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Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 preview

by Garnett Lee, shacknews.com, May 1, 2012 9:01PM PDT

Fans have long speculated that the Call of Duty franchise would jump into the future. Black Ops 2, a direct sequel to Treyarch's 2010 original, does exactly that, jumping to the year 2025. And though the year may have changed, the Call of Duty formula has not.

Mark Lamia, studio head at Treyarch, told us that working on a new Call of Duty game is like making three games at once: a single-player campaign, co-op play with Zombies, and multiplayer, "the lifeblood of the franchise." If that wasn't enough to tackle, the team must squeeze even better visuals from the aging engine, maintain 60fps, and add innovation wherever they can.

These aggressive goals present a formidable challenge, even for an experienced team. Such is the plight of a Call of Duty developer. Each new game faces the test of outdoing the one before it, and Treyarch certainly intends to deliver. From the first moment in the demo I saw, Treyarch's intentions were clear: they were dialing the intensity up as high as possible. My first look at Black Ops 2 in action opened inside an armored SUV, accompanying the President of the United States. Her motorcade headed into Los Angeles under heavy duress. Looking ahead toward downtown, the sky is thick with raptor drones, their destructive capabilities turned against us by a cyber-attack.

The action started with a stint operating a surface-to-air missile battery taking out attacking drones. Once on foot, high tech optics came into play. A theoretical scope using a system similar to that of the millimeter wave scanners used for security at the airport spots enemies taking cover behind concrete 100s of yards away. The resulting exchange of fire looked like shooting at digital shadows. Further ahead, while working through a shopping plaza in downtown, the player deployed small quad-rotor drones that swept ahead taking out enemies with an underslung machine gun. Throughout the whole frantic procession there was no shortage of explosions, particularly from vehicles scattered about.

The grand finale came from hopping into the cockpit of an F-38 fighter jet, a theoretical successor to the F-35 just going into service now, capable of full VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) operation. The first section involved negotiating the steel and glass canyons of the city in hover mode while providing covering fire for the escaping motorcade. It dramatically concluded with a flip into into flight mode for a swirling dogfight, darting between buildings to chase down the remnants of the attacking drone fleet. As the demo concluded Lamia let on that of course many of the drones got away and were about to heat up the new Cold War by carrying out attacks on China.

In Black Ops 2's version of 2025, rare earth minerals--components essential in the construction of high-tech electronics--have surpassed oil as the resource over which tensions mount. And China has a choke-hold on them. Against this backdrop, drones and advanced robotics have changed the face of the battle, and behind the scenes cyber warfare goes on in earnest. To help imagine this future confrontation, Treyarch turned to Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative and senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institute. Lamia says that what he laid out for them changed the way they looked at the world.

The task of dealing with that threat in 2025 falls on the shoulders of David Mason, the son of Alex who starred in the first game. Though he avoided any details, Lamia shared an overview of the ambitious story they hope to tell. [Spoiler alert: this will be revealed at the very beginning of the game]. Black Ops 2 picks up during the '80s era Cold War. This period serves as the formative years for the main villain of the game, Raul Menendez. His development is witnessed while playing returning characters from the original game, including Frank Woods who apparently did not die in his confrontation with Kravchenko. The hope of presenting this first hand is that it will show some of the humanity behind the man who ultimately becomes the target of the game and perhaps even draw out some sympathetic responses, even as his terrible plans unfold.

For all their storytelling aspirations, the team acknowledges that, for a large part of the audience, it all comes down to multiplayer. And while the focus of this reveal was on single-player, we got a few tidbits of what to expect. Multiplayer takes place exclusively in the 2025 timeframe. Social media will be wired-in to the framework of the game both for making it easier to connect with friends for games and to share highlights and accomplishments. And eSports will have an influence as well as the developers aim to make the game fun to watch as well as play.

Add the third pillar of Zombies to that--about which nothing was said beyond there being more modes than before--and Black Ops certainly ticks the boxes for a Call of Duty game. This demo lived up to its end of the bargain as well, heralding the game in suitably bombastic fashion. The real test comes this fall, though, when it has to live up to all the "pushing the boundaries" rhetoric that accompanied its unveiling.