Call of Duty: Black Ops

Seeing Is Believing
by Meagan Marie on May 28, 2010 at 07:25 AM
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Rating: Mature
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC

"A lie is a lie. Just because they write it down and call it history doesn’t make it the truth. We live in a world where seeing is not believing. Where only a few know what really happened."

At a recent event hosted by Activision, we got our first extended glimpse at Call of Duty: Black Ops. The fanfare begins with the previously released teaser trailer, which is appropriately cryptic considering Black Ops’ focus on deniable operations and secret wars. Introduced by Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia, the live demo is set in a weapons manufacturing facility deep behind enemy lines in the Soviet Union. Setting a theatrical precedent for the rest of the presentation, Lamia calls the segment WMD – a name that lives up to the dramatic nature of the covert mission.

After taking the stage, the individual manning the demo begins by piloting an SR-71 Blackbird – taking off and ascending to an altitude where they can provide pinpoint intel from the air. Barking orders through a crackling com, the player surveys an industrial area blanketed in snow – an environmental obstacle that keeps the Black Ops team on the ground from aptly assessing the area. Requesting tactical recon, the player must guide the team to their target, using a cursor system to map out movements and keep them from being spotted by inbound troops and passing vehicles.

When the squad reaches their destination safely, the scene switches to a first-person perspective. The Black Ops team advances through deep snowdrifts, moving quietly so not to alert patrolling troops and guard dogs ahead. When they reach the insertion point for their primary mission, they go radio silent, confirming that communication will resume when they’ve reached the substation and power relay.

The substation isn’t easy to access, however; a pair of Special Forces soldiers must rappel down a steep cliff to reach their goal. Moving deliberately, the player pushes off the wall, gives the rope slack, and repeats. The sound of howling wind is punctured by grunts and heavy breathing as they move down the face of the cliff.

Music provides an audio cue to the player that action is imminent. Looking at each other, the duo counts to three and makes one final leap downward, bursting through a pane of glass. They successfully catch the guards by surprise, open fire, and within moments the floor is littered with bodies.

Another quick change of scenery and we’re back with the larger squad, which is advancing on another industrial area. Instructed to swap out their firearms for crossbows and equip explosive ammo, the player’s breath is once again the only noise breaking the silence – a sound that is notably missing when held to steady a shot. After taking a few preliminary guards out, an alarm is sounded and the Black Ops team is forced into a firefight.

What follows is traditional Call of Duty fodder – a relentless onslaught of enemies. After several intense minutes of gunplay, the Black Ops team finds the alarm, turns it off, and continues to their primary objective. Not long after they here the rumblings of an avalanche, no doubt thanks to the team’s less-than-stealthy infiltration methods. Sprinting through deep snow, one of your companions approaches a the edge of a cliff. "I'm jumping, see you at the bottom," he shouts. You follow shortly after, and the screen fades to black. 

Taking a quick breather from the action, Lamia returns to the stage and provides context. He makes clear that diversity of play is Treyarch’s highest priority with Black Ops, and that they intend to “focus on dialing up the variety of gameplay and keep the experience fresh for the player.”

Expressing his excitement for the Cold War setting and context of the game, Lamia continues. “The era and the focus on Black Ops allowed us a great deal of freedom to choose what we wanted to create,” he explains. “As an elite group used by the CIA for covert missions, you have unparalleled access to classified information, the best weapons and equipment to carry out your missions, and so on.”

Segueing into the next portion of the demo, Lamia sets the scene again. “We’ve immersed ourselves in this era and learned about the secret wars and the classified missions,” he says. “These missions inspired us to create a game with a rich story, and a narrative that will span a great deal of time. As we navigated the hot spots of the Cold War and we learned about the black operations, it naturally took us to Southeast Asia – to Vietnam.”

Lamia introduces the next mission, dubbed Slaughterhouse, which takes place during one of the bloodiest encounters of the Vietnam War – the Battle of Hué. In this particular set piece, the squad must fight their way through the American Military and CIA headquarters, which has been overrun by insurgents. The end goal is to recover critical intelligence.

Slaughterhouse begins with another dramatic scene. While descending by rope from a helicopter, the bird is hit by a projectile and spirals out of control – sending you crashing through a window before it explodes on the city streets below. It’s immediately apparent how different Vietnam is from the Soviet setting. The colors are more vivid. Combat is up-close-and-personal. Brutal encounters in a city populated by civilians makes identifying threats difficult. Residents run for their lives as you try to avoid injuring them in the crossfire – something your enemies seem notably less concerned about. In this visceral setting the music is striking and intense.

After another few set pieces full of action and explosions, the demo draws to a close. Lamia returns to the stage for his final thoughts, promising distinct multiplayer and co-op modes, which are compatible online with four-player co-op and locally with two-player splitscreen.

Lamia’s final thought is one of optimism – “Treyarch is committed to creating the very best game they possibly can with Black Ops.” The presentation concludes with the world premier trailer, which you can check out for yourself if you missed the debut. 

Call of Duty: Black-Ops hits retail 11.09.10.

"We live in a world where everything we know is wrong."


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