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E3 2017: War is Hell in Call of Duty: WWII’s Boots-on-the-Ground Campaign

Call of Duty: WWII is bringing fans back to the trenches of the second world war, giving them a brutal, boots-on-the-ground view of the most important battles of the European theater. As protagonist Private “Red” Daniels of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, players will fight through iconic encounters such as the Battle of the Bulge and the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

During our behind-closed-doors demo of the game’s story-driven campaign, we got a taste of how Sledgehammer Games is bringing these historical skirmishes to scary-real life. In a mission dubbed “Marigny 44”, Daniels and his squad-mates are tasked with taking a church from the Axis forces occupying it. In true Call of Duty fashion, the preview began with a literal bang. Authentic WWII-era weapons popped with ear-rattling realism, explosions reverberated through are seats, and the immersive ambient audio had us contemplating a sound system upgrade.

Call of Duty WWII Screenshot

Of course, the polygon-pushing visual presentation had no problem keeping up with the awesome audio. Smoke, fire, particle, destruction, and weather effects provided eye-candy aplenty, while subtler touches — like light reflecting off shiny gun metal and raindrops pooling on weapon stocks — suggested Sledgehammer knows a thing or two about harnessing the power of new-gen hardware. Seeing Daniels’ hand vibrate as he attempted to steady his street-clearing hand-cannon was an especially cool inclusion, one that had us looking forward to clutching our rumbling Xbox controllers.

The series may be returning to its roots, but it’s certainly not leaving behind the cinema-rivaling action and special effects-spewing set pieces that have elevated its campaigns beyond the typical run-and-gun romps. Even during our brief look, we were treated to a number of scenes that wouldn’t seem out of place on the silver screen. When Daniels enters the church, for example, players are met with a mini boss battle of sorts pitting them against an Axis pyromaniac. In an attempt to take out the young hero, the flame-thrower-wielding foe engulfs the environment in rapidly spreading flames; with the building literally burning down around them, the squad manages to blow up the baddie real good by shooting out his fuel tank.

Call of Duty WWII Screenshot

Speaking of sending enemies to their graves, the game’s pulling no punches in depicting the graphic realism of war. We witnessed a number of heads explode in especially gory fashion—sometimes exposing collar bones and other blood-soaked innards—and melee kills similarly left little to the imagination. Players who prefer their vital organs on the inside will want to monitor their health closely, as Call of Duty is shelving regenerating life in favor of a more realistic approach to surviving. During our session, Daniels would occasionally heal-up by requesting a med-kit from a squad-mate.

This sort of teamwork isn’t limited to allies tossing you medicine though, as the game encourages you and your AI brothers to lean on each other when needed. Later in our demo, Daniels saved a fellow soldier’s bacon by protecting him from afar with a few well-placed sniper rounds. The final game promises other such team-based dynamics, like having allies scout targets and supply you with ammo in a pinch.

Call of Duty WWII Screenshot

Our preview closed with an epic scene that saw Daniels escaping the church while it crumbled around him. The pulse-pounding sequence wasn’t content to simply collapse a building on top of the hero though, as it also sent the tower’s enormous bell hurtling toward him; despite Daniels desperate leaps and dives, the multi-ton object seemed determined to crush him like an insect. The choreographed chaos concluded with Daniels very narrow escape, but not before inching us to the edge of our seats.

From its fresh mechanics and adrenaline-amping action to its graphic combat and focus on teamwork, Call of Duty: WWII‘s campaign seems to be retaining the franchise’s core elements, while portraying the second world war with realism and respect. We look forward to following the rest of Daniels story—and saving his hide—when the game lands November 3.