What We Know:
Treyarch has been hard at work on Call of Duty: Black Ops, which is the next installment in the massive franchise that has become a tentpole for Activision. The game takes place partially during the Vietnam War era, as you join the ranks of a covert unit that performs secret missions behind the scenes of the Cold War.
What We're Seeing Now:
At Gamescom, we were shown two different levels. First up was "Victor Charlie", which has your squad investigating Soviet activity in an area near the Huong River. The date is February 5, 1968, and you take control of Sergeant Mason as your chopper crashes into the river. It's a fairly horrific scene as some of your squadmates are ripped to shreds by bullets, and your previously airborne ride sinks slowly into the river.
Remember the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, where soldiers are diving over the edge of the landing boat so they can avoid the German machine gun fire? That's what this scene hearkens back to. You only have a few seconds after the chopper crashes into the water and the Viet Cong approach, then suddenly you're completely underwater trying to escape (and able to really swim!) while bullet trails whiz through the water all around you. Fairly intense!
Completing this level puts you back in the water again to do some stealth swimming, as you can swim behind enemies to take them by surprise. It looks to be a fairly simple swim mechanic, but the re-use of the bullet trails in the water (they were in Call of Duty: World at War also) means Treyarch must really love the water. A love that the soldiers in the water don't appear to share as one of them remarks, "Rain. That's all it f*ckin' does here is rain." But that rain means you're in a lush, green jungle. A truly beautiful environment.
Mason was able to grab an enemy and use him as a human meat shield while he fired back at his attackers in part of the level, and there were some fairly brutal executions as well, including one that left the enemy's throat completely gashed open. Then there are the "bullet-cam" animations which follow a bullet you've fired as it plows directly into an enemy. Well, no one said the covert ops teams were really nice guys. What started slightly stealthy begins with an enormous firefight, as your team gains access to Semtex, and it gets extremely hairy as the ordnance flies, and there are civvies to watch out for.
Throughout all of this, you've linked up with some friendlies, and we then transitioned into the tunnel level that has been shown previously, where you crawl through very tight quarters. You're given the flashlight to illuminate the path, and it isn't long before you're attacked. Advancing, you have to pop the flashlight on and off to confuse enemies, and to keep them from knowing exactly where you are.
In "Payback," you've been captured but have broken free, and you come across a squad of VC guarding a Russian Hind helicopter. Naturally, you take them out so you can capture the chopper and rain fire down on the bad guys in some hardcore revenge. Taking the position is made a bit easier with the use of the Commando Grenade Launcher, the handy firearm that "bloops" grenades into enemies at short range. In short order, you've taken the position and you're ready to fly.
The cockpit has a forward position and a rear position, and you take the latter while your squadmate sits up front. You're given nearly complete control of the chopper: you can pitch and yaw in any direction, but your squaddie controls the vertical. Honestly, as bad a flyer as I am in games like Battlefield: Bad Company, I didn't mind that I wasn't in full control. Turning, aiming, and firing is complicated enough without having to worry about smashing into the group.
The chopper is armed with a 12MM nose cannon and two UV-32 rocket pods, each containing 32 S-5 57mm rockets: guns on the right trigger, rockets on the left. Pitch is controlled with the left stick, while you control the yaw with the right stick. It's fairly intuitive, although you'll find that aiming at smaller targets, like running infantry, can be difficult. Which is where those rockets come in handy. You can fire single rocket shots, or hold down the trigger to "charge" them up and fire a burst of several at once. I prefer that approach.
There's a lot to blow up here including: vehicles, infantry, fuel depots, boats, bridges, a SAM site, and ... basically anything that moves. We played in Demigod mode, meaning we would take damage but never die. Which is good thing, because by the end of the level my chopper was on fire, riddled with bullet holes, and in very bad shape. The damage modeling in the chopper is dynamic, and it will visually let you know how bad things are going.
There's a pipeline running through most of the level, and shooting it produces nifty spouts of fire, and little details like this are what makes Black Ops feel like a visceral experience. The flying was extremely satisfying, mostly because it's a nice change to be the guy up top instead of just calling in an airstrike. I'm not sure if there are many other vehicle-based levels in the game, but "Payback" delivers loads of revenge-fun.
Our time with Black Ops was brief, but fun, and has us already looking forward to more. Sadly, we didn't get to experience any multiplayer action, although the main show floor had a four-hour line just to watch the multiplayer trailer. There will be a lot more multiplayer details revealed on September 1, so keep yourself tuned to G4, and follow community manager Josh Olin on Twitter for more tidbits to come.