Call of Duty: Black Ops II – E3 Preview
When the opportunity to see a behind closed doors presentation for the new Call of Duty game appeared, I was somewhat apprehensive. Leaving the franchise and moving onto the refreshing multiplayer of Battlefield 3, I wondered if I could get excited about a game in its ninth iteration. While I’m certainly not renouncing any Battlefield sins, post presentation, I’ve raised an eyebrow in the general direction of Black Ops 2.
One of the main reasons for my piqued interest is the new setting. I was a die hard Call of Duty fan until it moved into the modern era and I was left somewhat underwhelmed. I’m just hoping that the move into the newer time period can breathe some life into the series. I’m certainly glad they haven’t gone down the lasers and space ships route, and am equally happy it’s not just one set of men against another set of men. Thank god for robots is all I’m saying at this stage.
The demo was set in 2025, during a cold war between the USA and China, the full game jumping between the 1970s and 2025. Certain aspects follow on from the original Black Ops, although I’ll refrain from going into details for risk of spoiling the previous game for anyone. It starts as a convoy of vehicles is driving down the freeway heading to Los Angeles. The city is under siege from an army of drones and robots that have been commandeered by enemy forces, and it’s down to you to get the remnants of the government to safety inside the city. Before you can say “whose shit idea is this?” the convoy is attacked, sending cars rolling and bodies flying. In this period, players will take on the role of David Mason, son of the first game’s protagonist, Alex Mason. Emerging from the wreckage, David quickly runs and gets onto the mounted weapon atop a Humvee, shooting down several drones before being rescued by an F-38 jet fighter. The fighter agrees to provide cover fire for David and his squad as they escort the President to the safety of a bunker. So far, so Call of Duty.
Then, suddenly, everything I know is turned on its head. I’m being given some sort of option, a choice about what path to take. What is this madness? This is a Call of Duty game. I’m your mindless drone, direct me to where I need to go in order to justify this huge sum of money I’ve handed over to the people that made you. Quickly! I can feel free will returning to me; I’ll be thinking independently next.
The demo presents options to either take up a covering sniping position or head to the ground and face the threat head on. We take up the sniping position to cover the team. Immediately I have a reason to replay this game other than ramping up the difficulty to, quite frankly, painful levels. From this position, Mason uses a sniper rifle, capable of charging up bullets to puncture any surface; this gives us a huge advantage in covering the advancing squad. We soon join them on the floor, although it’s something of a rough landing. A few more fights take place, with the F-38 providing the promised cover, before we manage to get into a large lorry, leaving the other squads to take over some abandoned Humvees.
Foot to the floor, we burst forward, taking out several men, and watch as the adjacent freeway begins to collapse while the F-38 is going full throttle underneath to avoid being crushed. It may be your standard Call of Duty scripted sequence but it’s hard not to be impressed. Soon after this, our lorry is hit by another vehicle and we’re brought to a sudden stop. The convoy carries on and our squad are left to fight for themselves.
This is where we’re introduced to one of the new enemy robots: CAV walkers. There was one in the road, supported by a few men, and it certainly took a pounding; it took three rockets at least to take this guy down and he dished out a world of pain. I’m intrigued by how many different types of robots or drones there maybe in the final version, as a few of these on the field could definitely change the course of a battle. Mason and friends pushed forward, the city erupting in a beautiful crescendo of explosions and lost hope. The situation seemed dire as more and more drones filled the skies. Thankfully, we got our hands on some of our own robots; they appeared to be mini flying ships that you could direct to an area that needed to be utterly flooded with bullets. These were incredibly handy and, one may argue, slightly overpowered.
In closing we were treated to more spectacles: a drone smashing into a shopping complex, a few buildings collapsing and the F-38 being shot down. It was all very impressive – to an extent – but after the industry’s slight obsession (read: massive erection) for this movie-style action – the constant shock and awe we’re used to in a Michael Bay film – you become desensitised to this sort of stuff. Sure, it looks good but that is pretty much it. I can’t do much more with it.
The single player demo closed with us taking control of the F-38 that had been downed and then going after some drones. This certainly gives the illusion of choice – Call of Duty in a free to roam vehicle is a big departure from the norm – however, it appeared just as linear as usual; drones moved around in a standard pattern and you got behind them. That was pretty much it.
We moved on to a look at the Strike Force missions next. These work alongside the single player campaign to impact the story, but represent missions that can be failed. The demo level I witnessed showcased a squad of four, activating various beacons around a snowy dockyard in order to send a missile to attack a nearby ship. The gameplay was certainly fast and frantic, even more so than the campaign, and the focus was on getting the job done, despite the overwhelming odds, rather than getting a good score or general survival.
While playing this mode you get access to some awesome support weapons, which can be deployed using a tactical overview screen. It works like a very casual real time strategy game, with a click of the button taking you to aerial view of where your squad are. You can’t see the whole level, just where the team is, and you can deploy the CAV walkers and the smaller flying robots to assist them in getting the job done. If your squad mates are killed, however, they’re gone – this was evident in the demo, as two of them were killed fairly early on and that was the last we saw of them. Given the large amount of opposition, it wasn’t an easy task at all. Careful use of the robots to establish a defensive perimeter, which then pushed slowly forward, allowed the final two men to achieve victory.
Overall, I was left with mixed feelings having played Black Ops 2. I’m pleased that they are trying to innovate and change what we’ve come to expect from a Call of Duty title. Branching story paths and a new time period are a welcome departure from a series that was becoming a little stale, however, it’s that same reliance on the larger spectacles, the crashing buildings, and the over the top explosions that still makes me question just how different this will really be.
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