Location: In Butt Town , I'm learnin' , In Butt Town I'm turnin'..... in to my... worst nightmare
Below is the full story of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 event that occurred last night. I considered presenting a short matter-of-fact recount of the night, but instead I will weave an enchanting narrative of the magic that was encountered. So, where do I begin?
A few weeks ago our glorious leader vlastanovak received an email inviting a couple of members of Sixaxis Gaming (6A) to attend an invite-only Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (BO2) event. The event was proposed to be a chance for gamers representing different websites/organizations to firstly meet for a full run-down on all the features of BO2 straight from the Activision-horse’s mouth, and secondly get our sweaty, nerdy little hands on some multiplayer goodness. Since BO2 is arguably the biggest game release this year, one may have expected competition for tickets within 6A staff to be particularly savage. Surprisingly, however, it wasn’t, probably due to the fact that many staff are not from the Sydney region, and those that ARE locals are unfortunately overwhelmingly socially awkward. After a quick check of availability, I bravely volunteered to contest the transport through Sydney’s harsh Inner West and attend the event, along with my trusty sidekick Muri. Muri didn’t trust that we could defend ourselves alone, so he brought along his cousin Lui for the long drive from Wollongong. Typical.
The calm before the storm
After a few travel issues caused by Sydney’s fantastic public transport, I eventually made it to Sydney Olympic Park on time. Muri was already there with Lui, but he had somehow managed to park almost in another suburb. After trolling me on the phone pretending to be the drugged-up shirtless guy walking towards me, I finally rendezvoused with mah man Muri. As an avid miscer, his first comment was naturally about my superior height genetics. The walk also had obviously taken its toll on him, because by the time I arrived he had already consumed three chicken and cheese burgers plus four other burgers from the nearby McDonald’s establishment. Not even joking. We then found our way to the expo entrance, and presented ourselves to the waiting security guard. I nodded to the big fella with the confident air of a man on a mission, and Muri tentatively inquired about what we had to do to get in. The conversation went something like this.
“Hey, uhh, we have these tickets, so where do we go?”
“What are the tickets for? Are you here for the VIP event?”
“I dunno, we just want to play Black Ops 2…”
Unfortunately he had no idea what we were talking about, and frankly seemed a bit suspicious, so he sent us outside to wait with some other plebians that were gathering. Being from 6A we naturally felt too sophisticated to mill around with just anyone, so we went and sat down on a wall at the edge of a garden until Muri was too scared of bats and/or spiders to remain there. By this time the event was about to begin, so we headed back over to the main entrance.
In our email correspondence before the event, the contact that plied us with information was named Tegan. We scanned with our accurate gamer-eyes to try and find someone who resembled a gamer girl. We located one and began to hone in, until she started calling out for people to grab their passes and head into the WiiU VIP early access event. The mention of a WiiU event raised fears within our waters. Had some type of horrible mistake been made? Were we actually going to spend two hours virtually stroking some Nintendogs, rather than maiming terrorists?
Alas, these fears were short-lived, when a man named Tegan began calling out for those attending the BO2 event to come forward. It was a bittersweet moment, as we were pleased to finally be receiving our passes, but also disappointed that our dreams of seducing Tegan the gamer girl with our 360 no-scopes had faded into naught.
Since we were running late, Tegan gave us any old staff passes to gain entry to the event. We thus had to assume new identities for the evening, which I believe we achieved with aplomb. Muri was a Media Representative from Activision, I was a staff member named Naren Hassoon, and Muri’s cousin was now named Stephen. We were now ready to begin the festivities.
Nibblies and News
Food was awaiting us upstairs: mini hamburgers (with well-peppered angus), spring rolls, meat pies and more. There was also a bountiful supply of soft drinks, but alas, no beer.
We scanned the room to see if there were any other familiar gamers. I saw a few people that I recognised from a photo on CyberGamer, yet I was too intimidated by their e-Sports t-shirts to approach them and have a chat. I did say a quick hello to GipD, who runs the ACL Lan events, and she was quite friendly. Gamers are generally a pleasant bunch. Muri attested that one other girl there was certainly lost, and had somehow mistakenly joined the BO2 event on her way to a Victoria’s Secret show. There were also a few guys carrying around cameras that Muri and his cousin recognised as YouTube personalities.
