If the rumours are true then COD will be returning to World War 2 this year. The evidence is strong: by Activision’s own words the series is “going back to its roots” for its next instalment. There’s also some leaked art and steelbook covers that, while still unconfirmed, definitely look the business. With that in mind let’s take a look back at some of the series’ greatest WW2 moments. From weird and quirky levels that have you crawling through a pipe, to all out warfare against impossible odds or battling fighter planes in a bomber falling apart in midair. Moments like these can get lost in the cycling din of yearly iterations, so let’s take a moment to appreciate some of Call of Duty’s stand out levels.
Call Of Duty - Berlin
One thing World War 2 era CODs have always been good at is a rising crescendo at the end; something it nailed right from the start with the original Call of Duty’s Berlin climax. It’s a head-on rush through broken German streets to hoist a Russian flag a top the Reichstag, symbolically and literally ending the war (until COD 2 at least). It works so well in part because of that floodgate of momentum as you and your troops rush yelling through the streets of a broken city, shattered and ruined by a war it’s just conceded.
Call of Duty - Stalingrad
Stalingrad is one of those ‘all hell breaking loose’ kind of levels Call of Duty does so well, that throws so much war in your face it’s hard to think. It’s also a rare case of COD highlighting one of the war’s more ridiculous and poignant sides - how some armies fought terribly unprepared. After a traumatic beach landing you’re thrown into battle with the slight problem of not having any weapons. Instead you have to charge enemy positions with just good intentions and Sargent Borodin for company, as you act as bait to draw out the enemy for your sniper comrade.
Call of Duty 2 - The Pipeline
While Call of Duty as a series gets plenty of flak (unfairly) for being the same game every year, it’s shown great creativity time after time. There’s only so much you can do with ‘shooting people as you go forwards.’ The Pipeline is a great example of an interesting idea as you creep through a huge pipeline suspended over enemy territory. It’s a really interesting mix of sensations: you’re both protected but exposed and trapped, taking pot shots at enemies through holes in the pipe. The precarious nature of your confined situation is only highlighted by the sunlight streaming through the holes left by a hail of bullets as the soldier is cut down in front of you.
Call of Duty 2 - The Battle for Hill 400
This is probably one of the most stressful levels COD has ever produced as you fight to hold ‘Hill 400.’ The enemy just keep coming. It captures that desperate sense of a pointless fight against a seemingly unending force. Given that Call of Duty is a series about travelling through levels it's interesting to see how fighting to protect one small patch of ground can end up feeling so meaningful. It’s your hill dammit, and Germans can’t have it. It’s also an indication of just how effective this level is that it feels like the game’s natural climax; the subsequent final level, Crossing the Rhine, fails to have the same impact as a result.
Call of Duty 2 - The Battle of Pointe du Hoc
Encouragingly, this classic beach landing starts with a fellow soldier in your boat having a fear-induced puke, quickly followed by bullets whizzing through the air and the red mist of those bullets thudding into your friends. Soldiers fall to the ground, water sprayed up from a near-miss explosion obscures your view. Then the ramp is drops and you're running onto the beach straight into mortar fire. Cue semi-deafened shell-shocked horror of war moment as you survey the scene around you. For the most part you’re basically a spectator in all this but it’s a breathless couple of minutes. And, when you regain your senses, the metaphorical and practical implications of a vertical cliff face ahead of you become apparent.
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One - Liberators
Call of Duty has always done on rails sections where you man the guns of something like a tank. Liberators, from COD’s PS2 only spin off, follows that trend but from inside a B-24 Liberator bomber plane. The twist here is that as you fight off incoming enemy planes and drop bombs you have to move between the various gunner positions and bomb bays. It brings what could have been a simple ‘machine gun post’ level alive as you glance around the inside of your ride. Highlighting the tension are the holes and damage that appear over the course of the level, pushing your faith in aerodynamics to its absolute limit.
Call of Duty 3 - The Forest
This is a wonderfully paced, rising crescendo of a level. Its initially stealthy sniper approach works beautifully with the opening peacefulness of the forest, building atmosphere as you scan the distance for Nazis to potshot. Then it takes everything up a notch or two as the fight moves to tight burrow-like trenches and the wide-open spaces in between. The final textural change is a massively satisfying shift in the balance of power as you get a mortar to play with, allowing you to reign fire down on Hitler’s troops in the trees.
World at War - Little Resistance
Call of Duty’s brief return to World War 2, after Modern Warfare, took you to new places with a focus on the Pacific campaign. Not only did that swap provincial French towns for sandy beaches and jungles, it introduced the Japanese and a whole new bag of tactical tricks. Things like jumping out of holes in the ground and running screaming at your face, or hiding in trees. Fun. (Not fun.) It also introduced a flamethrower to the series in all its terrifying, roaring glory. After the satisfying pop and ping of guns like the M1 Garand, the flamethrower is a deeply disturbing and traumatic weapon, almost as much for the wielder as the victim.