Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had a notable presentation last year. A two-and-a-half minute demo was displayed, before the Infinity Ward representatives bowed out with a terse “No questions!” This year, though, Treyarch are showing off Call of Duty: Black Ops, and they’re a little more eager to let us see what it has to offer through a presentation containing two whole levels.
As community manager Josh Olin affirms, one of Treyarch’s primary goals with Black Ops is to craft a credible story. Obviously, the point of the game is to make shooting people as entertaining as possible, but it’s hard to fault the team’s desire to give us a good reason for shooting people – and if that can be managed without excessive pathos, all the better.
The first demo mission, Victor Charlie, takes us straight to Vietnam circa 1968, with a military helicopter in dire straits. Crashing into a river in the middle of an enemy-controlled section of the jungle, the crew immediately comes under fire from all directions: the pilots are killed in second, while the rest of the passengers try to save themselves from the fast-sinking wreck.
In a manner reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, the battle is as disorienting as it is impressive. Screams are cut off as bullets skim the water, thudding into the bodies of hapless soldiers before the Americans can fight back. The frenzied battle even manages to end with style as the camera follows, in slow-motion, the last bullet fired as it rips into the head of a Viet Cong guerrilla.
That’s nowhere near the mission’s last trick, though. The midsection of the level showcases an explosive close-range battle, with players quite literally able to see the whites of their adversaries’ eyes, before the action shifts to a tight and tense battle in a Viet Cong tunnel. Here, the player character is equipped with a Magnum which is more than capable of mutilating their foes, even going so far as to tear off limbs. It’s almost over-the-top.
The second mission we’re shown – titled Payback, and set over Laos – gives the player control over a Hind attack helicopter. Treyarch claims that this is by no means an on-rail sequence, with the player given free control over the helicopter, although we get the impression from the automatically panning perspective that the time spent at each flashpoint is artifically shortened. That doesn’t detract from the experience, however, which essentially comes down to “kill everything in range.”
“Everything” in this context comes down to fortified enemy positions, crew quarters, anti-aircraft guns, trucks, bridges, and even hostile helicopters desperately trying to cut your madcap flight short. Once again, the action is chaotic and frenzied, with the view occasionally completely obscured by dense smoke. While this isn’t nearly as brutal as the on-foot action, the sheer bodycount makes the mission feel like a massacre.
It’s commendable that Treyarch is trying to create a credible and authentic plot and setting for this latest iteration of the Call of Duty franchise, and we can already see inklings of this across these two disjointed missions. As previously stated, though, it’s the hi-octane action that the fans are really going to care about, and from what’s been displayed they’ve nothing to fear: Treyarch appears to be doing a damn good job. It’s over-the-top, certainly, and might occasionally go a little far (particularly when it comes to some of the ludicrously brutal killings and the mutilations) but it certainly seems fast-paced and engaging.
Treyarch’s exploration of a setting other than World War 2 seems long overdue, and if these two missions are any indication, giving the team this opportunity was a good move as Black Ops looks to feature a fresh approach that’ll push the Call of Duty franchise forward once again. Now we’re just left wishing we could have a go for ourselves.