The view from a stealth shot with no flash. If you squint you can see the poor lost girl.
Nevertheless, after a short while of well-intentioned stalking, we stocked up our pockets with cans of Mother and entered the nearby presentation room to begin learning about BO2.
The room was set out like a typical conference, so I felt like I was a proper media personality, rather than just a casual gamer. Two super-thin Samsung TVs displayed the familiar BO2 cover art, and rows of chairs were neatly aligned. After a short introduction, a man took to the stage to begin talking us through all aspects of the game – its history, its development, what they hope BO2 to achieve. He was a confident, charming man from Santa Monica, decked out in a dashing pink shirt, and he was clearly proud of how Treyarch and Activision have gone about developing BO2. Below is my artist’s impression of the situation.
Note: not to scale.
The first aspect of BO2 to be revealed was the single player experience. As the name of the game would suggest, the storyline somewhat continues on from Call of Duty: Black Ops, with the return of some familiar characters. This time, however, the game is set in 2025 and contains futuristic technology to match the advanced time period. The antagonist is a shifty South American leader named Menendez, who, despite having a loyal following of over one billion twitter followers, is a thoroughly nasty chap. The storyline revolves around how the threat of Menendez is dealt with. To illustrate this, we were played a run-through of the first single player level: “Monsoon”.
It begins with a harrowing experience hanging from the side of a cliff, with the protagonist clutching on to rocks with high-tech gloves. This part is more about timing the press of buttons correctly, to allow the characters to progress down the cliff to a safe platform, than relying on sharpshooting. The futuristic technology then continues, with the protagonist’s posse jumping off the cliff and soaring to the next checkpoint in squirrel suits.
While this may seem a bit passive, don’t fear that the action will revolve entirely around soaring serenely through the skies – shortly after landing the action begins. Cloaked enemies can be seen deploying, and after receiving attack orders you must disable their equipment with an EMP grenade. This is when all hell breaks loose. Firefights begin to rage, and do not cease until the end of the level. Along the way equipment must be destroyed, and enemies must be killed.
It’s hard to say how tough the AI will be this time around, as it appeared that the developer had been playing on easy mode. At least you’d hope so, as he did the typical developer’s route through the battlefield of walking through the middle of the map, ignoring all cover, and still survived easily. All in all, the single player looked solid and should be enjoyable, unless you find some of the implausible technology just a little too farfetched.
Finally we came to part of the game that the vast majority of people buy CoD games for: multiplayer. BO2 is typical of the CoD series, whereby aspects from previous games are incorporated into the new game along with new developments. It continues the trend from Modern Warfare 2 onwards, with a huge amount of customisation and choices available to players.
A returning feature of recent CoD games is the Callsign, which is a player card that is displayed to other players during lobbies and in matches. If you can cast your mind back to the first Black Ops, you may remember the ability to customise your own Callsign by creating emblems. This returns in BO2, only on steroids this time. Far more customizations are available, and there are 32 layers to play with. Transparency within layers is also now supported. The speaker proudly noted that this allows the creativity of players to be displayed to others in the game, through amazingly good or humorously bad emblem creations. When he said this I couldn’t help but laugh, remembering back to the many shapes and sizes of penis emblems that I encountered in Black Ops.
Custom classes return, with a huge amount of customisation and a nifty new way of determining just what equipment you can have. The way they do this is through a “Pick 10” method, where you can pick 10 customisations to have. These can be through extra perks, or you can trade perks for extra gun attachments, or extra tactical grenades, and so on. This might prove to be really annoying if abused, but hopefully this doesn’t happen. There are many guns to choose from like usual, and many attachments, so class choice will be crucial to success.
To display your trendy Callsign and utilise your classes, you need to obviously search for a game mode to play in. All the old favourites return in BO2, including (but not limited to) Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination, Search and Destroy, and a new mode called Hardpoint. In Hardpoint, teams must fight for a contested point on a map and defend it in a “King of the Hill”-type scenario. You gain points for controlling the contested zone, and whichever team has the most points when time runs out is the winner.
