Games like Call of Duty have never really had much to do with realism, despite their lofty claims of employing bona-fide military personnel to act as consultants when they’re being developed.
But with their traditional structure of serving up fast-paced, daredevil antics in bite-sized mission sections, they’re perfect fodder for the attention deficit Generation Y & Z crowd, compounding as they do about 100 lifetimes worth of ‘realistic’ action into a single game.
While Black Ops II, probably the most anticipated video game release this year, repeatedly notes in tiny writing at the bottom of the screen that a forthcoming mission is ‘based on real events’, it’s clear that that base is very loose indeed, and they just want you to have fun with it.
And there’s a lot of fun to be had.
There’s a dramatic opening video scene in Black Ops II, complete with chanting insurgents and people burning to death, so you know pretty much right away that this is a game for mature players – indeed, developer Treyarch sensibly and sensitively give you the option to ‘enable graphic content’ from the very outset of the game or not, of course, if you so choose.
While I can’t imagine anyone buying this game disabling the feature, it’s a handy inclusion for copies bought by old granny for little Johnny’s birthday.
As you strike out and choose ‘Campaign’, there’s an intriguing menu option labelled ‘Zombies’. And these are proper zombies, in the tradition of ‘fear from the sense of overwhelming inevitability’ Walking Dead-style zombies that amble relentlessly towards you, not the fast-moving, tooled-up variety seen in more modern movies.
Selecting ‘Zombies’ throws you straight into the ‘Black Ops II Zombie’ game, allowing multiplayer gaming via Xbox Live, Local Co-Op and, amazingly, System Link. Game modes comprise ‘Tranzit’, where you have to survive rounds of zombies and travel around, Grief and ‘Survival’, in which you’re expected to prevail despite being given limited weaponry and without any game perks or other advantages.
The game takes a humourous apporach to a Zombie apocalypse – one of the very first things my character said when I ran out of ammo in game one was to the effect of ‘Agh! How could I have fired off all my ammunition so quickly!’ – very self aware! Zombies mode has attracted a lot of fans to the series, and it manages to be both creepy and funny at the same time here, too.
In the Campaign proper, though, you’re immediately dropped into Angola and into a pitched battle against the MPLA, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angol. Pretty soon, you’ll have fought a frantic battle on open ground against hordes of dastardly MPLA, brought awesome air support down on the enemy, blasted a Hind helicopter out of the sky, set ferocious bear traps in a shallow river, swung across a mountain using a futuristic clamping device like Spider-Man and leapt from a cliff deploying a wing-suit before parachuting onto your objective.
And that’s just in the first half hour or so of the game.
This variety in gameplay persists through Black Ops II; in quick-fire bursts you go on to wield sniper rifles, control unmanned drones, operate turret guns and engage in just about every play style you can imagine encountering in a war game – and some you can’t, too, given that part of the game is set in 2025.
And you get to control ‘Ziggy’, but we won’t spoil the surprise, in case you haven’t played the game yet.
Before each mission, there’s a simple and clear ‘loadout’ screen allowing you to switch out primary weapons for your next mission, attach new toys like a thermal imaging scope and decide what extra goodies you want to carry with you.
It’s an effective system, as clear and quick as it needs to be without being bogged down in the kind of increasingly complex, 3D menus you see in a lot of games these days, so all credit to Treyarch for keeping it simple, stupid.