An Analysis of Call of Duty WW2: Operation Cobra

February 24, 2019

 

Operation Cobra is the second campaign level in Call of Duty: WW2 set in Caen, France and follows the allies with their push into France in the weeks following the D-Day & Normandy Invasion, aiming to push the Germans back and to end the war by Christmas.

 

After a short pre-rendered exposition cutscene the player is spawned in the level which is situated in a small encampment where the player can explore the to soak up the atmosphere. Immediately as the player spawns the player is greeted with two Hurricane Allies fighter planes flying close to the ground, very spectacular albeit suspiciously coincidental of the player’s arrival. Despite this it is a great initial set piece that helps to carry the “Invasion” theme and typical grand Call of Duty moments in its campaign.

 

The area the player initial spawns in is a very small box like layout which is gated by immovable objects and NPCs preventing the player from exploring too far, despite this the chance to walk around and listen to other soldier’s conversations, enjoy the visuals and sounds of WW2 is a nice change of pace to the typical COD gameplay loop. This section of the level is particularly nice due to the lighting and VFX enhancing the view for the player, situated just as the sun was rising the horizon it is visually very pleasing and draws the player in.

 

The fighter planes flying over head is a great set piece to start the mission with

 

The player is instructed to “Get on the Tank” highlighted with a waypoint at the climbing spot, where the player must press the interact button to trigger an in game cutscene, the cutscene highlights that Zussman’s wound is still healing and supports the overarching narrative that Pierson (the Sergeant of the squad) is difficult to please.

 

"Classic iconic 'through the hedgerows, through the crossroads towns kind of experience"

 

Scott Whitney (Narrative Director)

 

 

Once on the tank the next scripted segment begins, this is where the player receives more exposition and narrative about previous events, battles and the thoughts of soldiers from their squad, helping the player to build an understanding and relationship of the characters they fight with and create that squad “feeling”. During this segment the player is in overgrown hedgerows with lush overhanging tree branches with pockets of splintered and burnt foliage scattering the light over the debris and damage from previous battles, including a destroyed Panzer tanks and buildings in the background, the set dressing aids in world building and creates the sense that the player is part of something bigger.

 

Suddenly as the tanks turn a corner the sound of diving Stuka bombers with the scene of them coming in and dropping a bomb is triggered, immediately the tank ahead is destroyed, and the mission ramps up the intensity to become the expected Call of Duty mission.

 

Encounter One - Farm House

 

The player is manually taken off the tank whilst bullets whizz past their head once the scene has finished the player can now take control of their character, instructed to “Rally on Turner” (If the player stays too long at the tank they will automatically be damaged by the tanks in the distance). A short walk and the player will reach the first combat encounter of the level. Once the player rallies on Turner they are notified that the enemy are using Flak to destroy Allied planes and it is the job of the player to take them out. From the angle of the starting position of the encounter the player can clearly see the Flak cannons smoke clouds in the distance, a small detail that helps to give the player a location to work towards. Additionally, from the starting position the terrain has a slight incline, making it feel like the player must really push up hill.

 

The player can choose two different routes to flank the machine gunner

 

The player can choose to go two ways to flank the enemy as there is a machine gun nest firing down on the player, suppressing them. The middle of the encounter space is void of cover and proves to be a dangerous route to the house.

 

The low terrain encourages the player to keep crouched

 

The machine gunner and enemies in the house have clear view of the routes up

 

Taking either flanking route will circle around to the house but encourages the player to crouch and use cover to move up whilst taking shots to prevent the machine gun pinning them down as the field of view of the machine gun cover the entire encounter.

Cover along each flanking route is placed in places that allow the player to make cover to cover movements, to dodge incoming enemy fire, with crates, haybales and farming equipment being placed in key points along each route.

 

This first encounter is a great intense fight and makes the player feel vulnerable with the bullets and explosions whizzing past or the debris flying up next to them. Approaching the house from each flanking route gives the player a great vantage points to pick off the enemy on both the first and second floors but does not give them a clear view to the machine gunner forcing them to continue moving and clearing the building before finally being able to take out the gunner, pinning down the rest of the squad.

 

After the player manages to flank the enemy and take out the machine gunner the player can immediately see the result as more soldiers begin to move up, increasing player agency slightly.

