For a brief moment, Call of Duty was the biggest video game franchise on the planet. Raking in more money that most blockbuster movies, series highpoints like Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 were the talk of pubs and playgrounds everywhere.

Recently, the seminal shooter’s popularity has started to wane. In a bid to keep up with other modern shooters, Activision slowly took the franchise further and further away from the elegant simplicity that made it a hit, throwing in jetpacks, mech suits and even the blatantly Titanfall-inspired wall running. The result? CoD slowly became a shooter that felt completely unrecognisable and this all culminated in last year's muddled Infinite Warfare.

Thankfully, this year sees the franchise trimming the fat and returning to its roots. Ditching the future setting for a trip down memory lane, developer Sledgehammer games is taking players back to where it all began: World War II.

Old fashioned warfare

As you’d expect, the our CoD: WWII demo began with a series staple: Team Deathmatch. After our two teams of six tested out the game’s weapons on the handy in-lobby firing range, we soon found ourselves running and gunning through the trenches during the D-Day landings. Dust from explosions engulfed the trenches as we ducked and weaved our way through the map's tightly packed corridors, lobbing frags and picking off an unsuspecting foes.

Running on PS4 Pro, the game looks just as good as its trailers suggested. High quality textures and brilliant smoke and lighting effects bring the gritty reality of war to life, adding a welcome level of attention to detail to WWII’s deceptively small maps.

Yet, while graphical improvements are always appreciated, it was the return to the no-nonsense shooting of old that really won us over. It felt refreshing to once again be playing a Call of Duty game where you only have to worry about what’s going on at your eye-level, with the removal of distractions like flying exoskeletons bringing a satisfying intensity back to the series. Soldiers are no longer parkouring powerhouses, they’re just regular people. Even the act of sprinting too often can cause your character to slow down, panting for breath, and adding an extra layer of tension to skirmishes. Overall, Team Deathmatch on this D-Day map felt refreshingly claustrophobic, with clever level design that meant there were almost no corners for players to camp in.

War: good for gaming

The best use of CoD: WWII's historical setting? That came in the brand new War mode. Doing away with the tight-knit maps Team Deathmatch, War sees two forces battling out over far larger territory. With each team either attacking or defending, this new mode plays like a mix of Battlefield 1’s Rush and Overwatch’s Payload maps, tasking each team with either defending or attacking four different objectives.

As the match began, we were placed on the defending team, where we were ordered to hold a base from the advancing Allied forces. After being flanked from all sides, our forces were quickly gunned down, losing the base in only a few respawns. Then the map did something that has never happened in CoD before: it opened up.

As we fired off potshots in an attempt to push back the forces, an objective revealed that we had to stop our foes them from building a bridge. Ducking and weaving through war-torn houses, half of my team laid down covering fire across the bridge, while we climbed down below it and picked off a few unsuspecting attackers. With the enemy team quickly realising our strategy, they soon laid down a barrage of smoke grenades. Blinded and confused our team struggled to pick out the target, and we failed the objective.