“This is the best game we’ve ever made”. A strong statement, and one that Sledgehammer games studio head and co-founder says with unflinching conviction on the day that we got to see Call of Duty: World War II in single-player action. There’s something different this year about Call of Duty, beyond the return to its roots and a focus on the darkest era in mankind’s shared global history that seems to permeate this entry in the franchise.
Sledgehammer’s last game in the series was Advanced Warfare, a title that kicked off a trilogy of Call of Duty that focused on future warfare and the super-soldier of tomorrow. Now, we’re storming Normandy beach again without the benefit of exoskeleton warsuits and enough ammo to level Berlin. Call of Duty: World War II isn’t just a back to basics approach for the franchise, but a game that wants be both entertaining and respectful of the past.
War is hell
The single-player mission that we saw unfurl before us, as Easy Company assaulted a small French village under Nazi occupation, certainly echoed this. What started with some quick banter from your brothers in arms descended into a hellish fight for survival. The Nazis were unrelenting, the fighting in the streets around you was brutal and not having a regenerative healing factor that the Wolverine would envy made for an encounter that was less gung-ho and more tactical than other Call of Duty games before it.
In short, war is hell.
All around you, people are dying on either side of the Allied/Axis divide. Sledgehammer wanted to drive home a game where even though you could trust the man next to you with your life, that soldier might not make it out alive as their bloodcurdling screams fill the battlefield and remind you that mortality is around any corner.
Much like Call of Duty games before it, the action in the level on show was still high on explosions and bullets, but the consequences of being thrown into the meat grinder of World War Two felt more tangible than ever before. The escalation of the conflict in that particular level, from fighting on the streets through to assaulting a church and watching your comrades scream in agony as they were caught by a Nazi flamethrower trooper just kept on increasing.
It all eventually culminated with some sniping action and the church around you being blasted into rubble by the German Luftwaffe. A counter-attack that leaves you on the verge of death as all hell breaks loose around you. That’s maybe the key takeaway with Call of Duty: World War II this year: Mortality. The life expectancy of a 19 year-old soldier thrown into the worst warzones of World War Two wasn’t exactly promising, and beneath the usual flow of a Call of Duty campaign, there’s a feeling that the grim reaper is always there and biding his time for that one moment that you slip up.
War is hell, and the respect that Sledgehammer games have for a history that the world has shared is clearly visible here. “Just trying to trace the steps of World War Two in our game, as we got more and more and deeper and deeper into the game, we started reflecting on all the people we heard and the documentaries we listened to and they all talk about the sacrifice of the person next to them,” Schofield told to me.
They always talk about their buddy, they never talk about themselves as the hero. So with our game, the story, we wanted to focus on that.
it’s the journey through the biggest war and most horrific battles that World War Two had
It was important to focus on the squad because they relied on each other so much more than it seems nowadays you know. You have the super-soldiers these days with all their ammo. Back then they had a gun and limited ammo. We tell the squad’s journey, but it’s the journey through the biggest war and most horrific battles that World War Two had.
So we’re really going to predominantly feature 1944 to 1945. We start with storming the beaches of Normandy, we follow the Fighting First (the first infantry). They were a big part of liberating Paris and France and going up through Belgium. We’re going to follow their trail, but we’re also to listen to the stories. The stories of what goes with the people who are on the ground for a year and a half of fighting. We’re really proud of that story.
“Three years in the making for Sledgehammer games. The last three years we’ve been working on Call of Duty WW II and it’s incredibly personal,” Sledgehammer games co-founder and studio head Michael Condrey added.
It’s a real humbling opportunity for us.
Three years in the making but ten years nearly since Call of Duty has last been in World War Two. For us, being able to tell this story, to bring back into player’s consciousness the world’s most deadly and greatest conflict and tell a story that we want to tell so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. But equally important is to tell a story that the people who fought in this conflict aren’t able to tell themselves.
It’s a real humbling opportunity for us.
I’ve always enjoyed the action of Call of Duty’s single-player campaigns over the years. Say what you like about their length of them, but pound for pound they’ve always been heavyweight narratives that drive home the strength of the Call of Duty experience in a condensed fashion before the multiplayer takes over.
This year is different. I’ve got a feeling that not only are we in for a far more sobering experience with the manner in how Call of Duty tells its story through the eyes of Private Red Danials and other combatants, but that the end result is a deeply personal project of passion and history from a war that shaped the history of our civilization. Call of Duty: World War II is out on November 3.
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Last Updated: June 15, 2017