Call of Duty: Black Ops II Hands-On Preview – Jack of All Trades...
Written Friday, October 12, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Do you think Call of Duty has reached critical mass? Have you stomached more than you can take? Black Ops II might just have the power to change your mind about all of that, with Treyarch crowbarring in more content than we've ever seen in a first-person shooter. With the strategical leanings of the new Strike Force mode tying in to the standard “Hollywood blockbuster” campaign, Zombies and multiplayer fleshes out a whole gamut of game modes on offer, making for what might just be the biggest Call of Duty yet. This all counts for nothing if the quality isn't there to match though, so can Black Ops II deliver on its promise and confound expectations?
Last time we saw Black Ops II's campaign was at E3, where an LA mission saw drones plaguing the skies and more explosions than Schwarzenegger and Stallone's movie back catalogues combined going off in every direction. This latest look at the campaign is a slightly less bombastic but no less spectacular section set in Myanmar, where Mason and his buddy Harper (gruffly voiced by Michael Rooker) rendezvous with Salazar and Crosby for a stealthy infiltration into a temple base inhabited by antagonist Raul Menendez's private Cuban army.
Utilising nano gloves to climb a rain-slicked cliff face, Mason and Harper are able to swing down to a precipice, before deploying wing suits to swoop through the rainy air at high velocity, while thunder rumbles and lightning dramatically illuminates the sky. “Let's go bitch,” Harper deadpans as you plummet from the cliff, tearing towards the mossy, decrepit, vine-covered temple below, breaking out your parachute to slow your descent and land gently. This bit is all playable too, and it looks fantastic. Cloaked enemies make a completely stealthy approach nigh-on impossible, so employing an EMP grenade sparks out their optic camo, while your MMS scope sends out a sonar pulse to expose hidden foes.
Of course it all kicks off within seconds, and a full-on firefight ensues as Trent Reznor's high-tempo score kicks up a notch. Sabotaging a drone preparing for take off on the temple's landing pad, you're able to use Titus-6 explosive flechette ammunition to stave off enemies and subsequently blast your way deeper into the ancient temple. Finding that the temple is not all that it seems (no spoilers), the single-player demo concludes and we're introduced to Black Ops II's Zombies mode, which is a fully-fledged campaign in its own right.
Using the established Zombies fiction, Black Ops II's Zombies campaign uses your past decisions and picks up where the original Black Ops Rezurrection moon mission left off, with a band of new playable characters. Travelling on a creaky old bus from zombie-infested destination to zombie-infested destination around what Director of Brand Development, Jay Puryear says is the “largest zombie world ever”, there's strategy at work, as you decide whether to get on the bus and travel to the next area, or push your luck against the waves of undead. It looks like it could be Left 4 Dead on the road, with a bus. Exciting stuff.
There's new weaponry, new zombies and the opportunity to cobble together new “buildables”: objects comprised of scrap items. One example shown is the zombie shield, which is like a riot shield made from various bits and bobs. All of this gear will be indispensable in the Zombies story mode – known as 'Tranzit' - which supports 1-4 player co-op in its expansive world, and the Survival mode, which tasks you with taking on endless hordes of shambling corpses in custom-made arenas. Finally, there's the Grief mode, with its “4z4” gameplay for 2-8 players. It's a battle between zombies and humans, with the last human team standing declared the winner.
Leaderboards are in for Zombies too of course, with stat-tracking and improved matchmaking, as well as custom games where you can set the parameters to your liking. Want headshots-only? OK. Want to turn all magic items off? Go for it. The Zombie world is your oyster. The biggest Call of Duty Zombies mode to date then? Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. Treyarch is stopping short of going into too much in the way of specifics where Zombies is concerned however, wanting to leave as much of it as possible a pleasant surprise for launch day next month.
Suffice it to say then that the hands-on portion of our Black Ops II presentation eschews single-player campaign and Zombies, taking us straight into more multiplayer, picking up where our Gamescom hands-on left off with new maps to delve into. Full to bursting with modes and playlists, Treyarch is clearly pulling out all of the stops where multiplayer is concerned, as we've already discussed at length before. We get another chance to experiment with the 'Pick 10' loadout system, before stepping out into the Express map for a game of Kill Confirmed.
A futuristic bullet train station, Express is all tight corridors and chokepoints, with an open area between the platforms on either side hemming in some intense gun battles. We don't mind admitting that we got completely owned on this map against some pro players, being shot in the back on numerous occasions, while the rest of our team equally floundered. Still, the action is tight and immediate like any Call of Duty worth its salt, and despite having a rotten time as the whipping boy on the ensuing Overflow map situated in Peshawar, Pakistan, it's clear that Black Ops II does 60fps multiplayer exceedingly well.
A flooded, destroyed street that's been transformed into a war torn slum, the Overflow map is comprised of narrow alleyways, open streets where you're dangerously exposed and a muddy, debris-strewn shoreline. And a lack of tactics on our part leads to yet another drubbing in a straight-up Team Deathmatch. We were rusty, okay? Or perhaps we're just rubbish. Yeah, it's probably the latter. Again, multiple embarrassing demises don't prevent us from having fun with Black Ops II's multiplayer, although we would have liked to win at least one match.
Kill Confirmed and Team Deathmatch are of course only the tip of the iceberg too, with Domination, Demolition, HQ, Capture the Flag, Search & Destroy and new mode Hardpoint joining Party playlists like Gun Game, One in the Chamber, Sharpshooter and Sticks & Stones. You can earn XP in all of these modes too, helping you along towards the maximum level 55 and the 10 levels of Prestige. You don't start over once you Prestige either, meaning you can potentially unlock all of the 100+ items, perks and other stuff available to attain the ultimate status of 'Master'.
Once you Prestige, you earn a Prestige token that can be traded in for one of several bonuses like an extra class slot, a full stats reset, or a refund of all your levels to go ahead and re-unlock the stuff that you want in case you fancy experimenting with things you've yet to acquire. Each level of Prestige also presents you with one of ten unique icons for bragging rights, so you can show off just how amazing/mental you are to the rest of the world. For the lesser mortals out there, Combat Training is here to help, with Bootcamp, Objectives and Bot Stomp modes to ease you into the red hot multiplayer bath that is CoD.
Black Ops II is shaping up to not only be a bafflingly huge Call of Duty game, but quite possibly the biggest first-person shooter ever. Everything but the kitchen sink is being thrown into the game, with an extra single-player mode in Strike Force wherein your successes or failures impact the main story arc, a narrative that spans the 1980s and future warfare of 2025, a massive Zombies mode ('nuff said) and a multiplayer that does everything from e-Sports to 1000s of small in-game challenges and medals. It's a truly mammoth undertaking in every department with more modes and content than is really necessary.
It seems that Treyarch really won't be happy until the Call of Duty: Black Ops II game disc explodes with modes and extras, and given the sheer wealth of content, that could well happen (not really). Yet with the developer playing its cards close to its chest where the single-player story and Zombies mode is concerned, we can only tell you that the multiplayer plays as well as it should. The rest we won't know until next month with our review, when Black Ops II breaks cover to find out if the world is still thirsty for more Call of Duty. We suspect it just might be.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is out on November 13th, 2012.