Sometimes, simpler is better.
As I mentioned in my article about a possible MW2 remaster, the Call of Duty Series has lacked direction for quite a while. Infinite Warfare, quite rightly, got a massive backlash from gamers, not even because of its quality, but because they disagreed with the entire direction it took. COD is not Halo and never should be. A general rule is that the more futuristic the COD series has got, the more its popularity has declined. Advanced Warfare’s Combat Exo-suits and 2050 setting were about as far as you should push either the timeline or the technology in this series. The original Black Ops and the Modern Warfare trilogy remain the most acclaimed games in the series, and its easy to see why. They were grounded, they were relatable, and the multiplayer felt balanced.
Fortunately, the series’ producers seemed to notice that fan enthusiasm was waning, and decided to take the Call of Duty series back to its roots: World War 2. This meant no exosuits, no stupid wall-running, no drones and no OP killstreaks. And boy, is that a breath of fresh air. As a result, they’ve actually made a decent multiplayer for the first time in what seems like forever. All the standard game modes are back (Team Deathmatch, free-for-all, search and destroy, domination etc.) with the addition of a new War mode, which features teams either attacking or defending a series of varying objectives. The maps are actually all pretty good for the first time since MW2, varying from London Dockyards to a USA battleship to German artillery installations, there’s enough of them that you won’t get bored or need to purchase the expansion packs for extra variety. All playstyles are viable, even if you’ll find yourself sticking to assault rifles or SMG’s for most of it. A real bonus is that snipers are no longer as overpowered as they used to be. They’re still an ever present threat if they find a good position on the map, but most of the time they’re pretty easy to flank, and its no longer an option for snipers to try 360 no scopes and other stupid trick shots. If they try, they will die constantly. Similarly, grenades and rocket launchers will get you some kills but are far less effective than previous games – spamming the damn things doesn’t work very well. All of this provides a much more realistic experience and actually makes it challenging to earn kill/scorestreaks. These streaks range from Molotov cocktails to flamethrowers to strafing runs from fighter planes and bombers. While some are quite powerful, you won’t get one player decimating entire teams with successive kill streaks like in previous games. This all makes it far easier to get into games at low levels, and rewards skill a lot more than some previous games. The multiplayer is a definite highlight.
Zombies mode is also pretty great, and feels more accessible than it has done in a long time (it’s easier not to get hemmed into tight spaces on the maps, although you still have to know what you’re doing). The maps seem better designed than they have in a while, and the variety of zombie types has definitely improved. David Tennant even voices one of the four playable characters. Ultimately I’ll spend more time with the multiplayer, but the Zombies mode is a good one for fans who are mainly after that.
The only disappointment is the campaign. Admittedly, the gamemakers have done a good job of bringing the horrors of WWII to life. It feels real and visceral in a way other World War 2 games like COD 3 did not. But there’s nothing new on offer here. It’s the same mix of the usual COD levels (provide sniper cover, clear out enemy positions, defend chokepoints, infiltrate an enemy base ex cetera). It’s reasonably fun to play through, if not particularly challenging, but it’s really not all that memorable. Even Advanced Warfare and Ghosts’ campaigns are a cut above what you get here (as well as being significantly longer). It seems a bit like they threw something together because they thought fans expected some sort of campaign, not because they had a particularly great idea of what to include in one. Honestly, I can see why there are rumours Black Ops 4 will ditch the campaign entirely. The same old stuff just isn’t cutting it anymore.
Overall, the campaign might be a few hours of token adventure you won’t remember a day afterwards, but the fun zombies mode and brilliantly back-to-basics multiplayer make this the best Call of Duty Game since Modern Warfare 3. I’m not convinced the series is getting back to its best anytime soon, but this is a step in the right direction.
Rating: 4 out of 5