Call of Duty. I'm not sure I need to write anymore than that to get people's attention these days. This game is going to sell like hot-cakes in a Weight Watchers convention no matter what I say. With every iteration I try to find a way to critique the franchise and immediately after watching the trailer here at E3, I was already rolling my eyes. How much more of this ridiculous, over the top Michael Bay-esque military propaganda can we take? The guys at Treyarch seem to be thinking 'a lot more'. And I'm surprised to say, Black Ops II takes the action to a whole new level... and it's for the best.
Like previous Call of Duty titles, Black Ops II is set in various locations around the globe. Our first look at the game took place in Downtown Los Angeles, where the city is under siege and the President of the United States in perilous danger. Seeing these scenes of destruction, where burning cars and battered bodies litter the streets outside the Staples center was a little bit too close to home. Afterall it was literally about 100m away from where we were sitting in the Los Angeles Convention Center!
The shear scale and attention to detail in this game is overwhelming. Entire buildings will come crashing down in front of you and you'll grimace with every bullet and grenade that thunders past your lug-holes. The soundtrack adds to all of this impact too, with a deep bassy riff that reminded me of the movie Inception echoing over the top of the action. The LA mission ended with a jet fighter chase scene above the crumbling city, weaving in between buildings and shooting down enemy fighters and drones with missiles and cannons. We've seen planes before in CoD, but this sequence felt like a completely new game in its own right.
Black Ops II seems to capture that real sense of a war zone perfectly. Granted, a lot of it felt familiar to the previous Call of Duty titles - but I doubt many fans of the series will mind. The new settings, including a confined shipping port level in Singapore, will probably be enough for most players just looking for new maps to explore and rack kills up.
However what impressed me most about Black Ops II is a new mode titled, Strike Force. In it players can activate something called Overwatch mode, which gives you an elevated 3d view point of the battlefield. From here you can see your friendly units in green and enemy units in red and get an overview of the action. You can then order your squads and units into position, like pawns in a chess game to gain a strategic advantage. But more impressively, you can select any unit and take control of them via the traditional first-person view.
This includes any friendly unit on the battlefield, so for example you could move a squad behind a building and then take control of a solider on the opposite side to flank with. You can even take control of non-human units, including the numerous drones and military machines currently deployed. If you die while in control of a unit, you can either re-enter Overview mode or be automatically assigned to a nearby unit to continue the fight.
Despite Call of Duty's first-person shooter mantra, players can play an entire Strike Force mission without shooting a gun. Instead they can dictate their forces from Overwatch mode toward victory. It was a remarkable piece of programming and a genius addition to the franchise. It also gives Black Ops II a whole new replay value, where you can switch up the action and play as a single solider, or any combination of units to complete a mission.
I thought I would be over Call of Duty by now, but early indications show that Black Ops II still has more to offer. And there is still heaps more to cover (including the wealth of multiplayer) so stay linked to NZGamer.com as we find out more from Activision soon.
NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.
The Good: Treyarch are pushing the boundaries
The Bad: Relentless explosions
The Ugly: Downtown LA