Above: the Call of Duty WWII reveal trailer.
It never mentioned the countries by name, but 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was patently based around the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. As the realities of that conflict grew more unclear, however—as more civilians were killed, and public support began to wane—Call of Duty seemed to give up trying to make sense out of real war and transitioned to providing outright fantasy. What began in 2003 as a game at least trying to say something about World War II culminated in space, with Kit Harrington.
A mainstream video game that tried to make even abstract sense of the Iraq War would be noteworthy. Failing that, World War II, and what is popularly understood as its simple good versus evil story, gives Call of Duty the opportunity to be factual again. An opportunity it has, now we know the next game in the series—properly revealed later today, April 26th—will be once again set during that conflict, the first time CoD's tackled WWII since 2008's Call of Duty: World at War.
The quality of Call of Duty: WWII's writing remains to be seen, of course. But one hopes the game looks back to Medal of Honor, the series it effectively replaced, which found within World War II's large-scale battles smaller, more intimate stories. Medal of Honor: Underground, from 2000, focused on Paris and a group of Resistance fighters—in an admittedly minor way, it had affection for the people, not the spectacle, of WWII.
But if the new Call of Duty should lack that kind of heart, it nevertheless has a chance to educate. If its makers commit to research and resist trivializing World War II, as triple-A studios have trivialized shooting and killing in war scenarios generally, Call of Duty: WWII may reintroduce to first-person shooters something more substantial than base, blasé entertainment value.
Such is the great secret: Above robots, gadgets and excursions to space, real life has the potential to enthrall. God is a grade-A storyteller. If games broadly have either forgotten or never truly embraced that, the world's biggest shooter franchise returning to some factual basis feels like a nudge in a better direction.
If Call of Duty's recreation of World War II ends up churlish—many in the games media, sadly perhaps, are inevitably anticipating exactly that—it will hopefully serve, at least, as a gesture. An example that, more so than futuristic fantasy, true-to-life, complex war is fascinating. If CoD's creators and the series' substantial audience can accept that, then there's every chance other game-makers will continue to do as they've done for a decade and more and follow behind, perhaps with the inspiration to say much more.