Pointstreaks return, with kills and/or objective completions racking up points to provide the player with many different support options. You can choose to utilise the UAV (an old favourite), or a Hunter Killer Drone (using this has a movement like throwing a paper plane), or even a Lightning Strike (which zaps players with electricity). And yes, the attack dogs do return.
Challenges return in a big way. There are over 1000 challenges to be completed this time, and one way they are used is to unlock camouflages for guns. There are basic camos like usual, and then for completing difficult and more advanced gun challenges you can unlock even better camos. These include ones like the fancy new carbon fiber camo. Additionally, it was revealed that there are special hidden camos, but no more was said about them. Mysterious. All of these camos aren’t just restricted to normal guns; they also cover things like RPGs and throwing knives. Reticles in gun sights can also be changed once again. There are all of the reticle customizations you’ve experiences in the past, as well as some new joke reticles, such as a moustache-shaped one that was based on the Activision lighting director Steve.
The Prestige system has been overhauled. There are 10 Prestiges, and each one contains 55 levels. The difference this time is that prestiging does not reset challenges or related aspects of the game. Treyarch does not want Prestiging to be a burden; instead they want it to be a natural progression of the game. Once again you unlock Prestige Tokens, which can be spent to buy a variety of upgrades for that particular Prestige. There is also a mystery as to what occurs once you finish all Prestige levels – the developer mentioned that you attain some kind of “Master Prestige” status, and receive a new Prestige Symbol, but he would not show it to us.
Judging on past games, there will probably be at least one overpowered weapon, but for the competitive side of things they can once again be removed by predefined class restrictions. The whole competitive gaming side has been embraced, with the implementation of a new way of spectating teams and a “Codcasting” system. A shoutcaster in the lobby can spectate either team while doing their thing, and their view can display a map showing the positions of all players, or focus on an individual player, or have a picture in picture view. This last view is the most intriguing. The gameplay is displayed to one side, and on the other is a list of players and their stats, for example their current kill streak or death streak. This will no doubt improve shoutcasting of BO2 games and lead to much better coverage of ladder battles.
Theater mode has been overhauled, and is much better. In the first Black Ops, theater mode was nifty and a bit of fun, but by and large it wasn’t very versatile. This time you can include twice the number of clips from a match (20 instead of 10), meaning much more of the feel of a match can be captured. You can then merge these into one clip, and continue adding more scenes from a match. Neat! You are now also able to watch the first-person view from any character in a match, a feature that was sorely lacking in the first Black Ops. Furthermore, there is now the ability to create a highlights reel from a match with the touch of one button. Yep, one button. The game intuitively selects short clips detailing impressive feats from a match and combines them into a highlights reel. Just how effective this will be at selecting good moments remains to be widely tested, but the sample they showed us was pretty impressive.
Like the first Black Ops, multiplayer is not restricted to pure human vs. human warfare. Making a return is combat training, which this time is more integrated to the “Core” (main) multiplayer experience. Combat Training is divided into three modes. The first mode (as you progress from level 1 to 10) is an easy way to become familiar with the game, and, if I gathered correctly, the experience from this counts towards your normal multiplayer leveling. The next two modes are basically increasingly difficult training against bots. The second mode provides experience, but the third does not. A new feature of Combat Training this time is the ability to play in a party, with your group of humans playing a group of bots. This allows you to practice strats and whatnot, and if you are missing core players you can replace them with bots. I think there was more new info about Combat Training, but the amount of new info has overloaded my brain.
Wager matches return, but now they are referred to as “Party Games”. Woo. Apart from the name change they didn’t seem TOO different to the way they were on previous CoD titles, so I won’t go into them in-depth.
The final thing I will mention from the presentation is the Zombies mode. It seems to incorporate much more strategy this time, with a progression through many environments relying on wise decisions. You can choose to travel between locations on some kind of magical bus after achieving certain goals, or you can walk instead. Both options have pros and cons. A new addition is the ability to play a different form of Zombies, which has two human teams both fighting zombies while competing to win. Last man standing wins. The humans cannot attack each other, but they can somehow encourage the zombies to attack the oppose team more frequently. The overhauled Zombies mode seems immersive, detailed and fun.
Phew! That was a lot of info to recall. Time now for the fun part: playing the game.
