Call of Duty: WWII (PS4)

The credits for Call of Duty: WWII thank those who served. It seems a lamentable gesture in context.

In a multiplayer match, an Allied soldier is set ablaze by an Axis incendiary round. There’s shrill screaming. The soldier, flames ignited on his body, frantically leaps about. In the ugly, unintentionally comical way this soldier hops, it’s as if he’s playing hopscotch. A bullet pierces my own allied soldier’s brain as the scene plays out. GodlyGamer420 killed me. An animated .gif (of sorts) representing GodlyGamer420 – specifically a soldier bathed in the light of a flickering MG42 emplacement – calls attention to itself as it pops up during a kill replay. This doesn’t feel like World War II. It’s more taken with how absurd this is. But thanks to those who served.

There’s paying homage to veterans and there’s insulting their legacy. Call of Duty WWII is the latter, impressive for a series that catapulted into multiplayer stardom via Nazi zombies. Those return too, of course.

In context, there’s an unavoidable deluge of pot references, no fault of developer Sledgehammer. Status symbols though, that’s on Sledgehammer. It’s not enough to be killed. The bevy of icons that streak across the screen add insult, mores o now with the animated nameplates. Even in getting a kill, the lack of restraint drains satisfaction. If earning medals were this easy, the US government would spend more on ceremonies than bullets.

Call of Duty changed, but this is as it was, rebranded again, taken from old wars to current wars and into future wars. It’s back to the old wars now. Strange how people find re-experiencing war nostalgic.

Call of Duty: WWII’s grandest campaign set piece comes against a Nazi train. Explosives sit on board the barreling locomotive. The mission is to steal those explosives, turning them against their makers. Through the heist, done from the sights of a jeep’s turret emplacement, protagonist Private Daniels and company derail the beast. Explosions ensue. Train cars spin up toward the clouds. Gravity takes hold as does the piercingly loud audio. Box cars roll and flip and spin past an impossibly lucky Daniels, smashing a guard tower to his right, and lighting fires along the way. Daniels is unhurt, a WWII miracle, circa Michael Bay. Call of Duty never let go of absurd spectacle, no matter the context.

It’s all stagnant and dull. World War II didn’t need a showcase of technical expertise. Call of Duty: WWII re-inserts D-Day back into videogames like Star Wars games do Hoth. That’s not a tribute – the truncated D-Day assault of Call of Duty: WWII exists for gory spectacle, a showcase of how far technical wizardry took Call of Duty from its inception to now. The gap is huge, and the thematic weight almost nill. Characters die, without investment in their final moments.

Call of Duty: WWII is what likely would become of the post-Saving Private Ryan WWII videogame surge had they continued unabated. They faded because the lust for over dramatized action left the genre nowhere else to go. Consumers lost interest. It’s supposed to be about people. WWII videogames missed that the longer they went.

Hollywood writers, producers, and studios discovered people like Desmond Doss, a gun-less soldier whose heroism eared him acclaim. War is always about those people. Call of Duty: WWII, a title formed from the dire state of corporate creativity, doesn’t think much of them; the every man saga ricochets from Band of Brothers, but doesn’t hit any of the nuance.

For a 20+ game series, few ever explored what the “call” is. 2016’s Infinite Warfare was one of the few to try. WWII suggests the call is the bond people feel in times of crisis. That, or maybe the safety of families. Daniels waits for his firstborn to arrive while on the front. It’s pithy either way, a sideshow to the complacent shooting and hollow turret sections. At Call of Duty: WWII’s lowest point, Daniels, taking over a jeep turret, begins blowing up German vehicles swarming like insects alongside. It’s absurdist fantasy in Uncharted or Indiana Jones; it’s an outright blunder in a WWII setting, played straight.

Few consider Call of Duty subtle, but it was. Looking back to the original handful of games, those following on Medal of Honor’s template, battles were cautious and reserved. An occasional flashpoint bent the rules, yet the respect was obvious. Each death brought up a famous quote concerning the wastefulness of combat. Somber scores paid tribute more than exploited (Michael Giacchino’s emotional Allied Assault theme deserves a rarefied classic status). Perspective shifted between countries too; Call of Duty: WWII is only concerned with one. America saves everyone.

If the reality of valor is no longer viable, then it’s just exploitation of those who served.


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