 

Successfully flanking will reward the player a clear view to the enemies in the house

 

Soon after clearing the first encounter the player is instructed to push forward into the next field, another encounter space, just after the house is the first point of no return in the form of a broken staircase, an element of gating to unload the previous area and force progression in the linear space.

 

 

This space is relatively small and is covered in large hay bales that acts as cover allowing the player to easily dodge incoming gunfire. As the player either kills a certain amount or reaches enter a trigger in the middle of the field the enemy will start to retreat, making the player feel powerful and highlighting where the player must go to. The player must follow the enemy into the small section of forest where they must eliminate the final wave of enemies. This area is particularly visually impressive with the lush foliage, lighting and smoke VFX filling the screen.

 

Encounter Two - FLAK Cannon

 

After completing the previous encounter and reaching the end of the section of forest the player is presented with an existing battlefield framed by two sides of bushes. The Stuka bombers are destroying the tanks and as soon as the player reaches the apex of the hill one destroys a tank, creating a great vista for the player and keeps the intensity of the level high. From this point the player can get a great overview of the level’s visual and the field to field aspect. The player can see and hear the AA cannon now, giving the player an understanding their location in relevance to where they started, denial and reward.

 

Set piece of tank getting blown up attracts player to the next encounter

 

The player has a way point to “Reach the AA Gun” prompting the player to move forward, meeting another point of no return. Again, as the player enters the field the enemy retreats through the hedgerows, I believe this is intentional as the field is void of cover, a brief downbeat.

As the player moves through the hedgerow, they are presented with the final encounter of this beat. A medium size square space with roughly five to six enemies in the foreground, the AA Gun in the background and combat ingredients placed between the enemies, helping to deepen the combat. Here there is an Allied front line with crates and trailers turned over and an enemy front line with cover being void in the middle creating a clear front line between the two sides.

 

Once the player has defeated the enemies in the previous encounter, they must use the Flak cannon to destroy oncoming Stuka bombers, a nice change of pace in the level and a grand set piece, with explosions, smoke and VFX all combining to provide a spectacle for the ears and eyes. After completing the set piece, the player will see the Sherman tanks that were previously pinned down by the plans move up. This looks great as the bushes and dirt crumble below the tanks.

 

Encounter Three - Vantage Point & Trenches

 

After Completing the Flak Cannon beat the player can now proceed after an AI has opened the gate forward. The player must enter the road and proceed forward, prevented by going back or exploring due to invisible walls, disguised as tanks parked to help the player navigate through the linear path.

 

Walking down the short road, again gated by a fence, leads to a semi destroyed apple orchard with a destroyed Hurricane fighter plane leaving debris and wreckage strewn across it. Reaching the end of the orchard displays a great focal point of the plane wreckage.

Here there are two routes the player can take, one leads to a dead end and the other leads further into the level. To encourage the player taking the path to progress further it is clear of grass and has a wooden board to be a contrast of the other path, which leads to a dead end, I’m unsure why this path was added without any purpose as it just forces the player to backtrack hindering the flow.

 

 

The golden path is void of grass whereas the dead end is covered in grass

 

Taking the left path completes the “Reach Vantage Point” objective by reaching vantage point overlooking the anti-tank gun front line, framed by the gap in the hedgerows. Here the player is encouraged to use a sniper to eliminate the anti-tank guns to allow the tanks to move forward. This encounter feels like shooting fish in a barrel as the sniper makes it very easy to pick of enemies in the trench.

 

The arch of the foliage helps to frame the ongoing battle nicely

The vantage point gives a clear view of the objective by giving the player clear access to destroy the anti-tank guns, as the player can destroy the conveniently placed combat ingredients to destroy the guns. Destroying the guns and eliminating the enemies the player can enter the trenches that are now empty, an interesting moment of the Sherman tanks rolling over the trenches happens forcing the player to go prone, this is a great set piece accompanied by camera shake to increase the intensity of it. The player can now use the tanks as cover to proceed forward into the next encounter space, this is a great intense memorable moment during the level.

 

A short but intense encounter when taking cover behind the moving tank

 

Encounter Four - Enemy Defences & Artillery

 

The next encounter space is void of cover on purpose to encourage the player to use the tanks as dynamic cover as it moves across the field. This adds to challenge of this encounter as the enemy suppresses the player with machine guns and only giving a narrow sight line for the player to use. As the tank gets closer the player can choose to make a dash to reach the trench to gain the upper hand, a risk reward scenario.

