A Battle-Hardened Look At The Black Ops 2 Demo

Last week, in a humid warehouse in Culver City, Los Angeles, Activision hosted their first look at several of their upcoming slate of games set to be shown off at E3 2012. But though 4 games were trotted out, the only one that mattered to the assembled crowd of slightly boozed up journalists was the first actual live demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

None of Black Ops 2′s inevitable multiplayer features were unveiled at the event. Instead, the demo was comprised of a large section of the single player campaign, with a close look at the intriguing Strike Force missions that add additional layers to a series most of us assume will simply follows a set forumla until the end of time. The result was a glimpse into what may actually turn out to be that rarest of things from a company the size of Activision: innovation. Our man Phil Hornshaw has explained at length just why that may be the case, but to understand where he’s coming from, let’s take a close look at the Call of Duty demo.

Spoiler alert: There were explosions, gunshots, and… choices?

Setting

Alas, a playable demo wasn’t available. But even if we can’t tell you how it feels to actually play Black Ops 2, we can at least report that what we were shown is actually promising.

In a departure from the original game‘s cold war 1960s setting, Black Ops 2 is set in 2025. That’s not news to anyone except for people who have just woken up from a coma, but what is news is that the demo we saw suggests a very excellent projection of the current world just a few years down the line. We were informed that the game is set amidst what Treyarch Studio Head Mark Lamia repeatedly referred to as a new Cold War, this one between the West (and Japan) and China over resources like fuel, rare earth minerals, even water rights and land. Into this tinderbox comes primary villain Raul Menendez, an aging fanatic who apparently cut his teeth among the Afghan Mujahideen fighting Soviet occupiers in the 1980s.

The demo video’s narrative section concentrated solely on the mission set in Los Angeles, during what is implied to be a scheduled meeting of the G20. You’ll recall that Los Angeles is heavily featured in the recent trailer, suggesting that a significant portion of the game may take place here, but what isn’t clear from the trailer is just how accurate the depiction is. Very little in the way of story was revealed here, but what was revealed suggests a bigger, more expansive environment and a much more global story than anything seen in the original Black Ops; more importantly, missions appear to resemble actual operations rather than, you know, black ones.

It began with a cutscene indicating that the main playable character, David Mason (son of Black Ops 2′s Alex Mason, also playable during flashbacks), has been assigned as part of a squad protecting the President (A Woman, incidentally) during the G20 meeting. Something has clearly gone horribly wrong and the city is under a heavy, coordinated attack, (presumably by forces associated with Raul Menendez). After receiving instructions to get Madame President to the Bonaventure Hotel (location of LA’s famous revolving restaurant, in case you’re curious), where it’s implied the military has set up a secure zone, the Presidential motorcade is neutralized by enemy forces, at which point you’re forced to head out on foot.

This is where things get interesting. This mission sees the player fighting northward on the top deck of the 110 Freeway, only to encounter collapsed portions of highway forcing the squad to rappel down to street level, putting them roughly just east of the University of Southern California. From here, they must fight their way to the Convention Center district, where we see an astonishingly accurate, if non copyright infringing, recreation of the southern section of Downtown LA. The scale is accurate, the concrete and grime is authentic, and the dreams of everyone who’s ever complained about LALA Land are fulfilled as buildings are demolished and cars exploded. (There’s also a not so subtle jab at the industry as the battle’s progress takes you past a non copyright infringing version of the Staples Center, home of E3.)

While this was only a small taste of the game, it appears that tremendous effort has been put into making the world of 2025 feel eerily authentic. Perhaps it’s just because I live here, but I was riveted by scenes of LA’s destruction; if the rest of the game’s locales are similarly realized, I expect a much more immediate and interesting experience than the rather postcard/tourism versions of major cities featured in last year’s Modern Warfare 3.

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