After a decade of exploring modern and futuristic (even intergalactic) warfare, the Call of Duty series is dropping the jetpacks for a return to its roots with Call of Duty: WWII.
It’s a move that probably makes sense. The world’s most popular first-person shooter series has started to feel a bit stale in recent entries - undeniably fun as wall-running is - so a drastic change of setting seemed like the best strategy. And it’s not like they could go much further forward.
It’s true that gamers have spent as much time fighting Nazis as they have feeding a portly plumber questionably-sourced mushrooms, but it will be interesting to see what developer Sledgehammer Games do with the hefty processing power available to them on modern consoles (particularly 4K’d-up beasts like the PS4 Pro and Microsoft’s Scorpio). Video games have changed a lot since 2008, when the last WWII-set CoD title came out.
The game was properly unveiled last night. Here’s everything we know so far.
1. The campaign will document some of the most important battles in history
Call of Duty: WWII’s single-player story sets itself in the European theater between 1944 and 1945, as you follow Ronald “Red” Daniels, a young, Texas-born private in the US 1st Infantry Division. This is his first real taste of the horrors of war.
Your squad will storm the beaches of Normandy in a visceral recreation of D-Day, before helping to liberate Paris and eventually push through to Germany.
It’s hardly uncharted territory for games, but the developers are determined to honour the Veterans - many more of whom have passed in the 10 years since CoD last took on the Second World War - with a historically-sensitive campaign that accurately reflects their heroism and sacrifice.
2. It won’t shirk its responsibility to recall the darkest realities of World War II
The inherent problem with any video game focussing on a real-life war of the past is that it’s difficult to strike a balance between entertainment and credible education. War is never fun, but video games nearly always have to be.
We’re not going to sit here and tell you that this CoD is taking itself entirely seriously (yes, Nazi Zombies are back), but the campaign will be an unflinching portrait of the deadliest conflict in human history, acknowledging racism and anti-semitism in the story rather than skirting around it.
And when you’re dealing with WWII in a narrative-driven game, you simply can’t ignore the Holocaust. “We absolutely show atrocities,” creative director Bret Robbins told Mashable in a recent interview. “It's an unfortunate part of the history, but ... you can't tell an authentic, truthful story without going there. So we went there.”
Video games have done a lot of growing up recently. As graphics become increasingly realistic and believable, so too do the stories the medium can and should tell.
3. No more automatically regenerating health
You can believe that a planet-hopping space marine might be able to rely on his exosuit for healing purposes, but automatic health regeneration is harder to justify when you’re setting your game in World War II.
We’ve become so accustomed to these systems in modern shooters that the idea of hunting down medkits is decidedly retro. Sledgehammer are remaining coy on exactly how health will work in their new game, but co-founder Glen Schofield told Polygon that it won’t be a case of simply ducking behind a wall and waiting. “You have to worry about every bullet,” he explained. “You’re not the superhero. You can’t just stand there taking seven bullets, ducking, shooting again. It’s refreshing for us to deal with recruits who aren’t Tier One warriors, to show that vulnerability. They’re naïve. It’s been a really cool challenge creating this different kind of gameplay.”
Yesterday’s big reveal was largely concentrated on the single-player experience, but it’s a given that CoD’s legendary multiplayer will be the biggest time-sink.
WWII marks a return to intimate, boots-on-the-ground gameplay skirmishes. No more double-jumping over houses and augmenting your limbs. This is Call of Duty going back to basics.
A brand new mode, imaginatively dubbed “War Mode”, drops players into some of the most famous battles of World War II, where you’ll fight for different objectives based on the team you’re assigned to. A similar concept was introduced in last year’s critically-lauded Battlefield 1.
Between matches, you’ll spend a lot of time in Headquarters, a “robust social space” (think Destiny) that will reportedly accommodate up to 48 players.
5. Nazi Zombies are back
The main antagonists of World War II will once again be back in their undead droves. This mode seems to get more crazily feature-packed with every new CoD entry, so expect this year to be no different.
6. It’s out in November
November 3, to be precise. Importantly, that’s a Friday.
The game will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and a private multiplayer beta will come to PS4 first. If you want to test the game before everyone else, you’ll need to nail down a pre-order. That’s the world we live in now.
(Images: Sledgehammer Games)