Image Credit: Activision

The biggest name in first-person shooters is gearing up for the release of its latest yearly instalment. After what many thought was an ill-advised decision to go for a futuristic sci-fi setting in last year’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Sledgehammer Games sets the clock back to the era where it all began for Activision’s sales behemoth: the Second World War.

Call of Duty: WWII had its first private beta last weekend on PS4, giving fans a preview of a portion of the game’s multiplayer offerings. Read on for our first impressions of another candidate for biggest game of 2017.

Back to the past

Playing CoD: WWII feels like getting into a time machine. It’s not just the historical setting of the game that contributes to this feeling, but also the way that the game refocuses on the essence of CoD gameplay, jettisoning some of the bloat that has accumulated over the years.

Actually, it’s more like travelling back in time to find yourself in an alternate timeline, one where, after the success and groundbreaking new features of CoD 4: Modern Warfare, the series decided to stick with the WWII setting it returned to briefly for the next outing, CoD: World at War.

For the first time in quite a while, the gameplay is really all about the core run-and-gun style that made the franchise the king of FPS multiplayer. Kill-streak rewards, for example, have been toned down in terms of impact and bombast, and everything feels a little bit less Michael Bay-like than what we’ve become accustomed to over the past few years.

War is where the heart is

I enjoyed Team Deathmatch, where the action is fast and relentless and the 75-kill limit is hit pretty quickly; one of the most frequent requests made by beta participants was for an increase to 100 kills.

The maps are classic Call of Duty, encouraging movement and awareness, with death never being more than a few seconds away.

But the real eye-opener was the new War Mode, which will likely turn out to be the most popular multiplayer mode. It’s the biggest change to the game’s multiplayer offerings in many years, and could lure back those who have become bored with the series.

War Mode has some distinct Overwatch echoes: it’s an objective-based mode that sees your team taking turns as attackers and defenders.

You have four objectives to reach, each with its own time limit. Succeeding at one moves you on to the next one. You start off trying to capture a headquarters, and if successful you move on to attempting to construct a bridge for your tank to cross. Trying to get the bridge up before time runs out, your team working together to create smoke cover and protect bridge builders from sniper and machine gunfire, is some of the most intense and satisfying gameplay CoD has offered in quite a while.

If you manage to get the bridge up, your next objective is to destroy a munitions cache. Success here leads you to the final part of the mission, escorting your tank to the enemy’s flak guns. The tank only moves forward if it has friendly soldiers next to it, making for some intense encounters and nail-biting last-minute finishes. Playing as the defending side, your mission is to defend each of the above positions and to prevent the enemy from completing their objectives. I can’t wait to see the other War Mode maps.

Tantalising prospect

There’s a lot more to talk about when it comes to CoD: WWII, and we’ll be providing more coverage after the next set of beta tests, as well as in the run-up to the game’s release. The major takeaway for me thus far though is that Sledgehammer has managed to breathe new life into a series that has been stumbling somewhat on the critical front, despite continuing high sales.

It’ll face tough competition in the shooter realm, not least from Activision’s own Destiny 2, but from what we’ve seen thus far, CoD: WWII will make a strong case for handing over your money come November 3.