What does Black Ops: Declassified have to hide?
Anybody who’s watched the evening news has seen the spectacle of a defendant getting ushered out of a courthouse by their lawyer and climbing into a getaway car of sorts. The pair usually have to carve a path through a glut of reporters and popping flashbulbs. If they stop for even a moment, it’s to say 'no comment'. They never answer questions from the assembled press. The point is clear: somebody wants to get the hell out of Dodge.
‘Dodge’ is an appropriate word for what went down at yesterday’s Call Of Duty Black Ops: Declassified presentation at Gamescom in Cologne. You might consider Activision’s product managers the lawyers, and much-anticipated Vita shooter Declassified the mostly obscured defendant being shepherded past the press and into a waiting automobile.
The first Activision rep to greet the crowd of assembled press begins by establishing some ground rules. First off, don’t record the whole presentation. Then a preemptive heads-up that there won’t be a whole lot of time for Q&A so, if we have any questions afterward, we should find our Activision or Sony rep. Also there’s “plenty of information in the press kit”. There probably aren't too many members of the press who travelled all the way to Cologne in hopes of being referred to a digital press kit that lives on the Internet.
Next we’re shown the trailer from Sony’s Gamescom press conference a second time. Maybe this trailer will be the HD remake of the previous night's trailer. Nope, it looks just as uninspired as we remembered: a knife stealth kill followed by a parade of quick-cut headshots against mostly brown, formulaic backgrounds. Cue the warehouse, the airfield, the suburban neighbourhood. Volleys of gunshots blast a sharp staccato in time to the electronic soundtrack. The trailer ends, leaving the room in stony silence – the sound of professionalism, perhaps – or abject boredom.
Then Ryan Scott, associate product manager on the Call Of Duty franchise, takes the stage to tout Declassified as delivering "the authentic Call Of Duty experience on a handheld". He blows through a handful of PowerPoint slides that outline the various features of the game. For one thing, by dragging your finger across the Vita’s touch screen, you’ll now be able to "directionalise" your grenades.
Then we watch a live game of 2v2 multiplayer taking place behind a bank of monitors. Scott offers running commentary. He points out a few of the guns, a spy plane kill streak, and attempts some banter about the trailing squad needing to catch up. At one point he takes a moment to praise the job Nihilistic has done on the environments (“something we’re really proud of”) – ambient light, dust and ash floating through the air, wind whipping blankets, a bombed-out car.
The only problem is that the environments are quite evidently not impressive. In fact, they’re downright embarrassing, hardly approaching the lushness and fidelity of any recent Call Of Duty game on the current generation of consoles. Just because you read off a mental teleprompter that something’s great doesn’t make it so.
The match ends. Scott wades into the ensuing silence, reminding us how excited Activision is about the game, and that it comes out in November. “I know you guys have a ton of questions,” he adds, “but we’re all really short on time, as I’m sure you are.” Despite the presentation occupying a 30-minute time slot, things conclude in roughly 13 minutes. We’re thanked for coming. The end. A smattering of half-hearted claps. Just as egotists love talking about themselves, product managers who are truly proud of a game relish the chance to field questions. Yet Activision can’t use even one minute of the scheduled remaining 17 to answer questions from press. Hmm.
The lawyer helps the defendant into the car, never stopping to answer questions from the press, and the car speeds away from the courthouse. This familiar pantomime of the accused never inspires trust. The defendant is almost invariably a few months of due process away from being exposed and convicted. Stay tuned: Declassified’s verdict will be handed down in November.