Gameplay: my impressions
After the lengthy presentation ended, we all stood up eager to finally get our hands on the game. In an orderly ritual-like procession we descended the stairs, taking in the surrounding sights of the EB Expo exhibitions. The scale of the expo was the most impressive part; with ornate stalls sprawling way into the distance of the dome. We were directed straight to the large BO2 section, which was big enough to look more like an apartment than a stall. Outside the entrance were large tubs of refreshments… including beer this time! Praise to the CoD Gods for really looking after us.
Beer. CoD. Foreveralone?
Inside the BO2 apartment were rows and rows of desks adorned with Xboxes plugged into amazingly clear LG IPS TVs. They also provided Turtle Beach headsets for every player. Whilst dismayed by the abundance of Xboxes and lack of PS3s, the three of us still settled down into our spots ready for a solid thrashing of the game. Based on seating arrangements we were slotted into teams, and so the stage was set for us to do 6A proud. And boy did we fail.
Stealth shot of the setup
First up was a TDM-style game where four teams of three players competed to attain the highest score. We got off to a bad start, with me running in circles looking at the sky because the controls were pretty messed up. Once I managed to disable look inversion things appeared a bit brighter, but the Xbox controller was still a big change from the trusty DualShock 3. The map (Turbine) was quite large and based in a canyon with a plane crash in the centre. I quite liked the layout of it, but I got the feeling that it would be more suited to pub stomping than competitive gaming.
Muri, Lui and I ran around in circles trying to get kills, and it was actually pretty fun. I tried out a variety of guns, and they seemed relatively balanced, although it’s hard to tell when you’re barely getting any kills! The default assault rifle seemed pretty handy. It had the Target Finder attachment, which highlights enemies when they enter the field-of-view. Despite how it sounds, I don’t think this attachment will be game breaking. Sub machine guns tended to be the weapons of choice for many players, and they proved to be very effective.
Muri: "How do I Xbox?"
The second game mode we played was the new one, Hardpoint. The map was named Cargo, and featured a lot of close-combat fighting. Right from the beginning the pressure was on me, as for some unknown reason the guy filling the Codcasting slot had decided to spectate me. Every move I made was broadcasted onto a big screen on the wall. I tried to be a hero and jumped off a shipping container while spraying my SMG, but I was quickly shot down. I came back well, going on an 8 kill streak while capping the Hardpoint, but when I glanced at the big screen the Codcaster had already moved on. Bugger.
I have mixed feelings about the Hardpoint game mode. Like other modes, winning a Hardpoint match definitely requires strategy, however it can also quickly degenerate into an eternally frustrating nadefest. The presence of a whole team within an enclosed area tends to produce that effect. I also experienced the first effects of spawn trapping, as I spawned and got instantly killed five times in a row in the same spot before I could even shoot a bullet. Gun damage also seemed a bit inconsistent at times, which is never a good thing. Overall, I still enjoyed the map and game mode, and I can see competitive potential if a bit of tweaking to game settings is done.
The third mode was domination on Yemen. This is another close-quarters map with many tight alleyways. Objectives changed hands pretty often, and most people generally tried to capture them. There were only a few people that still insisted on camping in windowsills watching an alleyway, but a quick kamikaze run with an RPG sorted them out. A key point that I noticed was that there was a good balance in the weapons used. In the past SMGs have tended to end up dominating, but assault rifles and shotguns were also effective. And no the shotguns didn’t have ridiculous range. The only frustrating thing, and this was the case in multiple maps, was the Dragonfire pointstreak reward. The little bastards buzz around and kill people with ease, and although they only have light armour, they generally kill people so fast that it’s difficult to shoot them down. I think this map will be decent for smaller teams, such as 4v4.
Scoreboard after Yemen
The next mode we played was Team Deathmatch on Aftermath, which is a very large map representing a ruined section of downtown Los Angeles. Despite its large size, there aren’t many areas with a clear line of sight, thus necessitating teams to push forward for anything to happen. It was on this map in particular that I noticed just how overpowered the MP7 can be on this game. I was using it with a silencer and another attachment, possibly extended mags or front grip, and it was very effective at small, medium and (sometimes) long range. Once again it will be a gun to look out for.
