by Ryan Phillip Hardesty
previewed on PC
A History of Warfare
Throughout its seven year, six game run, the Call of Duty franchise has brought full-scale war to the masses. The games invaded homes on all platforms, allowing anyone to don their virtual helmet and rifle and start blasting alongside their companions. For the first three games, World War II was the setting, and how could it not be? The mother of all wars as the setting for the mother of all war games? Of course.
And then Modern Warfare came along, switching up the time and locations for a present-day experience, where terrorists and nuclear weapons were suddenly viable aspects. It was a big change for a franchise steeped in Sherman tanks, BARs, and swastikas. That change, apparently, was loved by consumers all across the globe as the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 quickly became the biggest launch of any video game in history (and arguably the biggest launch of any form of entertainment), taking in over $300 million in sales on its first day in the US and UK. Since then it has taken well over $1 billion, so clearly the change in setting was the right step.
The Black Sheep
And now the folks at Treyarch are preparing to take another step in a new direction, using an approach to gameplay and story that no Call of Duty game has ever used before. With Call of Duty: Black Ops, time has been shifted back from the present day to the turbulent times surrounding the Cold War. For anyone not too caught up on their history, the Cold War makes an excellent opportunity for Treyarch to capture the cloak-and-dagger machinations that took place between secretive organizations of the global superpowers during the 50s and 60s (this game is called Black Ops, after all). Now, instead of a WWII soldier or modern day warrior, you’ll strap on your silencer, step into the shadows and prepare to become a death-dealing specter of the most highly trained order.
Set across various periods during the Cold War and in several conflicts that actually took place, you’ll play as either Hudson or Mason, two operatives of the Studies and Observation Group, a real organization that took on the most secretive and critical operations of the Vietnam War (these guys were so important they were given their own cards that allowed them to commandeer anything, even a five-star general’s jeep). In the form of both Hudson and Mason, Treyarch deploys its second switch-up in terms of gameplay: character.
For the first time in a Call of Duty game, you are the most important man on the field, leading the small group of men behind you. No longer are you a bland, voiceless meat sack surrounded by other numerous meat sacks. Treyarch has charged the characters and storyline with personal intensity, a charge that will hopefully translate into a narrative that won’t act as simply an excuse for bullet storms and big explosions.
The technology being used will help push the characters into the realm of believability, in that voice acting, motion capture and facial animation are all being done at once, an oddly rare event in the video game world and something similar to what James Cameron did with Avatar. The execs at Treyarch have been virtually giddy with their plans for the story, forcing themselves to stay quiet during interviews about all the planned twists, and though this sort of bubbly eagerness has been exhibited by numerous developers before, one can only hope there’s some real substance to it.