“You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business, we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin’.”
So the long awaited Beta for the multiplayer component of Call of Duty: WW2 is finally here, and with it comes Activision ditching the wall running, jet-packs and laser rifles for a more visceral ‘boots on the ground’ experience. With the Playstation exclusive beta ending today, and having played all of the content on offer, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on what makes COD:WW2 both great and not so great, and whether I’ll be picking it up when it launches on November 3rd.

When I think of modern military shooters, one thing in particular comes to mind: Squeakers; and if there’s one franchise in gaming that’s infamous for multiplying the annoying little buggers tenfold, it’s the Call of Duty franchise. The series has certainly received its fair share of flak and shrapnel in recent years (pun intended) due in no small part to some questionable design choices and an emphasis on annual releases, very much to the detriment of its core fan base. At one point in time Call of Duty was one of the most beloved franchises when it came to first person shooters, being known for its compelling narratives as well as its tight focused and fast paced multiplayer. The series peaked with Modern Warfare 2, with nearly every iteration since declining in quality, leading right up to the 2016 flop Infinite Warfare.

Activision began to realise that they needed to do something to combat the abysmal sales of Infinite Warfare (especially in the UK) with the overall sale of the game being down nearly 50% since the release of Black Ops 3. It wasn’t only sales that were impacted, as a large number of the COD community voiced their dissatisfaction with the franchise, and wanted the series to return to its roots and ditch the futuristic theme that they had been going with for so many years. Interest began to renew in the series when Activision announced that a title was in development that would take the series ‘back to its roots’ leading a lot of gamers to speculate that they were going to  use a historic setting for the next title, with WW2 and Vietnam being the most talked about and likely suspects. April came and after images of the new title’s box art leaked online, Activision came forward and unveiled the mysterious title to be none other than Call of Duty: WW2, which sees the series return to its original setting that it has shied away from for nearly nine years. The PlayStation exclusive multiplayer beta went live 24 hours early ahead of its intended launch on the 25th, giving thousands of players plenty of time to put the game through its paces and see what the new title has to offer.

The M1 Garand and its signature ‘ping’ return to COD for the first time in nearly nine years.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of shooters based on a historic setting (you don’t think I upload all those Battlefield 1 clips on Twitter for fun do you?) so when I found out that Call of Duty was returning to WW2 I instantly had a rush of nostalgia of the best kind. I can recall my thirteen year old self playing Big Red One for the first time and instantly being blown away with how vivid it was, something that would hopefully be recreated in COD: WW2. Unfortunately the time that I’ve spent within the beta has been sort of a mixed bag; there are many strong points to WW2 to be sure, but there are some downsides that are worryingly present in a game that is due to release in the next couple of months, making me worry that COD: WW2 isn’t going to be the ‘historically accurate’ shooter that Sledgehammer Games has claimed it’s going to be.

The beta begins with you choosing your starting division, which all come along with their own live action ‘recruitment’ style video giving you an oversight into the benefits of each one, which is a great way to get you immersed into the theme of the game. There are five divisions to choose from: Infantry, Airborne, Armoured, Mountain and Expeditionary; all with their own skill sets and perks for specific weapons. I started out with the Airborne division, which specialises in run n’ gun combat, utilizing SMG’s and sprinting in tandem. Following class selection is a video giving a brief introduction and an aerial view of the new Destiny-esque social space called ‘Headquarters’, where players will be able to participate in different activities such as the firing range and a 1v1 arena for settling disputes, all to be done while matchmaking and between games. Unfortunately Headquarters is absent in the beta, which is a shame as it would have been pretty decent to see the new social space in action; the main reason for this is undoubtedly due to Sledgehammer holding back a lot of the new stuff for the final release of the game which is understandable; the beta was billed as a ‘small slice’ after all. In terms of character customisation, you can choose the face of your American soldier to be what you want it to be, even having the option to play as a female soldier, which (other than small squads in the Russian Army and operatives in the French Resistance) feels completely out of place given the game’s historic setting. Another unsettling design feature is the lack of German iconography in the multiplayer, and while it’s understandable that the game should be censored in Germany due to the law regarding the Swastika in media, the rest of the world should not be subject to the same censorship rules. WW2 was a dark and violent period of modern history and while the actions taken by the Third Reich are universally abhorrent, by removing the Swastika from the final build of the game’s multiplayer Sledgehammer is doing nothing more than sanitising history in a bid to make the game ‘safe’ from offending anyone, and is a direct attempt to try shy away from certain aspects of history, which kind of dilutes the experience in my opinion (especially when titles such as 2005’s Big Red One had no issues in representing what the Third Reich and their insignia looked like in WW2).

Game Hype - Call of Duty: WW2

No Guts No Glory: The gore factor returns with COD: WW2, with dismemberment and bloody, bullet ridden corpses being the status quo in Europe in 1944 (Yes, I blew myself up with a grenade to get the lovely screenshot you see above).

