One bullet in your rifle. Two targets in your sight.
Your iron sights waver between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty WW2. You pull the trigger – but which one falls?
When Battlefield announced it would be tackling WW1, after years of modern military shooters, it was a case of parking well-armoured tanks on Call of Duty’s lawn. After all, COD kicked off the world war shooter craze.
Battlefield’s historical ambush put COD on the back-foot, and it wasn’t long before the announcement that Call of Duty returning to its WW2 roots – because Activision listens to what its fans want, see, and definitely not because Infinite War raked in millions of dollars, but not quite enough of them.
So, now we have two triple-A shooters taking on two world wars. But which really is the better: Call of Duty WW2 or Battlefield 1?
Welcome to the squad
Call of Duty campaigns have always been about high-octane set-pieces; popcorn for the eyes (and hands). On that score, the game just about delivers. See that haunted, thousand-yard stare of the soldier on the box art? That’s about as close to the cold reality of war as Call Of Duty WW2 ever gets in a campaign that’s as forgettably enjoyable as it is generic. Take every Band of Brothers cliché, every line of dialogue you’d expect to hear barked at you by a pissed-off CO – congratulations, you’ve just written the script for COD’s story mode.
With its good ol’ boy protagonist narrating the travails of a fractured band of US soldiers, WW2 plays out like a COD greatest hits: There’s the stealth mission, the driving mission, the sniping mission, the chase mission… The only moment missing is when you hold to breach a door, and everything goes super slo-mo while you blast chumps with a shotgun. And all those samey missions play out within the first three, which leaves the game rudderless less than halfway in. There are some engaging gameplay concepts (infiltrating a German HQ by memorising a cover story, for instance), but like the character development or that intuitive peek-and-lean cover system that doesn’t translate from solo to multiplayer, ideas wash in and wash out without impact.
But this is a world war. And Call of Duty is never really that, with its chisel-jawed American stereotypes stealing the spotlight from the moment they storm Normandy. Sure, there’s a nod to the Brits and the French Resistance, but we’re marching deep through Spielberg territory here.
Battlefield 1 drifts in a different direction. You’ll join different allied forces as you sweep through six key battles of WW1. That gives it a lot more narrative and gameplay leeway, effortlessly shifting from the blood-soaked fields of France to the sun-beaten deserts of Arabia to let us experience the true breadth of the war to end all wars (Spoiler: It wasn’t).
BF1’s campaign is, essentially, a heroic, boy’s-own-adventure retelling of the Great War – lovingly ripped straight from the pages of Commando without shying away from the tragedy. That style creates a clear tone; Call of Duty fails to even muster up the attitude of The Dirty Dozen, let alone Inglorious Basterds.
Battlefield 1 draws first blood.
Locked, loaded and level up
Call of Duty WW2 is for everyone who jumped on the COD hate-wagon after Black Ops II – a game that, like Resident Evil 4, was so damn good it corrupted its immediate successors. Anyway, turns out, there were very few jet-packs and wall-runners in World War Two, so we’re back to boots-on-the-ground shooting.
It’s familiar and addictive terrain as you level up both your soldier and your weapons to unlock way better guns, killstreaks, attachments and Basic Training ribbons (which veterans used to call ‘perks’). WW2 also introduces more playstyle customisation: Divisions. Pick and play a class, and you’ll be rewarded with additional skills and weapon supplements that give you the edge. These Divisions are a lot more accommodating compared to Battlefield 1’s rigid class-based system, which locks you into using certain weapons and gadgets, and where your playstyle needs to be tuned to the class demands, rather than yours.
However, there’s a deeper strategic element to today’s FPS landscape – like Overwatch’s meta or Destiny’s end-game – into which Battlefield, with its existing emphasis on real-life shooting physics, happily fits. Unlike its arcade-y counterpart, spray and pray is rarely an effective tactic in a game where accuracy depends on knowing your rifle’s damage drop-off and even sniping demands cycling scope distance for the perfect headshot. Tanks trundle through towns, obliterating any building in their path; aeroplanes skitter through the clouds and AA guns fill the sky with fire as 64 players roam sprawling maps with itchy fingers on the trigger. That forces a playstyle evolution – not only should you watch your corners for shotgun-wielding bastards, but also look at what’s happening on the map: Do you need to equip a loadout capable of destroying that fortress-like tank tearing your team apart? Should you risk crossing open land when there’s a good chance there’s a guy half-a-mile away marking your head with his cross-hairs?
