Feature Article

How Call Of Duty: WW2 Aims To Make War Personal

It's the little things that matter.

After a series of rumors and leaks, it's official: Call of Duty is going back to its World War II origins. Simply titled Call of Duty: WWII, the next entry in the annualized shooter franchise follows an American squad through the European theater of the war. It treads familiar ground, taking players through the D-Day invasion of Normandy and Battle of the Bulge, but for developer Sledgehammer Games, returning to Call of Duty's roots is more than just matching the setting and scenes of its predecessors--it means understanding World War II on a deeper level.

We recently visited the Sledgehammer office, where we saw parts of two single-player missions, one of which was the invasion of Normandy. It's an iconic moment in the war, and one that's been recreated many times in video games and other mediums. This doesn't differ much from other depictions of the Normandy battle in games and movies, but what do stand out are the details.

Call of Duty: WWII stars a 19-year-old private in the 1st Infantry Division, and it's clear, even from just watching the mission instead of playing it, that he's scared. He's inexperienced. He stumbles over fallen soldiers, he struggles with a Bangalore torpedo, and his breathing is harsh and uneven. Sure, there's a cinematic element to the whole scene, but it's not exactly cool and exciting--it's harrowing. He knows he could die at any moment.

While at Sledgehammer, we spoke to leads from the animation, art, audio, and narrative departments, and everyone mentioned the same thing: they had to do extensive research in order to properly portray not only the war but also the experience of being there.

While many Normandy missions turn outward, surveying the horrors of the invasion on a grander scale, this one seems to focus inward and could tell a more introspective piece of a larger story.

For the animation team, that meant studying everything from documentaries to photos to field manuals for weapons in order to capture how a soldier would physically and emotionally react in any given situation, and it shows.

"There is no stacking up on a door, and breaching a door, and flash-banging 12 guys and killing them with one shot," animation director Chris Stone explained. "It's just, what would you do if you were a kid with no training? Maybe you'd peek around the corner, maybe you'd take a shot, and maybe you'd kind of move somewhere … In terms of trying to recreate a visual experience of World War II, it's all those little things that add up."

For a D-Day segment, those little things are crucial. Without them, it's just another retread of the Normandy mission; but with them, the level has the potential to stand out. While many Normandy missions turn outward, surveying the horrors of the invasion on a grander scale, this one seems to focus inward and could tell a more introspective piece of a larger story.

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The other level we saw took place in Hurtgen Forest, where German troops would blow the tops off trees to send shrapnel raining down. It starts off slow. You're trudging through the forest, sniping German soldiers, until finally, the bombings start. It's very much a Call of Duty level, and it's as exhilarating and terrifying as Normandy but for entirely different reasons.

Much of that is thanks to the sounds of the artillery, the rending of wood, the crashing of metal, and the crackle gunfire. Audio Director Dave Swenson told us that Sledgehammer's sound team recorded World War II explosives and weapons in an attempt to make the game more immersive, and it seems to work in Hurtgen. But the best audio detail comes before, when the Fighting First is moving through a river.

Like in the Normandy mission, your soldier moves clumsily over uneven terrain and under the weight of his weapons and supplies. But he also sounds encumbered. To get it just right--to try to put you in that forest--Swenson decided to find a river where he could record footsteps, as opposed settling for a less natural-sounding pool. The result is this 1st Infantry Division soldier sounds tired, and I felt that more than I did the bass from artillery reverberating in my chest. Even when striking a different tone, this campaign appears more focused on the individual soldier than on the cacophony of war.

Stone, too, talked about the team's focus on immersion through animation. "When they're done playing this game, [we want players to] set their controller down and say, 'Wow. I feel like I might have a little bit of a sense of what it was to be there,' which is really totally different from what we wanted from our players before."

This campaign appears more focused on the individual soldier than on the cacophony of war.

When they talked about that goal, all the team members cited the research that went into all those engrossing details. They're important for effectively putting you in a soldier's position, and from what we saw, doing the homework mattered--the little things, added in with care and attention, can make it feel more relatable.

Sledgehammer's decision to hone in on the minutiae of being a soldier in World War II is interesting. It gives the studio an opportunity to return to a conflict overexposed in video games and present it in a more meaningful way.

However, the biggest question is what its details add up to. Fans of first-person shooters have come to expect their campaigns to be empowering, with their character becoming almost super-human to overcome impossible odds. It will be interesting to see if Sledgehammer sticks to its guns and keeps the experience grounded, or if it pivots back into familiar territory.

Call of Duty: WWII is launching on November 3 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

kallie

Kallie Plagge

Kallie Plagge is GameSpot's Reviews Editor. She loves Pokemon, anime, and Grunt Birthday Party.
Call of Duty: WWII

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Avatar image for Iturner795
Iturner795

Whether the realize it or not, the unit they are portraying is 26th infantry regiment, the Blue Spaders. This was my unit (and Captain America's) and is very personal to me. They better not mess this up.

Avatar image for Iturner795
Iturner795

Whether the realize it or not, the unit they are portraying is 26th infantry regiment, the Blue Spaders. This was my unit (and Captain America's) and is very personal to me. They better not mess this up.

