Will Preston

Tag: Trent Reznor

Counting down the second Cold War

by on Nov.19, 2012, under Review, Video Games

Recently, I bought my first smart phone. Considering the first iPhone came out around five years ago, it goes without saying that I’ve arrived extremely late to the touch-screen party. The first time the high definition screen flashed up, I knew that things wouldn’t be the same again. There was a plethora of tasks and activities that I could now do thanks to the wireless possibilities of this £400 device. It was scary. But then again, the last technological advances of the last century have come by so fast, that you almost panic when you sum up how civilisation has progressed from using telegrams to viewing CGI-saturated feature films at a seconds notice. As usual, there’s the military aspect of it. If I can wield a supercomputer the size of a modest birthday card, what can the research and development department of the US military use to get rid of who they see fit?

Los Angeles gets bullet ridden

Call of Duty Black Ops 2 is a game of two halves, but it’s more than a five-a-side. It’s the first of the series to take place in the future, but it also has time to get distracted and look into the distance, reminiscing about previous real life military campaigns. You flick between Frank Woods, Alex Mason (both from the previous Black Ops) and David Mason – Alex’s son. It’s 2025 and remote controlled drones make up a majority of the US armed forces against the backdrop of an uncertain world trying to keep up with the technology that holds together society. China and America have entered a new cold war with a recently discovered (and extremely rare) material called celerium being the cause for such conflict. The earth element is used in all modern technology and has allowed leaps in technology, allowing such wonders as invisibility suits and personal heads up displays to be distributed as standard issue.

It has been a long time since Frank Woods fought alongside Alex Mason in Vietnam. An elderly wheelchair-bound woods is living out the last of his days in The Vault – what can only be described as a high-security nursing home. He’s visited by an armed platoon led by David Mason who questions him over his experience with Raul Menendez, a Nicaraguan narco-terrorist who leads the Cordis Die movement, a military cult with plans to bring down the superpowers of the world through cyber-terrorism. Woods’ past with Menendez spans back to the 1980’s where he was captured and tortured in Angola. This half of the game takes place in several late 20th century conflicts from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the US invasion of Panama (lots of invading!). But the game also flicks to modern (well, future) conflicts as well.

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

One of the greatest things about this new Call of Duty is the ridiculous selection of arms and equipment. The prototype rifles come equipped with x-ray technology, you have a grenade launcher strapped to your wrist and your personal computer on your other wrist can do anything from hacking terminals to recording far-away conversations a la Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher. Things even get a bit Batman when you infiltrate a jungle base using retractable parachute flaps built into your suit, giving you the appearance of a heavily-armed flying squirrel with stubble. It was at this point I burst out laughing over how far Treyarch were willing to make the future seem unrealistically ridiculous.

But just when things get too much (escaping in a Halo-style jeep from unmanned helicopters in a flooded city in Pakistan. for example), you’re whisked back to a more simpler time, where mobile phones were phones and nothing else. As both parallel stories progress, you are given a series of choices that will determine the outcome of the game. For example, at several stages in the game, you have the choice to kill or spare a character. Depending on what happens, different aspects of the final missions, and indeed the ending, will change. There are five endings in total, so it will take a few run-throughs to get the best ending. But that’s not all affecting the story.

Skynet, anyone?

Another first in the franchise is the inclusion of a series of “Strike Force” levels. These play out like a multiplayer match crossed with real time strategy. You take command of a mixed group of units (soldiers and A.I drones) on the field and can give orders and flick between each one via a remote controlled eye-in-the-sky satellite. There’s a single objective and you face a seemingly never-ending hoard of enemies. The aims of these missions range from base defence to assassination and can be pretty intense, seeing as you’re up against the clock and have only one chance to do them. It’s a fantastic addition to the game, but, like all the new features, seems too little too late to hide the fact that Call of Duty hasn’t made any major leaps or bounds since the first Modern Warfare was released. Other late features include complete weapon customisation before each single player level and the inclusion of a three-dimensional villain.

In the past, the villains included cardboard cut-out Russian nationalists (See Modern Warfare series), Ex-Nazi scientists (See Black Ops) and Adolf Hitler’s gang (See World War Two). All antagonists seemed to be nothing more than arbitrary bad guys with no more reason to commit evil than your typical Bond baddie. Menendez is a different case. Coming from a poor background and eventually forced into a life of crime, he witnesses his sister crippled and horrifically burned in a warehouse fire. After a botched raid on his personal village by a team led by Woods and Mason, his deformed sister perishes, leading to him seeking revenge against the US. At several points in the game you take control of Mendez, almost as a away of making you see things from his side, especially when you see him tending over his sister with a rich sense of pathos and regret. For the first time in the series, someone’s actually come up with a fairly adequate story.

