The office is loud and chaotic. Construction crews have cut a hole between two floors in a Foster City building. Offices await occupants, stairs are being installed, and amid this ruckus Glen Schofield, one of the studio heads of Sledgehammer Games, is gearing up for the biggest title for his young studio.
"Call of Duty: WWII" is a return to the beginning for the franchise. Before "Modern Warfare," the game that has become synonymous with first-person shooters started as a World War II campaign. Since then, the series has evolved, moving to the future and beyond and gaining a summer blockbuster vibe along the way.
Returning to the origins of "Call of Duty" was a natural move for Schofield and his team.
"We started talking to the company about it," he said. "They thought the same thing. It was clearly what the fans were saying, as well. The timing was right."
As Schofield and his team began researching and working on "WWII," they began talking about the project with a more serious tone. It was less about making the game fun and more about the respecting the material with gravity. That's a delicate balancing act, and one they do well with the single-player campaign, which follows American soldier Ronald "Red" Daniels from D-Day all the way to the crossing of the Rhine.
Sledgehammer cleverly fosters a camaraderie among Daniels and his platoon. It's led by 1st Lt. Joseph Turner and Sgt. William Pierson, whose command operates almost like yin and yang. Meanwhile, each of the team members fills a specific role in combat and offers power-ups that aid in gunfights.
Pvt. Robert Zussman hands out first-aid kits, while Turner tosses ammo. Meanwhile, Pierson spots enemies so they're easier for players to see. Players depend on their computer-controlled squadmates through the campaign's 12 missions, and that creates the feelings of a bond.
The varied level design includes "Call of Duty" staples such as car chases, but the studio surprises players with stealth missions -- even one in which players take on the role of a spy. Throughout the disparate stages, Sledgehammer manages to tell a cohesive and sometimes touching story. The only problem is that the pacing is heavy on the front end while the game rushes toward the finale.
When it comes to the multiplayer, Sledgehammer has made improvements to the social aspects of play. Taking a cue from "Destiny," the developers create a social space called the Headquarters. This is where players sign up for side missions, gear up and show their gear. Meanwhile, the essence of the competitive matches remains intact.
The big change come in the form of Division, which is a simpler way to explore customization. Without perks and classes, "WWII" is less intimidating for players, as they choose which of five divisions to serve and explore the weapons and skills tied to each of them.
As for battles, they are still fast-paced and require quick reflexes, but the one notable addition is the War mode. It pits teams of six in an objective-based match. One side attacks while the other defends, and, depending on the outcome, the next mission will change. There's a tug of war as players adjust to the tasks and coordinate attacks.
The last part of "WWII" is the zombie mode, and this is where Sledgehammer's latest entry shines. Owing to Schofield's background with "Dead Space," this take on the series' co-op mode is scarier and darker. It follows four characters, each of whom has a specialty in combat such as healing, offense, control and support.
The campaign takes players to a remote village, where Nazis experimented on people. Players discover that the sinister tests created an army of the dead, and it's up to the squad of Monument men and women to save humanity.
As in previous modes, players fend off waves of zombies. They can buy weapons and power-ups by spending Jolts. They'll need to eliminate the undead to earn the currency, and then spend it to stay alive. It's an addictive gameplay loop, but what's different is the scope of the adventure, which calls on players to explore the depths this mysterious village and complete simple but repetitive objectives.
If no one knows what they're doing, the Nazi zombie mode is chaos, but there's plenty of fun. In this part of "WWII," the studio takes the scares seriously.
For the growing Sledgehammer studio, this is the first offering in which they led all three phases. The work shows as the revamp makes for a diverse and cohesive package that should impress franchise veterans and newcomers alike.
'Call of Duty: WWII'
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: Mature ___
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