Se­ries im­proves in re­turn to its roots

The Mercury News Weekend - - A+E - VIDEO GAMES: ‘CALL OF DUTY WWII’ Gieson Ca­cho Game on Con­tact Gieson Ca­cho at 925-943-8313.

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 at Sledge­ham­mer Games, is gear­ing up for his young stu­dio’s big­gest ti­tle.

“Call of Duty: WWII” is a re­turn to the be­gin­ning for the fran­chise. Be­fore “Mod­ern War­fare,” the game that has be­come syn­ony­mous with first­per­son shoot­ers started as a World War II cam­paign. Re­turn­ing to the ori­gins 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’s team be­gan work­ing on “WWII,” it was less about mak­ing the game fun than re­spect­ing the ma­te­rial. That’s a del­i­cate balanc­ing act, and one they have done well in the sin­gle­player cam­paign, which fol­lows Amer­i­can sol­dier Ron­ald “Red” Daniels from D-Day to the cross­ing of the Rhine.

Sledge­ham­mer clev­erly fos­ters a sense of 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 for re­cruits. Each team mem­ber fills a spe­cific role in com­bat and of­fers power-ups that aid in gun­fights.

Pvt. Robert Zuss­man hands out first-aid kits, Turner tosses ammo, and Pier­son spots en­e­mies so they’re eas­ier for play­ers to see. Play­ers de­pend on their com­puter-con­trolled squad mates through the cam­paign’s 12 mis­sions.

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 stages, Sledge­ham­mer tells a co­he­sive and some­times touch­ing story. The only prob­lem is that the pac­ing is heavy on the front end, but then rushes to­ward a short fi­nale.

When it comes to the mul­ti­player, Sledge­ham­mer has taken a cue from “Des­tiny,” cre­at­ing a so- cial space called the Head­quar­ters, where play­ers sign up for side mis­sions, gear up and shot their gear.

The big changes come in the form of Di­vi­sion — an­other way for play­ers to ex­plore cus­tomiza­tion. With­out perks and classes, “WWII” is less in­tim­i­dat­ing as play­ers choose which of five di­vi­sion to serve, and ex­plore the weapons and skills tied to each of them.

Bat­tles are still fast­paced, and they 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, the next mis­sion to come de­pends on the out­come of this one. There’s a tug of war as play­ers ad­just to the tasks and try to co­or­di­nate at­tacks.

The last part of “WWII” is the zom­bie mode, which is where Sledge­ham­mer’s lat­est en­try shines. Ow­ing to Schofield’s back­ground with “Dead Space,” this take on the se­ries’ coop mode is scarier and darker than past ad­ven­tures. 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 cap­tives. Play­ers dis­cover that the sin­is­ter ex­per­i­ments 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 wave af­ter wave of zom­bies. They can buy weapons and power-ups by spend­ing Jolts. They need to con­stantly elim­i­nate the un­dead to earn cur­rency, and then spend it to stay alive. This game­play loop is ad­dic­tive, but what’s dif­fer­ent is the scope of the ad­ven­ture, which calls on play­ers to ex­plore the depths of this mys­te­ri­ous vil­lage while achiev­ing sim­ple but repet­i­tive ob­jec­tives.

The re­vamp makes for a di­verse pack­age that should im­press vet­er­ans and new­com­ers alike.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF ACTIVISION

“Call of Duty: WWII” marks the re­turn of the fran­chise.

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