Call of Duty: World War II was always destined to be swept to commercial success by goodwill alone. Sledgehammer Games took the series back to the theater of war where it made its name just at the point fans realized that was what they really wanted. But while the circumstances set the developers up for an easy score, they still had to dunk the ball pretty spectacularly if COD WWII was going to live up to expectations and give Call of Duty a new lease on life. The signs are good for multiplayer and Nazi Zombies, but what about the campaign?
It’s not the longest single-player game ever, clocking in at 6-7 hours depending on how tough you want to make it for yourself, but we imagine that many of you won’t have finished it yet anyway, so we won’t go into anything that happens after the first few hours. But if you’re enjoying it as much as we are, then you won’t mind us gushing about a few of our favorite moments from the first handful of missions. Let’s take a look at some of the best moments in the COD WWII campaign.
We will fight them on the beaches
Sledgehammer’s decision to begin with June 6, 1944, when the Allies invaded France to begin retaking continental Europe, was simultaneously the only sensible choice and also a very brave one, because anything the devs concocted would inevitably be held up not just against the classic Normandy landings of the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games nearly 20 years ago, but our nostalgia for them as well. This scene is also well-trodden in cinema thanks to Saving Private Ryan, in particular, which originally inspired this genre of game.
Sledgehammer’s tribute to that fateful day plays it pretty straight, and for a new generation of gamers who didn’t play those old classics or grow up with that movie seared into their imaginations, this is an incredible experience. Endless young men are ferried at breakneck pace through the surf onto the beaches, with just a thin layer of landing craft metal protecting them from machinegun pillboxes on the sandbank raining bullets into their path, and then have to fight through gloopy sand and acrid smoke for a chance to live or die in Europe. This is also an opportunity to see our new charges at work – buddies Daniels and Zussman, their tightass commander, Pierson, and the rest of the ensemble. It’s a harrowing experience, and also an audition passed for COD WWII.
The church tower
Having fought their way into France and recovered from injuries sustained in their earlier heroics, Daniels, Zussman and company begin retaking the countryside town by town, and COD WWII continues to channel Saving Private Ryan as it does so, most notably in some fantastically executed sniper sections. Fighting through the countryside in Operation Cobra gives us our first look down a scope, and there’s still something evocative about gulping a breath of air to steady the aim, then watching those familiar grey uniforms move across the crosshairs before they drop.
The tributes to Spielberg find their literal peak in a church tower in Marigny. Having taken over the church – including a tough moment dealing with our first flamethrower enemy – Daniels and Pierson make for the tower to provide overwatch for Zussman as he clears out nearby houses. This scene is right out of the movie, as the extreme elevation creates a unique angle on the Nazi forces, who seem to fall even before the sound of the bullets reach our ears. But the familiarity of the setup also plays with our expectations, because this didn’t work out so well for the Allied sniper on the silver screen. Will Daniels make it out once the Germans realize where he’s hiding?
COD WWII is already delivering on expectations by this stage, but having established its credentials as a credible World War II shooter, Sledgehammer decides to stretch its legs as a Call of Duty title over the next few missions as we meet up with British S.O.E. operations Vivian and Crowley, and eventually French resistance leader Rousseau. Our first introduction to Vivian and Crowley comes as we try to stop a Nazi train carrying V2 rockets that will be used against Paris. This is our first taste of stealth in COD WWII, and it fits the game like a glove. Daniels’ knife and suppressor routine, occasionally coordinating with the Brits, is very slick, and while the mechanics are simple and forgiving and the level design straightforward, it’s a nice palate-cleanser after a few tough shooting galleries, as well as a softer beat on which to foreground Vivian and Crowley.
Then we get to the train, which we imagined ourselves boarding, sleuthing our way along and disabling somehow. Nope. All hell breaks loose, whether you want it to or not, and suddenly the race is on. Daniels and Zussman take over a jeep and give chase as the armored train peppers the landscape around them with heavy ordnance. After a spell at the wheel, the player hops onto the mounted gun to deal with Nazis firing from the train cars, and for a truly spectacular denouement, Zussman decides to park his jeep under the wheels of the locomotive at the head of this rocket-carrying juggernaut. The resulting derailment is classic COD, a visual reward for successfully navigating a delightful mixture of gameplay ideas.
We’ll always have Paris
And it keeps on getting better. The next mission, Liberation, is probably our favorite in the whole game, although it has competition. Switching gears, we jump into the shoes of Rousseau, the French resistance leader who pulled us from the wreckage of the rocket train, as she and Crowley infiltrate a Nazi stronghold in Paris on the eve of the Allies’ attempt to retake the city. Rather than shooting or even sneaking, Rousseau has to walk around in plain sight keeping up a cover story about her orders, locate a resistance contact and swap briefcases with him. This, we learn, will furnish her with explosives to help blow open the Nazi garrison for the invading Allies to take advantage.
Except, not all goes to plan. Rousseau’s contact is compromised, and Rousseau herself runs into an old enemy – the Nazi commander who murdered her family. The scene in which he greets her in his office and discusses her orders never makes it clear whether he realizes who she is, and the tension is palpable. Sledgehammer cranks it up at every opportunity. Is the drink he gives you spiked? What’s he going to do with that red hot poker after he stokes the fire? Does he know or doesn’t he?
After that situation resolves itself, Liberation – fittingly – keeps on giving, through an excellent silenced-pistol sneaking section to plant the explosives, followed by a switch of perspectives back to Daniels’ assault on the garrison. By the time the French fireworks light up the sky with the Nazis in full retreat, Call of Duty: World War II is its own game completely, and if we weren’t prioritizing the campaign before this, we definitely were now.