Call of Duty is back in World War II, and perhaps, back in the good graces of game reviewers. Call of Duty: WWII launched over the weekend, and as of this writing, the average Metacritic score is clocking in at 85 for the PlayStation 4 version and 88 for Xbox One. That's an improvement on last year's Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, a commercial disappointment set in the far-flung future, which posted Metacritic averages of 77 and 78 on PS4 and Xbox One, respectively.
GameSpot's Miguel Concepcion was particularly pleased with the Sledgehammer-developed WWII, giving the game a 9 out of 10.
"Call of Duty's long-awaited return to its World War II roots is not only a homecoming, but also a commemoration of the powerful bonds that form between brothers in arms," Concepcion said.
He was particularly taken with the game's campaign mode and a new mechanic that sees the player asking their AI squadmates for help, whether it's medical attention, extra ammo, or a binocular-assisted reconnaissance of the area that highlights enemy positions. Their assistance can be called on repeatedly, but there's a cooldown timer for each that decreases quicker as the player kills more enemies. While that mechanic rewards an aggressive playstyle, Concepcion said the game's combat isn't designed for that.
"It's a story supported with just the right amount of emotion, playing out both during firefights and periods in between"
"It's about hunkering down at nearly every fallen table, picking off just enough Nazis to give you an opening to the next cover point. Whether you're toughing out every yard of forward progress with your best available machine gun, or quietly knifing Nazis in the tough-but-fair stealth sections, the campaign delivers a wealth of harrowing battles where checkpoints feel well-earned."
In between the gunplay, the story plays out in cutscenes and dialog that flesh out the characters, he said.
"It's a story supported with just the right amount of emotion, playing out both during firefights and periods in between. You have the option to add to your heroic reputation by saving wounded and exposed comrades or sparing surrendering Nazis."
Game Informer's Daniel Tack gave WWII almost as impressive a score (8.75 out of 10), but he was less taken with the campaign, saying it was the only part of the game that felt like a misstep.
"The campaign captures Call of Duty's signature explosive feel through various adrenaline-fueled moments like chases, a tank vs tank segment, and firing AA guns," Tack said. "However, the standard gunplay and endless killing fields often feel like a slog, taking down hundreds of enemies and moving to the next defensive position... While the experiences you face are huge WWII battles captured with appropriate grandiose backdrops, the only chapter that truly stands out is one where you don't fire your weapon at all - an infiltration mission that takes you deep into the heart of Gestapo HQ. The characters in your squad are forgettable cardboard cutouts, a throwaway cast that seems like a slipshod assemblage of Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Platoon."
That said, Tack was thoroughly pleased with the traditional multiplayer, calling it "the shining star" of the package, which also includes the aforementioned campaign and the franchise's now requisite Zombies component. WWII's multiplayer delivers the expected thrills, but Sledgehammer's tweaks to the formula are also welcome, Tack said.
"The new objective-oriented War mode includes all kinds of various activities such as moving a tank, building a bridge, and capturing point after point, so traditional gunning for a big kill-death-assist ratio is a thing of the past. If you're looking for something that has established front lines and rewards for working as a team (and where you won't get gunned down in the back less than a second after you spawn) War is worth a look."
IGN hasn't published a final verdict on the game yet, but Miranda Sanchez's review-in-progress seemed fairly impressed with both the campaign and multiplayer elements.
"It's refreshing: it felt good to be a little grounded, vulnerable, and have a clean HUD for once"
"Call of Duty: WW2's multiplayer may be set in a time without high-tech superweapons, but it's still very much a Call of Duty multiplayer mode; you die fast, respawn fast, and kill fast," Sanchez said. "It's as satisfying a cycle as it's always been - especially when you do less dying and more killing - and the World War II setting does provide for some interesting new maps, weapons, player classes (called Divisions), and, less interestingly, a new mode."
As for the campaign, Sanchez said it "tells a good story with some fun action movie-style spectacle," and gives a players a solid re-introduction to combat without the gadgets and tech that have featured so prominently in recent Call of Duty titles.
"Taking a step away from a long stint of futuristic shooters - including last year's far-future Infinite Warfare - this Call of Duty understandably loses a lot of the past games' verticality and speed, but that's not to say that combat is slow," Sanchez said. "It does require a bit more patience in identifying targets, more accurate shooting without the assistance of a variety of high-tech scopes and sights, and tacks on a health bar for [campaign protagonist] Daniels that requires constant attention, but enemies still drop fast and I still needed to keep constantly moving to stay alive. It's refreshing: it felt good to be a little grounded, vulnerable, and have a clean HUD for once."
Polygon's Russ Frushtick also filed an unscored review-in-progress post on the game, but his didn't address the multiplayer, and offered a distinctly negative appraisal of the campaign mode.
"In a lot of ways, it attempts to reboot the series as a more grounded, more sober military shooter that's less Michael Bay and more Ken Burns," Frushtick said. "That desire to tell a realistic, compassionate story is constantly at odds with the desire to make an engaging first-person shooter in which the player cuts through hordes of generic foot-soldiers... At one moment, the soldiers are having a nuanced discussion about how not all Germans are bad. A moment later you're mowing down a sea of them with a mounted machine gun as you speed through an occupied French village. The campaign attempts to bring up the "tough" questions about war, but when you're intermingling those questions with outrageous, comic violence, it comes off as disingenuous."
It doesn't help that Call of Duty: WWII revisits many of the same battles that have been depicted time and again in World War II-set shooters, like the D-Day landing at Normandy and The Battle of the Bulge.
"World War II shooters have explored these battles ad infinitum, but I hoped this game would introduce us to new and lesser seen elements of the conflict," Frushtick said. "Instead just about every mission feels like déjà vu, as if I'd played it before in another game, be it Medal of Honor: Allied Assault or, hell, even the first two Call of Duty games. I've landed on these beaches, I've cleared these trenches, I've driven tanks through these streets. One stand-out mission, set in Nazi-occupied Paris, does rustle up some novelty, but the remaining 10 all feel like flashbacks to missions I played a decade ago."
Frushtick expressed disappointment that the last 10 years of gameplay and storytelling advancement in the industry had not produced a more novel take on the conflict, at least in terms of the single-player campaign.
"While it returns to the era of classic Call of Duty, it neither captures the surprise of the early games nor the ambition of modern entries," Frushtick said. "Rather than serve as a reboot, Call of Duty: WWII is more of a redundancy."