Treyarch are hungry. Very, very hungry. They've dished out nuggets of crumb-coated awesome here and there while working on the Call of Duty franchise, and World at War was a stellar effort for a studio constantly living in the shadow of the troubled Infinity Ward, but it's Call of Duty: Black Ops they'll be most remembered, and revered, for.
A few weeks back AusGamers was invited out to Club Nokia in Los Angeles to check out the game, prior to this year's E3. We were lucky enough to get some one on one time
with Treyarch's community manager, Josh Olin, but before our chat, the hungry dev team ran us through two levels from the game, both absolutely contrasting one another, but both effectively showcasing the game's rich visual style, intense action and varying gameplay formula.
Our first taste kicked off with a stylised walk up to an SR-71 Blackbird
, behind the visor of one of the plane's pilots. This sequence came with basic interaction from the player, but essentially worked as a bridging moment between being able to give live reconnaissance updates to the SOG on the ground (Special Operations Group), and going live as one of the Black Ops in Syberia as they're about to infiltrate a nuclear weapons manufacturing plant. The entire thing was seamless, dramatic and oozed style. It reminded me very much of the space-walk moment in Modern Warfare 2.
Getting behind the snow goggles of one of the SOG members on the ground proved just as awesome. Here the player is dropped into the game as the whole squad lies out-of-sight of the enemy in the snow. Patrols were walking by very closely, and there was a lot of radio chatter. A stand-out audio feature saw the player's heartbeat racing harder and faster the closer the patrols came to his position. All of this is in real-time with you able to move freely. Equipped with a decked out crossbow (featuring a multiple zoom scope), the squad eventually moves forward (when the coast is clear) only to drop suddenly to the ground as soon as contact was made in front. The animation and sensation of diving dramatically against the snow to drop out of sight was excellent, and you get a sense Treyarch have worked very hard to really put you in the driver's seat this time around.
As you would expect, a crossbow with a sight is clearly a stealth option, which is exactly what we see when our player takes out a few sentries silently and with ease. But not before the team is spotted and everything erupts in an orgy of explosions, blood and fiery carnage. One very cool addition saw the player now using the crossbow to shoot explosive-charged arrows, though unfortunately there was no dismemberment model carried over from World at War, but it's early days yet.
Clearing out the baddy impediment then saw the player taking their squad further down the facility. This included rappelling down the face of the building with an option to breach and clear through a window. This can be viewed in the uncut reveal trailer, and Josh talked briefly about it in our interview, but it was awesome to see it happening live. Once again, the game erupts into an all-hell-breaks-loose scenario, and you and your squad are despatching bad dudes left, right and centre. If there's one thing these guys have nailed, it's the intense bottlenecks and frenetic progression. You can't stay in the same place too long or you're going to be picked off, so it was move, move, move all the way.
The final part of this sequence saw the dudes achieve their goal and head for escape. Nothing's that easy though, and you're not only being pursued by an army of pissed ruskies, but what also appeared to be an avalanche of sorts. This sequence was very much like the Brazil rooftop escape in Modern Warfare 2, and the player is fully charged with not only running down icy descents, but also jumping across dangerous gaps and crevices. It all ended in an even more dramatic tone though, with the player leaping off a cliff for a player-controlled free-fall. Ice formed on the edges of the his goggles and for a brief second before the screen faded to black, it definitely looked like this might actually be a lengthy base-jump, fully interactive and gameplay driven. Very, very awesome.
The second gameplay sequence we saw was called Slaughterhouse, and with good reason. Jumping from the icy peaks of the Soviet Union and into the crumbling streets of Hue City during the Battle of Hue City, the beginning of the Tet Offensive, was an absolute eye-opener. This whole sequence opened with our team being airlifted to a location to repel down via rope. On the way down, however, their chopper is hit and both guys are left hanging onto a rope with an out-of-control chopping guiding them in the best ride this side of Six-Flags. Luckily the manage to somehow aim for a window in an open building and its life-after-near-death from there.
There was very little to overtly reveal here barring the use of the SPAS-12
and its incendiary rounds known colloquially as "Dragon's Breath". This baby literally shoots fireballs from the barrel of your shotgun and burns its unfortunate victims. None of any of this was nice, but I couldn't help but marvel at how cool it was. The entire gameplay sequence was plain crazy with explosions everywhere, choppers all over the place and a battlefield full of friend and foe. At one juncture, the character commandeered a radio from a marine, using it - and his Black Ops clearance - to call in an attack chopper. Then he just lit up varying areas of the buildings ahead and watched the vehicle decimate both the structure and any enemy in front of, or in, it to make way for their objective. As Josh points out in our interview, the interesting thing here was that you're not really in the vicinity to do anything but secure CIA intel - so all the carnage and 'war' going on around you is just an impediment to your objective. It took a lot of focus away from the craziness, but in a good way. the sense of purpose and importance as a result definitely changed the direction of the game and how it seemed to play, but again, once we'd reached a certain point, the screen faded to black and we were left only with the new uncut reveal trailer and an obviously long countdown to November for the game's release.
These two gameplay demos did a great job showing off the differences in locale, gameplay, combat and more. It's looking absolutely stunning so far, though there did seem to be a lot of place-holder throughout in the way of death animations, blood and more. But so far, they really have done everything right with the torch they've been handed. And that was another key facet of this entire experience - Treyarch are hungry for a place in the annals of FPS history - to be remembered as a solid developer who handled one of the richest gaming franchises of all time with passion, respect and vigour. They and we have a long way to go before launch, but so far, it really does look like this one might be the goods. Stay tuned for more as we get it.