Call of Duty: WWII brings the multibillion-dollar video game franchise full circle.
While the most recent editions of Activision's series have been set in futuristic settings, this new blockbuster release ( just out, $59 and up, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PCs, ages 17-up) plants you in a platoon fighting its way across Europe in World War II.
Like the more than a dozen previous Call of Duty games, Call of Duty: WWII is a first-person shooter. So you get to line up Nazis in your gun sights on Normandy beach, within occupied France and in Germany. Playing out like the Band of Brothers miniseries, COD: WWII takes players on an action-packed history lesson through the last year of fighting in the European theater.
For younger gamers, this game may be the first to put them in the World War II trenches. But for longtime fans of the popular series, this marks a welcome return to Call of Duty's roots.
The first Call of Duty game, released in 2003 for Windows PCs, was based in World War II and let players fight their way through D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. Two sequels were also set in World War II, but subsequent releases have moved along the timeline to include action in the Vietnam War, the Cold War era, the near future and sci-fi futuristic settings.
Along the way, Call of Duty has appeared on a battery of platforms including Macintosh PCs and video game consoles from Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to today's Xbox One and PS4.
But I have fond memories of those initial World War II-based PC releases. I remember the crew at Infinity Ward bringing Call of Duty 2 to my home in 2005 and seeing the battlefield unfold before my eyes on the PC display.
I've been a Call of Duty devotee ever since. Over the years, I've often traveled across the country to play the game before it's released in stores, ensconced in a hotel with a few dozen other video game critics and journalists.
This time, I holed up in my man cave for several multi-hour stints over the last week, watching on a Samsung big-screen TV and playing on an Xbox One S.
While I've enjoyed Call of Duty's visions of a militarized future, this journey to the past ranks among the series' best. You play as "Red" Daniels, a U.S. Army private about to cram into a Higgins boat for the D-Day assault.
The repartee among your squad mates draws you in just as it does in the best war films like Saving Private Ryan. And there's plenty of drama in the squad. Transformers star Josh Duhamel provides the likeness, voice and motions for Sgt. Pierson, who doesn't see eye to eye with Lt. Turner -- a command dynamic reminiscent of Vietnam War film Platoon.
Beyond the story, the visuals and challenging missions also make this game an operation worth embarking on. Developer Sledgehammer Games — with previous releases Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and COD: Modern Warfare 3 under its belt — has crafted a game with movie-quality imagery from the views of the ocean during the initial beach landing to the finely-detailed German cities and snowy forest during the Battle of the Bulge.
Shots and explosions engulf your character as you try to advance on the beach at Normandy. Later, Daniels mans an anti-aircraft gun to shoot down German fighters. Also ahead: a challenging cat and mouse game between your Sherman tank and enemy Tiger and Panzer tanks.
Even a couple turns behind the wheel of a Jeep prove stressful. And there's a tense sniper mission during which you'll definitely feel the pressure to, in true American Sniper-style, take out a German soldier manning a flamethrower before he reaches your buddies.
The majority of Call of Duty: WWII's main characters are white men -- including Daniels, the primary soldier you play as -- but there's some diversity in the supporting cast. In one stealth mission, you take the role of a vengeance-seeking female member of the French resistance. In another situation, a few of your crew members give some guff to an African-American officer, who issues orders and leads missions heroically.
I'm not the only one who reported for duty with COD: WWII. Activision says the first three days of its sales surpassed $500 million, surpassing the openings of hit movies such as Wonder Woman and Thor: Ragnarok.
Of course, the video game costs much more than a movie ticket. But in addition to the story campaign (which can be replayed on more challenging levels), you also get a multiplayer game that will be a favorite for much of the next year, and the fun co-op Zombies game.
But beyond the fun that Call of Duty: WWII delivers, it also provides a priceless testament to those of the Greatest Generation who fought in World War II at a time when few veterans of the war remain.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.