It’s not especially surprising how thrillingly captivating Black Ops 2 is – the Call of Duty formula’s gone through enough iteration that movie-caliber moments are practically a regular occurrence. What is unexpected is how different the game feels from Modern Warfare 3, beyond the different timeline and settings. Our E3 demo of the game showed off an entire level, one that promoted wandering off the beaten path instead of rigidly locking you to it. The Strikeforce mode was icing on the cake – but that may turn out to be one of the most satisfying singleplayer FPS modes in awhile.
The demo kicked off with the campaign level, set in 2025’s Los Angeles. It’s immediately apparent that the situation is dire, given that a hysterical, bloody-faced bodyguard dies in your arms at the very start of the mission. His life’s duty was protecting the president – that’s your job now. Tasked with escorting Madam President (bravo, Treyarch!) to safety, things seemed bad enough when the Humvee got caught in gridlock highway traffic full of panicked drivers. Turns out, things could be much, much worse.
Just when it seemed like the squad had a quiet moment to catch their breath, a dense flock of UAVs and unmanned stealth bombers hovered into view, controlled remotely by Raul Menendez, the mad anarchist who serves as this timeline’s main villain. An eerie silence fell over the group – the prelude to a scene of total destruction. Swarms of UAVs crashed into skyscrapers and detonated the remains, while the bombers carpeted the streets with explosives. An insane, white-knuckle driving sequence was the result – complete with the collapse of an overpass and an emergency jet landing…attempt.
You can only have so many close calls, and eventually, the Humvee flipped over into a smoldering wreck. When the dust finally settled, there was only one way to escort the President of the United States: on foot. This is where we saw the first instance of the game’s branching paths: Mason had the choice between providing covering fire with a high-powered sniper rifle, or rappelling down the side of the shattered concrete highway and moving with the group. The developer driving our demo opted to use the sniper rifle – a choice we can get behind.
This was no ordinary sniper rifle – this tricked-out, futuristic model made modern rifles seem like toys. With an x-ray scope, Mason could easily detect enemies through structures – but what good is seeing an enemy behind a wall when you can’t shoot him? As luck would have it, you can. The sniper rifle’s rounds were ridiculously powerful, piercing any surface they came in contact with, provided that they were fully charged (denoted by an increasing battery bar that filled the longer you were zoomed in). After blasting some human-shaped white blobs, Mason pushed forward to meet back up with the team.
On the streets of LA, Mason had to contend with Black Op 2’s instantly-recognizable four-legged walker mechs, and witnessed a very RoboCop-esque scene where a walker filled a bystander’s chest full of hot lead. We can confirm that the Type 95 machine gun is back – Mason made use of one to cripple the walkers, firing at their legs ‘til they toppled over. A few rocket launcher rounds to the back, and the walkers were no more.
The mission’s explosive finale had Mason commandeering a jet, to chase down bombers in intense dogfights that called Star Wars to mind. To our surprise, this segment wasn’t on rails; provided you were still protecting the President, you could weave the jet between the few remaining skyscrapers to your heart’s content. It all ended with a bang, as Mason used the jet as one gigantic warhead.
The game took a decidedly slower pace with the Strike Force mission set in Singapore, though it was no less exciting. Acting like a military operation sandbox, the Strike Force missions tie into the main campaign in a nifty way: if you fail a mission, you live with the consequences instead of simply restarting from the last checkpoint. Success means additional resources in future missions. We can only imagine the possibilities for branching storylines or hidden missions that hinge on successful Strike Force operations.
Not only do you control every member of your small squad – you also act as overwatch, able to zoom out and survey the battlefield at any time as if it were a Call of Duty RTS. Scouting positions as overwatch is key, before “possessing” the appropriate gunman and leading your squad into the firefight. You can even take control of the various mechs that join the fight – but tactical planning is a must, as your backup is limited.
We knew Black Ops 2 would be a blood-pumping thrill ride, but the demo proved that thrill rides don’t always have to take place on rails. Also, we finally have a reason to replay a Call of Duty singleplayer campaign – the branching paths and Strike Force missions have the capacity to make the same mission play in multiple ways. The next step will be getting some quality hands-on time with the game. Check back here for more Black Ops 2 previews.