Call of Duty Black Ops 2: We've seen it - Zombies, multiplayer, giant mechs...
2nd May 2012 | 04:00
After months of whispers, the industry's worst kept secret is confirmed: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is coming in November. CVG was lucky enough to be one of the first websites in the world to go eyes-on with the reveal demo and, as you'll see below, Black Ops 2 definitely isn't what you think.
1. IT'S SET IN THE FUTURE
2025 to be exact: far enough in the future to bring newfangled equipment into play, but not too distant to weigh you down with 'pew pew' laser handguns, plasma rifles and death rays. Thirteen years is a long time in the world of technology - thirteen years ago there were giant super computers costing millions of dollars that wouldn't be able to hold a candle to the PS3, for instance - and in the time between 2012 and Black Ops 2's setting it's clear tech companies haven't eased up on their R&D budgets.
From a warfare point of view we're talking drones, primarily. No longer will humans be your only enemy: plodding and rolling assault drones with rifles/chainguns/rocket launchers strapped onto their sides are common foes, as are aerial mechs in the form of weaponised quadrotors. Luckily you'll have all of this equipment at your disposal too, along with limited command abilities courtesy of some timely d-pad pressing.
Weapons showcase a mix of the familiar and new. Rocket launchers haven't really progressed much beyond 'fire rocket at bad guy, rocket go boom, bad guy goes splat'. Why spoil a winning formula? On the other hand, certain rifles now have the ability to punch through cover with a railgun-like effect thanks to charged, multi-bullet shots, while grenades are quickly and effortlessly launched over huge distances thanks to sleek handcannons.
Examples of tech progression aren't limited to just the killing gear, either. As early as the mission select screen (although we were quickly whisked through it, we made out a command centre with a holographic 3D map in the middle) future tech is on show by way of glasses that display all the info you'd normally associate with an FPS HUD. This technology extends to vehicles too: looking ahead during an early on-rails van ride through Downtown Los Angeles gives us ample time to make out speedometer and fuel gauge displays in the corners of the windshield. Above the freeway, computerised displays point commuter traffic in the right direction.
But it's important to point out that developers Treyarch haven't gone overboard with holograms and virtual signage: regular lamppost street signs are still metal and paint, for instance. Black Ops 2's vision of the future hints at the worlds we've come to associate with the likes of Deus Ex and Syndicate without fully stepping into the realms of the fantastical. Strip away the collapsing skyscrapers, the jets on bombing runs and the drones mowing down anyone and everyone, and Black Ops 2 presents a credible prediction of what the cities of 2025 might look like.
2. BUT IT'S ALSO SET IN THE PAST
Treyarch is promising Black Ops 2's villain - a man called Raul Menendez - is destined to become an iconic gaming bad guy. And to build him up in this manner, his story - much like yours - begins 30 years previously in the mid-80's.
While the majority of Black Ops 2's action is set to take place in 2025, you'll occasionally be leaping back to the land of Predator, Commando, and A-Ha. The only 80's environment revealed so far is Afghanistan - a dusty set-up with horseback gunplay promised as your Black Ops team secretly meets up with Chinese forces to supply the Mujahedeen with weapons intended to fight the Soviet forces - but more are expected thanks to some loose story ends (more on that shortly).
Don't expect a clean 1980's/2025 split either - there's a good 30 years in between ripe for missions and Treyarch is likely to leverage at least a couple of levels out of this range. Present day antics are doubtful given that this is a period already covered off by the Modern Warfare trilogy, but there's no way Treyarch is going to create a grand villain in Menendez simply by showing his genesis in the 80's and then leaping forward 30 years without so much as a hint of what he's been up to in between.
3. IT'S A DIRECT SEQUEL TO BLACK OPS
It's called Black Ops 2 for a reason. Treyarch were fond of the interrogation storytelling mechanic in the first game and wanted to go with something similar for the sequel. At the same time, it was also well aware of gamers' fondness for Black Ops' leading men and the need to wrap up Black Ops' story.
