A Tricky Transition

Call of Duty is a series that is starting to have the times catch up with it. With the meligured reception of it’s most recent titles, the most notable being last year’s Infinite Warfare, Activision have served to take the series ‘back to it’s roots’ as I’m sure you’ve heard a billion times. As the title clearly suggests, CoD WWII takes the series back to the era that it’s inception as a franchise was based in, the second world war. The days of exo-suits, lasers, and even space travel are theoretically over. It seems that CoD’s developers as well as their publisher have realized that a radical change was necessary, but therein lay many problems.

Call of Duty’s most recent titles, most notably Black Ops 3, Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare, have each used their new-age setting to allow for faster, and more vertical gameplay. Wallrunning, jump packs, super jumps, have been the series focus, and if what I hear from the fans of the franchise is true, it’s been refined pretty well. This level of speed and verticality has helped Call of Duty differentiate itself from it’s one time Battlefield rival, making the game far more of an arena twitch shooter than a boots on the ground, infantry combat experience.

Whether you love or hate the inclusion of such mechanics into a franchise that gave us MW2 and World at War (some of the best shooters of their era), you can’t deny that they’ve allowed the series to progress. The undeniable issue most people seem to have with this though, is that this science fiction setting just isn’t charming anymore. Gameplay has seem to have taken a backseat and variety is what the gaming hordes seem to want, most likely due to the franchises yearly releases.

This left Activision in an interesting predicament. The CoD esports scene is pretty successful, and it’s most popular recent release (Black Ops 3) was very very solid in terms of its multiplayer experience. Sledgehammer, Treyarch, and Infinity Ward all knew they could make a perfectly solid gameplay experience. But the game that people wanted, featuring boots on the ground combat, would remove the series’ new and refined gameplay elements almost entirely.

And there’s the problem. In order to curry favor with the wider public, Activision had to create a title that would create a buzz and would take place in an era that was NOT near or far future. But in a genre that has already become stagnant to the point where a simple WW2 TDM shooter would go completely unnoticed on Steam, how can Activision make this work?  

History, Realism, and a Sweet KDA

Aside from the obvious difference in gameplay from it’s previous entries, the setting of WWII also creates other problems for the developer in order to make many of the game’s elements difficult from a design perspective. Something that I don’t see many people mention, and it could just be me, seems to be how the era is at odds with the game itself. WW2 is one of history’s greatest atrocities, but also birthed many stories of heroism and poignancy.

I have absolutely nothing against creating entertainment or media in this period, with the recent Chris Nolan movie ‘Dunkirk’ proving the point admirably. But, I think it starts to get a little morally questionable when rather than framing drama within the conflict, you use the conflict to frame a fast paced shooter in which you fight for kill-counts. While I don’t feel like this will necessarily impact my enjoyment of the game, or even irk me slightly, especially when the developer is priding themselves on accuracy to the conflict. It reminds me of that time the developers of Tomb Raider 2013 talked at length about making Lara an interesting character, and how killing people was a heavy subject that she had to overcome. But in the next scene, the player shoots 3 guys in the head and gets some XP.

But it’s not just the videogame deathmatch that’s at odds with the setting. Call of Duty Ghosts back in 2013 introduced the ability to play as a female soldier in multiplayer, in order to add inclusivity for it’s player base. In a game such as it, with an entirely fictional near future setting, no one other than heavily insecure young men would complain about it’s inclusion. The series has continued to include the ability to pick the gender of your class within multiplayer, and it has unsurprisingly been brought to CoD WW2.

However, as everything has to, controversy has come a callin’. Certain players or fans are complaining that the inclusion of women in battle depicted within the game’s multiplayer is historically inaccurate, with some going as far as to make claims of Activision making certain forced statements. It’s an issue that I think has some logic in theory, but the likelyhood is that many people are using this ‘historical inaccuracy’ as a pedestal to project their opinions about ‘forced inclusivity’ in modern gaming.

I really cannot see the likelyhood of someone standing still and letting a historical conflict be depicted using levelling, KDA’s and daily challenges, but would then be suddenly upset that female soldiers being an element of that customisation. It’s unknown what the inclusion of female soldiers will be in the game’s campaign, which is selling itself as a war story akin to Saving Private Ryan. If female characters were placed in the campaign, while it wouldn’t necessarily bother me, I could understand the reasoning slightly more.

However, I think that complaining about the inclusion of female soldiers in the game’s multiplayer experience is ludicrous. I see multiplayer simply as a stage on which the game’s fun shooty bit takes place, and should not judged by the same standard in terms of it’s accuracy to real events. I think it’s FAR more likely that a women had the ability to shoot efficiently in a skirmish, than a dude killing 5 men in a row, whose his commander was so impressed at his massacre that he rewards him with full command of an airstrike that lands on himself, earning him a ‘killstreak’ medal to show everyone on remembrance Sunday.


How is This All Gonna Play Out?

So far, from a journalist’s perspective, Activisions latest outing in the CoD franchise is looking to be a pretty successful one. Not only does it actually give long time fans gameplay and a setting that they’ve been asking for, but the controversy surrounding some of it’s inclusions is just earning it more and more press. I have yet to actually play the beta, as for some silly reason it REQUIRES a pre-order unlike the majority of beta’s these days.

However from what I’ve seen, people seem to be responding very well to the gameplay and the ‘#hype’ leading up to it is a substantial improvement over Infinite Warfare’s meme filled social media farce. Only time will tell if the gameplay is going to be solid enough to stand on it’s own two feet and kickstart a new series of historical entries.