The developers of an ill-fated Call of Duty spinoff reveal a third-person action/adventure title full of squad-based combat and exploration.

Starting a flame war on the Internet is only slightly more difficult than tying a shoelace, but if you’re starved for ideas, try this: Go to your favorite gaming site and start a thread asking people if they like Call of Duty. You’re almost guaranteed to get a fight before the end of the first page. However, much of the vitriol directed at the series came after the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the 2007 entry that took the series out of World War II and into the modern day. That very same year, however, the series nearly branched off in a very different direction: a squad-based, third-person shooter with adventure elements, based on the true story of an American-Canadian unit in WWII Italy. While the game quietly went MIA in 2008, the former development team has brought some details to light about the spinoff that almost was.

Jason VandenBerghe, a former EA man, led a small team of accomplished developers under the Activision banner to develop Call of Duty: Devil’s Brigade. Activision had previously expressed interest in expanding the iconic military shooter into action/adventure territory, and saw VandenBerghe’s team of veteran artists and designers as a logical fit for the project. “I don’t know that I’ve been with a group of people that I felt more comfortable with than I was with that group,” VandenBerghe recalls. “We had an enormous amount of trust and experience.” The team aimed to keep the World War II setting and squad-based combat of Call of Duty, but leave behind the first-person viewpoint and extravagant action cues. “I don’t think we had any over the top sequences a la the current Modern Warfare where you’re blowing up entire submarine vessels,” says VandenBerghe. Other departures from series norms included the ability to issue squad commands, a variety of acrobatic moves (appropriate for Special Forces operatives), and stealth sections for destroying bridges or offing enemies.

The inspiration for the game’s story (and title) came from the real-life Devil’s Brigade, a joint group of American and Canadian soldiers who fought in Italy towards the end of WWII. VandenBerghe’s team took creative liberties, but still tried to stay close to the source material. “”[The Devil’s Brigade’s] first action [in the game] was to scale a 1,500 foot cliff at night in the rain, and flank the Germans from behind in their mountain retreat,” VandenBerghe describes. “You’re up on ropes. And there’s lightning. You look down, and the entire brigade – a thousand men, they pulled a thousand men up that cliff.” The true story is not too far off.

Devil’s Brigade ended up as one of the casualties of Activision’s merger with Vivendi/Blizzard, but VandenBerghe does not appear to harbor much ill will. “It was no one entity or one person’s fault. There was no drama.” Still, Call of Duty fans and detractors and alike can only wonder what might have happened to the series if Devil’s Brigade had been as tenacious as the squad for which it was named.

Source: Vox Games

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