COD: WW2 sees the juggernaut FPS series returning to its roots after years of increasingly ridiculous forays into the future, culminating in last years adventure to "Punch Jon Snow In The Face IN SPACE" Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. That's what I assume Infinite Warfare was about, I didn't actually play it. I heard there was a pretty good robot sidekick though so I should get around to it someday. The return to the World War 2 setting is a big deal for Call of Duty, which played a very large role in creating a whole genre of video games at the turn of the 21st century. Between Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Wolfenstein, and countless other games and would-be franchise, the games industry went through significant "WW2 fatigue" before the earth shattering revelation that was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. (Which itself created the recent 'modern military shooter' trend.)
Call of Duty has always been known for its dedication to research, pouring over tons of historical documents, photographs, and interviews to create an authentic world for the player to be an unstoppable killing machine juggernaut that can soak up hundreds of bullets and shrug off explosions that would disintegrate normal people. While blasting your way through COD: WW2's single player campaign, you probably didn't take much time to appreciate all the work that went into to crafting this Michael Bay power fantasy so here are 15 cool little details I noticed in between grabbing medpacks out of the air and failing QTEs. Obviously, this list contains some pretty major spoilers for the COD: WW2 campaign, so consider yourself warned.
Throughout the game, but especially noticeable in the DDay level, you catch German soldiers carrying Russian weapons like the awesome PPsh submachine gun. While it's a little ridiculous how many Russian guns you can find on a French beach in 1944, it's not totally implausible to find them there. Germany had been fighting with Russia on the eastern front for years before the Normandy landings and likely had many units rotated back to the coast. It's not totally implausible to assume some of them may have taken a liking to weapons seized in the east.
Another thing is many of the units deployed to the western front in 1944 were so-called ostbattaliones (east battalions), made up of men conscripted from conquered Soviet territories like the Ukraine. Many of these units were armed with weapons from the Eastern front but none were stationed at Omaha Beach, where the game's DDay level takes place. Oh well, they had to find a way to get those sweet "Pepper Shaker" SMGs into our hands.
It's easy to let your eyes glaze over as you mow down hundreds of Nazis over the course of the campaign, not to mention all the hapless AI squadmates who spray-and-pray their way to victory alongside the invincible Red Daniels. If you look closer, a lot of your buddies have little individual accessories and knickknacks on their uniforms, like packs of smokes or playing cards tucked into helmets and different types of bandoleers and grenades. The WW2-set Call of Duty games have always been known for having historically accurate weapons, equipment, and settings, and these little additional details on the soldiers are another example of that.
A soldier's personal property was limited to what he could carry on his person, so the boys had to get pretty creative in how they hauled around all their gear and, in many cases, loot they had scavenged from the battlefield. Soldiers in WW2 were also often quite superstitious and so would tuck lucky playing cards, photos from home, and small religious items wherever they could, even the leather straps of their helmets.
The Sherman tanks that routinely pop-up over the course of the campaign are kind of like the Best Supporting Actors of COD: WW2's story. SSgt Perez even gets his time to shine during the mission Collateral Damage, in what, due to bafflingly poor controls, has to be the least satisfying tank mission in a video game ever. Before having their power neutered by bad design decisions later on in the campaign, Perez's tanks play a major role in mission two, Operation: Cobra, where they sport an unusual feature: big towers on the back of their chassis that look like air ducts. Well, that's exactly what they are.
A simple solution for how to get tanks onto a beach like Omaha was to simply raise their exhausts above the surface of the water, allowing the tanks to drive along the seafloor. Life as a WW2 tank crew seems scary enough, now imagine doing that stupid tank mission underwater...
A nice little touch that may be a reference to the best war 'movie' ever made, Band of Brothers, is how Daniels destroys the flak guns in the second mission, Operation: Cobra. The first one he destroys by simply dropping a helmet full of explosives under the gun and lighting it with thermite, the others by dropping thermite right down the barrel, etc. This speaks to the often improvisational tactics that were required of the Allied soldiers during the war but especially following the landings at Normandy. Scattered, disorganized, and undersupplied, troops had to make do with what weapons and equipment they had.
In the opening cutscene, Zussman wins Aiello's medallion of St Michael, the Patron Saint of Soldiers, and puts it around his neck. Throughout the game, the medal can be seen dangling along with Zussman's dog tags. St Michael is an archangel in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and his primary vocation is to battle and defeat Satan. He is often invoked for protection from evil and pain. Although Zussman tells us he is the patron saint of soldiers, he is also the patron of police and doctors.
Zussman's medal is used to represent a common theme of COD: WW2, namely that of the small squad protecting each other through the unbelievable pressures and stresses of combat, capture, and their own commanding officer. Red Daniels and Zussman are best friends and have a special bond, which in the game is represented by the medal of Saint Michael.
The second mission of the game is called Operation: Cobra, which isn't just a cool name for a video game level, and could easily have been the title of an old Sega light gun game, but is the real name for General Omar Bradley's plan to retake Normandy. Bradley's strategy was to push toward the French city of Caen, using attacks elsewhere from British, Polish, and Canadian troops as cover.
The part of Cobra we play a part in is the liberation of Marigny, France which had been softened up by repeated bombing. The battle of Marigny was finally successful when a single US soldier commandeered a German flak gun and single-handedly shot down a dozen Stuka dive bombers! Just like in the video game! That almost certainly didn't happen in real life.
