With five months to go before its release, Alex Ritman gets a preview of Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops II and finds out if the hype is justified
Game preview: Call of Duty - Black Ops II
For all the talk of The Avengers' high earnings at the box office, or the inevitable global success of The Dark Knight Rises, in terms of figures the entertainment world is likely to be dominated by one title this year.
When the first third-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops landed in 2010, it was nothing short of a phenomenon. Within a month, sales had topped US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn), making it the best-selling game of all time. This record has since been beaten by last year's Modern Warfare 3, also from Activision's all-conquering Call of Duty stable. But to say anticipation is high for Black Ops II (BOII) – due to arrive November 13 – is something of an understatement.
Many expect it to retake the crown and, if orders are anything to go by, it looks likely to do just that (it's already smashed Amazon's first-day pre-sales records).
But aside from an impressive heritage, what is BOII going to include that justifies such excitement? With a Call of Duty game released annually for the past seven years, there has been talk it has been getting too similar. Will BOII up the ante for one of the world's most successful entertainment franchise of all time?
In a word, yes. At a sneak preview in London last week, Activision revealed what every gamer had been hoping for: that BOII looks just as awesome – if not more so – than its predecessors.
The first differenceis the time period. Much of BOII is set in a (predictably) volatile 2025, some 60 years after the last one, meaning there is a vast arsenal of futuristic weapons available. Fancy shooting people through concrete with an X-ray sniper? Of course you do.
Activision's demo began by introducing the game's new bad guy, Raul Menéndez (cut from the same villainous cloth as Dragovich and Makarov), and a cheeky attempt to kidnap the future US lady president (not Hillary) in Los Angeles.
The action on the ground eventually moves skyward, as the main character David Mason (the son of Alex, from the first) takes control of an FA-38 fighter plane to neutralise a few helicopters with a few "Sky Burst" missiles (and show off a gameplay element that will surely feature again in the game).
While all this falls under the "mega ace" category, BOII's most exciting new feature, perhaps, is found with the "Strike Force" missions that crop up in single-player mode. For the first time in Call of Duty, the story isn't linear, and the results of these strategic squad-based missions, which can be played in a variety of ways, will determine how the game ends, giving good reason to go back once you've completed it. Activision's "Strike Force" demo saw Mason's team attempt to take out a container ship in Singapore's docks, with battlefield drones and remote-controlled quad-copters thrown in for good measure.
Given that BOII will be the ninth Call of Duty game, its seems the (heavily armed) boat is being well and truly pushed out to give gamers something different, while maintaining the Hollywood action-style quality that has made the franchise the biggest in video game history. If only we didn't have to wait five months.