They say that war never changes, and if the Call of Duty franchise is any indication, they just might be right. We've been getting annual releases for more than ten years in a row now, and while the setting, the bad guys, and the weapons used against them may have changed, much of the gameplay has remained the same since the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. Sledgehammer Games are looking to change that, however, when they release Call of Duty: WWII later this autumn. Ironically, they plan on doing so by going back to the series' roots: World War II.
Call of Duty: WWII is set to introduce a number of brave soldiers in its single-player campaign. One of them is Sergeant Pierson, voiced by Hollywood actor Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas, Transformers), and we'll also get to step into the boots of a woman fighting off the German occupation in France. For the most part, however, we'll get to play the part of Private Daniels, an inexperienced young soldier in the US 1st Infantry Division. As the Allied forces push through a heavily occupied Europe, and later into Nazi Germany, Daniels' will have to muster all his strength to carry on while knowing that every bullet that comes flying his way may be his end.
You see, the story mode of Call of Duty: WWII isn't meant to be cool and badass. It's supposed to be horrifying. War is hell, Sledgehammer knows this. It's harsh, dirty and deadly, and Daniels is right in the middle of it. The developer's goal is for players to feel just as scared and vulnerable as the soldiers we'll be controlling, and this will be accomplished by returning to the health systems of old, where players have to rely on medkits scattered around the battlefield, instead of laying low and regenerating their health like in most modern day shooters. According to Sledgehammer's co-founder, Michael Condrey, these changes have been made to ensure that the series moves away from the "super-soldier" gameplay of the past decade.
In WWII, you won't be able to take three shots to the head, duck behind cover and then be ready for action again a few seconds later. Here you'll be part of a squad, and working together and helping each other out is the key to success. If you're bleeding out in a trench you'll need the help of a medic, and if you're running low on ammo you'll have to rely on fellow squad members to assist you. Sledgehammer are even going to toy with the idea of separating you from specific team members so as to force the player into changing up their game and the way they handle certain situations. No medic available? Be extra careful. While we didn't get a chance to try out the campaign for ourselves, the demonstration we got to see at E3 did look a lot more engaging and dramatic than we're used to seeing in previous titles. The stakes are being raised, and the combat looks grounded in realism and gritty.
On the road to Germany, we'll make stops at the Battle of the Bulge and the beautiful beaches of Normandy, France. We've all seen the D-Day invasion a hundred times in different media by now, but we have to admit that we're interested to see it in video game form again - downed soldiers turn the splashing waves red, while the German's gun turrets send sand and dirt flying all over the shore. The Allied forces' return fire is reflected in the wet sand, and fire and smoke of the destroyed ships behind us are blotting out the sun. Call of Duty: WWII is going to be one stunning game, and the impressive visuals seem to get Sledgehammers point across: war is hell.
On the multiplayer side of things, however, war is looking a little bit more familiar. Sure, you won't be double jumping, jetpack boosting, or punching through walls this time around, since the game takes place in the mid-40s, but the competitive modes in the game will have regenerating health, customisable loadouts, and score streaks - just like in previous titles. The slowed tempo will put an emphasis on teamwork and coordination, and it's important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the different playable classes. You won't be creating your own this time around, instead, you'll get to choose between a number of "Divisions". These archetypes will be levelled up and "trained" separately, and they'll all have their unique weapons and abilities.
First off there's the Infantry soldier, who can attach sharp bayonets to their primary weapons. Airborne combatants can sprint faster and longer than the other players, but also use suppressors. The Mountain class is the sniper of the bunch, with the ability to hold their breath during scoping, while players going with Expeditionary can look forward to incendiary shells, gas masks, and shovels for one-hit melee kills. Last but not least there are the Armoured soldiers, with their rocket launchers and deployable gun turrets that are perfect for holding down strategic positions. While many abilities will be exclusive to specific Divisions, there'll also be some general ones that can be picked no matter what kind of soldier you choose to be. There are classic perks like faster weapon swapping, quiet movement, and a passive ability called Undercover that disables your kill cam, ensuring that enemy players never see where your shot came from.
Furthermore, we got to fully customise the appearance, the outfit, and even the gender of our digital war hero (yes, women did actually participate in World War II, despite what you may have read in numerous angry and misinformed forum posts that have been plaguing the internet lately). In the final game you'll also be able to take your character to Call of Duty's new social space, called Headquarters, in which 48 player avatars gather to chat and chill before entering matches. There you'll be able to party up with others, find out who's the best marksman of the lot by trying out the shooting range, and even challenge other players to 1-versus-1 duels.
We didn't get to play around in the Headquarters at E3, but we did get to play three different gameplay modes on three different maps. For starters, we got to capture nodes on the map in a classic game of Domination, taking place in snowy ruins at the Battle of the Bulge. Afterwards, we got a chance to play some Team Deathmatch in the muddy trenches and blown-out bunkers of Pointe Du Hoc. The flamethrower - which could be wielded for a short duration via score streaks - was especially effective on this map, since it turned the deep trenches into a blazing inferno. Classic streak rewards such as the care package and the mini map radar will return as well, while many new tools of destruction have been added to fit the setting.
Carpet bombing makes for some serious damage across a portion of the map, while the flak gun reward allows for some finesse and precise rampaging. During our time with the game, we even got to see one player deploy computer controlled paratroopers on the field. And yes, we had the opportunity to shoot them down before they touched down on the battlefield by destroying their parachutes. It was great, and you'll get a chance to try it out yourself next month when the multiplayer beta reaches the PlayStation 4 on August 25.
One of the biggest additions to multiplayer, however, is the brand new War Mode, an objective-based, asymmetrical way to play where the Allies and the Axis have different goals. In the match we played at E3, the Allies had to take control of an outpost, before repairing a bridge to allowed their tank to cross. They then had to escort the tank through war-torn city streets, while the nazis tried to hold them back until reinforcements arrived. The mode really captured the spirit of the second World War, and was more about communicating and working as a unit than running around by your lonesome on the hunt for kills.
But what about zombies then, you may ask. Well, Sledgehammer Games has already confirmed that the undead nazis will return this autumn. There'll be a brand new cooperative campaign in which the Third Reich will attempt to create an army of the walking dead in the final stages of the war, but details are scarce beyond the synopsis.
All in all, this is the first time in a long time that we're this excited about the release of a new Call of Duty. We can't be the only ones who suffered World War II fatigue ten years ago, when the release of Modern Warfare felt like a fresh breeze, but Call of Duty: WWII might just be the game long-time fans have been craving. Sledgehammer's Great War seems like a more realistic, gritty and down to earth version of one of the most horrifing events in human history. And we can't wait to go back there.