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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With no news yet of the next in the series of Call of Duty, what better time than to release new content for the last game. Call of Duty: Black Ops will be getting a second aim at more maps with the upcoming Escalation map pack. In this pack will feature 4 new multiplayer maps and a new zombie map.
[Article continues on That VideoGame Blog]
The other day I was stuck for a game to play. Well I say stuck, I have enough Xbox 360 games on disc alone that should decimate any contact with the outside world for a good five months. That’s going to be one shining wanker’s tan should I ever decide to do that. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes! I was stuck for a game to play. The trouble with my collection is that it’s almost all first person shooters. All other games are either the odd RPG, racing game or other kinds of shooting games. When I get in the mood for something other than a game where you look down a gun and inject enemies with lead based love, I’m at a loss. And when you’re on this addiction, you need yet another FPS to feed your craving. Your shallow, linear craving. I already have six Call Of Duty games, so why on Earth I would need to own the next one is a mystery. They’re all the same. Sure, they might have different weapons, new tweaks on the multiplayer front and other bonuses, but the core gameplay is still the same simple layout. This is the same problem that the Tony Hawks series suffered from. Once you’re mastered one game, you’ve mastered them all. I mastered Call Of Duty 2 and now I am emulating my gun mastery onto the newest title in the series: Call Of Duty Black Ops.
This is the seventh title in the series and almost nothing new has been done to the slightly stale format. If anything, it feels like an expansion pack rather than a full title. Luckily, this is the first COD game that I didn’t buy myself. Instead, I borrowed it off a friend rather than waiting for the price to drop down to a more realistic amount. And speaking of realistic, there’s of the sort. The story feels more like a mild science fiction film than a military simulation affair. In fact, the only things you can say that are real are that the guns kill people. After this aspect of the game has been checked, Mr Reality buggers off early down the pub with his good friend, Mr Ridiculous-Plot (double barrelled name). Mr Reality says he’ll buy the nuts on his round, but has the power to change everything to distract his friend into noticing that he’s a tightwad. The rest of the night is spent in awkward silence as it turns from a pub into a submarine and back into a pub again, but with a distinct smell of diesel oil and fish. To put it bluntly, the game is pretty ridiculous.
The over arcing story sets you’re character, Alex Mason (top CIA agent with a habit of stating the obvious) in an interrogation chair with an off-screen voice demanding to know what he knows about a series of numbers. This prompts a series of flashbacks from several US conflicts in the 1960s which make up the game. Fidel Castro and JFK also pop up, with Castro acting as a Bond villain and JFK acting like a robot doing an impression of JFK. It’s almost like Richard Nixon in The Watchman; more of a charciture for laughs. But that’s the nature of this game; it’s an imitation of reality. In one flashback, Mason is sent to a Russian labour camp after being caught by Castro in Cuba. After breaking free from his captors, Mason leads a prison break accompanied by Victor Reznov (still played by Gary Oldman) from Call Of Duty World At War. So far, things could be plausible, but it’s not until I grabbed myself a portable minigun (in a prison, of all places) that I became aware that things could only get more ridiculous.
After the breakout from the prison, Mason jumped about 5 metres from a speeding truck to a moving train. The suspension bridge of disbelief now lies in ruins. And it didn’t stop going in that direction. There’s combat in Vietnam, running across endless rooftops in Asia and an underwater fortress o’ death. But you know what? If you accept at how silly the game can get, you’ll enjoy it. The controls are still as tight and responsive as a game could ever be and the guns do their job. The only real improvement is on the graphics which seem to get better and better each time, but this is now an age where the visuals are first priority, whilst the gameplay can by copied in from the previous release. There are also some vehicle sections, but they end as soon as you’re enjoying yourself.
I didn’t bother with the multiplayer as it’s exactly the same thing as the last three times. Call Of Duty 4’s multiplayer was perfect first time round, why did the developers feel the need overload it with needless (kill)streaks of piss. I love calling in a helicopter as much as the next man, but that’s where I draw the line. None of this tactical nuke stuff and a few harrier jump-jets called into the match because I can’t play the game properly. Kids today, eh?
If you’re looking for another FPS campaign with some random zombie modes then just rent it. However, if you’re looking to spend £40 on yet another online shooter, then you can probably get one of the Modern Warfare’s for half the price. It’s pretty much the same thing.
Typical of Treyarch. The previous call of duty game tries new territory to the series and it drags it back to the past, kicking and screaming like a messy faced kid in Asda. The next stop on Operation: kill everyone else that isn’t American is Call Of Duty: Black Ops, or Call Of Duty: Not-Quite-Modern Ware as it’s set slightly in the past. Cold War to be exact.
Well not exactly.
In May 2009 Treyarch (Call Of Duty’s B-squad) announced that Call Of Duty 7 would be set in Vietnam. Now it appears it will take up a portion of the game, as if Treyarch are trying to cover the rest of the warfare involved in the 20th century. Of course you can’t really include World War One as you’d be lucky to get your hands on a gun let alone die of trench foot in game.
Now that would be a realistic war experience.
From looking at the teaser for the game, it seems to be a close prequel to the Modern Warefare series. It’s got a similar attitude to jumping through windows in a blaze of cinematic nonsense as well as a soldier gruffly saying his “The truth is written by the victors” shtick. Helicopters swirl out of control and buildings blow up and it all just seems too familiar to get excited over.
As I’ve mentioned previously, a little game called Battlefield Bad Company 2 did all the things that these games should be doing and it only looks like the Call Of Duty series is finally deciding to catch up. You can fly a helicopter, you say? Big deal. We’ve been able to do that before in the Battlefield series. As sad as it is to say, I’ve already made my alignment to the Battlefield games in terms of superior multiplayer, but this will probably end up in my basket at some point.
To the dismay of history students, veterans, and anyone else who just wants to forget about the bloodiest conflict of human history, Activision bring us the next title in their acclaimed Call Of Duty series. The flawless control system remains rightfully untouched and the graphic engine has been tweaked to make eyes around the world burst out of their sockets.
Speaking of which, is the violence. Oh the violence. It’s the closest to Saving Private Ryan I’ve ever seen a game get to. Grisly detail on dismemberment, torrents of blood splatter, as well as a vicious torture scene all combine to make an experience that will cause wincing and utterances of “ow, painful”.
With that in hand, the game takes a far darker tone with an almost horror movie atmosphere in some levels. The game is split into two historic campaigns; The US Marines fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, and the Russians side of the war. To give a certain cinematic quality to the playing experience, 24’s Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman voice two of the games main characters.
With Oldman playing the Russian Sergeant Reznov, the siege of Stalingrad had a dramatic feeling like I was very willed to progress. Of course, these campaigns can now be played with a friend (or four if you have XBOX Live), or you can always play the improved multiplayer mode on XBOX Live, with tanks now included in the fray. An outstanding, if gruesome, audition to the series.