It’s November… which means a new Call of Duty.

A tradition for many veterans of the First Person Shooter genre, the series rotates through three main developers who typically take three years to produce a Call of Duty game. Treyarch (who handles the highly successful Black Ops series), Infinity Ward (who handled last years less than stellar Infinite Warfare), and Sledgehammer Games (whose last entry, Advanced Warfare, was the departure point into ‘futuristic’ game play – and also where the series lost many of its core fanbase).

Back in the day, there were two camps for First Person Shooter (FPS) games. Halo and Call of Duty. If you liked lasers and jumping around in space… Halo was your game. If you liked ‘realistic’ boots on the ground combat, you played Call of Duty. And the world was happy.

Redundant… but happy.

But then Call of Duty decided the natural progression was to project into future warfare scenarios, complete with exo-skeleton super soldiers and pew pew lasers… much to the disappointment of many long time fans. Sure, there were some kids who liked the bunny jumping, wall running future kills, but many realized this was not the game that they loyally lined up for year after year.

Even the makers of Call of Duty realized they alienated their core base so much, the theme of their ad campaign for this new game is, ‘Get your squad back together’. Because they know, the old squad had quit their franchise and moved onto other games.

I am pretty sure Activision knew they were headed in the wrong direction after the abysmal Advanced Warfare came out three years ago. But since they are in a three year cycle with as many developers, the next two games (Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare) were already slated to embrace the futuristic aesthetic, the best they could do was put Sledgehammer Games back on track for a return to WWII.

Judging by comments (always such a scientific approach) and a historically record setting down-voted YouTube trailer for Infinite Warfare (the last with the ‘future’ approach), gamers were clamoring for a return to the roots of the franchise.

I’ve had 48 hours with the new Call of Duty WWII. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

I like it.

It’s got enough of the old school feel to bring out the nostalgia with enough graphical overhauls to impress with its visuals.

Content wise, there will always be the dichotomy of trying to wrap the concept of ‘fun game’ against absolutely horrific historic events. Call of Duty WWII does the best it can considering there really is no honest way to tie ‘fun’ with ‘war’.

The developers did an admirable job of trying to give some sense of tragedy to the setting into which they place the player. The opening cut screen informs how the war involved 50 countries and 65 million were killed.

You then assume the persona of Private Daniels and are dropped into the war Saving Private Ryan style with a boat full of your soon to be shot brethren in the insanely chaotic Normandy beach landing of June 6, 1944.

As part of the First Infantry Division, you are assigned to The Big Red One. (Side Note: There is a 1980 movie called, “The Big Red One” starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill (yeah, Luke Skywalker) – which would be a great companion to your time with this game).

Lee Marvin would smoke Darth Vader

The first mission can be frustrating as it’s basically a ‘figure out where to run without getting shot’ exercise.

I died twice.

From there, the game assumes the familiar ‘on a rail’ story grind of introducing excuses to mow down legions of German soldiers. In one of the first encounters, I was introduced to a slight tweak on the quick-time event, the most silly of all video game mechanics. I wish the industry would realize watching glorified cut scenes that suddenly require a quick reflex hamming of the ‘x’ button does not equate to enjoyable game-play. Someone at Sledgehammer went, ‘Well… what if we make them use their thumb-stick to move a circle into another circle, THEN have them hit a button?’ and there ya go… they made the quick-time event even more game-breaking and irrelevant.

Another ridiculous inclusion is the ‘find the 3 mementos’ (basically shiny objects) that are tucked away on each level. There is no real reward to finding them and to take the search seriously, the player would have to scour every inch of every level. Nevermind that the squad is waiting for you to take out the enemy machine gunner… you need to find some meaningless trinket.

What is a nice challenge, is the ‘heroic events’ that present themselves as opportunities to think quick and save a fellow soldier. A couple per level are tracked and tallied like challenges and add to the game-play rather than distract.

Overall, the difficulty seems to have been raised a bit. Even veteran players should expect to die repeatedly. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a cheat on the games part as you figure out exactly what the developers want you to accomplish. But there is a variety of gun scenarios that will have you running low on ammo and health, requiring you to rely on your FPS skills. Luckily, your squad is typically near enough to request resupply in those areas.

The missions themselves incorporate a surprising number of scenarios that go past the expected run-n-gun. Driving sequences, anti-air artillery, stealth areas, sniper fights… the pacing of the game is varied, but lends to breaking up the main feast of gunning down wave after wave of soldiers.

