A Battle-Hardened Look At The Black Ops 2 Demo

Non Linearity

We previously noted that Treyarch is touting Black Ops 2′s sandbox-influenced elements, but the demo we were shown gave us the first taste of how it works. At multiple points in the Los Angeles battle, the player was treated to optional means of completing a mission. For instance, at the moment when the 110 freeway has collapsed, the player had the choice to either rappel down with the squad to stay close to the president, or assume a position on a newly-formed ledge and provide cover with a sniper rifle. The developer playing the demo chose to snipe, and it gave the viewer an excellent look at how the specific geography of a ruined Los Angeles would affect combat.

Once sniping was completed, the player rappelled to ground level to join the squad, and rejoined the main battle. This sequence remained linear, however it was clear that multiple avenues of attack were available, and the player can choose to remain behind and provide cover fire or go ahead to flank enemies out. Later, the player was given the option to either continue escorting the President on foot, or hop into an aircraft to cover the advance squad from on high. This culminated in a genuinely thrilling dogfight amongst Downtown LA’s skyscrapers and once again demonstrated that Treyarch has gone all out to provide a bigger, richer world to destroy than in the last outing.

Part of that richer world will be the ability to engage in conflicts in regions that are peripheral to the primary story of the game. As Treyarch Studio Head Mark Lamia explained it in an interview with Game Front, players will be able to engage in what are known as “Strike Force” missions, which are part of “proxy wars” being waged in the greater Cold War that acts as the backdrop for the game. As Lamia described it, Strike Force missions will be a choice in and of themselves — when they come up, you’ll have to choose the mission in which you want to take part, and from the sounds of things, where you decide to use your influence will be a binary choice.

Strike Force missions are also “sandbox” encounters, Lamia said, and the demo we saw presented them with a setup more akin to multiplayer or Modern Warfare 3′s Spec Ops gameplay than the standard campaign. In the level we saw, Singapore, players took control of a black ops team tasked with capturing three locations to dismantle a missile before it launched. The three capture points could be approached in any way the player felt like, but waves of enemies had to be dealt with in the meantime.

Most notable about Strike Force are its strategy game elements, and this is where Treyarch is really pushing the envelope in terms of Call of Duty gameplay. Players can approach a Strike Force mission in the traditional “boots on the ground” manner, Lamia said, in which they’ll take control of a character and do their shooting. Or they can control the flow of battle from above as a commander, using an Overwatch display, that allows them to issue orders to various assets and relies on AI control of their team.

What’s more, over time, more elements were introduced to the battle. Players were able to unlock and access drones that could be dispatched around the battle, and later, a walking tank robot. These assets could be positioned around the battlefield to be effective against enemies, and the player could take direct control over any of them individually. In the demo, the player switched quickly from fighting as a black ops soldier, up into Overwatch mode, where he moved some drones to flank a group of enemies, and then back down into first-person mode as a robot to defend a bottle neck while his black ops team started to hack a computer and capture an objective. The moves between each element were fast and seamless, and the gameplay was something wholly new to the Call of Duty experience.

What’s particularly interesting is the way Strike Force missions affect the main game. As has been reported previously and confirmed at the demo, your success or failure will affect ‘the geopolitical situation’ of the main game. What that meant was unclear, but it has now been confirmed that this will actually impact the ending, or, I should say, endings, because Black Ops 2 will, for the first time in Call of Duty history, feature multiple outcomes based on actions you take during the game. That alone makes me very, very curious to play the final game, and as convinced as Phil Hornshaw is that Black Ops 2 may actually see real innovation brought to the Call of Duty series.

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Of course, there was a lot we didn’t see. Multiplayer, naturally, as well as actual, substantial plot details. But a few hints of what we can expect were waved in our faces, particularly news about Zombies. It’s no shock that they’d definitely bring that popular mode back, and for Black Ops 2 it’s going to including something called ’4v4 Zombies’. No real details were provided, but they promise it’s going to be bigger than anything yet seen for fans of Zombies. 8 year olds the world over can commence rejoicing.

We won’t be able to offer further substantial judgment until we have a chance to play it, but from what we’ve seen so far, Black Ops 2 is aiming to actually set a bar of real quality in a series defined by relentless middle ground. In a world where it’s considered a good thing if a game manages to actually launch without a hitch, that might make this the first time in years that I’m actually looking forward to a Call of Duty game with anything other than detached interest.

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