Though some may wish to try, there’s no denying that Call of Duty is one of the largest and most powerful media franchises in history. Its ability to break records year after year continues to astound, but many media and dedicated fans have become disillusioned with the almost Madden-like lack of changes in the series in the past few years. Luckily for everyone, Activision has clearly been listening. While a large portion of the campaign will be familiar running and gunning, brand new gameplay elements will mark a major departure from franchise staples.
In the first segment of the demonstration we were taken through the same part of a battle through LA shown in the Microsoft press conference. As was demonstrated in the press conference, the linear shooting is still present. Call of Duty has always been a pretty scripted experience, moving you down a particular path, and this battle isn’t hugely different at first glance. The fighting is intense, and the set-pieces are outstanding. Aircraft crash down, cars fly, explosions and the environment fall apart as you struggle to survive. This is pretty standard for Call of Duty, but it was well-made.
A few changes start to pop up pretty early in this demo. The player is given choices on how to approach a situation. You can rappel down off a bridge and fight through on foot or stay up top and snipe. The new futuristic sniper is pretty awesome, letting you see through very dense layers of cover, and even shoot through them by charging up a shot. Gameplay advances further with some fairly open (but still linear) first person shooting segments, in which the player is able to call drones in for support in combat. The LA demo wraps up with the player hopping into an FA-38 and engaging unmanned aircraft in a dogfight over the city.
This whole segment was packed with adrenaline, but seemed a natural evolution of the Call of Duty formula. What made it clear that this isn’t just another Call of Duty campaign was the second part of our developer demonstration; the Strikeforce mission. Strikeforce missions are missions which pop up during the campaign away from the main storyline. The player must make choices on which missions to complete, in which success will in turn affect the ending. This means that yes, you can in fact fail a Strikeforce mission and the game will move forward.
Strikeforce missions are sandbox strategy missions, played out in maps similar to Call of Duty multiplayer maps. We were taken through one in Singapore. Instead of playing on foot around AI you can’t control through a linear corridor, you control an entire squad as well as reinforcements and assists through an RTS style Overwatch view. In this view you can set waypoints for your squad, sending them to defend or capture points (or attack enemies), and spawn items to assist them. These include the unmanned machines like the aerial drones and heavily armored quadruped mechs.
Of course, it’s not all strategy. The player can pop into any of the squad members or unmanned machines during the mission. The balance of strategy and action was truly intense, with waves of powerful enemies coming at the squad as they completed objectives such as capturing control terminals. At the end of the mission the missile defense system was activated, calling in an airstrike on an enemy ship.
While the Strikeforce missions may like the set-pieces of the main campaign, if this one was any indication they are even more intense. The variety of strategy and action, and clearly high difficulty, creates an experience never seen in Call of Duty. This diversity was much-needed for the series, and will be a welcome break from the action-packed (and still great looking) linear shooting. Call of Duty is back, and Black Ops 2 is definitely one for shooter fans to watch out for.