Avatar image for Iturner795
Iturner795

Whether they realize it or not, the unit they are portraying is 26th infantry regiment, the Blue Spaders. This was my unit (and Captain America's) and is very personal to me. They better not mess this up.

Avatar image for skittymiao
Skittymiao

A 19-year-old boy with no training. He should die in the 1st minute. This is World War II, not some rallies against government agenda.

Darth Vader: Don't choke upon your aspirations, Director!!!

Avatar image for RabbiSchmuley
RabbiSchmuley

How Cod ww2 plans to phone in it just one more year while stretching promises so thin they could be tantric foreskin

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@RabbiSchmuley: Don't forget overwhelming amounts of DLC and microtransactions.

Microtransactions didn't exist in WW2, but Activision will again find a way.

Avatar image for deactivated-59e3719bee35c

Last chance Cod don't fudge it up😔

Avatar image for darkninja66613
darkninja66613

Not this shit again. I was hoping this franchise would just die. All because of the mindless drones that buy their games.

Avatar image for DARREN636
DARREN636

looks exactly like medal of honour.

Avatar image for ermacos
ermacos

These games need to evolve a bit.

1) I would love them all with open worlds and minimal to zero loadings.

2) I would love them with character creator and live my war story. Give me the chance to attach with my character, dont just give me a preset.

3) To have a short of base and in that base I can do rpg stuff (craft things, upgrade, play mini games, 3rd person, exercise/gym, recruit soldiers, romance, bars, girls, strippers.. lol

4) Choices? To become a traitor, a lonely warrior who kills them all.. lol

5) And when we play campaign to be moding friendly. When online all mods to be deactivated.

Everything else to be the way it is... I dont mind... but give them some extra sauce, its boring to be always the same thingy.

I am buying a new pc so I may get it in order to test my new thingy...

Avatar image for RabbiSchmuley
RabbiSchmuley

@ermacos:

1) main character named sheppard

2)hoo-ah!

3)fantastical post-ww2 Russian nuclear terror plot

Avatar image for ultralof
Ultralof

@ermacos: some of those ideas sound realy neat. Not for a WW2 shooter maybe, since history is set. But for a presentday or future set CoD sure. Maybe not crafting though ;)

Avatar image for deathbringer70
deathbringer70

Infinite Ward promised a rich campaign too but it lasted only 4 hours and was very rushed and undeveloped. i really hope that Sledgehammer delivers a good campaign but mainly i'm looking forward to E3 to see how they handle the multiplayer which sounds a lot like BF1

Avatar image for DETfaninATL
DETfaninATL

Based on what what little I've seen and heard so far, this is the first COD game I'll be buying (and more importantly, looking forward to) since Advanced Warfare (and I wasn't looking forward to that one - that one made me swear off COD for a good while).

Avatar image for gilmer9999
Gilmer9999

The Fighting First? The Big Red One!!!!!

Avatar image for lucidique
lucidique

Call Of Duty : Me too!

Avatar image for suvam23
suvam23

We might actually get a good campaign this time...the trailer felt nostalgic.

Avatar image for Pyrosa
Pyrosa

Battlefield 1: Call od Duty WW2

Avatar image for skittymiao
Skittymiao

@Pyrosa: Best comment of the week!!! Spread it everywhere!!!! I want to see COD WII acknowledging their copy-pasting mechanics..

Avatar image for wretch1d
Wretch1d

Sounds a whole lot like the lead up to BF1, ill have to see if the new formula works like the old, if the game play fits into listening to slayer im in, the old WW2 cods were perfect for that

Avatar image for sdzald
sdzald

First they are correct most of the troops hitting the beach at Normandy had no combat experience, but to say "a kid with no training." is largely misleading. Many of the units had extensive training in England before D-Day. The untrained kids, came later as replacements.

Secondly, I don't care how well it plays and how good a game it is, if the single player campaign only gives me ~10 hours of play time it is NOT worth 60 bucks to me. If you are into multi player then great this might be worth your time and money.

Avatar image for pork7
pork7

Time to smoke some virtual Naz1s from the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

Feel the burn!!!!!

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

It's just the same crap COD with a different skin. Actually, not a different skin since they've done this before.

Avatar image for clay544888
clay544888

@Thanatos2k: And so fucking what? This one has potential. Even more so than the other ones... It's even making RIGHT decisions this time around unlike that super soldier nonsense...

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@clay544888: Because going back to the most tired played out setting they've done many times before has potential? What?

Avatar image for clay544888
clay544888

@Thanatos2k: Absolutely. Because before they didn't have the tech that we do now so that means a more REALISTIC depiction of WW2 with more details and hopefully more violence to depict it fully considering they're going with the "war is hell" approach... And that calls for a new experience that was kinda unavailable before. When tech advances, the experience can too and not to mention the Normandy invasion level in both single player and multi..That is something I've been waiting for since the release of Saving Private Ryan.. Sure, many games have tried it but none showed the epic horror of it and barely the inclusion of any blood and gore which is sad...

