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 Call of Duty: Black Ops – Who Needs Infinity Ward?

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PostSubject: Call of Duty: Black Ops – Who Needs Infinity Ward?   Tue Jun 01, 2010 12:42 am

We know what you're thinking: seems like a pretty sensationalistic headline, right? After all, Infinity Ward has always stayed several steps ahead of stablemate Treyarch when it comes to creating Call of Duty games that both play better, and sell better. So how are things going to change?

First the obvious: as we all know, the firing of Jason West and Vince Zampella in March 2010 quickly transformed Infinity Ward into a casualty ward, as the bulk of the studio's most senior staff followed their ex-bosses through the out-door. According to a recent Activision earnings call, it would appear that IW is currently working on another CoD game (presumably Modern Warfare 3), but when your office receptionist becomes your most senior member of staff overnight, it's hard to imagine that you're going to be able to maintain let alone exceed your previously excellent standards.

Meanwhile, Treyarch has refused to be drawn for comment on the Activision/Infinity Ward fallout. When asked, community manager Josh Olin told Gaminglargest AU, "that situation at Infinity Ward is unfortunate, but we can't let it distract us, we've got to make sure we're doing our work."

Yet regardless of its outwardly diplomatic stance, it would appear that Treyarch is internally hell-bent on wresting the unofficial ownership of the CoD franchise away from IW with the release of Black Ops. Consider this: in 2008 the team managed to ship the high quality CoD: World at War, but it did so with just a fraction of its resources – the rest of the studio was divided between the development of Quantum of Solace and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. This year, Treyarch is dedicating 100% of its manpower to the making of Black Ops.

That fact alone is enough to prove that Treyarch is certainly committed to delivering the best CoD experience it possibly can, but will that be enough to smash Modern Warfare 2 and become the new 'biggest entertainment launch in history'? Here's five reasons why Black Ops could be the best CoD game yet.

1) The Cold War Setting

While World at War's Pacific setting allowed Treyarch to focus on an aspect of WWII not previously tackled by sibling rival Infinity Ward, for Black Ops it's moving the series into completely uncharted waters. With the exception of maybe Operation Flashpoint – a series designed almost explicitly for hardcore PC gamers – and a handful of games centered upon the Vietnam war, the FPS genre has largely left the Cold War untouched. Now Treyarch is set to deliver an intense new CoD experience that will make the Cold War cool, and approachable for the masses.

What makes the Cold War so appealing is the fact that it spans so many decades, and involves so many covert operations – top-secret missions that aren't detailed in the history books.

Olin explains, ""Under the veil of the Cold War there were these deniable operations, these secret wars that occurred that nobody had heard about. And they were taking place all over the world."

"In Call of Duty: Black Ops, over the course of decades, we're going to have you fight in those conflicts," continues Olin. "There's going to be a real emphasis on variety in gameplay, variety of weaponry, trying to bring fresh new elements to Call of Duty."

While Treyarch is certainly taking some liberties with its storytelling for the game's single player mode, it's made sure that the events of the game remain grounded in those of reality by basing a lot of its missions on the escapades of Major John Plaster, a former Studies and Observations Group (SOG) member and decorated Vietnam War veteran.




Plaster has been involved in more deniable operations than Demi Moore's plastic surgeon, and currently splits his retirement between tending to his garden and writing books on how to most effectively assassinate people using various high caliber rifles. He also may or may not be called 'Plaster' because that's what his enemies invariably end up in (the ones that live, anyway).

The bottom line is that the guy has lived through some pretty intense conflicts, and Black Ops' gameplay and set pieces should benefit from his input immensely. On top of all this is the simple fact that you get to play as black operative soldiers for the first time in a Call of Duty game ie. the kind of deadly, no-nonsense hardarses who are so efficient they bring a crossbow to a game of rock/paper/scissors. A crossbow with explosive arrows. Which brings us to...


2) Variable Ammo Types

It's by no means a new feature for the FPS genre, but it's certainly been lacking in previous CoD games: the ability to switch up your ammo types on the fly. Previously players have been limited to one ammo type per weapon, but in Black Ops you'll be able to swap out basic buckshot rounds in your SPAS-12 shotgun, for example, for full-on incendiary 'Dragon's Breath' blasts that effectively turn your pump-action into what is essentially a short range flamethrower.

