I have very fond memories of Call of Duty’s multiplayer component. But those fond memories weren’t created after the original Black Ops. Prior to that, even before CoD nailed its gameplay formula with Modern Warfare, I used to regularly balance my multiplayer hours between Battlefield and Call of Duty. Even though World at War copped a lot of stick for taking a backwards step (literally, into the past) after Modern Warfare, I actually had the most fun with that particular entry.
And why wouldn’t I be? After all, I’m a big fan of World War II shooters, high-lethality shooters, and Gary Oldman with a Russian accent. Like many others, I grew tired of the franchise’s increasing futuristic thrust, and was glad to hear that Call of Duty would be returning to its roots for 2017. After taking the multiplayer beta for a spin over the weekend, I’m looking forward to playing more. It’s been a long time since I felt that way about a CoD game.
The pace is great, most of the weapons I used felt fantastic, and the ever-so-slightly increased time to kill offers a breath of escapability, albeit without diminishing the impact of the arsenal. It’s also refreshing to see the return of weapons that aren’t just familiar (space lasers are confusing, right?), but also forces you to play to the range of the weapon type. For instance, LMGs and rifles don’t really match a run-and-gun play style, no matter what previous CoD entries may have you believe.
As a fan of run-and-gunning, I was more partial to the SMGs and assault rifles. The shotguns are brutal at close ranges, but their damage drop-off is equally unforgiving, so you really do need to be forcing enemies into corner battles to make the most of them. Maps are a smidge on the large size, given the 12-player count, and even more so if I think back to frantic 64-player matches on Dome in World at War (granted, that was goofy).
As far as I could tell, weapons were all 100 percent accurate for the first shot when fired from the hip, which had me at a disadvantage as my muscle memory is still tuned to ADS first, fire second. Still, I won most of my 1v1 head on firefights thanks to the increased ADS accuracy and handling, but it was frustrating to watch a killcam when I’d been sprayed down by some hip-firing cowboy when I was ADSing shots into their chest (or higher).
The default classes and weapons gave a good taste of what to expect at later levels, but I found the whole Divisions system a tad weird. Basically, you try to avoid watching the cheesy videos, then pick a particular Division, which seems to offer access to different weapon types. I pretty much went for the one with the SMG, which also let me attach a silencer. Upon further research, the Division seems to impact the perks you have access to.
As for the silencer, it meant I wasn’t showing up on the radar when I fired, but it came at the expense of bullet damage, as well as added kick to the recoil. Recoil helps ensure the weapons feel different, particularly those in the same category, in a way that I haven’t experienced in any of the futuristic CoD games, which all felt like they had minimal recoil. One of the things I didn’t like was that I had to spend an upgrade point to unlock a weapon before I could see its stats.
This led to at least one disappointing upgrade, with an SMG unlock that was objectively worse (in terms of stats, and in terms of its in-game killing potential) than the one I was cleaning up with earlier. I wasn’t able to switch guns mid-round, either, which meant I had to stick with the shoddy SMG. It might be a case of it getting better with attachments (which unlock as you level up the specific gun by using it more), or that you’re forced to incrementally go through less-than-stellar guns on your pursuit for higher-level god guns, but it was still jarring. Speaking of jarring, as an inverted-aim player, it was weird to have the player-guided bomb kill streak in an inverted view. As far as I’m aware, inverted view only applies to infantry and vehicle aiming, as well as flying, but nothing else. That’s how I play, at least!
War mode was, by far, my favourite, even though it was where I encountered cheaters. Yup, the beta only ran for a couple of days, but there were cheaters by the time it ended, which is really disappointing. The killcam makes it easy to spot them, too, if the continuous headshots in the killfeed isn’t enough of an indication that something ain’t right.
Still, it was fast enough to find new matches without cheaters, so fingers crossed Sledgehammer has robust anti-cheat plans for the game’s launch. Cheaters aside, War mode is an attack/defence mode that forces players to fight over tight sections of the map, which means the smaller player count is less noticeable. I also love the addition of defences that can be built and destroyed, either to block access, create cover, or even throw up an MG nest.
There’s also the reality that the insane run-and-gun team wipes of the past were a lot less common. While my map knowledge wasn’t the best, I appreciated the triggered call-outs (either my avatar, or another player; I couldn’t tell) of enemy locations once spotted, which helped make hunting foes easier. Plus, the presence of a big ol’ skull and crossbones on your screen lets you know that a teammate died recently, which tends to make you more cautious in terms of looking out for the player that killed ’em. The best success I found was when I partied up with a buddy and we flanked together, exchanging kills and cutting our way through the enemy defences.
It’s not surprising that a number of World War II-themed shooters have cropped up this year to fill the void left by Call of Duty’s (and Medal of Honor’s) departure from the era. Days of War was so-so. Day of Infamy is great (albeit DoD than CoD). While both the recently announced Hell Let Loose and the seemingly perpetually delayed Battalion 1944 look promising. But the most surprising thing is that Call of Duty: WWII is poised to be the measuring stick, once again, for fast-paced, high-lethality Second World War shooters.