Treyarch has always seemed to be the more bullish member of the Call of Duty family. It began as the underdog trying to find its place in a playing field long-established by Infinity Ward. Few can deny that it had a shaky start, but in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, it’s hitting huge strides.
This really is three games in one. First up is the all-new campaign with an updated engine, branching paths, multiple endings, moral choices and sandbox stages. Then you have the multiplayer which people will still be playing this time next year.
Finally, Black Ops 2 sees the return of Treyarch’s zombies mode, but this time it isn’t just a side-attraction, it’s a full open-world campaign. The studio really is dredging the market to hoover up everyone’s attention this year, and what’s interesting is how well it has has held the whole package together
Bus ride to hell
We’ll start with zombies because chances are this is what you came here for. The core zombie campaign is called TranZit, and the plot follows the events of Rezurrection – the final piece of zombie DLC from the original Black Ops.
Treyarch wouldn’t confirm this, but it appears as if TranZit is set in the modern day, rather than the 2025 setting of Black Ops 2. The world smacks of the American south-west, with burned out diners, boarded up theatres and rusted car shells lining the dilapidated streets.
The zombie outbreak is back with a vengeance and your only hope of understanding the cataclysm and escaping the undead is to blaze a trail across the region – either on foot or by bus. Along the way you will encounter focal points, arenas that can be selected in Survival mode if you fancy a classic bit of zombie action with mates.
“The zombie outbreak is back with a vengeance and your only hope of understanding the cataclysm and escaping the undead is to blaze a trail across the region – either on foot or by bus.”
There is an element of Dead Island in here too, as crafting is available for the first time. We’re unsure of how many items can be built, but we did see survivors building spiked shields out of car doors and shrapnel.
Think of them like a weaponised riot shield from Modern Warfare 2 and you’re on the right track. They seem awesome for wading through packs of zombies and simply battering them to pieces.
Treyarch wouldn’t reveal the size of the TranZit map, but it looked big from what we saw. The length of the actual zombie campaign could make or break Black Ops 2 for fans of the undead, but if it’s huge, it could earn the franchise many new players.
On top of that, the studio has also added in competitive play. It’s a last man standing mode called Grief where two groups of four survivors fight each other, as well as a never-ending barrage of zombies to be the last team alive. That is going to be utter chaos to play, and we can’t wait to try it for ourselves.
So that’s what we know about Black Ops 2: Zombies in a nutshell, seeing as Treyarch is still being elusive about the full extent of what’s on offer. It’s nice to see that the developer is catering for horror fans, and those Call of Duty players who can’t stand the competitive circuit. But hold on, because things get even better.
Going back to Cuba
Treyarch also showed us a new Black Ops 2 campaign mission called ‘Celerium’ that really got a reaction from the press on show.
It underlines the game’s enhanced engine, gadgets, gameplay and aesthetic prowess wonderfully. If anything, the studio should have shown this mission at E3 instead of the Los Angeles one.
It’s the second mission in the game, and it tracks Mason and his buddy Harper – played by the brilliantly rasping Michael Rooker – as they attempt a covert siege on a drone facility owned by villain Raul Menendez. It opens with the duo scouting the area on a rain-slick cliff edge.
What’s neat here is that it’s set in Cuba, and it recalls the first mission in the original Black Ops, in which Mason senior is overlooking Castro’s mansion. It’s a great parallel that fans will appreciate.
Except this time, the team must use nano-gloves – which are a thing apparently – to climb down the cliff wall like gruff Spider-Men. It sounds ludicrous but you know, the future.
“Already the freedom to approach objectives as you see fit makes the corridor sections of previous Call of Duty titles a fading memory. It’s not Battlefield: Bad Company levels of sandbox, but the exemplary stage design hits a sweet spot between freedom and focus that keeps things interesting.”
It’s not like the frankly boring rappel sections that every Call of Duty has. In fact, you choose your own route down the rock face, swinging left and right to get a better path down to the ground. The visuals are truly superb as a storm rolls in, genuinely hampering your vision.
Meanwhile, Trent Reznor’s pounding synth score hammers the senses. Fans of his work in The Social Network will enjoy what he’s done in Black Ops 2. Once Mason and Harper hit the ground, they team up with another squad of friendlies and prepare to head to the enemy compound.
The objective is far away, so the team free-fall off the cliff before deploying wingsuits that see them swooping through the skies at high speed. None of this is scripted, as Treyarch steers Mason around cliffs and through jagged canyons with his squad in tow. It’s thrilling stuff.
