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Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Black Ops of the Future
Company: Activision

At a recent Pre-E3 event, Activision took some time to show us what to expect from the latest Call of Duty title, Black Ops II, and based on the gameplay we experienced, you can expect a lot of standard CoD close-up warfare, but with a new direction that could have a major impact on the series.

Basically, where the Modern Warfare line took Call of Duty out of the WWII era, and the first Black Ops game focused on Vietnam, this newest title will jump even further ahead and take gamers in the near-future world of 2025.

Actually, players will jump between the events of 2025 and the 1980's in order to get a full handle on the story and the game's main enemy, a terrorist by the name of Raul Menendez. While the main focus of the game, or at least the gameplay we saw, involved the 2025 era, the chronologically earlier levels, where players will once again control Alex Mason, will show the events that shape Menendez and make him into the character he will be in the futuristic portions of Black Ops II.

In this near-future world, war is fought over precious metals instead of fossil fuels and there is a cold war in effect between the United States and China. Moreover, a vast array of military might has been put into cyber and robotic technology. While men are still in the battlefields, they are accompanied by everything from unmanned vehicles to all-out robotics. What Black Ops II shows us is what happens when an enemy force gets control of those automated forces and turns them against us. That appears to be just what Menendez does by the time we get to 2025 and Alex Mason is replaced by his son, David, in this new bit of warfare that takes place on good ole U.S. of A. soil.

The gameplay we experienced started off with Mason and his team escorting the President out of Los Angeles when the attacks hits. Knocked out of the humvee, Mason and his team must continue to protect the Commander in Chief through the now war-torn streets of L.A. As Mason worked his way down the destroyed interstate segments, he took up a sniping position, while the rest of the escort made its way across what was obviously an ambush-ready kill zone. Armed with a great rifle and a snazzy scope that could see through solid objects, the President was secured on a new transport.

Mason's enemies, both up close and from the sniping point, included everything from men on foot to UAV jets to small robotic tanks that carried a lot of stopping power. Thankfully, Mason's arsenal includes a few automated weapons of his own. Not only can Mason use any weapon laying around the battlefield, but he can call in a group of hovering machine-guns with some basic A.I. to clear out an area before he even walks into a room.

Too bad the President's new vehicle doesn't stay safe for too long. During the demo, Mason has to jump into an advanced vertical take-off jet and follow the escape vehicle to make sure its safe. The President's attackers included not only ground-forces that Mason could quickly dispatch, but also a squadron of enemy jets that force you into a dog-fighting scenario. Needless to say, this 20 minutes or so of gameplay was non-stop action that took anyone familiar with downtown L.A. through some very recognizable locations. Everything from the LACC to the Staples Center and the Downtown Plaza was prominently displayed, and for the most part, destroyed.

That tidbit of Single Player Campaign wasn't all we got to experience though. Call of Duty: Black Ops II features a new type of mission outside of the main story. These "Strike Force" missions all take place in 2025 and weave their own story that takes you from mission to mission. There are a few interesting points about this particular campaign. For one, it features a branching storyline structure. Just because you failed at a mission, it doesn't mean you've lost the game. As you progress through the missions, your success or failure determines what your next tasks will be and how the story plays out. Granted, a branching storyline structure isn't all that new, but Black Ops II is the first game in the Call of Duty line to attempt it.

The other intriguing aspect of Strike Force missions is how you actually play through them. You are given a squad of fighters and an objective, and while you can play the mission in standard first-person perspective, you can quickly and easily zoom out to a bird's-eye-view in order to direct your troops and lay down objectives and waypoints as if the game were an RTS. After that, you can just as easily take over any of your resources again. Popping in and out of the front lines means that you can really direct your troops, but also stay in the meat of things, but you don't have to stick to the humans. You can take over the unmanned drones as well. There were several times when we went from the top-down view into one of the robotic tanks or flying guns and whenever we left one of the troops, be it human or robotic), the A.I. picked it up and carried on with its marching orders. Of course, the question here is, how good is the A.I. and will it behave the way you want it to?

While the focus of the Pre-E3 event was on Call of Duty: Black Ops II's single player experience, the presenters couldn't help touching on the multiplayer aspects of the upcoming game just a little bit. They said that a lot of work has been done this time around to pay careful attention to social connectivity, balance and play styles as well as strong integration into Call of Duty Elite. And, of course, the Zombies mode returns. This time, the levels are being developed in the game's multiplayer engine. This means you can expect bigger worlds, new game modes like 4v4 and other possibilities that are apparently really inspiring the developers at Treyarch. Expect more on the multiplayer aspects of Black Ops II in the near future.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II is slated for release on November 13th of this year for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer
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