Always with an evil beard

But there are a lot of moments where you feel like there wasn’t enough due care and effort to make this game as outstanding as it could have been. Predictably, the seems to be running off almost exactly the same engine as the first Modern Warfare – which was where the series reached perfection, but considering that was released in 2007, isn’t it time for Activision to hire someone to bring the series into this decade? Aside from the all-too occasional glitch, the single player hasn’t decided whether it wants to be a game or a film. Too many times has the game taken control over certain cinematic moments, as if it didn’t trust me to do the right thing. An infamous moment that stands out is the first encounter with Menendez.

After fighting countless Cuban soldiers and downing a Russian gunship from a moving barge, you find yourself sneaking through a forest and into a communication building. As soon as you step through the window, you sneak up to Menedez at his radio terminal, take him hostage, stand off against several soldiers before a grenade is thrown onto the floor and you’re forced to dive out the window. Not once during this little sojourn did I need to press anything. No linear path. No sudden quick time event to make sure I was still awake. Nothing. And there were too many moments where the game was ripped out of my hands and I had to watch like a good little boy.

Groovy...

And the violence. Oh, the violence. After the particularly dark introduction video where we see Menedez’s sister almost burned to death, the game get’s progressively grimmer. In the first level, you start next to an upturned vehicle looking into the fire looming behind the windshield. Suddenly, two deeply-singed hands bang against it, followed by the screaming charred faced of a man burning alive. It was a horrific sight that suddenly brought out that inner parent that secretly disapproves of everything you do. That voice that frowns at the ethically redundant things you choose to do in Grand Theft Auto games. You’ll know what I mean next time you watch one of the Saw movies and her dulcet tone mumbles in your ear.

After completing one of the five endings the game has to offer, there’s the multiplayer and zombie modes to bite into. I’ve played through the series since the beginning and the multiplayer has not changed in the last four years. The modes are all there, the upgrade and ranking system stands still like an old man confused where to go next, and the maps and speed make the whole experience as hectic and uncomfortable to play as usual. For fans of the series, there isn’t anything that can be really said for the online battles apart from, more of the same with more added on for good measure. I lasted two minutes into a match where a shouting American child yelled at me before firing a pistol across the room into my head. Instant kill. Instant quit. Instantly unimpressed.

What did impress me, however, was the new zombie mode. Sure, it’s the same system as it always been, but there is a new, interesting inclusion. As well as the typical survival mode, one of the maps has a sort-of mission mode attached. You’re plopped in a bus depot surrounded by zombies and you need to construct various tools and contraptions to proceed through the midnight nightmare. Once you escape the terminal, a robot controlled bus awaits you to take you to your next destination. What starts off as you’re typical defence against the living dead affair soon turns into a gauntlet towards what seems like a logical end to the game other than death by an infinite horde of shamblers. I was very impressed and it still remains more addictive than tobacco peanuts.

Sadly, the William Tell Overture did not play

A cheeky bonus was the music. Instead of hiring yet another big name film composer like Hans Zimmer, the guys at Treyarch went a bit metal and dragged on Mr Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, in to provide his superb brand of emotionally charged industrial noise metal to the game. I have to say that his compositions are really worth a listen. Another surprise was hearing Skrillex in one of the levels in a nightclub. bizarre. All of the pieces set in the future gave it a real cyber-punk feel similar to the recent Deus Ex. As a science fiction fan, I was loving every second of the soundtrack.

Recently, it’s become very fashionable to denounce the Call of Duty series before even playing the most recent titles. Most of the criticism is deserved, but there are still aspects of the newer titles that should garner a bit more recognition. On the other hand, Battlefield 3 proved last year that a long running first person shooter series can knuckle down and leap forward to deliver a perfect videogame experience on both campaign mode and online multiplayer spheres. Now that the Modern Warfare and Black Ops branches have finally fallen off the tree, will Activision finally raise its hands, stand with a modest air of honesty and finally admit that the series has nothing new to offer? After all, just about every single 20th century conflict has been handled in the series and I’ll be buggered if I have to play through World War bloody Two again. There weren’t any mobile phones in that conflict for a start. Or Trent Reznor.

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