Another point I took out of this was the strength of the Stealth Helicopter pointstreak. As soon as someone activated it, life as a soldier became very difficult. If you spent even a small amount of time in the open it was likely that you would fall victim to its strength. I think this was the catalyst for me to start semi-raging for the first time in the night, which is never a good sign. On the plus side, if you managed to find cover it wasn’t too difficult to shoot down – it only took a couple of clips from my assault rifle. These points are trivial for competitive gaming, however, as I doubt that overpowered pointstreak rewards or any pointstreak rewards for that matter, will be left in.
The final game we played was Capture the Flag on Turbine. I’ve already described this map, so I won’t go into detail again, but it did seem well suited to the CTF game mode. There are multiple routes to take to reach the flags, each of which will need to be guarded with well-practiced strategies in order to win. I tried out the Ballista sniper rifle, and it proved to be very useful for one-shot kills. I did migrate back to the MP7 though, and it was dominant once more. We worked together as a team, and I genuinely had fun. That has been rare for me in the past couple of CoD games. I did witness once again that the Hunter Killer Drone pointstreak reward was pretty useless, so I wouldn’t bother using it when the game is released.
A couple of glamorous gamers had just walked past...
Some extra information…
At the end of the CTF map our time had come to the end. Muri, Lui and I claimed our rewards for attending: a stainless steel USB on a chain that looks like a dogtag, and a BO2 t-shirt that I’ll wear if I feel like outing myself as a nerd some day soon. We exited the BO2 apartment, and the lack of prompt security attention led us to explore the vacant expo. The huge amount of stalls competing for attention led to some interesting exhibits.
We went to the PlayStation exhibit to see what was on offer, and right in front of us was a glass cabinet full of PlayStationey goodness. Muri couldn’t help himself and jiggled the door, and lo and behold it opened. In front of our eyes was a vast array of merchandise, including the brand new slim PS3, but, being the good citizens we are, we walked off empty-handed.
Nearby was a life-size replica of the bus from the new Zombies mode in BO2. It was complete with very realistic blood spread on the tiles nearby and a zombie struggling to escape from under the bus.
The bus and the zombie.
Another stall contained a large variety of merchandise, so naturally we couldn’t resist taking a peek. In particular, a large replica gun took Muri’s fancy.
Not to be outdone at inappropriately touching merchandise, I had to pose nearby with a large prop that resembled a war hammer. It was actually a lot heavier than it looks, so I was terrified that I might break it. All in the name of 6A!
Mega Bloks. Hardcore.
That was as far as we got to go exploring the expo before security found us and promptly escorted us to the exits. We had a good run though, and we held onto our clearance passes in case we feel like trying to talk our way in again on the weekend. With a cursory glance at our fellow nerdy attendees leaving the building, we got to reminisce on the night that had been.
My overall thoughts were that the game feels very polished, and Treyarch should be commended for the amount of effort they have put in to try and create a game at a standard they believe to be best for all players. From the impassioned speeches that we listened to it seems like they genuinely enjoy what they do and have a great passion for gaming. Sure, the lucrative monetary reward is a big incentive, but to have a passion hiding in the background is always good. Public matches may end up being an orgy of pointstreak rewards like in recent titles, which, although occasionally fun, is usually just plain frustrating.
The game also seems to have enough scope for tweaking of rulesets and game settings to allow it to succeed competitively. Although my experience on Modern Warfare 3 was very limited (I couldn’t stand the game), the maps on BO2 already seem better. They are larger and hold potential for good strategies to be developed. Overpowered guns are always an issue, but from my limited experience it seems like the only one to really watch out for is the MP7. There seems to be balance within each class of gun, and also between classes of guns, thereby allowing balance to be achieved.
To conclude this article, I must thank Activision for hosting this event. The night was run very professionally, and the provision of plenty of food and drinks (including beer!) was great. Overall we all had fun, and nothing too negative came out of the game. However, a crucial point to remember is that I was playing only on Xbox, and at a LAN-setup, so lag was not a factor. Recent PS3 CoD titles have been very shonky Xbox ports that suffer from significant framerate issues, and online gaming is always influenced by Internet quality. My experiences therefore may not be indicative of what the majority of you will experience upon launch, but I hope they will still provide some insight into what is to come.
Originally Posted by Joey_tha_killa
Originally Posted by Wes