A few weeks back, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak and a couple of other clever clogs put their names to an open letter calling for a ban on autonomous weapons systems.
In their view, the ease with which AI controlled weapons can be made combined with to the hideous uses they could be put to would mean their proliferation could lead to a global military AI arms race.
If that sounds a little far-fetched to you, consider the following: developer Treyarch routinely taps up military advisers and weapons specialists for information that’ll help it lend more authenticity to the storylines, hardware and equipment players experience in the Call Of Duty: Black Ops franchise.
For Black Ops II and III which are set in the years 2025 and 2065 respectively, Treyarch’s developers said the feedback they received was that their predictions didn’t go far enough.
When you consider that Black Ops II contained a level in which Los Angeles was flattened by AI-controlled drones that had been taken over remotely by terrorists, the above news is rather unnerving to say the least. One wonders how the writers in charge of the narrative in the Black Ops games sleep at night, knowing what they know.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops III imagines a future far darker than its predecessor, as if that were possible. Set thirty years after the events of Black Ops II, the game’s story takes place in a world where nations banded together to dismantle any potential of a repeat of an attack like the one that wiped out LA.
To that end, they constructed something known as the DEAD (Directed Energy Defence) Systems, a series of beam-weapon batteries capable of knocking flying weapons out of the sky at the touch of a button. Essentially, DEAD nullifies the chance that any nation (or group) can gain an edge through air superiority. Sounds like good news, right?
Wrong. What DEAD results in is further investment in ground forces, so all the conflicts that now take place over rapidly depleting resources due to climate change, involve cyber-enhanced troops. Soldiers can now manually control their own physiology through something called Direct Neural Interface (DNI); if they’re wounded they can prompt their body to produce more white blood cells and if they need to steady their breathing for a sniper shot, they no longer have to take Tramadol.
The fact that no one nation can deliver a killing blow has led to governments of like-minded nations joining up in large alliances. Oh, and the arms race hasn’t slowed at all; instead, it’s been allowed to run wild with every government trying to make sure that their troops are the most battle-ready and arms proliferation has seen cyber weapons spilling over into the black market. What japes!
Of course, what this all this means for COD players – apart from perhaps an increased paranoia concerning their future prospects – is a whole host of new weapons, gadgets, gizmos and enhancements to get to grips with in their next online fragfest.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops III’s campaign looks as gritty as hell – the set-piece at GamesCom involved a group of soldiers trying to stop an insurgent attack by obliterating a street with high explosives – and it’s also the first game in the franchise where players can select a female avatar for the main campaign. But let’s be honest: the main draw of Call Of Duty – and COD, really – is the competitive multiplayer.
There’s a lot about Black Ops III’s multiplayer that’ll seem familiar at first; players still have a certain amount of points they can spend kitting out their soldier so that everything remains nicely balanced. While the naming conventions of the different perks nod to the DNI piece of the game’s main narrative, in practice they act in very similar ways to established game mechanics laid out in the last few games. Players can also slide and double-jump as they could in Advanced Warfare – although they don’t stay airborne for as long
The main addition in Black Ops III’s multiplayer is that players can select a Specialist role for their avatar. There were a limited number available in the GamesCom demo, but there were enough to give us a rough idea that each Specialist role gifts the player a weapon and a perk that are unique to that class.
Nomads, for example, gain access to a weapon that plants land-mines that explode and throw attack micro-drones into the face of enemies that step on them. They also are able to respawn at the exact spot they were dropped, which ups their chance for revenge on whomever capped them. Ruin class unlocks a Gravity Spike gun, allowing players to plant remote charges they can detonate at a distance. They also can activate a boost that gives them increased speed for limited periods of time.
There were five Specialists in total available – our favourite was the Prophet, who can unlock a lightning rifle that can chain damage between opponents – but there’ll be a bigger variety when the game ships. The other new addition to Black Ops III is a feature called The Safe House, where players can decide the sex of their avatar and the load-outs they want to take into the main campaign.
So Black Ops III isn’t a grand departure for the series, but it hasn’t lost the momentum established by last year’s Advanced Warfare, either. Like the soldiers at the core of its plot it’s a cyber-enhanced iteration on its franchise predecessor and it’s likely to swallow hours of time from anyone who plays it.
That is, unless the machines rise up and get us first…