When I used to work at a GameStop people would ask me which game was better between Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3. I’d tell them that if they were interested in multiplayer than it was a toss-up based on how you wanted to play, but if you were looking for campaign then they had to go for Modern Warfare. The common response: “Pfft, I didn’t even play the story in Black Ops, I just play Zombies and some Deathmatch.” Activision looks like they’re trying to draw players back in to the campaign for Black Ops 2 by introducing their new Strike Force mode.
In an age where even Ninja Gaiden gets a tacked-on multiplayer mode, many have talked about the downfall of single-player gaming. The original Black Ops has two outrageously popular, replayable modes it’s easy to overlook the linear single-player content. But there’s still a fanbase devoted to single-player campaigns, and some of the most intense, monumental moments in gaming come from campaigns. While at E3 I was able to go backstage at the Activision booth and watch some gameplay from November’s release. The first half of the gameplay was basically the same scenes shown at the Microsoft E3 Press Conference; it concluded a bit after the jet scene…they wouldn’t let me take video, but here’s a SPOILER/TEASER for you: the jet doesn’t stay in the air much longer, and you don’t land it. SPOILER CONCLUDED.
Regardless of what anti-fans may say, I think that Black Ops 2 looks like it’ll have an intriguing story and keep the high-octane, AAA-budget movie-style thrills that made the Modern Warfare 3 campaign so enjoyable, even if it wasn’t particularly realistic. But even though that’s enough to get me playing it, many gamers want more. They want to make decisions, want to have their actions influence the game. They don’t just want to see someone else’s story play out; they’d rather make their own. This is part of what makes Strike Force different.
Strike Force missions puts you in control of an entire team of squads instead of just one individual soldier. You can directly control any units you have on the ground, ranging from normal infantry soldiers to hoverdrones armed with machine guns. You can also zoom out to a tactical map called “Overwatch mode” to give orders to particular squads, commanding them to attack certain areas or specific units. There are no restrictions on when or how often you can switch from individual units out to the tactical map, and if one of your units is killed or destroyed, you simply take control of another similar unit in the area. Each map has a specific objective; succeeding or failing the mission will change the direction the rest of the campaign goes in. This is a pretty big shift for the Call of Duty franchise; taking the focus in single-player off of the trigger finger and onto the brain may just inspire some gamers to take a rest from gaining that 15th prestige and instead try out the story.
Strike Force’s second big draw is the power of combining a tactical shooter with arcade run-and-gun action. Sure, titles like the Ghost Recon series have given gamers the ability to take control of squads like this, but they haven’t had the arcade-style shooting that draws in trigger-finger gamers like CoD. The mission I watched took place in Singapore; the objective was to take control of three points on the map which held electron lasers, weapons preventing air support from arriving. The team started the raid in classic CoD fashion with bullets flying from all directions. Switching from Overwatch back into ground control was fluid and didn’t disrupt the fast-paced, arcade-style combat. Units felt more disposable than in tactical shooters where individual weapon loadouts and skill-sets are customized; this was a mass infantry ground assault that required the same adrenaline-fueled movement that the usual campaign would use, but this time with a little bit of customization when it came to how you shot the bullets. This could be just the push that arcade-FPS players are looking for to draw them into campaign gaming more often.
Call of Duty isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Millions of copies fly off of the shelves at midnight every time a new CoD comes out, and that won’t change with Black Ops 2. People will complain about how Modern Warfare 3 was no different than MW2, that they’re all the same. Mind you, these complaints sound rather hollow compared to the sound of money they throw down on the counter every year…but even with the refined Zombies mode and more of the run-and-gun multiplayer that has made the franchise successful, it’s good to see they’re trying to freshen up the single-player campaign too. We’ll see if Black Ops 2 and its Strike Force mode meet expectations when the game releases on November 13, 2012.