Call of Duty: Black Ops Hands-on Preview

Shacknews got our best look yet at Call of Duty: Black Ops at Microsoft's X10 event in Toronto. Although we've seen pieces of the levels shown here in the past, today was the first time we've had a chance to get our hands on the experience for ourselves. Not only that, this marks the first time we've been able to see some of the new mechanics added to the game.

Forget about the fragments of Black Ops you've read about before. We walk you through entire sections of the game that you'll get to see with your own eyes when Call of Duty: Black Ops launches across the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on November 9, 2010.


The playable portion of our demo begins on a mission called "Payback." Here special ops soldiers Woods -- the beared chap you've seen in screenshots and in trailers -- and Mason -- the playable character in Call of Duty: Black Ops -- have escaped imprisonment and, in a fit of rage, want to dole out as much damage to enemy forces as possible. The mission is the same as the one showcased at E3, where the pair of spec ops soldiers liberate an enemy helicopter and terrorize the area.

Chaos breaks out when the Activision rep fires a single shot to scare the enemies surrounding the helicopter and he hands me the controller. Immediately the action feels familiar as I fire into crowds of Russian Special Forces who attempt to take cover, unaware of my position. Dismantling the area is simple from atop a hill and the action goes silent.

Playing as Mason, I head for the helicopter accompanied by the A.I. controlled Woods. "These guys are ready for World War 3," he mutters of its heavy weapons load as we jump into the two-seat death machine. The plan is simple: Destroy everyone and everything we see. After getting us off the ground, Woods hands control of the aircraft to me. The right stick controls the helicopter, while the left handles weapons aiming. The helicopter is armed with missiles and a machine gun, mapped to the Left and Right triggers, respectively. Holding down the missiles locks a barrage of the deadly weapon into place, sending five flying toward anything in the cross-hairs.

Flying is easy; there is enough weight to the helicopter that pushing the sticks fully in either direction allows me to comfortably follow the weaving river bed below. The weight of the aircraft also allows me to freely aim, without fear of sending the helicopter crashing to the ground. As enemy forces stagger below I light them up with bursts from the machine gun, pausing in mid-air by pulling back and preciely aiming at tanks and other vehicles below. The machine guns smoke as I lay down a healthy dose of American-endorsed devastation below.

As I proceed beyond bridges, Woods calls for their destruction. They are quickly downed by a few shots from the missile launcher. Although the devastation looks solid, the debris from the bridges pop and bounce in large, ridiculous fashion. But it's still early. I continue down the river and come across a mountain side where enemy missiles lock-on to my position. The instruments inside the helicopter scream to warn me of my impending doom, givng me enough time to roll the helicopter right and left, dodging the incoming shots. Holding down the left trigger I load a set of missiles and aim at the mountain where the enemy continues to lock on to my position. Sadly, I only destroy one of the placements, but damaging the other enough that another stray missile allows me to take it out and continue.

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Below, hordes of enemies run from my fury. Some attempt to retreat into vehicles, others into fields. Pausing the helicopter in mid-air I reign fire down below, punching through the thick numbers with missile after missile. Tanks attempt to end my spree, but are quickly transformed into piles of smoldering metal.

The demo ends as two enemy helicopters approach. Banking a set of missiles, I make short work of one and begin a graceful circling dance with the other, unloading everything I have at it. We spin in circles as we attempt to take each other out but before a victor is decided, the screen goes white and the demo is over.

This wild escape from prison feels like the perfect moment to kick back and have some fun. This section -- which amounts to roughly one-third the full level -- is built to make you feel overpowered. As brief a moment as it is, it's extremely fun to be the most deadly force in the world. As most of the game sees the special forces face-off against waves of enemies, it appears to be a good change of pace. The helicopter controls well, applying the proper weight to the craft, and gave me the feeling that I was invincible.

