge, but it doesn’t really do anything to make this story it’s own. We get to see epic moments brought to life, like the storming of Normandy, and they’re excellent … but it feels a little safe and doesn’t really bring anything fresh to the table. Call of Duty: World War II missed the chance to really put it’s own stamp on some of the historic events depicted in the movie, to be unique, which is a shame as the ambition to make this game something special was clearly there. The short run time does result in some platoon mates coming off as rather one-dimensional, but that’s to be expected in a game such as this, though still doesn’t excuse it.
The single-player campaign does include a couple neat touches, such as the ability to get support from fellow soldiers in the form of ammo, health kits, grenades and assistance when it comes to spotting enemies. The campaign also highlights specifics moments during the campaign where Daniels has to make some possible difficult choices in the heat of battle, such as saving a soldier or letting him die so you can push ahead. It adds some emotional impact to some of the campaign’s story beats. This could’ve been more effective if some of Daniels’ fellow soldiers were fleshed out more. That said, the story campaign is still an enjoyable experience from start to finish, moving along at a brisk pace and hitting key moments with palpable impact, it just needed to do a little more to truly stand out.
The campaign, however, is an afterthought for most gamers who pick up Call of Duty: World War II and that will be no different here. The success of a Call of Duty is heavily dependent on its multiplayer option and, to the relief of many I’m sure, the game’s multiplayer options fares very well here. The biggest new feature for Call of Duty: World War II is undoubtedly the social area located on Normandy Beach. Here players can practice, sign up for challenges, gain rewards and upgrades and even play some video games to pass the time. Remember the old Grand Prix game for the Atari? Well, you can play it here in the R & R tent (and yes, that is very, very awesome – it’s a game I played quite a bit in the 1980s and I was genuinely surprised to see it here).
When getting into the multiplayer modes themselves, there’s plenty of variety to choose from, be it specific loadouts or missions, everything moves smoothly and quickly. Missions tend to load fast, lobbies are easy to navigate and there’s no stutters or glitches when you’re in the heat of a mission. It’s remarkable how smooth everything plays. Having played a fair amount of multiplayer games over the last year, there’s a noticeable jump in quality and confidence when jumping into a mission in Call of Duty: World War II. And given the time period of this game, it almost feels like stepping into a modernized old school shooter, and it’s so refreshing. As great as games like Overwatch are when it comes to weapon tech and variety, there’s something to be said about using just a simple rifle. It helps that map design is really stellar and, again, the presentation is something truly to behold. It’s easy to get lost in the surroundings or get distracted while running through buildings. There’s so many great little touches littered throughout each level that you can’t help but want to investigate (though, be careful, that’ll make you an incredibly easy target!).
The standout multiplayer mode is War, a team-based mode where one side serves as the Allies and the other as the Axis. Both sides face off in a series of attack and defend missions, the highlight being Operation Neptune, where players can choose to either defend or storm the beaches of Normandy.
Another standout in Call of Duty: World War II is the zombie mode which, after years of feeling gimmicky, really hit its stride with a really creepy mission. There are some legitimate frights to be had as a group of heroes look to shut down a Nazi weapon facility. While the all-star cast of actors appearing in the mode is a little distracting, it doesn’t take away drastically from what’s easily the best Call of Duty zombie mode to date. It’s a perfect mesh of atmosphere, map work and grisly theatrics. Much like the rest of the game, the zombie mode feels more streamlined and accessible, with some great perks to help out even the most seasoned players in some of the more challenging parts. This was the first Call of Duty where I was so heavily invested in the zombie mode to the point where I would prefer to quickly wipe out some undead cretins over any other mission if I had a few moments to spare. Activision absolutely crushed it this year.
In terms of performance, I experienced little to no technical issues during my time. I started playing the game well after it officially launched and, aside from a handful of slow load times, everything ran perfectly smooth.
Save for a somewhat short single-player campaign, Activision has produced an absolutely stellar installment of the Call of Duty franchise with World War II. Multiplayer is as addictive as ever, helped by its streamlined approach and a return to the familiar stomping grounds of war-torn Europe, and this year’s spin on Zombie mode is easily the best that offering has ever been. After last year’s jumbled Infinite Warfare entry, it’s a refreshing return to the franchise arguably at the time when it needs it most, given today’s competitive market. Call of Duty: World War II is polished, slick and whether you’re a fan of single-player, multiplayer or zombie mode, there’s plenty of fun to be found.
Toonzone was provided a PS4 “Call of Duty: World War II” retail copy to review by the publisher.