When it announced Call of Duty: WWII, developer Sledgehammer Games made a promise: the game would return to the series’ roots with boots-on-the-ground combat. After watching a behind-closed-doors gameplay demo at E3, it’s safe to say the studio is delivering on that promise.
WWII’s single-player campaign follows an American platoon in the 1st Infantry Division, a unit known for its role in several prominent battles, including the Battle of Normandy, the liberation of Paris and the Battle of Marigny — the backdrop of our demo. In the gameplay video shown to us, the player, assuming the role of protagonist Ronald “Red” Daniels, is ordered to reclaim a church occupied by Axis soldiers. There are no jet packs here. No drones. No EMPs — the first sign that Sledgehammer is committed to good ol’ street-level action.
The demo starts with Daniels and his squad pushing Axis enemies back into the ruins of a war-blasted city. As Daniels enters a building that’s been decimated by grenades, an enemy bashes him in the doorway with his rifle. He staggers backward for a moment before unloading a few rounds into the baddie. Daniels’ health is low now, but unlike recent CoD titles, it won’t regenerate over time. Instead, players have to rely on their squad’s medic to provide them with a health pack.
“We wanted to tell a story about what it would be like to be in a platoon,” Sledgehammer co-founder Greg Schofield said. “All the stories we heard [about WWII] were always about ‘I’m not the hero, it’s the guy next to me.’ How they dedicated themselves to each other was something that we wanted to tell in the story.”
Schofield explained that traditional CoD protagonists are lone wolves — the player doesn’t typically need the support of their squadmates to defeat their enemies. This isn’t the case in CoD: WWII. If players are running low on ammo, they’ll need to run to their ammo-man to stock up. Or if they need more surveillance, their spotter will alert them to nearby threats.
Daniels and his squad are ambushed in the church by an Axis soldier armed with a flamethrower, but he’s easily dispatched after Daniels army crawls behind some debris and places a few smart shots into the enemy’s fuel tank.
According to studio head Michael Condrey, you won’t play as Daniels the whole time, which is a refreshing take on a genre that’s notorious for showing conflicts exclusively from one country’s perspective. Red Daniels is the main character, but we’re told you’ll get to play as others, such as a woman in the French Resistance.
“This was a global conflict,” Condrey said. “It’s important that you play these other characters and other allied groups. The British force, the French force, different groups within the U.S. Army.”
“This isn’t a U.S. story. This isn’t an American story. This is a story of the Allied nations coming together to beat back tyranny,” Condrey said.
According to Condrey, letting players play as different characters allow them to tackle certain themes, such as racism and segregation in wartime.
“We don’t pull any punches with the story,” Condrey said. “There’s some racism in there, and we need to make sure these stories are talked about.”
Daniels makes it to the church’s bell tower, and after showing off the game’s sniping mechanic, the demo ends in a true-to-form, bombastic action sequence that involves players escaping the collapsing tower. Classic CoD spectacle is on full display here, and the sound design is exactly what players should expect from Sledgehammer talent.
We can’t speak to the game’s multiplayer quite yet, but from what we saw of the campaign, CoD: WWII is, so far, honoring its different promises to players. Having to depend on your squadmates is a welcome evolution of CoD’s typical super-soldier gameplay, and the boots-on-the-ground combat is a promising change of pace from recent entries’ gravity-defying antics. We’ll see if these promises hold up when the game launches on Nov. 3.