Call of Duty: Black Ops single-player preview – Console news

Will Treyarch’s return to the blockbuster series be a glorious one?

If I could pick one word to describe what I was shown of the Call of Duty: Black Ops single-player campaign, it would be ‘intense’. The action is intense, the atmosphere is intense, the violence is intense. Hell, even the weather is intense.

There’s probably just enough space in the internet left for me to use a few more words than that, but it’s a term Treyarch community manager Josh Olin used a fair few times as he guided me through two stages of what is undoubtedly one of this year’s most anticipated releases.

Not that 2009’s Call of Duty (COD) release Modern Warfare 2 lacked intensity, of course. But it was the glory, rather than the horrors of war that was the focus. The notable shift in tone is a clear attempt by the World at War developer to take the flagship FPS series and stamp their name all over it.

Given Infinity Ward’s offering last year was often described as “the biggest entertainment launch ever” (well biggest since the launch of the cup and ball in sixteenth-century France at least) a new development team had some pretty big expectations to live up to. And, so far, it looks like they’ve more than risen to the challenge.

Black Ops’ story mode focuses on the exploits of elite commando squads working behind enemy lines during the cold war. It’s a setting that’s been visited a few times in the gaming world, and the historical significance of the period, along with a new, unique arsenal of weapons to gets to grips with means its a great choice for a COD game.

For the first time for Treyarch, the single and multiplayer modes had individual, dedicated teams – while many gamers see the franchise as primarily an online experience, what’s on offer here is by no means an afterthought.

First impressions

Unsurprisingly, it’s the differences between Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 which stand out most on first viewing.

Firstly, a new motion-capture technique means in-game interactions are superbly lifelike. Character development is often overlooked in these sorts of games but this, coupled with the fact that, for the first time, you’ll hear your own voice throughout the game, means you could at last feel some emotional involvement for the man behind the big gun pointing into your TV.

While you’ll once again control a number of characters, Olin insists characterisation and plot have been put at a premium during development – an area in which last year’s effort clearly was lacking.

Warm, fuzzy feelings for your squad aren’t what sells a COD game, however. Thankfully, the game looks more action-packed than ever.

A swimming section early on in the game sees you escape a sinking helicopter, then navigate your way through a murky river, surfacing only to spring up, disable a Vietnamese soldier and use his body as a shield as you take out the rest of his team.

Find a dozing guard in a small hut and the command prompt triggers a grisly throat-stabbing, pull off a headshot on his patrolling companion and a bullet-time sequence shows blood spurt out of his skull – Treyarch have ramped up the gore, and Black Ops cleary isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Later on there’s the chance to pilot a helicopter for the first time in a COD game. The colossal amount of firepower at your disposal in this stage means you can simply tear through the destructible Vietnamese camps – towers topple, supply boats explode – it’s heavy-duty action on a scale not yet seen in the series.

It’s not all gun battles and rocket launchers, however. The latter part of the first level I was shown featured a breathless sequence where you followed a comrade, lit by torchlight, down a series of Viet Cong-infested tunnels. Rats scurry around your feet and you can almost taste the dank air.

This sequence was particularly impressive, and felt more like survival horror than your traditionally brainless guns and glory FPS fare. The immersion here realises itself fully when, in a jump-out-of-your-seat moment, a teammate is ambushed and gruesomely dispatched before your eyes. As mentioned previously, this isn’t a game that flinches away from the dark side of war.

Of course, it’s likely Treyarch are showcasing the less conventional levels first, but aside from these highlights, the more typical run and gun sections look as solidly enjoyable as ever.

After all, there was little wrong with the mechanics of last year’s release. But if the furious pace and variety of what I saw is even vaguely indicative of what the rest of the game has to offer, Black Ops could well take the blockbuster series to a whole new level.

• Call of Duty: Black Ops will be released on 9 November for Xbox 360, PC, PS3 and Wii

Games

Jack Arnott

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