Maybe I’m just easily entertained, but I get a real kick out of Call of Duty’s spectacle-laden campaigns.
One of the highlights of my second day at E3 was taking in a quick demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It began with a mission that wound through downtown Los Angeles 2025. Weirdly, one of its firefights was set in the street just outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, perhaps 100 metres from where I was watching the demo.
The diversity of action packed into the 10-minute romp was staggering (minor spoilers ahead) – I saw collapsing freeways, burning buildings, a falling skyscraper and planes zooming across the horizon. The game’s hero sniped through concrete pillars, controlled quadricopter drones, manned an anti-aircraft gun, drove an armoured car, got into a crash with a semi-truck, went up against armoured artillery mechs, flew a VTOL jet, smashed it head-on into an enemy plane and parachuted to the ground. I felt breathless and exhausted, and I wasn’t even the one playing.
Critics of Call of Duty games, which many hardcore shooter fans love to hate, will no doubt point out that what I just described is less a game and more an interactive Michael Bay movie. Fair enough.
But I saw evidence that developer Treyarch is also striving to innovate.
The second half of the session showed off one of the campaign’s “strike force” levels – the first non-linear campaign missions in Call of Duty history. The one I saw began with the player dropped onto a shipping dock with three squad mates. You can choose to fight your way through open areas to various objectives or go into overwatch mode, where you can see the whole battlefield, mark targets for your team to attack, and set waypoints for them to move to. At any point you can jump back down into the fray, taking control of the squad member of your choice.
What’s more, you can actually fail these missions – another first for the series. Failing to complete objectives will alter the story slightly and could potentially make later missions much more difficult. I didn’t witness how this might work, so for now it remains merely an intriguing idea.
It’s too early to tell just how different this Call of Duty will be, but at least Treyarch is trying to shake things up a bit.
So, too, is Danger Close with its latest shooter: Medal of Honor: Warfighter. After 2010’s forgettable Medal of Honor, I honestly didn’t have much hope for this one. But the 20 minutes I spent playing its multiplayer mode left me cautiously optimistic.
The developers explained two key innovations. The first is that each class of soldier hales from a different country and employs tactics and equipment based on that nation’s real-world special forces teams. Danger Close actually worked with special forces troopers from around the world in hopes of injecting a bit of added realism.
Naturally, I gravitated to the Canadian, a Joint Task Force 2 soldier. He’s a heavy gunner that specializes in suppression tactics, receives a bonus to covering fire accuracy, and can call in a helicopter equipped with a minigun that the player mans him- or herself (you can use a zipline to head back down into the action whenever you like).
I don’t know if it’s just a novelty that will wear off with time, but I have to admit that the nationality angle worked for me. I especially enjoyed seeing a Maple Leaf flag raised over a control point once I secured it.
The other new twist is a little more substantial. Players are placed into fireteams consisting of two players. Your partner is selected at random to start, but you can switch to another if you like. What makes this relationship special is that you can see your teammate’s outline anywhere he or she happens to be on the battlefield, even through walls. This provides a neat kind of situational awareness, and makes one want to stick with his or her partner.
You can also respawn next to your teammate. This isn’t exactly new (we saw it most recently in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier), but what is kind of cool is that if your partner takes down your killer you’ll respawn instantly at his or her side with no wait time at all.
The campaign is still an enigma, and a military shooter’s multiplayer needs more than a couple of neat quirks to really stand out among today’s fierce competition, but I think Danger Close might be on the right track here. We’ll know for sure when Medal of Honor: Warfighter hits stores this fall, a couple of weeks before Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.