In "Liberation," the highlight of the COD: WW2 campaign, SAS Major Crowley makes damn sure you know the details of your cover story. After being told to memorize it three times in the car, I was still surprised that a Call of Duty game actually made me use my head! I really did have to memorize who I was, where I was from, who I was meeting, and why.
The first time you're challenged, by a black-uniformed SS guard outside the manor house, Crowley lingers near the guard to make sure you get the details right. Once you answer the question correctly, he stubs out his cigarette and moves to open the door for you, satisfied that you didn't blow the mission on your very first opportunity to do so!
Something that I totally missed the first time around in Liberation is the entire basement area. If you ask the first grey uniformed guard where your contact, Fischer, is, he tells you the man you're looking for is probably playing cards with some soldiers in the basement. Should you go check that basement out, you'll find two French citizens in distress: one locked in a cell, the other menaced by a German officer. If you rescue these two, they'll join in the fight if you get caught sneaking around later on in the mission. It's a surpising addition to a game as bombastic as Call of Duty, and it makes for a thrilling second playthrough.
When Daniels goes back to rescue little German girl Anna in the mission Collateral Damage, the closet she's hiding in is filled with a little tea set and doll. It's likely that Anna has been hiding out down here for a long time, maybe even that her family are the owners of this hotel that has been converted into a German stronghold. This cool little bit of storytelling earns the game some goodwill right before launching you into an infuriating instant-fail forced stealth sequence. It's all about balance, I guess. Again, it's subtle momeny inside a brutal game — and it works to its benefit.
You don't get a good look at it but in the mission S.O.E., Daniels and Zussman single-handedly derail an armored train using a jeep because Call of Duty is the height of historical realism. After the spectacular crash, the two soldiers are rescued by Rousseau who is wearing what seems to be a white rectangle on her jacket shoulder.
While not exactly a terrific piece of camouflage this is actually a mini French flag with a stylised cross, the Cross de Lorraine, that was the symbol of the F.F.I, the French Forces of the Interior, something that Resistance forces could slip on when they were on duty. And hopefully, remember to remove before they went back to work in Nazi-occupied France.
Okay, one more entry about Liberation: it really is the best part of the game! As Rousseau, you get access to most of the interior of the German command HQ in Paris and there are a few little optional documents scattered around that give you a little more detail about Nazi-occupied Paris and your mission in general.
One document, in particular, that was left lying around by a presumably very lazy officer, contains details about the investigation into explosives that have gone mission from the armory of the HQ. The explosives that you are specifically there to retrieve from Fischer, a man who is named in this exact document as being one of two suspects. This makes his arrest at the midpoint of the level part of a larger story, and not a random event to move the plot forward.
In the mission Collateral Damage, you must heroically battle against bad tank driving controls to break up the monotony of this, the fifth straight hour of the thrilling "Take out that MG!" and "Daniels, got a medpack for you!" gameplay for COD: WW2. Jumping into the armored shoes of SSgt Perez, you maneuver your Sherman tank through the streets of a ruined German town until you are eventually ambushed by several Panzers and a dreaded Tiger heavy tank.
In the game, you basically have to attack the Tiger from the sides and rear which was actually standard operating procedure for attacking Tigers in the war. The Nazis had far outpaced the Allies in tank development, making the Tiger basically invulnerable when attacking head-on. While most tanks were more vulnerable from the rear, it was basically essential for Shermans to hit them from behind to avoid the Tiger's devastating main gun.
The Thompson submachine gun is one of those iconic symbols of WW2, like fighting on beaches or the 'ping' of the Garand rifle's clip ejecting. The Thompson manages to be the iconic weapon of two different American stories: WW2 and the gangster wars of the 20s. Most people would associate the Tommy gun used by Sgt. Pierson as being from the streets of Chicago, with its foregrip and drum magazine, but this variant did see action in the war.
Pierson's weapon is the 1928 model, popular with the Marines, while the Army carried the M1A1. While there are subtle differences the 1928 version certainly looks nastier, which helps sell the tough-as-nails character of Sgt. Pierson.
In the second half of the campaign, Daniels is introduced to Corporal Howard, an African-American engineer and radio operator who also represents a pretty awkward and clumsy attempt by Sledgehammer Games to talk about racism in the US armed forces in WW2. The other characters express surprise upon meeting Howard, who later hints that he may have taken a demotion to be allowed to see combat.
Howard says he used to be an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) and may have been frustrated by the segregation in the WW2-era US Army. Since we meet him as a radio operator it is likely that he volunteered for special engineer training, at the cost of his status as NCO (His 'stripes') so that he could be useful on the frontline.
In the Battle of the Bulge mission, the MG nest you give ammo to before the attack starts has set up a little Christmas tree with tin cans as ornaments. If you look closely, the cans have white labels with black ornate lettering that say "Kinderbratten" on them. These are German ratio, cans, basically Nazi Spam, that would have been littered all over the forest floor. Since the Battle of the Bulge happened around Christmas time, soldiers would take whatever chances they could to alleviate the horrible conditions they were living in.
Fun fact that is maybe not fun at all: "Kinderbratten" roughly translates to "Child roast meat." Which probably means, like, small roast meat and not, uh, you know.