Call of Duty: Black Ops preview (now in 3D!)

Call of Duty: Black Ops has joined the ever-growing list of 3D-enabled games, even though the required hardware remains prohibitively expensive to most. Unlike Sony's crop of flagship 3D titles, this isn't exclusive to any system. Activision recently demonstrated its high-profile first-person shooter running on Xbox 360 (it'll also be available on PS3 and PC), reminding us that 3D is a feature most HDMI-equipped systems can handle. (Previous 3D games for Xbox 360 include Invincible Tiger and Avatar.)

The experience was not unlike any other 3D game I've seen or played before. Because 3D demands individual images for your left and right eye, the scene must be rendered twice, requiring developers to come up with ways of shrinking what would otherwise be a doubled footprint on the system. As with Killzone 3 and Motorstorm Apocalypse, there's a noticeable drop in the fidelity of the image. With 3D enabled, Black Ops appears fuzzier than normal, producing an image akin to what you'd experience in a split-screen game.

While the image may not be as detailed or sharp, Black Ops' selling points still remain in 3D: its fluid animation and focused art direction aren't lost in the translation. As with movies that take advantage of the feature well, the 3D effect isn't overstated here. More subtle examples of the technique -- a thin cloud of smoke that permeates the air, and the way your sniper barrel comes out of the foreground -- helped "sell" the experience. I was mesmerized by the HUD and subtitles (which also appear in 3D). But the highlight of the demo had to be a level that places you in the cockpit of a low-orbit plane. From that perspective, the dashboard, buttons and switches looked especially realistic.%Gallery-104225% A Treyarch producer told me that there aren't any plans to implement a virtual "slider," of sorts, to control how pronounced you can make the 3D effect. Apparently, the design was intentional, trying to make an experience that was consistent throughout the game, but not too taxing on the eyes. Seeing a multiplayer game in 3D, for example, felt completely natural, with nary a hint of fatigue. When quizzed if 3D was something we could expect in future Call of Duty games -- at least, the Treyarch-developed ones -- the response was non-committal, explaining it would still have to be reconsidered in any of the developer's upcoming titles.

While the Black Ops event was held primarily to showcase the 3D, I did get a look at a variety of the campaign's missions, including the aforementioned plane level. Essentially Call of Duty with a dash of real-time strategy, this segment lets you get a birds-eye view of the battle. Using an on-screen cursor, you're able to command your squad to move, take cover, and secure safehouses. It's a refreshing change of pace, and continues to explore the franchise's penchant for cool gadgetry. When a firefight does break out, the camera does a quick-zoom down to first-person mode, jumping you directly into the action. Even in 2D, the effect is certainly going to drop a few jaws.


Two other levels highlight the variety Black Ops has in store: a snowy Russian base (seemingly out of Inception), and the rain-slick rooftops of Kowloon, Hong Kong. Both environments are far removed from the Vietnamese jungles we've grown accustomed to seeing in trailers for the game. The military base feels like an homage to classic Bond films, with a control room that looks ripped out of GoldenEye. The Hong Kong rooftop, however, feels like Blade Runner, with its moody, neon-lit atmosphere. Yes, you'll be dual-wielding pistols on your way through this level, but stop and look at the bodies, and you'll appreciate the retro fashion that adorns your colleagues (and your victims). Coupled with the mesmerizing, haunting soundtrack, there is no questioning the strength of Black Ops' art direction.

It feels almost shameful to get excited, falling for the trap of the annualized Call of Duty cycle, but the features attached to Treyarch's latest effort make a compelling argument. The single-player campaign shows a lot of promise (at least thematically and visually), and levels like the RTS-inspired air mission show that there's still room for innovation in the aging franchise. With a growing set of intriguing multiplayer options, zombies, and now 3D, Black Ops is certainly earning the hype it has garnered.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.