Since its original release in 2003 Activision’s “Call of Duty” franchise has been one of the video game industry’s most popular and successful. The combined series of first-person shooters (FPS) games have sold more than 250 million copies. Several individual titles have racked numerous accolades along the way. That success has culminated with the latest release, “Call of Duty WWII.”
The first game in the franchise, simply titled “Call of Duty,” saw its development by the then newly formed game studio Infinity Ward. That studio included team members that worked on Electronic Arts’ successful “Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.”
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The early buzz suggested “Call of Duty” was little more than a knock-off of EA’s premier WWII shooter series. However, it soon became apparent that this new title was much, much more.
“Call of Duty” introduced AI-controlled allies. The allies supported the player during the single player campaign and highlighted the fact that the Second World War wasn’t won by individuals, but rather those “bands of brothers.” In addition, the original game offered a three-part cinematic-inspired campaign. The campaign focused on American, British and Soviet soldiers.
An expansion followed in 2004, with a full blown sequel released in 2005. Since then not a year has gone by without a “Call of Duty” series being released.
However, after 2008’s “Call of Duty: World at War” the focus shifted more to modern conflicts. Developers set their sights on either the 1960s or the modern day/near future.
Last year’s “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare” featured a more science fiction-inspired story. It failed to impress fans. According to publisher Activision, it missed sales expectations. Reports show sales down 50 percent compared to 2015’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops III.”
Clearly the fans didn’t like the direction the game series had taken. So naturally, developers opted to go back to where it began, namely World War II.
The ‘Call of Duty WWII’ Direction
In the newly released “Call of Duty WWII,” players follow the story of Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels. Daniel is a member of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division who hits the beaches of Normandy and fights to ensure the liberation of Paris and the defeat of the Nazis.
The game’s look is grittier and darker than past games. In some ways it could be argued that the studio followed on the success of independently developed titles such as Tripwire Interactive’s successful “Red Orchestra” series. The question is whether this shift back to World War II will actually resonate with fans.
“The shift back to WWII worked for the latest ‘Call of Duty’ as it provided a refreshed setting,” said Steve Bailey, senior analyst for gaming at IHS Technology. “The series has been relying on future/modern military contexts for several years, and returning to the series roots presents some necessary variety. The success of ‘Battlefield 1‘ also highlights how those eras can be made appealing to gamers.”
However, when the series launched there was a wave of World War II-themed games. And, more importantly, there were numerous movies and TV shows too that featured the exploits of the “Greatest Generation.”
If you’re looking for an example, think of HBO’s “Band of Brothers.”
Will ‘Call of Duty WWII’ Resonate?
John Adams-Graf is the author of several World War II-themed books including “Warman’s WWII Collectibles.”
Adams-Graf offered his two cents on the latest “Call of Duty” installation.
“We are on the cusp of riskiness as it relates to WWII-themed games,” Adams-Graf warned. “The war holds a huge fascination of the ‘older than 40 set,’ but a much more limited appeal to the under-40 crowd. This latter group still has a direct connection to the war through their grandparents and elder relatives, but that connection is beginning to show breaks. When the ‘nostalgia factor’ disappears, the games are going to have to offer more history and less ‘fast action’ to continue to engage new players.”
But still, the futuristic setting failed. Therefore a return to WWII might be the best — if not last — option. Given that the developers went all out with this latest title, it may still connect with fans.
“Earlier it likely had something to do with the popularity of other media successes – ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’ on TV and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ plus a few other high-profile movies,” said noted military technical advisor Captain Dale Dye, USMC (Retired). “But today I think there’s a different inspiration.”
“There’s just not enough mission and game-play variety in the current batch of Special Ops/Counter-terrorism scenarios,” Dye added. “Play has some variety in technique, weaponry, etc., but it always boils down to a small band of snake-eaters chasing a nefarious band of shadowy bad guys, or minor variations on that theme.”
The attraction in many WWII games has been that the mission, troops, weapons, geography varied so dramatically, that practically anything could happen. There was the fact too that fiction could hardly make a villain as evil or threatening as those from Nazi Germany, which was defeated by average young men.
“The GIs, Marines, airmen and sailors who fought WWII were you and me — a couple of generations removed. So the player has a larger identification factor with the heroes of any game,” Dye said. “You don’t need to be a super hero or some sort of elite soldier to imagine yourself doing the things depicted in the WWII game.”
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There is also the “retro-cool factor.”
Gamers get to use iconic weapons like the M-1 Garand rifle, BAR and the original bazooka. In some ways, these weapons level the playing field for gamers. They focus on tactics more than modern weapons with laser sights and three-round burst modes.
The history plays into it too.
“Video games have a long-standing relationship with real-world history, although there’s obviously been a lot of interpretation and artistic license used along the way,” Bailey said. “Games benefit from historical settings as they can provide intricate details and interesting scenarios, off the shelf. In return, games themselves can be of interest to historians, in the ways that they may attempt to simulate or replicate certain concepts.”
Where does all of that leave us regarding “Call of Duty WWII”?
Perhaps WWII is a good setting as today’s wars may be too real for many. The distance in time of nearly 80 years conjures romanticized thoughts of the “big one.”
“WWII gaming gives a gamer the opportunity to fire a PPSh-41 from behind rubble at Stalingrad, run in a Banzai charge out of Pacific jungles, drop 500-pound bombs over recognizable European cities, or sail in Nordic fjords looking for U-boats,” Adams-Graf said. “The scenarios and weapons seem endless. This is why WWII will remain a fertile topic for future game developers. And the same variety will continue to draw gamers back to the console to test their skills in new scenarios.”
For more information on “Call of Duty WWII,” please visit CallOfDuty.com.
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