Landing in the dense jungle, the mission goes fully covert as Harper spots a patrol of stealth-cloaked snipers roaming the compound’s perimeter. You can choose to open fire or take the goons down silently and steal their stealth suits for yourself, giving you an edge over unsuspecting enemies.
Already the freedom to approach objectives as you see fit makes the corridor sections of previous Call of Duty titles a fading memory. It’s not Battlefield: Bad Company levels of sandbox, but the exemplary stage design hits a sweet spot between freedom and focus that keeps things interesting.
The group silently reaches a clearing full of troops guarding the entrance to Menendez’s lair. Attacking is the only option, but to show us how smart players can be, Treyarch slips around to the back of the area, and using a multi-tool, cuts open an enemy turret and hacks it. This turns it hostile, giving Mason and his team the upper hand.
Again, you don’t have to do this, but the option is there if you want it. An almighty gun battle rages as the storm rolls in fully, whipping debris and plant life around, hampering the player’s visibility.
This is where the MMR scope – a zoomed scope that emits a sonar pulse to highlight enemies at timed intervals – comes in handy, painting targets through the barrage of wind and rain.
The particle effects during the storm are impressive, and giving players even more freedom, Treyarch demonstrates some of its new dynamic destruction by shooting at ancient stone archways in the area, causing them to crumble and kill guards underneath. Best of all, it’s still not not scripted.
Dispatching the bad guys, Mason and his team enter the underground facility, which is way more high-tech than the group were expecting. The team are quickly ambushed by a pack of CLAW mechs before the demo ends abruptly.
It was a short demo, but it showed off such a myriad of accomplished and entertaining mechanics. The mission underlines just how serious Treyarch is about moving away from presumptions about the franchise, and to challenge what has gone before. Next up, we’ve got multiplayer.
32 layers. No cocks please
Yeah we know, they say that each new Call of Duty multiplayer is the biggest ever, but this time they are under-selling it. We’ve already explained the whopping new Create-A-Class system here, and we’ve played multiplayer a lot, but there’s even more new content to discuss.
Treyarch begin by answering some frequently asked questions surrounding multiplayer. You have 55 levels per Prestige, and you can Prestige ten times. After you level up you get an unlock token, and this can be used to buy a piece of equipment out of a selection of 100 item.
There is more content than levels, so you can’t get everything in one Prestige, however, once you complete your 10th Prestige you earn ‘Master’ status and unlock all 100 pieces of available kit at the same time.
After you Prestige you lose all of your unlocked gear, but your weapon ranks remain. You can reset your stats after you Prestige and even spend an unlock token to get a refund on a token you spent elsewhere. So say you don’t like a particular gun, you can lock it again and spend the token on something else. It’s clever.
”Multiplayer just keeps on getting bigger to the point of intimidation. When the hell are we going to find time to play all of it? No matter, we’re suitably impressed with everything Treyarch as shown so far.”
Game modes include Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Domination, Demolition, Kill Confirmed, Headquarters, Capture the Flag, Search & Destroy and new king of the hill mode Hardpoint, which sees players fighting for randomly cycling zones on the map.
There is a new ‘Party’ playlist that includes returning classics Gun Game, One In The Chamber, Sharpshooter and Sticks and Stones. These are no longer wager matches however, and grant players XP for participating, just as normal game modes do.
Combat Training has also been expanded, and is now split into three tiers. First is Bootcamp, which covers levels 1-10 that puts two teams of three humans and three bots, against each other. Objective training covers all objective modes at level ten-plus, while Bot Stomp mode pits six humans of any level against six bots.
Treyarch’s list of new features doesn’t seem to end as the presentation rolls past the hour mark, with over 1000 new challenges that unlock cosmetic items – such as callsigns, playercard decals and shapes for the emblem editor, which now gives players 32 layers to play with.
We then see a new multiplayer map called Express which is set in a bullet train station, and features a high-speed carriage doing laps around the track. It will crush anyone foolish enough to linger on the track for too long, and adds another dynamic element into the mix.
Is it awesome?
Yeah, it really is, even if you aren’t a fan of what Call of Duty has offered before. Zombies is its own game now, so you needn’t even touch the rest of the package if you don’t want to. But if you do decide to enter the competitive arena, the Combat Training mode has been tailored to give CoD virgins a leg-up.
Also, multiplayer keeps on getting bigger to the point of intimidation. When the hell are we going to find time to play all of it? No matter, we’re suitably impressed with everything Treyarch as shown so far.
As the November 13th release date inches closer, we’re not far from seeing how well the game scores at review. It will be interesting to see how the industry responds.
What’s your take on what Treyarch has shown so far? As ever, let us know below.