The campaigns of the Call of Duty series have always been a little hit and miss. People mainly played the game for the multiplayer and that became the core focus of games. The campaign always felt like a little after thought, or even serving as training for players to learn the ropes and some of the new features, before throwing themselves into the competitive multiplayer.
Originally, when CoD was still set during World War 2, the campaigns were often soldiers from the same sort of groups of allied armies (British, American, Russian, maybe a Canadian tank until, and possibly French resistance) and the story would jump about between them. No real plot was involved other than; you are fighting the Axis (either the Japanese or the Nazis).
Call of Duty: Big Red One on PS2 made a pretty decent story that followed the same group of soldiers throughout the course of their endeavours of the war, and was a pretty solid title, but this was before the days of hardcore competitive multiplayer, so this one doesn’t count.
All that changed with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, when the campaign was an enormous part of the game. Although the story did jump about between US Rangers and the SAS, it primarily focused on one of them more than the other, eventually giving us an engaging story that was intense and fun. It continued on through to Modern Warfare 2, but by the time of Black Ops 1, the multiplayer became the core of the CoD series, and the campaigns were a little wishy washy after that. Often you would play through them once and never pick it up again unless you were achievement hunting.
Modern Warfare 2’s campaign was solid and probably better than the original Modern Warfare’s, but the third entry into this sub-series was disappointingly bland.
Least we not forget World at War. This was Treyarch’s World War 2 CoD game set between the two Modern Warfare games, and our last outing to WW2 in the CoD series. The campaign was not overly amazing. It had some nice moments, but by this point, people were a bit annoyed with World War 2 and wanted something more/different. This game’s campaign went back to the old ways of jumping from one group of soldiers to another, not allowing us to get attached to these characters.
As the human factor is one of the main focuses of anything World War 2 related. I will use Band of Brothers as a reference here, as it is quite frankly the greatest piece of World War 2 media ever made (at least in my eyes). The connection between the soldiers is brilliantly portrayed and made it so much more hard hitting for the audience when they died, mainly because the other characters cared for them. This was what was missing from Call of Duty campaigns. This was why I was sceptical of the campaign of the newest entry into the series; Call of Duty: WW2.
I have always been a huge fan of anything World War 2 related (TV Shows, Films, Graphic Novels, etc) and I find the themes really hard hitting and deep, if done correctly. The gritty realism and the horrors of what the poor people faced in World War 2 is something that can be brilliantly exploited for entertainment purposes… emm… with no disrespect of course.
This is all I want from a game set in World War 2. Well… to be honest, all I want is a complete rip off of Band of Brothers, but I am trying to explain it better.
Brothers in Arms was a good WW2 series that followed the same group of soldiers, and this was brilliantly done, showing us that any of the main characters could die at any point. When it came to the 3rd entry into this series, it had lost its way a little and tried to be more like Call of Duty, which at this point was dominating the FPS market, and the 3rd Brothers in Arms game was just “okay”.
Fast forward to the present day, and we have a brand new World War 2 Call of Duty game, with a campaign that is apparently twice as long as any CoD campaign that came before.
When I first started playing it, although the game does open with the spectacularly well presented D-Day landing (something I have wanted since this generation of consoles were first released), the game did not do a great job of getting us used to the characters. We meet them for a brief moment, before we are thrown into the chaos. There is a moment at the end of the first level when something happens to one of the characters, but because we don’t really know them, we instantly do not care.
Eventually, however, by the third mission I was starting to enjoy their company. I thought it might have been another jumping around jobby, but thankfully it stayed with the same group throughout the entire course of the campaign, only jumping at two different times, which I will cover later.
About halfway through the game, I was loving it. I thought it was the best CoD campaign since Modern Warfare 2. I was invested in the characters (as the story follows about 4 or 5 of them), and I was really enjoying the gameplay itself.
There were some really enjoyable missions in the middle, such as being a sniper from the bell-tower, or, the most unique mission in the game, when you are a French Resistance member infiltrating a Nazi building, handing over your papers and being asked questions, which you need to remember the answers to from your documents, other wise it turns into a blood bath. It was absolutely brilliant and great fun. It even turned a little Inglourious Basterds at one point when you are confronted by a high ranking Nazi commander.
Of course there the obligatory tank mission, as well as one where you are the pilot of an Allied fighter. While these missions were quite enjoyable, I always find these levels a little awkward an unrealistic. They are always over the top, with one plane taking out an entire armada of German fighter planes. But it was not enough to ruin my experience.