Suddenly the tanks stop in their tanks with an artillery barrage landing near them, these sudden large explosions increase the cinematic aspect of the game. The player is instructed to choose a barn to reach to set up a sniper post to take out the far artillery, preventing the tanks from moving. The player can choose a barn on either left or right side. Both sides have similar combat set ups with a mixture of light and heavy NPCs fighting the player.

 

 

The encounter space is a small courtyard with cover props to take cover and fire from, approximately 3-4 enemies. Entering the barn, the player is immediately met with resistance from two enemies, one with a heavy machine gun and one and a sniper, both with conveniently placed combat ingredients next to them.

 

Defeating the last of the enemies allows the player to take up a sniper position where the player can take out the last of the artillery, again with convenient red ammo combat ingredients that explode when shot. The player faces no real threat or constraint here, I would add enemies that advance forward whilst the player is aiming to make the player divide their attention, attempting to challenge the player slightly more and diversify combat.

 

However, once the player has destroyed the three artillery guns they can proceed forward into the next area, a series of trenches where the last of the enemy forces are. Once eliminated the player must “Rally on Turner” where he gives you a new objective to give assistance to Charlie Company.

 

Vehicle on Rails

 

The level takes another interesting turn by adding a Call of Duty tradition on rails driving section. The player enters a jeep and begins to drive through the enemy front lines to save Charlie company who are surrounded. This section feels like a theme park ride with conveniently placed enemies, explosions and tanks coming through bushes to provide intensity. Whilst this aspect is a nice change of pace from the rest of the level it doesn’t provide the same epic moment as previous Call of Duty driving segments like the Snowmobile moment in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. Once the player reaches the location of Charlie squad and eliminates the enemies surrounding them the mission concludes.

 

A fast paced driving section to conclude the mission

 

Summary

 

Flow

 

Many Call of Duty missions are linear, Operation Cobra is no different. The linear and gating aspects of the mission prevent any real exploration preventing the player ever getting lost. This helps with the flow and pacing of the player, due to the control the designer had with the contextual gating forcing the the player to always move forward rather than backwards due to the help of waypoints and points of no return which inherently encourages the player to make progress and discourages exploration, this can seem restrictive but provides the player with a directed and more cinematic experience, something Call of Duty has always been excellent at. The second to second gameplay feels nice to playthrough making the flow of the level never feel difficult to follow or confusing, it is a classic example of Call of Duty's traditional recipe of quick walking section, combat section, walking section with segments for large set pieces, a typical design and flow of the series to its credit.

 

The areas the player will navigate/fight through during the mission

 

Layout

 

The linear aspect of the mission creates a very simple layout which primarily includes small encounter spaces, followed by a brief down beat. The “rooms” or encounter spaces are small to medium squares gated by solid bushes and fences. The layout is simple with straight sections for traversal beats and squares for encounters and does not feature any complicated shapes or strays away from creating a complex layout.

 

 

Visuals & Set Pieces

 

The game visually looks fantastic, Operation Cobra especially. The overall theme is carried through very well and the aim of fighting through fields and hedgerows is successfully recreated. The lighting, sound and VFX all enhance the feeling of the level and successfully recreates a slice of WW2.

 

The set pieces of the mission are very bombastic, a traditional trait for Call of Duty missions. Each set piece suites the situation well, is contextually correct and intensifies the mission as the player progresses through it making the mission feeling grand and larger than it actually is, the gradual escalation implementation of the set pieces makes the mission feel like a movie and successfully makes the firefights and the objectives that more intense as the player completes their goal of pushing back the enemy.

 

Combat & Encounter Design

 

Throughout the level the combat is intense and provides enough challenge to make the player feel empowered. There is a lack of different archetypes and primarily features riflemen and machine gunners stunting the overall combat slightly. Each encounter space leads onto each other nicely with enough variation in terrain, cover, line of sight blockers, prop placement, combat ingredient placement and intensity to keep the combat interesting.

 

It would have been nice to have slightly larger encounters with reinforcements and different variations of enemies, I understand they are restricted by history but changing weapons of enemies could help to diversify the encounters slightly. Additionally, it would have been nice to have more flanking routes, verticality and vantage points (other than the scripted one) to support more of a tactical aspect.

 

The terrain throughout felt very flat, primarily due to the setting, but raising or lowering the terrain more would have helped in creating a more of an interesting level to navigating around.

 

 

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