I’ll be upfront with you, Call of Duty fans – I’ve only played the massive franchise fleetingly since the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which was the last one I purchased. Whether from fatigue or lack of interest, the series never hit the spot for me as other first-person shooters have, though I certainly recognize its strengths. For the first time since 2007, however, I may have to pick up the next in the franchise, Treyarch‘s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
The demo previewed two campaign missions, one a normal story level set in the near future of Los Angeles in 2025, while the other debuted the game’s new sandbox-style offerings known as “Strike Force.”
The story mission reinvigorated my interest in a game I expected to not take many risks. I loved Modern Warfare for the way it told its story. From the opening that puts you in control of a man being driven to his execution to the use of flashbacks to expand characterization, the game made me care about Soap and Captain Price. The proceedings of this demo were tense enough and tinged with interesting uses of advanced technology to remind me of those Modern Warfare experiences.
With the Los Angeles freeway turned into a frenetic warzone, your squad is tasked with escorting the president to safety. Unsurprisingly, the ride is anything but smooth. A burning helicopter and a few car flips later, you and your team must make your way on foot through the heart of the battle. Use of slow motion aside, the in-game cutscenes showcased the kind of limited control the opening of Modern Warfare pulled off so well, as the player can only watch as destruction engulfs the city.
When it comes to the shooting though, I loved the additions on display. A gun that can be charged to shoot projectiles through concrete, for example, improves sniping, as enemies can be killed behind cover. Small touches like the scope’s grid turning from green to red to signal death in its sights were equally impressive. And though appearing almost too powerful, the ability to call in drones to fire into a room before you enter the fray adds strategy that is hard to come by in other war shooters.
Enemies have received some upgrades as well, though, and it’s nice to not only be shooting down unnamed antagonists. A four-legged robot entered the battlefield alongside its compatriots, requiring a little extra firepower to bring down. The enemy variation is always welcome, and the way the creature moved as if it were an actual animal added an additional aesthetic touch to the future warfare.
The ensuing chaos provided a number of great beats regardless of whether you actually play the game at the Los Angeles Convention Center or on the opposite coast of the United States. From a crash causing your character to black out to watching one of Los Angeles’ skyscrapers crumble, the demo highlighted great action set pieces that delivered the thrills I want from such a campaign. I’m curious to see if emotional connections can be established, but the technology and well-orchestrated demolition of LA has me excited to see the entire campaign.
The Strike Force mission, while not as thrilling, does promise a mix-up to the series’ single-player campaign. Players will be periodically offered missions in proxy-wars around the globe where a number of objectives can be completed in any order. This particularly undertaking required the player to prevent cargo from shipping out by taking control of three points on the map. Gamers will not simply play as a single, unnamed soldier, however. These levels allow for the freedom to choose any human or robotic combatant on the map, from a simple soldier to a flying drone. This ability to hop around the map at will adds a smart variation on how such a mission might normally play out.
Most exciting for me, though, is that these missions will affect the narrative. Strike Force levels must be either won or lost. How a player fares will determine the geopolitical landscape of the game, transforming the ending. I love that idea, as a player’s success can determine whether or not two nations are allies or utter enemies, which drastically alters a war on such a global scale.
This dedication to making the story matter is what has me most excited about Black Ops 2. Finding the right balance of action and plot is what I love most about my favorite entries in the series, and the latest entry looks to be heading on the right track. Though we won’t know for sure until it releases, look for Black Ops 2 to sell a bajillion – actual predicted sales figures – when it releases on November 13 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.