E3 2012: Call of Duty: Black Ops II First Look Preview – Future Soldier
Written Friday, June 22, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Modern Warfare? That's so old-fashioned, darling. This year is all about future warfare, and with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier providing a (disappointing) vision of the near-future earlier this year, it's Call of Duty's turn to explore the possibilities presented by the military tech of tomorrow. And the frightening scenarios that advancing technology brings to the table will be the backbone of Call of Duty: Black Ops II's narrative, which sees the son of Black Ops' Alex Mason fighting the good fight in 2025.
Our first look at Black Ops II picks up with David Mason riding in the back of an armoured vehicle with a bunch of political Washington types, including a critically injured Secretary of State and the US President herself (yes, her) and his buddies, as they roll down an LA freeway. The concept for Black Ops II's story is a 'what if?' situation that sees the bad guys – namely Raul Menendez and his expansive army - “stealing the keys” to the USA's army of drones, hacking them and turning the entire might of America's advanced armoury against the very people it's supposed to protect. After a bit of expository chatter, the convoy is soon attacked by some of these drones, as a helicopter spirals into the ground, a motorcycle cop pings off our windscreen and the vehicle flips and rolls across the freeway in the first of three intervals where the screen turns black before Mason's vision slowly returns. This is definitely Call of Duty then.
Based on our demo, Black Ops II seems like it's looking to out-CoD previous CoDs, with more explosive set-piece moments crammed into the space of about 15-minutes than we've seen in possibly any other FPS. Ever. Crawling out of the upturned truck, Mason dives onto a SAM turret mounted to an APC that's teetering dangerously over a fatal drop, launching a barrage of homing missiles at incoming drones, jumping from the vehicle before it falls. At the very last second, of course. Knocked back by an explosion, Mason lies face up as a drone closes in on him raining down cannon fire, exploding (at the very last second again, of course) and swooping mere feet away from his head.
Nary five minutes in, and our head's already swimming. There's certainly a lot to take in as you cross the freeway with your compadre, Harper (gruffly voiced by Michael Rooker) in tow. As a big rig speeds into the wrecked cars below the underpass, Mason switches to his high-powered sniper rifle boasting wavescan optics that enable you to see through walls. Packing electronically-charged ammunition, you're able to charge up each shot to increase its penetrative force meaning you can even shoot through concrete pillars and sheet metal. It's worth noting that you have a choice at this juncture too, with HUD markers pointing out where you can either snipe from the freeway or rappel down into the action, while protecting the US President.
Blasting his way through more enemy troops with a high-tech XM8 rifle, Mason finds his way into another armoured vehicle with Harper, and a driving section through the deserted cars and collapsing overpass ensues, leaving a line of Menendez's men as roadkill. Reaching a dead end where an allied F38 VTOL jet blasts a building, Mason is forced to emerge from the vehicle's roof hatch amid falling debris in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles, which has transformed into a full-blown warzone.
It's complete chaos (and sensory overload), as the police desperately try to restore some kind of order only to be coldly shot down while four-legged CLAWs (Cognitive Land Assault Weapon) keep Mason and Harper pinned down with minigun fire. Taking the walking war machines down with a rocket launcher, Mason pops a couple of grenades using his wrist-mounted touchpad, which also doubles as a GPS system and a control device for friendly quad-rotor drones (pressing up on the d-pad marks targets for the drones), before ducking into a shopping plaza.
On the other side of the shopping complex, there's more crashing and smashing scenery as the F38 from earlier bellyflops to the ground leaving Mason and Harper the task of securing the crash site. Here there's more major shock and awe, as skyscrapers explode and one topples over in an enormous cloud of billowing dust and debris. It's time for another blackout, with Mason's ears ringing as the audio fades back in and his vision returns once again. It's time to jump into the surviving F38 and take to the skies over LA for some dogfighting, despite Mason lacking any flying experience. In the future, anyone will be able to fly a fighter jet, apparently. And in case you're wondering, Treyarch is looking to inject Black Ops II with the most varied Call of Duty gameplay yet.
Taking off in the F38 VTOL, there's a lot of dangerous flying between buildings, dogfighting with drones and shooting down helicopters, while protecting the President's escort vehicle on the ground. Inundated by drones, Mason is forced to eject before he's wiped out in a head-on collision, which is where our demo ends. It's not over yet though, as Treyarch takes us through Black Ops II's brand-new Strike Force mode that presents players with missions that run parallel to the single-player campaign. In Strike Force, you're able to hot-switch between issuing commands and setting waypoints using the overwatch camera hovering over the battlefield, to classic boots-on-the-ground CoD FPS action.
It's a mode that combines strategy and good old-fashioned shootery, with you able to assume control of airborne drones and CLAWs, while seizing designated objectives on the map. On the Singapore Docks map we're shown, the mission involves planting hacking devices at control points marked as A and C, before taking over a missile at point B, all while enemy reinforcements pour in. You'll need to manage your resources to succeed, commanding your squad and making use of the technology at your fingertips. Ultimately, the mission is a success if you can launch the missile and guide it towards an enemy cargo ship, but should you fail, it'll count as a failure and affect the single-player campaign's ending.
Each Strike Force mission will tie into the story in this way, so complete failure or total success in all missions – or a mixture of success and failure – will be catalogued and ultimately determine the way in which the main narrative wraps up. It's a novel way of providing added impetus to delve into the Strike Force mode, although it looks like an exciting and interesting new non-linear sandbox mode that should offer something fresh beyond the core single-player, multiplayer and Call of Duty Zombies (yes, Zombies mode is back for Black Ops II and it's going to be “big”).
Treyarch wants to tell a “different kind of story” with Black Ops II, crafting a plausible near-future narrative with the consultation of author PW Singer, an expert in robotics and advisor to world leaders who foresees a future in which world powers engage in conflict over rare earth elements used in electronic devices. It's a bleak but entirely possible scenario given the fact that China possesses around 95 percent of the world's supply of these metals and minerals, and it serves as Black Ops II's backdrop. It won't all be near-future warfare however, as a third of the story will take place in the 1970s and 80s, picking up with Alex Mason, Viktor Reznov and a shock survivor from the first Black Ops.
With a huge emphasis on single-player with the campaign and Strike Force, Treyarch obviously isn't forgetting multiplayer and wants to evolve the experience, “challenging the assumptions” that players have when it comes to Call of Duty multiplayer. While Call of Duty: Black Ops II appears to be more of the same blockbuster action that players have come to expect, Treyarch looks to be pushing the envelope as much as it can without upsetting the winning formula that's made the series such an unstoppable powerhouse. But with such a wide variety of gameplay, Black Ops II might just be one of the most exciting Call of Duty games yet, which is no mean feat.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II will be running and gunning into stores on November 13th, 2012.