With those two points firmly in mind, Black Ops 2 is the tale of Frank Woods as he recalls events from the past and (future) present. Unless he's got his Mystic Meg on and the events of Black Ops 2 flashed before his eyes as he tumbled out of the window with Kravchenko, Woods did indeed survive the events of Black Ops and made it to the ripe old age of 95 at the very least.
Clearly you'll not be fighting in his boots: this might be a sci-fi spin on Call of Duty, but Black Ops II stops well short of casting you as the next Davros. Instead, you'll be locking and loading as the Masons: Alex Mason resumes his role as the main protagonist in the 80's era levels, while the modern-day scuffles will be viewed through the eyes of David Mason. You know what they say: like father, like son. Particularly when it comes to enlisting in top secret global operative outfits. And killing people.
4. IT HAS A BRANCHING STORYLINE...
It would have been easy for Treyarch to deliver a familiar Call of Duty experience in a new time period and call it fresh, but the Santa Monica studio has strived to defy expectations. And one of the biggest ways to prove Black Ops 2 is completely different to everything that the studio has developed before is to dispense with Call of Duty's linear storytelling and to introduce the element of choice.
At key points during the game you'll be presented with multiple options, and the path you choose will dictate the fate of those around you as well as your own. We're told a lot of these choices are skill based: if you fail to, say, protect a friendly, their death or capture will trigger a splinter storyline rather than a fail state.
Ultimately the mechanic is designed to personalise each playthrough and encourage repeat visits to the campaign with an eye to improve your game and strive for a better finish. We're hoping Treyarch slide a bonus branch complete with extra epilogue in there for Veteran players who want to try and dominate the game's ultimate test.
5. ... AND SANDBOX LEVELS
And the surprises keep on coming.
Step forward the 'Strike Force' gametype. It's a sub-mode which lives within the campaign that sees special Black Ops squads travelling the globe and performing various tasks within small, open levels. We saw one in action: a 20-minute skirmish in some Singapore shipping docks that could well have doubled up for a small multiplayer map. The aim was to secure three checkpoints (handily labelled 'A', 'B', and 'C' - again, very reminiscent of multiplayer) and hold back steady streams of enemies until various story elements involving said checkpoints had run their course.
Playing into the previous theme of choice, at particular points through the campaign you might be asked to pick from a choice of Strike Force missions. The option(s) you ignore could then be locked out until your next campaign playthrough to once again entice you back in to see what you missed out on first time over.
6. THERE'S AN RTS MODE
Of sorts. And it's the Strike Force mode we've just been talking about. So far you might be thinking Strike Force is little more than an offline multiplayer gametype populated by bots, but the reality is far more interesting. At any point in time you can switch control between the men on the ground, the drones skulking around the floor, the armed quadrotors in the air or, our personal favourite, a general monitoring the entire battlefield from afar courtesy of cameras high above the site.
From this latter vantage point it's possible to play the role of the puppeteer: pushing, pulling, probing, prodding, and penetrating enemy forces (perhaps not the sort of puppeteer you want entertaining your children) while reacting to dips in vital signs and covering off opposition flanking manoeuvres. It's a mode playable in so many ways thanks to the freedom to swap between attacking forces; plus, you can do this as frequently as you'd like without penalty. The result: a completely new experience for the franchise.
7. SHOOTING'S JUST THE HALF OF IT
During our main twenty-minute demo of a mission late on in the campaign (during which we were shown David Mason battling through Downtown Los Angeles as it's shelled to pieces by drones) we witnessed one fixed turret SAM section, one short driving section along a collapsing freeway, and one heart-in-mouth FA-38 jet piloting sequence involving dogfights between LA's burning skyscrapers. Amazingly the circling battle through the skies wasn't an on-rails section but a deadly freeform air battle weaving in and out of the city's streets. The section was played out at such an intensity we dread to think how many times we're going to plough cockpit-first into a building when it's our turn to take control later in the year.
