Publisher:Activision Platform:Xbox 360, PS3, PC Release Date: 2012
Honestly, when I arrived at the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 preview event I thought it would be a complete waste of my time. Call of Duty rarely does anything new and, as someone who isn't interested in telling people they should spend £45 on just More Of What They Played Last Year, I thought it would be a foregone conclusion.
Black Ops 2 opens with a turret sequence. Yes, it's the future and this time you're fighting robots and humans instead of only humans...but it's still just a turret sequence. All the future setting does is allow the turret to aid you in locking on to a half-dozen enemies at once.
Within a minute, the turret is done with and the protagonist - a descendant of one of the heroes from the original Black Ops but whose name I didn't honestly bother to remember - takes a few steps away. A voice yells that we need to provide cover while the President is evacuated. Standing on a concrete freeway in LA, the turret sequence immediately segues to a sniping mission.
In the future, men get followed by small robots and big buildings
Again, it's a futuristic sniping mission, so this gun can see and shoot enemies through cover, but all that means is that this mission is easier than ever. It's not fundamentally different or more interesting than before, the sci-fi-rifle doesn't add anything to the game or the experience...it's just easier and more boring. It's like the most casual lightgun game imaginable.
Later in the demo Treyarch make a big speech about how all the technology in the game is based on current real-world prototypes, that it's the type of thing we'll really be seeing in ten years time. Maybe. I honestly don't know what relevance that has to actually playing the game. I do recall that speech being a lot more convincing when Steven Spielberg gave it in regard to Minority Report though...which actually did come out ten years ago.
After the sniping comes some driving, but first we have to rappel off the freeway, pausing at the bottom for our character to turn his head for us and show us an explosion. Thanks, Guy. Then we get in the car and drive along the underpass, debris everywhere as we funnel without consequence along the road. Pillars and enemies crumble in our way, so it seemingly doesn't matter whether you can steer or not. Just press Go.
To clarify, I don't think there's anything wrong with aspects of this design. Turret sequences, sniping missions; these are tools which designers can use sparingly and well or poorly and too often. Neither reflects on the tool itself, just as a hammer isn't inherently bad just because it can be used for violence; context is everything.
Sometimes in the future, the buildings also follow the big robots
But it's context which COD lacks. These tools aren't used in a way that enhances the content, they are the content. Treyarch is hitting you with every hammer it can find, for no reason and to no benefit. This game doesn't say anything, mean anything or teach players anything.
Ultimately, it isn't anything.
You could argue that it's just supposed to be entertainment and that I'm expecting too much of COD. I'd say that the AC-130 mission in the original Modern Warfare is an example of my expectations being fulfilled, of when a turret sequence has been used well and to express something. I'd also say that, while entertainment is fine, the quantity and level of entertainment COD offers isn't worth a yearly investment of £45.
A Treyarch spokesperson says this is "the freshest Call of Duty has ever been", but all I can think is that I've seen this all before and handled with more panache and purpose to boot.
Then, astonishingly, Call of Duty does something that does surprise me.