We saw a LOT of new FPS games at E3 this year. Many of them looked wonderful, but the majority of them looked to be extremely formulaic. Whether it was a modern war fighter or a space marine, it all seemed very familiar: guy with gun runs down hallway, stops and shoots into a room full of enemies, then moves on to the next room.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 doesn’t necessarily remove itself from that mantra completely, but when it does it is seamless, innovative, and highly entertaining. And all that was from just the one mission that we saw at E3.
Taking place in an in-progress decimation of Los Angeles, the mission we saw required escorting the President of the USA to a safe house. Traditionally, these types of missions require keeping a character alive as they use poor AI to fumble into open fire, often not knowing the difference between a brick barricade and a pane of glass. In the case of BlOps2, Madame President is already being escorted by a very capable team, and it is up to the player to provide cover fire or distance protection for the squad. This included quickly sniping terrorists as they climbed down walls, using a military transport to ram obstacles out of the way, and even piloting an FA-38 as it dogfights with other jets.
While much of this sounds familiar to a wargaming veteran, where it separates itself is probably best described in the lines of one of the Commanders of the squad in the mission: “We gotta keep moving.”
This was further augmented by the developers reiterating to us that “war doesn’t stand still, so why should we expect the game to do that?”
In the past, CoD games were just a series of “interlinked rooms” (figuratively, of course) that required eliminating a pre-set number of enemies before moving on to the next room. In BlOps 2 the game is always in motion, much like a roller coaster at Cedar Point. Standing still causes players to lose interest, and is even worse for anyone who’s watching someone play the game. With BlOps 2, Treyarch set out to embrace the “Summer Blockbuster” experience; there is always something moving, something big happening, and the player needs to be right in the middle of it.
For instance during the military transport scene, which is essentially on rails — something that Black Ops 2 isn’t ashamed to utilize when needed to create a more cohesive, well-directed experience — the vehicle navigates around exploding cars, collapsing bridges, and a rain of missiles to the left and right. Embers float around the screen, smoke explodes from somewhere off in the distance in front of us, and we can see the reflections of distant explosions in the windows of buildings several stories up. It’s a lot like sitting in a motion ride at Universal Studios, going 90 MPH and with full rumble seats.
This embracing of constant action would do well to help bring in players who may have been turned off by FPS games in the past. The game tones down the needless killing, putting more emphasis on making it through to a destination rather than just collecting headshots. It’s very natural and situation-based.
The other part of the demo was a demo of one of the new “Strikeforce” missions. These run parallel to the main story and feature nameless soldiers, but are still integral to it. The tasks and goals within the levels are constantly shifting; clear one task and another immediately pops up, until the entire level is cleared. Failure to do so doesn’t just restart the level, it also affects the game’s ending. Think of it like adding more or less salt or pepper to a meal — it doesn’t change the meal, but it does add some spice you may not have been expecting.
The Strikeforce missions are uniquely designed, utilizing a mechanic that the devs call “Overwatch”. With Overwatch, the player can paint specific targets from overhead, zooming into and out of the bodies of different operatives to achieve the specific tasks or take a shot. The players can even jump into non-human elements, like turrets, vehicles, and quad-copters.
Black Ops 2 is putting a lot of effort into being a very different kind of FPS experience, focusing on the flow of the game to keep players engaged. If the rest of the game is as thrilling and fast-paced as the first 20 minutes, then it could very well be one of the best single-player experiences that Call of Duty has ever had, if not the entire genre.