General gamer consensus seems to be that developer Infinity Ward makes the "real" Call of Duty games, having originated the series to begin with, while developer Treyarch makes the "other" Call of Duty games. Based on what I just witnessed at publisher Activision's E3 booth, however, that rule might be changing. A half-hour and two levels of Call of Duty: Black Ops were enough to convince me that the benchwarmer is now fully capable of outshining the superstar. At least in these four ways…
Remember the AC-130 gunship from the first Modern Warfare, in which you rained death upon tiny enemy blips through a grainy night vision targeting screen? In Black Ops, you'll put on a 1960s-era astronaut suit, jump into an SR-71 Blackbird and launch into an outer orbit that might as well be outer space. Then you'll actually direct those little white dots on, helping them avoid enemy patrols from 80,000 feet above the Earth.
Remember the stealth missions in Modern Warfare, in which you crawled painstakingly along the ground, sniping enemies from between blades of gray grass? During the same Black Ops mission described above – "WMD" – you'll switch perspectives and control a man on the ground, slithering stealthily through the snow as patrols walk by unaware. Only in this game, when you're ready to announce your presence, you do so with a scoped crossbow that sends bodies hurtling through the air. Or, if you choose the explosive arrows, marks them with a blinking green dot… which, after a few dramatic seconds, blasts them into bloody smithereens.
Remember rappelling down a dusty cliff in Modern Warfare 2, or leaping wildly across that frozen chasm? In the Black Ops E3 demo, I watched as the Treyarch developers rappelled down the side of a building, then kicked through the windows in slow-motion, shooting the waiting worker's faces before the glass had even fallen to the ground. And when the Black Ops protagonist hurtled off a ledge, there was no Soap MacTavish to catch him… he began free-falling towards the ground, with the player controlling his dizzying, wind-whipped direction.
Finally, remember all those times you've jumped into a Call of Duty helicopter, then sat back and spammed the trigger button as your NPC pal did all the piloting? In Black Ops, calling "shotgun" is no longer your only option. My E3 demo ended in the jungles of Vietnam, with the protagonist using a grenade launcher to take out an enemy base. The goal: Steal the Hind helicopter inside. Once obtained, a friend lifts the bird into the sky, but immediately afterwards – in what will come as a shock to any unprepared Call of Duty fans – he hands the job over to you. Left analog moves the helicopter, while the right analog…
Well, the right analog unleashes hell. You're not just piloting – you're launching missiles at the same time. I watched as men, trees, rows of jeeps and entire villages were instantly transformed into echoing fireballs. As bridges were destroyed in individual pieces. As guerrilla caves built into cliffs were incinerated. And as the protagonist's helicopter was outnumbered by two enemy helicopters, and a rocket-streaked dogfight broke out in the middle of a tropical river ravine. One bad guy's bird went down, and our helicopter strafed through the resulting cloud of black smoke to surprise the second. And then the E3 demo ended, leaving me with a single thought: I won't automatically dismiss the "other" Call of Duty games again any time soon.
Jun 15, 2010