Of course, Call of Duty is no stranger to peppering its run-and-gun action with some more exotic set-pieces, but the ones in Black Ops 2's demo mission hit hard and fast one after another after another. It's like Treyarch never want to let anybody settle into one pattern for too long, completely forgetting that thanks to mix of human, land drones and aerial drones, the 'regular' combat sections are potentially more varied than their Black Ops 1 counterparts anyway.
8. THE IW ENGINE LOOKS BETTER THAN EVER
You can nip those engine grumbles in the bud nice and early. Just because Treyarch isn't putting a brand new engine through its paces for Black Ops 2 doesn't mean it's content with the old one. While it's true the Infinity Ward engine makes its expected return, it does so with enough new bells and whistles to burst a few eardrums.
We could bog the page down with technobabble right about now, but the proof is in the watching and that's what Treyarch let us do during our studio visit, slowly strolling around two multiplayer maps and revelling in the details. Our verdict? Suitably impressed. Side-by-side the level and texture details on show embarrass those found in Black Ops 1, with bounce lighting and reveal mapping techniques helping to paint areas that look photorealistic in places. Importantly, this added visual oomph isn't at the expense of the performance. Treyarch treat their 60fps benchmark seriously and refuse to accept anything that would cause the framerate to drop below.
9. ZOMBIES ARE BACK
The fan-favourite mode will make a return, only this time it's running in the multiplayer engine. That means there will be a big upsurge in numbers when it comes to Black Ops 2's undead sub-game: the multiplayer engine can throw around twice as many shambling corpses at once, and it can handle a co-op tally double that of Black Ops 1's.
To maximise this increase Treyarch is promising new modes too. It's stopping short of specifics for now but say you can expect team games of some sort to feature in what's sure to be the most hectic take on the mode yet.
Last year, millions of people ended up buying the Black Ops 1 zombie-specific Rezurrection pack and Treyarch continue to be surprised and amazed by the demand for what was once little more that a whimsical bonus throwaway. Now that there's tangible evidence of that hunger in the form of actual sales figures, Treyarch have given their zombie team free reign to do pretty much whatever it wants with the mode, regardless of the direction the campaign is headed in. And given that Black Ops saw JFK battling undead forces in the Pentagon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Freddy Kruger fighting George Romero in Siberia, and a zombie outbreak on the moon, our minds boggle at what could be in store next. Start daydreaming.
10. MULTIPLAYER WILL SHAKE THINGS UP
Black Ops 2's multiplayer is going to take place exclusively in the game's 2025 future state (so no Afghanistan horse-riding games of tag, sadly), but beyond that all bets are off. Firm details are scant until the official multiplayer reveal later in the year, but multiplayer lead David Vonderhaar claims no feature is safe in the quest to make Black Ops 2 the best online experience possible.
To keep us happy, Vonderhaar offered two main teasers as to the direction it's taking for this year's online fix. First up is the influence eSports is having on the team. Treyarch have been fascinated by the numbers of people who both play competitively and watch competitive gameplay (apparently a staggering three million minutes of gameplay are viewed by gamers and non-gamers every month), and this fascination is sure to have an impact on Black Ops 2's online setup.
Secondly, the team has been looking very closely at developments with social media and social gaming, particularly when it comes to optimising user navigation tools. Whether this means Elite's getting a visual rejig or that Black Ops 2's multiplayer tab will talk to or function like the Facebooks of this world remain to be seen.
Expect more to be revealed at E3 in June.
Want more Black Ops 2? In the forthcoming issue of GamesMaster, on sale 22 May, writer Matthew Pellett delivers a massive 14-page feature, including an exclusive interview with Treyarch boss Mark Lamia and exclusive screenshots. It's available in paper form here, for your iDevice here or your tablet or Android phone here. You should also check out OXM's thoughts on why this is the most exciting Call of Duty in years.