In terms of gameplay, COD: WW2 is certainly enjoyable once you get to grips with the game and it’s mechanics. The game runs perfectly fluid at 60fps in crisp 1080p on a launch PS4, offering the same fast paced gameplay that matches the vivid and bloody nature of its WW2 predecessors. The game looks extremely good, but unfortunately suffers with some pretty rough looking animations; for example when you’re playing the multiplayer your comrades run along in a stance that can only be described as laughable, and somewhat resemble someone trying to run as if they had a cucumber lodged up their back passage. In terms of weapons their animations are solid; all of  the guns look exactly like their real life counterparts but how they sound and handle are a bit off (The P08’s rate of fire is was nowhere near as fast as it is in COD:WW2). The time to kill also seems a bit fast this time around, with nearly all of the weapons dropping you in a few hits; while this is an accurate portrayal of how easy it is to get killed in combat, it can be quite intimidating to new players, especially if they’re used to the slower (but more refined) mechanics of a game such as Battlefield 1. There are also some lingering issues with bullet registration, as it feels like some of your shots are not hitting where they should be (something that can easily be ironed out before the final release of the game) otherwise the combat is about what you would expect from a Call of Duty game, being fast paced, fluid and one of the few things they have perfected over the years. Another interesting feature this time around is the distinct lack of perks, with only some ‘basic training’ ribbons giving you some rudimentary benefits to tailor your load outs. This makes the combat all the more reliant on the skill of the player, pandering less to ‘filthy casuals’ and levelling the playing field when it comes to pure skill with particular types of weapons; it also presents a great opportunity to get the game heavily involved in the e-sports scene.

In terms of content the beta comes with 4 game modes and 4 maps (one being specific to the War game mode). Team Deathmatch, Domination and Hardpoint are the usual suspects when it calls to Call of Duty and it’s competitive scene, and while at first it may feel like you’re being thrown in at the deep end with the aforementioned TTK (I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been shredded with the PPSH-41) when you get used to the controls, maps and weapons the game begins to even itself out, it’s just a matter of adjustment. The maps on offer for these three game modes are Pointe Du Hoc, a German fortification on the coast of Normandy, Ardennes Forest, a region linking Belgium and France which would later be the stage for the infamous Battle of the Bulge and Gibraltar, a place that saw no combat between the Americans or Germans (historical inaccuracies anyone?). While it’s something that’s commonly found within Call of Duty, I found the maps to be extremely small, offering very little variation other than CQC in nearly every instance; however that may be a critique that lies with myself rather than the overall COD community, as I’m far more used to playing the huge open areas of Battlefield 1 that offer a different styles of combat based on the map, preference and class.

Game Hype - Call of Duty: WW2

War: The 6 vs. 6 objective based mode is the star of the show in Call of Duty: WW2’s private beta.

Without a doubt the standout feature of the Call of Duty: WW2 beta is the team based objective mode called War (returning for the first time since World at War) which is similar in nature to Battlefield 1’s Operations mode, albeit smaller in scale. The mode features one of the maps for the mode called Operation Breakout which follows the Allied attempt to take over a flak gun emplacement in St. Lo, France being used by Axis forces to destroy Allied bombers. The mode starts by both teams trying to capture/defend a communication outpost in an old manor house; what follows are a number of differing objectives offering unique scenarios for teams to devise tactics to achieve their goal. This also opens up an avenue for different types of combat that are not found in the other game modes, allowing one to spec as a long range sniper, support gunner, or CQC specialist on the fly. The mode supports up to 12 players, with 6 on each team, offering  players a more team focused experience rather than the usual run n’ gun gameplay that the community is used to. Hopefully the final release will come with numerous ‘Operations’ to support the traditional multiplayer modes, as it is exactly what Call of Duty: WW2 needs to differentiate itself from its predecessors.

All in all the multiplayer beta both impressed me at times and left me wondering what the hell Sledgehammer Games were thinking. The amount of historical inaccuracies in a game billed as ‘historically accurate’ cannot be ignored, with a lot of the issues being nothing more than pandering to a generation that is easily offended by the slightest thing, censoring history to suit them in the process. Without question however the biggest draw of Call of Duty: WW2 is the ‘boots on the ground’ experience that Sledgehammer has been selling to everyone since it’s unveiling back in April, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ve excelled at bringing the classic ‘skill based’ FPS experience found in the likes of Big Red One and World at War back into the modern gaming circuit (albeit some animation issues). Hopefully the long awaited story player campaign will be more than make up for some of the issues found in the games multiplayer, and as a result I won’t be picking up the game day one, and will wait to read the reviews to make up my mind up as to whether or not I’m going to purchase it.