Red Daniels, the soldier you control in Call of Duty: WWII, isn’t Jewish. But his best friend is.
The latest Call of Duty brings the series back to 1940s Europe, and — as we learned in April — it doesn’t sidestep Nazi persecution of Jews the way past games have. In fact, the WWII story mode appears to directly address the notion of what Jewish identity meant during the Holocaust.
That’s what our latest look at the game hints at.
Roughly halfway into the new two-and-a-half minute trailer, Daniels and members of his platoon find themselves captured and lined up outside a train’s cattle car. A Nazi officer approaches one and, in German, asks a question ending with the word “Juden,” the German word for “Jews.”
Another soldier catches on quickly, whispering “Lose the tags” before surreptitiously removing his own dogtags and grinding them into the snow beneath his boot. “They’re after Jews,” he adds.
In the next set of shots, we see the German officer approach another soldier — probably Daniels’ pal, Robert Zussman — and ask his question again. We don’t see what probably-Zussman says, only the aftermath of his response: the officer pistol-whips him, and has him tossed into the cattle car.
As probably-Zussman gazes back out at his platoon-mates, Daniels’ voice cuts in, seemingly from a later scene: “I’m not giving up on my platoon,” he says.
Back in April, I asked WWII creative director Bret Robbins how a 1940s-set Call of Duty game could possibly get away with ignoring the Holocaust, which is what past games in the series have done. His answer, simply, was: We don’t.
“We didn’t want to shy away from history. We wanted to be very respectful of it,” he said. “Some very, very dark things happened during this conflict and it felt wrong for us to ignore that.”
It was one of the more “real” conversations I’ve ever had with a AAA game developer hyping their upcoming game, but still: Robbins was immediately cagey when the topic came up. I wondered why at the time, and I think this trailer may now provide the answer.
Call of Duty: WWII doesn’t just touch on the Holocaust; it forces the characters to confront it head-on. Nazi persecution of the Jews wasn’t common knowledge outside of German-occupied territory, which means American soldiers were among the first U.S. citizens to glimpse the atrocities.
We get a sense of that in this trailer. The urgent whisper to “lose the tags” is a late realization that Jewish-American soldiers have it tougher than other American soldiers. These men didn’t go into battle with any awareness of that; it’s a truth that presented itself only after they were on the ground.
I still have lots of questions about whether or not Call of Duty is the right platform for addressing this sensitive topic. Doing so requires a careful touch, and I’m just not sure gaming’s biggest blockbuster can deliver while still ticking the boxes that please a mainstream gamer.
We’ll see. Sledgehammer has a real opportunity to tell a meaningful World War II story, and this trailer — coupled with my conversations earlier in the year — fill me with hope that the studio might actually deliver.