It’s been a big year for nostalgia. Crash Bandicoot played on the fond memories of gamers and had a banner year, selling better than anyone could have expected. Even Super Mario Odyssey harkens back to a simpler time in gaming and encapsulates that simple fun many remember from their childhood. Now Call of Duty joins the party, after journeying starward, it returns to its roots and places us in some of Europe’s most harrowing conflicts, splashed with a bit of that typical Call of Duty flair. But most importantly, it’s boots on the ground. Boots through the mud and snow, just like it should be.
After an extensive twenty-one page binding agreement halted me at the title screen, I got into WWII. After planting the seeds for player-character Daniels’ backstory, the game rattles through its band of brothers. In a rare display of fine writing, I quickly found myself attached to these guys and knowing we were about to march through hell together only enhanced that bond. As one would expect, WWII kicks off with a bombastic and powerful raid of Normandy. It’s brutal and really sets the tone for the campaign at large, which hammers home just how gut-wrenching this war was. It’s hard to fathom this all happened, save for a few dramatic liberties taken by the game’s writers.Though WWII follows the 1st Infantry throughout the European theater, there’s a compelling story that underpins the action. The cast is led by Josh Duhamel, whose Technical Sergeant William Pierson struggles with demons he carries with him from earlier on in the war effort and, as a superior officer begins to deflect his self-loathing onto you. Of all the characters, Pierson has the fullest, most-satisfying arc and Duhamel does an admirable job of capturing that brand of intense crazy that would have been all too common in the war.
If the Black Ops games were a David Fincher psychological thriller and Infinite Warfare was a playful Michael Bay orgy of outer space explosions then I am kind of obliged to brand WWII a cerebral confrontation of its protagonist’s cowardice that is worthy of someone like Coppola. It certainly explores history’s darkest chapter and doesn’t shy away from the most horrible details.It’s absolutely the best Call of Duty campaign in years. It’s definitely what I’d consider short at around five hours, but it’s still got the brilliant pacing of a televised drama so it hardly feels like a short-change. It’s a credit to the game’s design and writing that the game’s most memorable mission (called ‘Liberation’) sees you holster your gun for a large majority of it. It’s a masterclass in tension building and really has its own mood that shifts the tone enormously, but it’s a change for the better.