That extra layer isn’t so evident in Call of Duty WW2. Without the pseudo-Titanfall sci-fi distractions, WW2 features an uncompromising focus on pure run-and-gun glory that resurrects the slick, arcade simplicity that made COD an FPS behemoth. You’ll race around the usual three-lane maps, a world shattered by violence, and your only goal is to kill it if it moves. And given it’s a 6v6 arena shooter, the smaller map sizes allow designs that are tighter and more nuanced than Battlefield 1’s offerings. If you thought getting sniped from across the map on Gustav’s Cannon was frustrating, wait until you take on Battlefield 1’s wide-open Monte Grappe. You’ll barely see the bullet until the kill-cam kicks in.
It’s all a question of pace. WW2’s breathless multiplayer is crazy rewarding – from those always smooth controls to unlocking killstreak rewards to the satisfyingly tactile hit markers, it’s all pure adrenaline for your senses. Over on the Battlefield, the game’s heavy focus on precision and control means every frenzied fight feels hard-fought and hard-won.
Everyone gets a medal.
You’ve buzzed through the campaigns, you’re TDM’d and Conquested out. What’s left until the inevitable sequels?
Loot boxes, of course. Or Battlepacks. Or Supply Drops. Or whatever we’re calling them this week. Call of Duty’s loot boxes have already come under fire, since you open them in the HQ social space (when it works) so everyone can see that cool pistol grip literally no-one, not even you, will ever see. Just like in real war! Battlefield’s Battlepacks are slightly more measured in delivery, but that’s only because it released last year, before studios really nailed down how to ‘increase player engagement’ or ‘shamelessly maximise profit’, depending on who you ask.
Challenges abound in both games, offering personal objectives and further unlocks, but when it comes to full game modes, it’s ironic that Battlefield 1, with its huge scale, has such limited scope. There are eight different modes, with Operations remaining the true stand-out. Here, you attack or defend points across maps, in a game of push-and-pull that sees enemies advance or retreat until all sectors are captured. This is a full-scale Battlefield of epic, on-going battles.
All the usual suspects return in WW2 (Kill Confirmed, Search and Destroy, Domination… You know the drill, soldier) – with one glittering new addition: The subtly titled War Mode. This is Call of Duty’s ‘narrative-driven’ game of tug-of-war, which sees you play out real-life WW2 moments, like D-Day. Taking obvious cues from Battlefield’s Operations, War Mode ditches the lone-wolf wanderings in TDM in favour of a stronger emphasis on teamwork. That, alone, makes it a fresh and addictive highlight (seriously, expect to see it in every COD from now on).
And just when it looks like no-one can claim victory, WW2 goes and tosses Nazi Zombies into the mix – and it’s game over for Battlefield 1. Because if there’s one thing better than slaughtering Nazis or zombies, it’s slaughtering waves of Nazi Zombies.
Call of Duty WW2 rains bloody hell on Battlefield 1.
A declaration of war
Roll out the barrels, it’s the victory parade.
These are two of the best military shooters out there. Graphically, they’re both stunning (with Call of Duty featuring some grimly photo-realistic moments), and the sound design is first-class; The authentic rattle of gunfire and roar of tanks as your squad call out enemy positions encourages immersion.
Call of Duty WW2 proves that [cue Ron Perlman voice-over] war never changes. It’s a game that gives us everything we asked for – but nothing we didn’t know we wanted. No fireworks, no disasters. Presented with a golden opportunity to reinvent the WW2 shooter, just as it did back in 2003, it instead timidly retreads old ground wearing old boots.
That’s a world away from Battlefield 1’s daring, if cynical, shift to the First World War – a decision that drew a collective intake of breath as we tangled with the moral dilemma of whether the tragic World War One setting could a) be respectful to the fallen and b) work as a mass-appeal shooter. From that documentary-style opening, Battlefield proved it could, and delivered what Call of Duty couldn’t; A fresh take on the war-torn experience.
Because even the greatest ever Call of Duty match would be just another minor skirmish in Battlefield 1, as your hopefully well-rounded squad competes for dominance. While Call of Duty WW2’s multiplayer is an artful shooter slopped with wartime aesthetics, Battlefield 1’s scale captures the truly manic state of all-out war.
Battlefield 1 – to the victor, the spoils.