Call of Duty: WWII review - war is an unpleasant business

★★★★ CALL OF DUTY: WWII The veteran franchise returns for another bout of epic war games


Like an incoming artillery shell, nothing screams “Christmas is coming!” like another Call of Duty game crash landing on the shelves. The mega-budget war franchise makes more money than Santa at this time of year and just to add to the annual festivities, we’re treated to a grim recreation of World War II, courtesy of Activision's latest blockbuster.

From the D-Day Normandy landings to liberating Paris and ultimately pushing forward into Germany, it’s a title brimming with cinematic set pieces and epic battles.

You will have seen many of the scenarios before – the Normandy beach assaults, for example. But the production values with the latest console hardware are now at a level that brings a new visceral realism to the screen. Smoke, fog, rain and mud all add to the environmental atmosphere.The single-player campaign is a heavily scripted affair and littered with spectacular set pieces, so nothing new there. But what the developers have executed with finesse is the melding of several gameplay strands to create a tense and exciting experience – even though many players will be expecting a déjà vu affair.

The biggest gameplay change is how you’ll no longer be a “superhero soldier” with a continually replenishing health bar. Now you must rely on computer-controlled squad members to help out in a tight spot.

Need health? Well, you had better hope you’re near the first-aid specialist who might be able to toss you a pack. You’ll then need to find cover to apply the dressing. The same goes for ammo, calling in air strikes and spotting enemy in the distance – there’s squad members that can help you with all those tasks, they just take time to replenish.

At times the brutality makes you wonder what defines entertainment these days

Having to scavenge weapons on the fly, while diving for cover and crawling to a comrade who has vital supplies, cranks up the tension. And when combined with action that include tank battles, stealth missions, derailing trains, clearing trenches and block-by-block guerrilla warfare, the heart really does start pumping.

As soon as your finger squeezes the trigger it’s clear this is the most brutal Call of Duty game yet. Limbs and heads regularly get obliterated; screams of dying men ring loud as the relentless barrage of gunfire and artillery soundtracks the larger battles.

It’s a vicious campaign with early sections involving clearing bunkers with flame-throwers, bloody hand-to-hand combat sequences where bludgeoning is your only option, and doing your medal-worthy bit by dragging a wounded comrade across a battlefield; all in an hour’s work.

The campaign is short, taking no more than nine to 10 hours to complete on regular difficulty. But COD is a game within a game, within a game. Multiplayer has been spruced up to include new missions, a new social hub known as Headquarters and a whole raft of ways to level up both your weapons and character via tasks that reward you for accomplishing goals like getting 500 kills, 10 headshots in 20 minutes, or killing 10 people with a pistol.

Nazi Zombies, the game’s co-op mode, also makes a welcome return. You’re still playing as a band of B-list celebrities, killing zombies for cash to open doors and purchase gun upgrades from the walls, but the visual presentation is a darker incarnation than before, and a few subtle gameplay tweaks such as an objective indicator that gives a clear focus, rather than letting you run around blind, and new special power-up abilities such as infinite ammo keeps the action fresh.

All in all, the latest Call of Duty hasn’t reinvented the soldier-shooter genre, rather added a sheen of refinement to a well-worn bloody path of war games. At times the brutality makes you wonder what defines entertainment these days, but nobody said war was anything but an unpleasant business.