Saturday, November 4, 2017

Call of Duty: WWII First Impressions (PS4 release)

I'm about five hours in to exploring a mix of the campaign, multiplayer and zombies modes in Call of Duty: WWII (which fortuitously came out as my extremely busy last two months of work came to a pause), and it's an interesting enough bag of angry cats that I felt compelled to comment on it....

First off: The Campaign

The campaign mode isn't going to win converts over. It's got the exact same linear format that you see in all other CoD campaigns, which means you're basically on rails with just enough room to not feel like it. The cut scenes/story is really well done, as you might expect; after several years of grizzled future mercenaries mugging the camera while betraying each other with shocking regularity, the homey forties-style "average guy sent to war" comraderie of the characters in the main story is downright quaint and refreshing all at once.

Unfortunately the cut scenes end and suddenly you are forced to play a game which is simultaneously the CoD we all know and either love or loathe, or maybe have gotten tired of.....but they decided to mix it up with two things I feel are contentious: quick time events (QTEs) and health pack regeneration.

QTEs are easy to hate, so I won't elaborate. You're forced to aimlessly hit random button/swing of the analog stick moves to get past a cut scene that has been arbitrarily gamified.

Health packs (medkits) though......I know health pack regeneration is a hallmark of classic gaming, and there's a division among FPS fans on those who feel that auto-regeneration is unrealistic and coddling vs. those who really enjoy not scrounging for arbitrary resources every fifty feet to heal up. Having gotten quite used to the "hide and regenerate" method since Modern Warfare (I forget if World at War introduced it) I have to say....going back to health packs, which for about ten minutes seemed amazingly cool, suddenly became the most immersion-breaking component of the single player experience yet. Here's why:

Stopping to heal with a med pack every couple of minutes lampshades just how non-immersive the experience is. People who claim this is more realistic aren't thinking about what's going on here. If you use the "hide and regenerate" mechanic it's surprisingly easy to assume your PC narrowly averted a near-death experience by taking cover, and that the indicators on screen suggest a bullet grazed you, or the are a metaphor for a near death event. But a medkit says, "I am taking the seventh dose of morphine and bandages in as many minutes, and that directly suggests I am very badly shot up, but I'm the only guy on the battlefield with a magic medkit which heals me, and only me, with perfect precision and no consequences of overdose, ever."

I'll have to try it on a hardcore mode, maybe it limits your medkit useage, which I would find more appropriate. But I've heard at the hard move the accuracy of the enemy becomes painfully, annoyingly precise even when blind hmmm.

Finally, the game doesn't feel to me like it was fine-tuned for the medkits. It doesn't offer as many reasonable cover points for hiding to heal as you'd expect (at least, it felt to me like it was offering the usual "charge forward" thematics of most CoD campaigns while discouraging that tactic with the medkit requirement). You also are assailed with uncommonly accurate distance shooters in the campaign, who target you like you're their bitch when you're forced to hold the line at a mounted gun.

On top of all of it, odds are there's always a medkit nearby, or a medic ready to hand you one. If you're going to add resource management to the game, then why not make these things more scarce? I'll have to try it on hard mode and see if that changes things.

So....good bits, but actually more frustrating than normal for a CoD campaign.

Next: Multiplayer

Mutliplayer is much tighter, and you can tell more effort at fine-tuning it went in to the design. It's actually a real pleasure to play on the PS4...when you can get it to work. So far it's been 50/50 on whether the online component was working when I log in so far.

Interestingly, the multiplayer uses the "hide and regenerate" mechanic, which I kind of wish it didn't....if it had an optional setting which let you turn on the medkit rule, and then allow it only once or twice per life, that would be a really cool hardcore option (hmmm maybe it does and I haven't found it yet). Think about could have a hardcore immersive mode in multiplayer. That would be cool (YMMV but I would love it; not surprising, given that I enjoy the hardcore modes most of all in CoD MP).

Overall the success of MP in CoD:WWII will depend entirely on how many current CoD fans are willing and able to go back to the less jumpy thematics of old school combat, and set aside the wacky wall-running of the last three years' of games. For what I want, the WWII multiplayer is fantastic.

Finally: Zombies

The WWII Zombies campaign is least explored so far but I got through the prologue. So far it looks more elaborate, and provides a shockingly higher level of serious detail to the storyline. I am intrigued to explore this option at length and will report more later. For now, let's just say that if you really want to play Ving Rhames killing zombies in WWII, this is the only place you can. this point, my suggestion is: if you have been waiting for CoD to get back to where it was in the Modern Warfare and original Black Ops/World at War era, this is it (except for the medkits). But I don't think the campaign is living up to the original Call of Duty 1 and 2, except for the amazing graphics. As for multiplayer, if you think the future was held in Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare, then this is not the CoD you are looking for.

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