Warning: This preview contains campaign spoilers
Space. The final frontier. Now it’s been seen before in the series, but the sequence-in-the-stars that sets up the devastation preceding the game’s main setting really is a beautiful composite of animation, tense music, spectacular visuals and has a relationship that borderlines the unlikely and the absurd.
They just hijacked ODIN, the Orbital Defence Initiative, America’s nuclear-free stab at mass-destruction. The notion is that this ‘kinetic weapon’, that fires large objects at Earth from space, has been had upon by space-bandits from The Federation, despite the presumably high level of protection against such catastrophe, and the fact that it’s probably pretty hard to find a shadowy corner to skulk in until no one’s looking when you’ve left the atmosphere. Kudos and bully to them though, these guys from South of the Equator have really taken it up a notch.
There’s an interesting moment of gravity-free floating gun-fistery, corpses are left drifting into shuttle-furniture like unhelmed ships at a pool with a low-rent wave machine, there’s blood, there’s muzzle flash, there’s confusion, and probably a little bit of tension in there, but I’m already left wondering how to play with the bodies.
Something strange occurred to me watching the US foolishly goose-stepping into its demise, the sound. The sound we’ve heard so much about, I’m still hearing, even though we’re outside the shuttle…in space. Hang the ADSR Reverb System Technoliwotsimajig for a second: I may not have excelled in science as a child, but I’m fairly certain we’re not supposed to be able to hear in space, thanks be to the absence of air. If only Infinity Ward had kept the faith and followed Kubrick’s lead in 2001: A Space Odyssey, though I’ll forget this minor slip and move on.
The ADSR Reverb System, I should clarify is Infinity Ward’s sound engine improvement responsible for making audio, such as gunshots and explosions. Sounds are context sensitive and they change based on the parameters set by the location the sound is being made. While this sounds exciting, and indeed it’s an improvement on the past, this sort of thing has been a staple in Battlefield games for years.
I shouldn’t whine though, what has been made here is quite a spectacle and remains undamaged by the nits I’ve been picking. The visuals are smoother and sleeker than those seen previously, explosions carrying a visceral weight, particularly due to the advanced physics applied to particles of debris flying into your spaceman’s visor.
Chaos, destruction, space, imminent catastrophe, it’s all here. After some fighting and tragedy as death approaches, abortive attempts to prevent Armageddon fail miserably and ODIN’s rods are seen blasting towards a host of over 30 US cities to wreak wanton havoc. This action does more than dent American pride, crippling the nation and making it vulnerable to incursion from the South by Federation forces.
The bulk of the game arrives ten years later, with the player delving behind the eyes of Logan Walker, a man raised in a fractured, divided America, who is part of the almost mythical Ghosts team – the remainder of the nation’s special forces. What is interesting is that here you won’t be playing as an extension of a superpower, a hammer held by a gigantic arm. This time you, your brother Hesh and your canine companion, Riley are the ones over a barrel, fighting to restore independence and stability to your homeland. The underdogs if you will.
This move away from the superpowers is cited as being down to a desire the team at Infinity Ward had to forge a deeper emotional connection between the player and the characters. No longer will we be alienated by the casual deliverance of power via finger and trigger, we will be fighting for a cause, against the oppressors, a story of vengeance and freedom. At least that’s what they tell us.
The writers have joined with Hollywood screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan (screenplay for ‘Traffic’, wrote and directed ‘Syriana’) to bring the emotive bite to the game. It was encouraging to hear the team’s story that Gaghan essentially moved into the studio, opting for his own desk there rather than elsewhere, so he might work directly alongside the rest of the development team when working on the story. If nothing else then at least we can confirm that this means there’s at least one person doing hard graft in LA.
In this vein of intensified emotion, Infinity Ward are keen to point out that this is the first time that a character’s origin is to be revealed and that this will give the story the potency it needs to keep us sustained on our fiftieth attempt on Veteran, a case of turning on the waterworks when the chips are down.
I’ve no doubt that the campaign will be fun to play, however there’s nothing really, truly, madly, deeply enthralling and shocking about what’s on offer, at least on paper. This isn’t due to any failing of the devs and designers, writers and whoever else was even tangentially involved, the simple fact of the matter is that this is COD’s tenth time out, and though it’s been a firm fan favourite for years, the mane might be going a little grey and the back leg a little lame. I’m sure we’re in for a (predictably) good run this time around, but something is telling me perhaps it’s time to put her out to pasture, otherwise my great-grandchildren be begging me to buy them Call Of Duty: Zeitgeist Warfare when I’m in my nineties.