Graphically, the game is stellar. Hands down, CoD WWII has some of the best facial rendering I’ve seen in any game. Many of the cut-scenes approach movie-quality in their animations. Even in game, environments are stunning. The ONLY thing they haven’t figured out how to render, is grass and shrubs, but it’s a small gripe compared to how beautifully most of the settings play out.

Creepy real as developers climb out of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ (Google It).

The game moves through 11 missions, mostly as Daniels. There is a great stealth level where you play as a French saboteur and a couple of other side missions where you play as a tank driver and another as a fighter pilot, but the bulk of the story revolves around the ground battles.

Players seem to be averaging about 6-8 hours to complete the single player campaign, which makes this a bit beefier than some of the recent installments of Call of Duty.

So for all the build-up and hype, the final question is, “Is it worth your money?”

Yes, if your expectations aren’t too high. With few minor exceptions, most of this will feel familiar to the old school Call of Duty player. And considering how alien the last three years have felt… a return to the tried and true formula is most welcome.

Call of Duty WWII Multiplayer

Disclaimer: I’ve only played a couple dozen rounds of Multiplayer, so this is far from an in-depth synopsis.

Many (if not most) die-hard CoD players don’t really purchase the game for the single player campaign. It’s the multiplayer mode that drives the franchise. For better or for worse, running around in circles that is the meat grinder of multiplayer seems to be the mainstay of how people prove their FPS skills in public.

Sometimes, when you have a lobby of cool individuals who can take a loss as well as be a good sport about winning… the game is border-line social and at its most fun. But it’s not hard to find some toxic idiots who take it too seriously and feel they need to comment on others gameplay to the point of insult.

Know this: If you are really good, you are a ‘try-hard’, if you are really bad, you ‘suck’ a million different ways. If you *gasp* stop running in circles for a more than three seconds, be prepared to be called out as a ‘camper’. If you are one of these easily rattled people, let me straighten something out for you… If a person is not cheating or exploiting a glitch, there is no ‘wrong’ way to play Call of Duty. There is no written rule that states you must be in perpetual motion. It is often strategic to fire from behind cover, to anticipate where an enemy will appear and be waiting for them, to listen to teammates and post up based on knowledge gained from score-streaks. You play the game the way you want to play it, and let others do the same. Crazy concept, I know, but one that seems to evade too many CoD players.

That said, the first round of maps seem to be medium to small in size, which makes them incredibly fast paced. Some of the more city based maps offer a bit of reprieve from the constant run-n-gun onslaught, but be prepared to get run over from behind. Often. Spawn-points flip and what was a safe, cleared out area 10 seconds ago, is now the direction half of the enemy team is coming from. A keen eye needs to be paying attention to the mini-map to get an idea of where your teammates are going, and where enemies are likely to be spawning.

Which leads to the one major complaint I have with the HUD. For some unexplained reason, the mini-map is located in the upper left hand side of the screen. Often, enemies can be on second floors of buildings, so if you are aimed straight ahead, a big chunk of your view in the upper left side of the screen is obscured. It would make WAY more sense having it on the lower right corner.

Good luck seeing that guy on the bridge to the left…

The game utilizes a ‘Headquarters’ where players can acquire mission challenges, upgrade weapons, test out score streaks, and get air-drops with randomized and sometimes rare gear. They can watch recruitment movies which explain the five divisions (classes) players can load out with, each with specialized perks. The core mechanics of upgrading soldier abilities and customizing weapons with upgrades will be familiar to any long time player.

As for the actual vibe of the game-play… this should be a bit of deja-vu for fans that long for the old days. Gone is the incessant super-jumping with a return to ground-based warfare, which requires a certain change of tactics for those who have gotten used to the future games and their more ‘in the air’ movements.

This feels like how Call of Duty should feel. Critics might say that it’s been done before… and they would be correct. Which is why the last few games felt like Activision was trying to fix something that wasn’t broke and suffered for the misstep.

Anyone who has a ‘problem’ with this Call of Duty… really doesn’t want to play Call of Duty.

*Note: There is also the now ubiquitous zombie mode, which this time is labeled, ‘Nazi Zombies’. In light of recent events here in the US… mowing down some Nazi’s of any kind is surely to be a good time. This article will be updated with some zombie impressions in the near future. But from some gamer friend feedback, it sounds like some new challenges set into a familiar package. Much like the rest of this installment.