‘Call of Duty: WWII’ Turns Your Grandparent’s Achievements Into a Lousy Theme-Park Ride
Cowboys, cliches and not-all-Germans
Call of Duty: WWII, the latest entry in the long-running first-person-shooter franchise, is monumentally terrible.
Publisher Activision Blizzard insults gamers by failing to deliver a decent product, disparages history buffs by half-assing one of the darkest periods in recent world history and mocks those who endured the war by turning their experiences into maudlin garbage.
This game transcends mediocrity. It is the Salieri of World War II-themed media.
There are so many World War II stories that it has become its own genre with its own set of cliches. One of the things that makes Call of Duty: WWII so terrible is that it seems to attempt to cram all those cliches into one sloppy package.
The hero is cowboy from Texas with a heart of gold and a pregnant girl back home. He’s trying not to disappoint the memory of his older brother. His best friend is a Jew who gets scooped up by the Nazis in the third act. Your other squadmates are a guy with glasses who loves books and a super-religious fella who can’t quite bring himself to trust the Jew.
Everyone in the U.S. Army struggles with their casual racism when encountering a black Army engineer. America helps liberate Paris, pushes the Nazis back at the Battle of the Bulge and almost single-handedly wins the war.
One of the driving conflicts of the story, such as it is, is between a hard-driving sergeant with a mysterious past and a compassionate lieutenant. If you’ve seen Band of Brothers, played any other World War II video game or fallen asleep during a History Channel documentary, then you know what to expect.
But not everyone plays a video game for its story, especially not the Call of Duty franchise. These games are about killing bad guys. It’s about lining up your sights, taking the shot and feeling the satisfaction of pushing to the level’s end.
Call of Duty: WWII manages to screw that up too. The maps are linear corridors disguised as the open fields of continental Europe, and it doesn’t matter how many Nazis you kill as long as you push forward.
I’m not kidding. The only thing the game cares about is the player physically making it to the next objective along the path, no matter how many bad guys are in the way. You can literally sprint to objectives instead of fighting. As long as you’re good at dodging bullets or hiding when you need to, you can finish most of the game without firing a shot.
What grates most about Call of Duty: WWII is that it was supposed to be a return to form for a franchise that’s long been flagging. After a decade of yearly releases, the once-dominate shooter franchise is a morass of stale ideas, dumb celebrity cameos and tacked-on multiplayer modes designed to sell loot boxes and cosmetic upgrades.
When Activision Blizzard announced it would move the franchise away from the science fiction sensory overload it had become, fans got excited. It said it would have a grand campaign, and that it would stop ignoring Nazi war crimes. It was an opportunity to recapture something lost, and tell a compelling story about an incredible war in an exciting medium.
Instead we got one of the laziest and most offensive video games I’ve ever played. Lazy because it does the bare minimum to justify its $60 price tag and offensive because it pays lip service to the ideologies that started the war while rushing through them and pointing out, repeatedly, that Nazis are people, too.
We know they’re people. It’s 2017 and we’re living with them again. It’s not a great year to take a lukewarm stance on Nazism. And it’s treatment of the Holocaust? A stroll through an abandoned camp, tacked on to the end of the game, where our Texan hero makes it about himself and only hints at the breadth of the horror.
This isn’t a video game, it’s a theme park ride through a half-remembered and poorly-researched recounting of one of the most important moments in recent world history.
Everyone—from the gamers who just want a good time, to the people interested in a compelling narrative, to the people who fought and died in the war—deserves better.