The guided portion of the demo showcased the "Victor Charlie" level, which begins with Special Ops soldiers Woods and Mason regaining consciousness after their transport helicopter is shot down over the Huong River in Vietnam. During the Cold War-era portion of the game, the pair is on the hunt for a Russian General hellbent on dominating the region.

As the helicopter beings sinking deeper into the river, hostile forces start closing in. After disposing of the enemies with the limited ammo on hand, Woods and Mason crack open the hatch and hop into the river. Like previous Call of Duty titles, a glowing yellow object tells the player what to focus on. In this instance it's the side of a patrol boat, littered with Vietnamese forces. As Mason -- the player-controlled protagonist -- the Activision rep showing off the game climbed up the side of the boat, behind one of the enemy soldiers, took him hostage and began clearing the area.

This is only a set-piece moment, I'm told. Hostage-taking in this instance makes the experience more "cinematic," the rep explains. The same applies to the next moment, when the last enemy in the area falls to a slow-motion rifle bullet in the head. These moments cannot be triggered by players, but will be spread throughout the game as automatic occurrences to help build suspense.

The demo continues with Woods and Mason planting a charge of Semtex-H -- given to the team by another pair of top-secret Sierra Team operatives -- at the base of a submerged hut. As the majority of the level takes place in the river, there are multiple situations where swimming underwater will both help stealthily move from place to place and doge incoming fire if detected.

In a small village outside the crash site, Woods and Mason terrorize a group of sleeping soldiers, slitting their throats in gruesome fashion as they move from hut to hut. Soon afterwards, they meet up with the other two members, who separated from them earlier, and begin their sweep of the village. After Mason activates the Semtex-H, destroying much of the village, enemy forces begin to pour out. Here, the action is familiar -- although the rep playing showed an obvious love for Call of Duty's infamous "noob tube" grenade launcher.


The surprise attack is swift and devastating, clearing the village completely of adversaries. At the base of the village sits an AA-Gun, which is wreaking havoc on friendly helicopter -- referred to as Hornets -- in the area. Right on cue a giant glowing rocket-launcher appears, seemingly out of thin air, allowing Mason to destroy the gun. This frees the hornets to reign fire upon the remaining enemy forces.

From this moment we retreat to another that will be familiar to those paying attention to Black Ops at E3: Mason proceeds to crawl through an eerie tunnel system under the village. Entering the tunnels, the gameplay changes drastically. Every move is slow and methodical, sound is muffled, and the action turns to tension. Mason is now partnered with Swift, another operative starring in the adventure.

After rounding a small corner in the tunnel, another friendly operative drops down spooking Mason enough to fire in his direction. Here, the brooding Op Reznov pledges to help Mason's advancement and scuttles off to the tunnel parallel to Mason. As Swift berates Mason for his jitters, an enemy soldier emerges from around a corner and stabs him in the throat, shooting blood everywhere. After dispatching of the foe and saying goodbye to his now dead friend, Mason continues slowly through the series of tunnels until he comes across an opening filled with enemies.

With his powerful sidearm, Mason cuts the forces in half, literally. Limbs fly off, blood squirts everywhere and the room falls silent. Sadly, after meeting back up with Reznov -- who violently dispatches of an enemy by slicing his throat in a shallow pool of water within the tunnel -- the demo ends.

Prior to this event, my anticipation for the latest Call of Duty title was muted. I've always been a fan of the series -- primarily the single-player -- but Modern Warfare 2's campaign left me scratching my head and wanting more. With Treyarch at the helm of Black Ops, I didn't know what to expect. I've always felt that their titles lacked something, whereas Infinity Ward was able to strike the correct formula multiple times.

After seeing more and playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, I feel like the developer is on the right track. Black Ops appears to be more mature than previous Call of Duty titles, adding the correct amount of gore and devastation to a real-world scenario. I'm not lining up for it immediately, but Treyarch has shown me -- so far -- that they have it in them to deliver an entry in the series that deserves the attention it's getting.