I lost count the number of times that Sledgehammer used the words "visceral" and "respectful" in today's big Call of Duty: WW2 reveal livestream. Also, "normal people" and "brotherhood." Especially brotherhood.
In bringing the series back to World War II, it's obvious that Sledgehammer is keen to stick to the safest, most familiar territory possible, even as they promised a more realistic bent to their campaign. As they revealed during the livestream, Call of Duty: WWII's campaign will be sticking exclusively to Europe circa 1944 and 1945, and will begin with the D-Day Invasion of Normandy—a setpiece that USG alum Bob Mackey referred to on Twitter as the FPS equivalent of the Green Hill Zone. It will be Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan all over again.
Only, you know, prettier.
In returning to familiar territory, Sledgehammer is taking exactly the opposite approach that DICE took with World War I, which went out of their way to feature unfamiliar stories and battles So much so, in fact, that they didn't even introduce one of the war's primary antagonists, the French, until the first batch of DLC arrived. Notably, DICE is a Swedish studio, and the World Wars tend to hit rather close to home for Europeans. By contrast, American history holds World War II as a grand unifying moment of glory—a period when "The Greatest Generation" ushered the United States on to the world stage. Its notes are familiar to anyone with even a cursory understanding of American history, so completely has it been pounded into our collective consciousness.
But trite as they might be, those notes make Call of Duty: WWII easy to market to the masses, particularly in the U.S. From a critical and historical perspective, it's pretty boring, but these clichés resonate with the kind of audience that Sledgehammer is seeking. In that respect, Call of Duty is as predictable as a police procedural. Activision knows their audience, and they're going to give them exactly what they want.
The positive side of all this is that it really has been a while since World War II was featured in a first-person shooter. Even D-Day, once a fixture in the FPS space, hasn't been seen in many years. As a few pointed out to me on Twitter, it'll be fun to see the Normandy Invasion depicted using modern technology.
There are also hints that Sledgehammer will be experimenting with the format at least a little. VG247's write-up noted, for example, that there will be a segment where you play as a women from the French Resistance during the liberation of Paris. Scenes like these, which let you experience what it might have been like to be present during a great moment in history, are kind of neat. It would be fun to experience other such moments through the eyes of ordinary people, such as the famous V-Day celebrations in New York.
In an interview with Mashable, senior creative director Bret Robbins also talked a bit about exploring the darker side of one of the world's most savage conflicts. "Some very, very dark things happened during this conflict and it felt wrong for us to ignore that."
The story also won't shy away from the racism of the period, he says. "Unfortunately, there was anti-Semitism. There was racism. It's actually a very big part of our story, the fact that that stuff existed, it was real, and our characters deal with it."
Still, Call of Duty is what it is, and asking Activision to get daring with its formula is like asking CBS to get daring with NCIS. It will be a game that shows American soldiers overcoming their differences and being heroic. It will be a comfortable throwback that falls straight into the narrow range of knowledge most Americans have about the war.
"I just feel like the audience expectations and the maturity have changed. I know when I... play a great single-player game and I want a great story, it's no longer enough just to have it be very surface-level and simple. I want something deeper and more complex, just like I do out of the movies I watch," says Robbins.