Treyarchs's upcoming Cold War shooter has attracted a lot of attention thanks to its original story and the controversy surrounding the Infinity Ward debacle. Many critics are currently unsure of whether Black Ops can truly deliver a bona fide Call of Duty experience, so in order to settle the issue, Activision were more than happy to show off a developer walkthrough of two previously unseen levels. I'm delighted to report that our time in the steamy jungles of Vietnam shows off a title that's on course to be more ridiculous, much bolder and infinitely more brutal than any CoD seen to date. Since these are genuine gameplay levels, expect some spoilers along the way. Also, Activision weren't allowing any photography or filming in their trade area, so apologies for the lack of footage.
The first mission, entitled Victor Charlie, literally started in the Huong River on Febuary 5th, 1968. Sergeant Mason, the player character, wakes up in a radidly submerging helicopter that's been downed by enemy anti-air defences. Stumbling forward to help the injured pilot, the riverbank erupts with a hail of gunfire that kills the unfortunate aviator and causes the helicopter to slip even further into the murky river water.
Luckily, this allowed us to take a look at one of Black Ops' new features: the ability to swim underwater. Prying the door open, Mason freely swum through the silt and grime, surfacing behind a boat attached to a jetty. Using a context-sensitive click of the right thumbstick, he grabbed a hapless Vietcong soldier from behind and used him as a human shield while gunning down a squad of soldiers on the river bank. Incoming bullets slammed into the unfortunate meatshield, with showers of blood pluming from his torso and a twisted grimace clearly visible on his face. A slow-mo bullet camera sequence picked out the last kill in gory slow motion. This was unfortunately a scripted set piece rather than a free combat ability ...but make no mistake, Black Ops is out to emulate the visceral, cinematic of its predecessors and deliver even more 'I can't believe that just happened' moments.
Mason slipped back underwater and swam to shore. The demo then skipped onwards to a ramshackle marshy village in the middle of a rainstorm. Mason had clearly rendezvoused with his team, and taking possession of some Semtex, proceeded to stealthily pick his way through the hostile territory using pure stealth. Apparently brute force and big guns would work just as well, but Mason was able to use a combination of underwater diving and horrifyingly brutal knife kills to dispatch the enemies that separated him from the objective. These are some of the nastiest/most awesome melee kills we've seen in an FPS game, culminating with plunging a combat knife hilt-deep into a sleeping foe's neck and showering the area with arterial spray.
Finally, Mason made it to the main focus of the level: a base containing a Soviet officer named Crevchenko. Detonating the C4 gutted the hut with an enormous explosion, and suddenly the level erupted into action. The action still focuses on huge, chaotic gunfights with small yet deceptively detailed arenas that offer multiple covers and a bewildering array of places for your wily opponents to hide. Panicking Civilians, grenade explosions, flying splinters and wild shouting voiceovers helped ground the experience in the hellish, confusing jungle setting. The selection of rifles, grenade launchers and sniper rifles all felt – and a rapid fire rocket launcher tore huge chunks out of buildings and sent enemies flying through the air. Trust me, this is going to be a truly satisfying shooter.
The second level, appropriately entitled Payback, is all about revenge. Mason has broken out of captivity, and spotting a Russian Hind helicopter, realises that he can cause some serious cathartic damage to his would-be tormentors. After dispatching the guards, he leapt into the helicopter- and we were delighted to see that it's fully flight using simple thumbstick inputs. The twin chainguns tore through sampans and a rickety bridge- and upon reaching a Vietcong outpost, the missile launchers came into full effects. Black Ops has some of the most beautiful explosions I've ever seen, and they voluptuously ripped through buildings, vehicles and hordes of screaming infantry. In the helicopter, you are a God. You bring the rain.
A SAM site and enemy helicopter demonstrated the fluidity and ease of the helicopter controls. Circle strafing and dodging missiles is a critical part of any FPS- and it's the same in the air. Weaving in and out of engagement range while dancing round incoming fire seems natural and intuitive, which contrasts against the flight controls in several other FPS games. Upon taking down two other helicopters, the level ended. It's a shame that a linear (though extremely wide) valley played host to the level (since I love flight sims and would have loved to light up the jungle), but it's in keeping with the focused cinematic feel of the game.
Put simply, Black Ops is as cinematic, over the top and pulse-poundingly unflinching as you'd expect from a top tier action movie. Only time will tell whether it's as good as modern warfare, but I'm in no doubt that it's shaping up to be a solid title that more than justifies the Call of Duty name.
Stay tuned for a developer interview!