So with that being said, this game DOES have potential.. I think after about a decade, games can go back to their original game setting for a revamped experience that might be great enough to change the previous memory of that specific game period.. And by them taking the gritty and hopefully brutal approach that they seem to take, this game might be one of those few COD games that has my excitement in a long time...

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@clay544888: They've ALWAYS gone with the "war is hell" approach. We all know war is hell. Hence the same tired approach.

Avatar image for clay544888
clay544888

@Thanatos2k: Well maybe this game ain't for you then.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@clay544888: Well yeah. I wouldn't be caught dead playing consolized bro shooters.

Avatar image for clay544888
clay544888

@Thanatos2k: Yeah you're too cool for that... XD

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@clay544888: Nothing to do with being cool. Everything to do with having standards.

Avatar image for bat725
bat725

@Thanatos2k: Next one will be a return to Modern Warfare, for sure.

Avatar image for Firosen
Firosen

It's nice to see devs taking the topic of war seriously again. Zombies and space fights were okay for blowing off steam on deployment, but it cheapens the lessons we learn from conflict when we say that war in the future will be more akin to a trip to Dave and Buster's than the brutality it actually represents.

Avatar image for skittymiao
Skittymiao

@Firosen: Zombies in World War II??? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!

Avatar image for silversix_
silversix_

Looks like shyte. Just like in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007.

Last good CoD was WaW.

Avatar image for slypher9
Slypher9

@silversix_: lol, i'm curious...which game doesn't LOOK like shyte to you?

Avatar image for silversix_
silversix_

@slypher9: 1-2 Switch. Great experience.

Avatar image for WhoIsTheDrizzle
WhoIsTheDrizzle

@silversix_: but...WaW was in 2008... so is it shyte or good?

Avatar image for silversix_
silversix_

@WhoIsTheDrizzle: I meant CoD2 and that's 2005 from what i remember.

Avatar image for deathbringer70
deathbringer70

@silversix_: clearly you have absolutely no idea what are you talking about!

Avatar image for silversix_
silversix_

@deathbringer70: When talking about the most cancerous series in the gaming industry, that's a better thing.

Avatar image for WhoIsTheDrizzle
WhoIsTheDrizzle

I haven't played through a Call of Duty campaign in years. But I think I'll gladly pick this one up for the campaign.

Avatar image for skittymiao
Skittymiao

@WhoIsTheDrizzle: You will play as a 19 year-old boy with no training In World War II. He will probably die in the 1st minute. Estimated Campaign Duration: 4 minutes.

Avatar image for videogameninja
videogameninja

This game, Destiny 2, and I’m sure some other big name AAA titles (Red Dead 2.) are going to swallow up any kind of competition this fall (financially speaking.) from any other developers who haven’t hit “mainstream appeal” with their respective IPs.

I think it was a smart move on the developer’s behalf to go back to the roots of the Call of Duty franchise as the theme “what is old is new” seems to be paying off for various other franchises not just in gaming but in other mediums. Hopefully this return to form will yield a better product much in the same way Resident Evil 7 turned out for Capcom as well as long-time RE fans who voiced their concern over the state of some of the later installments (Jeez Ninja, we get it. You like RE7, now shut up!).

Even though I personally am not the biggest fan of the Call of Duty franchise (although that trailer did a good job of getting me excited for this entry.), or some of the other titles previously mentioned, there is no doubt in my mind that at least 1 or 2 of them will break some kind of record this fall (cue eye rolls.).

On a positive note, this will probably go down as the most jam packed year for AAA games; at least in recent memory.

What can I say? It’s a good time to be a gamer.

-WHAT IS OLD IS NEW NINJA APPROVED-

Avatar image for slater5
slater5

@videogameninja: "On a positive note, this will probably go down as the most jam packed year for AAA games; at least in recent memory."

I'm not disputing this will be a good year, but you may have a bit of memory loss.

2015 was a fantastic year for gaming. The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid 5, Bloodborne, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, Star Wars Battlefront, Just Cause 3, ... just to name a few.

Avatar image for DETfaninATL
DETfaninATL

@slater5: God, Bloodborne was such an absolute masterpiece.One of my all-time faves

Avatar image for videogameninja
videogameninja

@slater5:

Now that you mention it… lol.

Yeah, in hindsight that year did have quite a few heavy hitters. I think what separates this year from others however is the amount of big name titles already released in the first few months, a move that is usually reserved for the later months of the year.

Correct me if I’m wrong (you are, Ninja. Always.) but I think more than a handful of those games you mentioned were released in the fall/later months (Metal Gear Solid 5, Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Rainbow 6 siege, Star wars battlefront, etc…).

This year is only a few months in and we already have…

Resident evil 7, Zelda, Nier: Automata, Persona 5, Mass effect, Horizon Zero Dawn, etc…

The end of the year will no doubt have just as many big name games, maybe even more. All I know is that I don’t think too many people are complaining.

-GREAT START NINJA APPROVED-

Avatar image for deathbringer70
deathbringer70

@videogameninja: i can't believe i'm agreeing with your douche arse

Avatar image for videogameninja
videogameninja

@deathbringer70:

You and me both.

-ALWAYS A FIRST NINJA APPROVED-