Preview: Call Of Duty: Black Ops II
It’s November once again so we all know what that means. Yes, it’s time for the annual debate on whether or not modern shooters are finally going to kick the bucket, all spurred on by the annual release of Call of Duty. It’s an argument that’s been going on for a couple of years now and quite frankly I’m tired of it. Rather than enjoy all the other games we have during this extremely busy month, people feel the need to waste energy and time bashing a game they personally don’t like. Stupid humans. Regardless, we’re less than a week away from the release of Black Ops II, the next Call of Duty entry coming from Treyarch, which to me has been the better of the two development studios recently. Will Black Ops 2 be the game to finally put this argument to rest? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean it won’t try new things.
Well, just don’t go looking for those things in the campaign. Black Ops II is set in the future, 2025 to be precise, and features some characters from the previous Cold War Black Ops entry. Frank Woods serves as the game’s narrator, which is impressive considering he should be around 95 years old if you do all the maths. Not bad for a guy that survived Vietnam hey. The first Black Ops protagonist was Alex Mason and he is set to return in certain sequences that serve as flashbacks to the Cold War, while his son, David Mason, serves as the 2025 campaign protagonist. Like father like son it seems. As before the cast is being voice by noteworthy actors, such as Sam Worthington, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss Gary Oldman’s (Commissioner Gordon from the Dark Knight Trilogy) reprisal of Viktor Reznov.
The story itself focuses on a threat that is actually quite plausibly even today. Someone has managed to hack into the massive database where all important secrets are kept, gaining access to most of the United States robotics and weaponry. Considering this is 2025 and the world is swimming in robotic security measures, this is a rather bad thing for the Yanks. On top of this the United States is also in a new “Cold War” with China after the Chinese Stock Market collapses, allowing a new extremist to manipulate the battlefield and entice full-blown war between the two countries. It all drips with action movie gory and isn’t something that particularly stands-out on paper, but there’s enough room for Treyarch to pop in a few surprises along the way. Considering Black Ops was probably the best single-player campaign since the franchise went annual, you should not immediately write Black Ops II’s narrative off purely because of its name.
Why? Well because unlike previous entries, the changes already start here. Call of Duty campaigns have and always will be linear, but Treyarch has decided to give some choices to the players. These come in the form of “Strike Force Missions” which act as pivotal moments in the narrative that will determine the outcome of your story. At these points players are forced to choose between a few possible missions, locking out the ones not chosen unless a new campaign is started. The mission you choose will have a direct impact on the direction of your narrative, as well as giving you incentive to go back once you’ve finished and try a different route. It’s not major decision making on your part, but it’s an improvement to previous Call of Duty’s where the entire experience felt like an on-rails interactive film. Strike Force Missions will allow the player to use unmanned jets, robots and more, but it will also feature a permanent death mechanic. So, if you die in a Strike Force Mission, there’s no reloading and respawing at a checkpoint. The game records your failure and alters the story to reflect it, meaning you effectiveness during this missions has a direct impact on the outcome of this new Cold War. Whether these will be small and subtle or massive game changing events is yet to be seen, but the idea seems like it could create a rather interesting campaign to fight through.
However, we all know why Call of Duty does so well every single year; Multiplayer. This year’s iteration of the highly additive online mayhem changes the tried and tested formula in subtle ways, but creates a lot of room for gamers to flex their customisation prowess. Unlike past games, Black Ops II won’t constrict you when it comes to your load-out. Instead of forcing you to equip a main weapon, sidearm and multiple perks, the new system puts the power in your hands. You have ten points to distribute however you like, so expect some interesting experimentation when first playing online. This new create a class system effectively allows you to play online matches how you see fit. You could opt for a heavy main weapon and perks to supplement ammo, or maybe choose the more silent and sneaky route, sacrificing main and side weapons for perks that make you faster, quitter and invisible on the battlefield, allowing you rack up those knife kills. It’s a simple change that is bound to have a profound effect on the online community, and I can’t wait to try it out.
Killstreaks have also been improved to emphasise teamwork. Instead of calling them “Killstreaks”, Treyarch has rebranded the mechanics as “Score Streaks”, which is basically what it sounds like. Perform actions on the battlefield that aid your team and receive points for it, which tally up and eventually give you rewards such as UAV’s, Airstrikes and more. The shift focuses on objective-based gameplay rather than the lone wolf in the team, which is a welcome change if you ask me. Additionally Black Ops II is also introducing some nice new features to compliment the rise in eSports recently. CODCasting, or shoutcasting, is the new built-in feature that will make commentary on live matches easy and user-friendly, which is sure to boost the exposure for competitive Call of Duty, allowing players to stream their matches directly to YouTube from their PC or console.
And of course we can’t forget about Zombies can we. A Treyarch Call of Duty title means Zombie Mode is back and looking better than ever. There’s still the traditional wave survival, but it’s the new modes that have got everyone interested. For the first time the Zombie component will feature its own campaign mode, named Tranzit. In this mode players travel to various locations, mowing down the undead as they go. Details are scarce on how this mode works and progresses, but it’s a nice addition for those looking for something other than wave survival. My personal favourite though is Grief, which sound like the Zombies mode that will keep me entertained the most. Since Black Ops II features 8-player co-op, Grief allows a team of four players to go up against another team of four players, all while zombies are trying to kill you both. The catch is that human players can’t harm each other, but they can perform actions that “grieve” the opposing team, causing the zombie horde to focus on them more. Add seven of your friends, some alcohol and you’ve got a formula for some enjoyable online fun in my opinion.
And that is basically Black Ops II in a nutshell, all neatly wrapped and waiting for you to pick it up on PS3, Xbox 360 or PC next week Tuesday. It’s certainly looking to change a few things that have become stale as the franchise ages, and I for one hope that the final product is considerably better than the gameplay shown so far, which has been rather bland. The new changes to the campaign and multiplayer could mean that Black Ops II is the first Call of Duty in a while not to feel like a recycle of the previous year, but only time will tell if players agree. It’s going to break all sorts of sales records once again, but this is a chance for Treyarch and Activision to show the world that modern shooters still have some life in them. Thing is, are you willing to pay the price to find out? Let us know if you’ll be picking this up when it releases next week.