Look, I get it: video games don’t have to be realistic. In fact, I wrote an article on that very topic. However, despite this, game developers continue to push for realism in their games by using historical settings as their basis. Take Call of Duty: WWII as an example; after years of
releasing games set in the far-flung future, Activision finally went “back to basics” to give players what Battlefield 1 did last year: an “old-school” military shooter set during a well-known historical conflict. But did they really?
The problem with WWII and other games of its ilk is that they constantly bill themselves as
“gritty” and “realistic,” while ignoring the fact that their gameplay is like something out of an
arcade. Sure, the opening sequence of WWII features soldiers valiantly storming onto the
beaches of Normandy, only to be gunned down in droves. It doesn’t shy away from the gut-
wrenching violence of the affair, showing arms crudely ripped off by explosions and infantry
hopping around with bleeding stumps for legs.
However, that same opening has the player charging along the beach like a one-man army,
diving into trenches and shooting up enemies like a World War II-era Rambo. Recoil is
practically non-existent as you pick off the opposition with the precision of a sniper. On the other hand, a quick search on YouTube brings up countless videos of people firing the real-life variants of these World War II weapons, from the M1 Garand to the Thompson submachine gun. In these videos, it’s plain to see that the wielders of such weapons are constantly struggling against recoil. A rapid-fire burst would be likely to leave the shooter on the ground, as opposed to their target. Plus, these are individuals who are standing stock-still, taking aim, and firing with some level of precision; compare this to Call of Duty, where you may as well be firing from the hip as you run-and- gun to victory.
Then there’s reloading. While a couple of videos did show people seemingly able to reload an M1 Garand at around the rate of a Call of Duty avatar, it didn’t exactly seem like the norm. For a soldier to be able to consistently reload at such a rate in the heat of battle seems unlikely, to say the least. Even if we assume that the player character is some highly-trained war veteran who’s been firing M1s since they were a child, there’s still the actual mechanic of reloading. You don’t count bullets when reloading, nor do you lose what’s remaining in your gun. You can drop a clip out of your handgun and slap another one in, and any leftover bullets from the first clip magically store themselves in the barrel...or something. Point is, if an actual soldier had ten shots in a clip, took eight, and dropped it to reload, those two bullets would be gone. Kaput. Unless they wanted to go scrounging around to pocket them for later (not recommended when an army of Germans is descending on you), they’ve just wasted two shots.
I know that I’m nitpicking here, but it’s frustrating to see a franchise deliberately attempt to offer a more grounded setting, only to completely undermine itself thanks to its inherent arcadey-ness. If you’re good at developing for a particular gameplay style, use a time period that fits that style. Near-future weaponry could have any number of technological macguffins that make them better, faster, and stronger, but such excuses quickly evap orate when dealing with existing weaponry and real-world events.
Even the early Call of Duty games - while by no means historically-accurate - at least did a better of job of simulating what it was like to be a soldier in the middle of a war. Weapons felt unwieldy and clunky, with recoil that meant shooting someone once in the chest would see the next shot sail over their head. Meanwhile, Sledgehammer Games stated in early interviews that they wanted to “get all the details right” to make you “feel like you are really there”. Then they gave us weapons that are more precise and easy to use than some modern day models. They threw out words like “honor” and “respect”, then turned around and watched players open loot boxes on Normandy beach.
Call of Duty: World War II isn’t a revelation, nor is it a reinvention. It’s everything from Advanced Warfare onward with a fresh coat of paint.