Of course the fun doesn't stop there. Admittedly a silent crossbow dart to the temple is the sensible way to take out that Russkie guard patrolling the perimeter of an enemy installation in the game's Ural Mountains setting. But damn the inevitable alarms, it's just much more fun to shatter his left kneecap with an explosive dart and blow his lower legs a few hundred metres towards Moscow – leaving the rest of him to hitchhike back to Red Square.

So far these are the only alternate ammo types to be revealed, but we're assured by Treyarch that there will be many more to help pile on the gameplay variety in both Black Ops' single player and multiplayer modes. Our hope? A rocket launcher that's switchable to Commie-seeking rounds (a Red Heat-seeker, if you will).

3) Non-Stop Action

In the first of two Black Ops levels demonstrated to the press so far (click here for more detailed impressions), the player went from climbing into the cockpit of an SR-71 Blackbird jet, to ascending into sub-orbital heights, to plotting the movements of a team of ground troops RTS-style on a cockpit monitor and herding them away from a Russian ambush, to smoothly switching to said ground troops and blasting their way into a Soviet satellite base before eventually swan-diving off a cliff and parachuting to safety.

This single twenty-minute stretch was all gameplay – no cutscenes – although admittedly the player's involvement with the Blackbird's take-off was restricted to minimal inputs with the left thumbstick. Even so, the transitions between each gameplay style were seamless, offering an enticing glimpse at the level of truly dynamic action that Treyarch promises will be maintained from the game's opener until its closing credits.

Moreover, it's all lavished with the attention to detail that we've come to expect from the CoD brand – from the eerie quiet that greets the Blackbird's cruising altitude on the edge of the Earth's atmosphere, to the flecks of snow that gather inwards from the corners of your visor as you plummet face first down the side of the Ural mountain range. Slick.




4) You're Helping To Design It

Remember the Dogs of War multiplayer kill streak in World at War? The one that set loose a pack of hungry German Shepherds to go and play fetch with your enemies' balls? The idea wasn't conceived by anyone at Treyarch – it was actually suggested by a fan on a CoD internet forum.

According to Olin, the development team is always listening to its fanbase and relies heavily on their feedback to help shape its games. Another example: Capture The Flag wasn't originally planned to be included World at War's multiplayer, but after Olin presented an 87-page long forum thread to Treyarch's multiplayer director David Vonderhaar begging for its inclusion, the studio couldn't possibly refuse and CTF was in.

"Just because we can't respond and write in every single forum thread, doesn't mean we're not reading it," explains Olin.

Of course it could be argued that by bending the design of your game to suit the will of the fans you're potentially hindering your chances of success with audiences beyond your existing fanbase, which is why Treyarch dissects every suggestion it gets from fans and tempers them with its own creative nous and intuition.

"If we just developed the game that the community wanted, it would be a really weird game," admits Olin.

There goes our Commie-seeking rockets idea, then. Damn.



5) Zombies (Likely), Ninjas (Maybe), Pirates (Probably Not)

Speaking of quirky inclusions, arguably World at War's best, or at least most surprising multiplayer feature was its four-player co-op survival mode, Nazi Zombies. It was a huge hit with the CoD fanbase, and although it originated as a sort of in-house mod created by a handful of the Treyarch designers in their lunch breaks, you can bet that as a result of its overwhelming popularity the studio is hard at work at a far more substantial survival mode for Black Ops.

With zombies a bit been there, done that, perhaps they'll turn their attention to ninjas? Or pirates? Or perhaps in keeping with the Cold War theme, we'll get Commie Zombies this time. Or the ultimate: Commie Nazi Zombies (from Hell).

Treyarch is certainly going to need to pack in some major surprises, because even if Black Ops is good enough to finally trump Infinity Ward, it will still have to contend with both the sales record-threatening Halo: Reach and the resurgent Medal of Honor reboot in the battle for the pre-Christmas cash grab.

We certainly think it's going to give it a red-hot go, but what do you think? Has Treyarch got what it takes to keep the Call of Duty franchise at the top of the shooter pile in 2010?
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Call of Duty: Black Ops – Who Needs Infinity Ward?

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