Three years ago, Call of Duty saw a drastic change in tempo and atmosphere. Sledgehammer Games took us from the tactical, much slower pace seen in Ghosts to a game that seemed to be inspired by Halo, with jetpacks and considerably more verticality in Advanced Warfare. The development cycle has rolled around again and Sledgehammer is once more at the forefront of a drastic shift, going all the way back to the Second World War, with boots on the ground gameplay making a long-awaited return.
2008 was the last time we saw a Call of Duty game set during this period; Treyarch capitalised on the success of Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare, utilising the brand new create-a-class system in multiplayer, creating a fantastic, gritty story and introducing their own Zombies mode with the famous Nacht der Untoten, creating a trademark mode that would single-handedly sell copies of the full game for years to come. Tackling a World War II game is a brave move by the comparably new Call of Duty developers, and one that could so easily fall flat if it fails to impress.
We'll get the bad news out of the way first; this isn't the best Call of Duty title ever released. That accolade still goes to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The good news? This comes a very close second. Every aspect of the game is such a big improvement over anything we've seen in the last five years, this could well and truly be the title that rejuvenates the franchise and starts to quell the stereotype surrounding it from many of the 'hardcore' gaming community.
Since the game was announced earlier this year, the campaign has been marketed as an emotional narrative, one that gets down into the personal story of what it was like to be a soldier, fighting for the allies alongside your lifelong friends and squadmates. And boy, does it deliver. You play the majority of the single-player as Ronald "Red" Daniels, a member of the US 1st Infantry Division, from the beaches of Normandy during the infamous D-Day, through the liberation of Paris, and into Germany to repel the Axis forces.
There's one thing that becomes apparent from the get-go, and that's how Sledgehammer has captured the authenticity and intensity of the war. The very first mission sees you cramped with your squad in a landing craft, like sardines in a tin, while a flurry of bullets flies overhead. Then the ramp goes down and just like that, the squadmates you've made friends with and bonded with, are bloody corpses on the metallic floor. A few of you make it out, though, and it's the invasion of Normandy that sets the tone for the rest of the game.
Our main gripe with the campaign is how short it is. Playing on Veteran will have you dying over and over as it is hard as nails, but if you're playing it on an easier difficulty to experience the story, you can easily fly through it in a single afternoon/evening. The final few minutes are also fairly unsatisfactory, but given how impressive the journey to that point is, it's hard to dock points because of it. It pulls on the heartstrings, but a few more missions, perhaps against the Russians or more with the British, would've been nice.
As you battle on through iconic German cities such as Aachen, through the French forest of Ardennes, and on to the Rhine in the heart of Germany, the story continues to get better. Daniels and best pal Zussman's bond becomes stronger, as they encounter numerous setbacks to the mission and the squad. "Inspired by true events" really applies here, as it's clear how Sledgehammer took on board the advice from World War II survivors. Narrative wise, this is the best Call of Duty campaign to date.