My favourite aspect of the game was that they added abilities to each of the main cast of characters. You get these by killing enough enemies to unlock. They are really handy, such as asking the Sgt to highlight the targets, getting the Leiutenant to throw us ammo, or another character to throw you a smoke signal to call in artilary, all of which can really make the missions feel more authentic in the middle of a battle. Calling a character to throw you over ammo when you are running low really does give you the feeling you are in the thick of it and relying of your brothers to help.
One character who throws you med-kits, because gone are the days of staying behind cover until your health recovers. Now if you get hurt… you stay hurt. That is until you use the D-Pad to heal if you have enough medi-kits. At one point in the game, me and my platoon were held down in some trenches by a tank that I personally needed to disable. I had been shot to shit and didn’t have a medi-kit. It made the mission really tense and actually made me really enjoy it a lot more than I would have done if I could have just recovered healed and got back in the fight. I actually managed to scrounge a medi-kit off the floor in a nearby German foxhole, and that saved the day. I was so happy to have found it.
Going back to my point about making the game feel authentic, each level has a series of “Heroic moments” in them, such as pulling a wounded soldier to cover, killing an enemy soldier who is locked in melee combat with an ally, or getting the enemy to surrender. While there is not enough of these moments (2 or 3 per mission), they are really awesome when you find them, as all of these can be missed (think of them as the collectables in each level… which the game also has). Turning a corner and seeing an ally struggling with a German and saving him, having the ally join you in battle, feels real. Stopping what you are doing to go and pull a wounded soldier to cover in the middle of a gunfight with bullets flying overhead, also feels real. So combining this with calling out to team mates for supplies or whatnot, really does immerse you into the game.
The levels themselves are long. Each one is around 45 minutes to an hour (depending if you are trying to get the special achievement challenge for each, such as doing an entire section stealth, or keeping someone alive for part of the level), so the marketers were right in saying that this is the longest Call of Duty game to date. I finished this last night and I must say that it has taken me far longer than any other game in this series.
I can see that Activision has listen to its fans and taken the time to make a really enjoyable campaign, and so I can’t really fault them for it.
In terms of story though, the game does fall a little flat towards the end. The last mission is a little anti climatic, and never reaches the bar set earlier on in the campaign. While it is a good mission, it feels no more epic than any mission earlier. In fact some of the previous missions are better than the last one. The entire section involving taking a hill is fantastic. It was really enjoyable in terms of gameplay and story both.
Although the game did try and make an interesting story, it sort of stumbled at the end. It tired a little too hard to hit you in the feelings, but never really connected, as it threw together a typical Call of Duty plot to late in the game. If it focused more on the characters, maybe even having a few moments when the game slows down the face and allows us to focus on the horrors of war (a soldier killing himself, a Holocaust camp, the aftermath of civilian casualties), then the game could have really shined, but every level is pretty much intense action, and while it is good and enjoyable from a gameplay perspective, it does not do well in delivering us a decent story.
There is a semi-twist involving the main character’s background, but when it is revealed, we really do not care about that aspect of his life. We are more interested in what he is doing now. Sure it does help shape the character a little and justify him doing what he was doing, it never really feels that it plays that big a role in the overall story of World War 2.
While it does have points where it could have been the Band of Brothers style World War 2 game we (or at least I) wanted, it fails to reach it, making it feel like a little bit of a wasted opportunity. It covers a lot of World War 2, some of which I feel the game could have done in later games in this particular sub-series, as they are surely going to make another World War 2 Call of Duty, and they could have made it like a TV series, meaning that we are already invested in the characters and so the legwork has already been done with this one, but by the end of the game, it feels like it comes to a close, meaning that any other WW2 CoD game will be an entirely new cast doing something else at this period of time.
Overall, the gameplay is solid and the new features Activision have added in (squad mate abilities, slow down time during aiming (which I have failed to mention, but that five word sentence sums it up completely), and heroic moments, really do make the campaign so much more immersive and engaging.
While the story cops out towards the end, I was really enjoying it in the middle, often telling people how good a game it actually was.
I know that I will replay it, and when it comes to a Call of Duty campaign, that is all you can ask for really.
A lot of people will skip this and just get involved in the multiplayer, often bragging that they haven’t played it yet, showing that off like a badge of honour. If I could make a suggest, play the campaign and play it through like you would any normal game’s story mode. Don’t play one mission and leave it for ages before playing the other. Do a could of missions and really take the time to soak it in and enjoy what all those years of CoD players moaning has done to the new campaign.