In the past couple of months the Call of Duty franchise has experienced quite a bit of turmoil. Modern Warfare 2 was released at the end of last year to rave reviews and even better sales. Everything seemed to be going smoothly for Activision's franchise. However, developer Infinity Ward had a nasty split from Activision in March of this year, putting the future of the franchise in doubt. Luckily for Call of Duty fans everywhere, developer Treyarch, which had been responsible for other Call of Duty titles including World at War, stepped up and began work on the next iteration of the series. While at E3, I was able to get a first look at Treyarch's latest take on the series in the form of Call of Duty: Black Ops.
The demo that we saw had two levels, with the first being titled WMD. This level started off with your character hopping into an SR-71 Black Bird and taking off from an American carrier in 1968. Your mission was to with destroy a Russian facility situated in an area which could only be reached by your elite team of operatives. True to the franchise's roots, there were no cutscenes in the build that we saw. Instead, the entire take off sequence allowed the character to look around and even required a minimal amount of involvement (some flicks of the left stick) to start the plane up.
Once in the air, were first given the task of directing our team from above and helping them avoid detection from the enemy. This took place through a thermal imaging system much like in the Modern Warfare titles. Following our team's (scripted) discovery we were sent down into first person mode and thrown into some classic Call of Duty action. The beginning of WMD is stealth based, as you crouch to avoid detection from enemies in a well rendered snow covered level. After sneaking past a few enemies, our character came to an enemy camp. After attempting to take them out using a stealthy crossbow we were discovered and an intense firefight ensued. The crossbow was luckily outfitted with exploding darts as well. These buried themselves into any surface: enemies, vehicles, even the ground, and created a large explosion to take out multiple bad guys at once.
Once our brief but intense firefight was concluded, our hero rappelled down two cliff faces before crashing into a room. This launched a slow motion sequence where our team eliminated a group of opposing bad guys in style. After cutting some cables, the Russians were alerted and came rushing into our position. After fighting our way through the facility it seemed the coast was clear. However, as we were making our escape an avalanche occurred and the ledge we were walking on collapsed, entering us into another controlled cinematic event which ended in us jumping off a cliff thus ending the first level.
The second level, called payback, took place in 1968 Vietnam. Our protagonist was captured but escaped and has decided to take revenge on his captors by hijacking capturing a Hind helicopter. After fighting off the Vietcong, none of whom were too keen on the idea of two Americans taking their helicopter, we took to the skies in a vehicle sequence. It was noted before the level began that this was not on rails and the developer was actually flying the helicopter using the left and right thumb-sticks. Most of the flying consisted of moving along the river, shredding everything in the hind’s path with the helicopter’s arsenal of missiles and machine guns. After taking out some boats which were likely present more as target practice than anything else we moved on to destroying some Vietcong bases.
After making short work of their puny defenses with our superior firepower we continued on in the level. Soon after, we began to be assaulted from a cave to our left. We had to get in close in order to stop their onslaught which threatened to destroy us. Our helicopter eventually was able to either dodge or destroy all the income missiles and take out the entrenched enemy position and moved further down the river. Our tour of death ended shortly thereafter, as we got into some helicopter on helicopter combat, with our bird coming out on top.
After seeing the progress that Treyarch is making it seems like the Call of Duty series is in good hands. The combat felt intense, and the inclusion of free moving vehicles is a welcome one for the franchise. There was no time for Q&A after the demo so I didn't get a chance to find out about multiplayer, but I have no doubt that it will be polished given the years of experience behind the franchise at this point. Look out for Call of Duty: Black Ops this November 9th on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and PC.