Call of Duty is the Godzilla of the video game world. But even a beast that towers over every other shooter on the market needs to mix up the formula every now and again if it wants to push on to bigger and better things. So the franchise has taken a leap of faith, shifting its cinematic storytelling to the future and giving the multiplayer a swift kick, too. Thankfully for developer Treyarch and publisher Activision it’s a move that’s paid off. We’ve had a chance to play the two key halves of this epic game and Black Ops II is set to dominate the industry once again.
Differentiating itself from the series’ WWII origins and the contemporary tangent followed by the Modern Warfare series, the original Black Ops was set during the Cold War. This sequel is set in a second Cold War that unfolds in 2025 after tensions between the USA and China begin to boil over. Using this friction to his advantage, the game’s main antagonist – a third party Nicaraguan militant named Raul Menendez – tosses a Molotov into the tinder box and starts an all-out war, so he can manipulate the ensuing chaos.
At the start of the game, players take on the role of David Mason (son of Alex, the first game’s hero). As part of the US President’s military guard, Mason finds himself smack bang in the middle of the war’s opening forays in downtown Los Angeles. Panic-stricken civilians attempt to evacuate while on-foot, aerial, and vehicle-based armed forces blast at each other. Drones and robotic tanks join the fray, too. The player begins in a Hummer convoy, then crashes, mans a gun turret, snipes incoming foes, engages in cover-to-cover combat, jumps in a jet, and takes to the skies for a dogfight between falling skyscrapers – before parachuting back into the fight without ever breaking pace.
During our time with this level, we got to see some of the near-future tech that’ll separate Black Ops II from any other CoD experience: Punching commands into the touchscreen on your right wrist to activate aerial drones to support your fight; using a scope on your sniper that sees through walls; using the CLAW (Cognitive Land Assault Weapon), a robot that looks like an armoured dog loaded with guns. If you’re into your military gadgetry and weapons, the game is going to be a real treat. It will offer not only an insight into the future of combat, but also a chance to sample it.
The level design makes good use of this new tech, providing you with tactical options not previously offered by the series – do I snipe or move up for some cover-based fighting? – rather than holding your hand down a predetermined path. In addition, we also know the game will feature branching story paths, with your choices having an impact on what key characters live and die and the ending you experience. These unfold through new side-missions called Strike Force that you’ll encounter on your journey.
We saw an example of this new game type, where we were charged with stopping a transport ship leaving a dock in Singapore. Unlike the traditional point-to-point gameplay the franchise is known for, this mode offers an open-battlefield with multiple objectives to hit in any order you please – in this case, a number of emplaced weapons guarding the airspace. You see the action from an overwatch view and can shift into any friendly unit on the battlefield – be they human, drone or robotic – to ensure victory is achieved. Fail to complete the overall mission and you can’t retry it: that now sways where the mains story heads next.
These are big changes for CoD, keeping the series’ famed cinematic-driven narrative intact while providing more than just another checkpoint-to-checkpoint shooter. And that’s just the single player…
For the full feature and images grab the November 2012 issue of MAXIM, in stores October 17 – November 21, 2012.
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