Following in the footsteps of the most successful videogame on the planet must be daunting. But there wasn't a hint of quivering nerves at the studio of Santa Monica-based Treyarch. Just raw excitement and determination to create something special with this year's Call of Duty.
We wouldn't be surprised if Treyarch were sick of being seen as the number-two COD team, standing in the mighty shadow of Infinity Ward, as is often touted by bitchy gamers in internet forums. Yes, the two Modern Warfare games were both exceptionally successful, but that doesn't mean Treyarch didn't do a fantastic job on the console-only Call of Duty 3 and World at War (84%, issue 204). And we shouldn't forget the Nazi Zombie mode in WAW that had us shouting madly at our screens like
a homeless drunk at the bookies who's put his last pound on a horse.
This time it seems like whatever time or resource shackles Treyarch were bound by have been removed. The developer has freedom, time and people - around 250 more of them. And so they've chosen to base their latest effort on a scenario that has more creative freedom than almost any other conflict in modern history: the Cold War.
This COD is based on the exploits of covert special forces units - the titular black ops brigades. These chaps are elite soldiers sent in to carry out classified missions, often undercover - SAS, SEALs, Pathfinders, Delta Force and the like - although Treyarch kept hush on more in-depth plot details.
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This is Mission Impossible-style stuff - should spec ops be caught or killed their government deny all knowledge of their existence - only instead of being assigned missions at ballroom parties and wielding slick hair, explosive chewing gum and glass-breaking wedding rings, these chaps go into battle with incendiary shotguns and crossbows that shoot explosive-tipped bolts. Oh yes.
Apparently they were allowed to approach missions any way they wanted and with any load-out they wished. This gave Treyarch the freedom to create a game that can be constantly varied and kept as fresh as possible. The developer showed this with four snippets of gameplay.
A snowy mission, set in the Urals mountain range in west Russia, saw the player guide a squad from the safety of a recon plane flying at the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. The dark and grainy camera view was reminiscent of the bombing missions in the Modern Warfare titles. Within a minute your control switches to a soldier on the ground who's tasked with sneaking through the snowy mountainous environment into an enemy base.
This was our taste of Black Op's stealth gameplay, as our lad had to avoid enemy patrols rather than nail them with the meaty looking crossbow in his hand.
Later sees you abseiling down a cliff face. It looks incredible - despite the blizzard-like conditions you can see the detailed scenery stretching into the distance, with your objective clearly visible before you're anywhere near it.
As you approach the base, you're told to keep things quiet and use your normal bolts, but should you draw attention to yourself you have the explosive-tipped types at hand. These stick in your enemy before detonating, sending other nearby goons flying.
Leaving the base sees you creeping along the side of a snow-covered mountain when some buffoon shoots an RPG your way. An avalanche is triggered and things go mental as you sprint along the cliff and leap down.
This mission showed the expansive environments you'll encounter in the game, of which Treyarch promise there will be a great number. They didn't go into detail about what you'll see, but they did show us another mission with a vastly different setting.