Call of Duty: WW2’s multiplayer beta goes back to the well, with mixed results

By Brian Harris, Staff Writer

Explosions. Gunfire. Grayscale action on an epic scale; a fast-paced ballet of M1 fire and 1940’s era destruction.  And then the ten-year-old Axis soldier calls you names over his computer microphone I dare not repeat. Yep, Call of Duty: WW2’s multiplayer beta is definitely still the same ol’ “COD”; but that’s not exactly a negative.

The first thing that jumps out about this installment of the iconic FPS (first-person shooter) franchise is the almost defiant WW2 in its title.

This is a game that wants you to know two things going in, this is Call of Duty, and we’re going back to the classics.

For those who don’t know, Call of Duty has a long and storied history.  Since the first in the series (2003’s Call of Duty), there have been fourteen entries over a decade of improvement and innovation.

Many would argue that 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed not just the FPS genre, but was one of a privileged few games that elevated the gaming medium into the public consciousness.

It wasn’t just a video game (with the stigma that designation carries), it was a phenomenon, and has led to one of the most successful and iconic legacies in modern gaming.

But to many, its luster was lost long before this most recent addition to the series. Games such as Call of Duty: Ghosts and Black Ops 3 took the series from its classic settings of 40’s era World War II and modern war-torn Afghanistan into a science fiction future that rubbed countless of its loyal fans the wrong way.

One need only look at the most recent installment to see that, 2016’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.  The game’s reveal trailer currently has around 3 million dislikes on YouTube, and according to Eurogamer its launch sales were down from 2015’s Black Ops 3 by 48.5 percent.  While even with that tremendous drop it was still the bestselling video game of 2016 according to VG247; the series’ arch-rival, the EA headed Battlefield was right behind it.

How did Battlefield achieve such success?  Simple, after years of games in a more modern setting, 2016’s Battlefield 1, developed by DICE, refocused the franchise into a World War I period piece, and launched to overwhelming critical acclaim.

There’s an old saying about competition breeding quality, and to be honest, that’s exactly what has happened here. Not to be outdone by DICE, Sledgehammer Games (who last developed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare in 2014, one of the first of the future set CODs) have crafted something that in many ways feels like an apology to their love lost fans.

Gone are the double jumps, wall running and laser guns, replaced by something that feels eerily like its decade old predecessors.

You sprint, you “aim down the sights” and you shoot Nazis (what could be more cathartic than that). The multiplayer beta I played is just that, the multiplayer, so I can’t speak for the single-player campaign or the “Nazi Zombies” side mode, but in many ways, it felt like a return to form. A safe return, but a return none the less.

In about a minute I was settled back into the groove of games like Modern Warfare 2, and Black Ops, two of the best games in the series.  Interestingly, this one doesn’t really do anything unique with its World War II setting outside of the visuals.

It almost seems they wanted to use the setting less as a gameplay opportunity, and more as a statement that, yes, this is a “boots on the ground” game, which is in many ways a shame. Battlefield 1, in comparison used its World War I placement to great effect, not just in its atmosphere but its gameplay with the addition of horses, bayonets and much more.

Map design in general is, at least for me, much improved over more recent efforts, encouraging smart, fast paced play that compliments the wide variety of weapons on offer.  On a pure mechanics level, it still feels great to play; say what you will about the series but it’s the gold standard in the genre for a reason.

And in terms of modes, well I only played Domination and Team Deathmatch, so the new War mode remains a mystery to me.

The best thing about this installment is its adherence to the past.  For many franchises, that would seem like a thinly veiled knock against its inherent derivativeness.  But for Call of Duty: WW2, going backwards might be the only way for this iconic series to move forward.


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