It was no surprise when, earlier this week, Black Ops 2 was officially announced. I mean, a new Call of Duty game comes out every year, and every year at about this time we find out the title of that game. Black Ops 2 was the obvious next step for Treyarch, after the mega-success they had with the original Black Ops. In fact, I predicted the next CoD would be Black Ops 2 way back in August of last year.
However, what did surprise us was the fact that this game was eschewing the Cold War Era setting of the original (as well as the World War II setting of World at War or the present day setting of Modern Warfare) for something set in the near future. Yes, the new Call of Duty will be packed to the brim with mechs and drones.
The way it all works—and the reason Treyarch feels justified in keeping the Black Ops name—is that it is indeed a direct sequel to the original Black Ops, and will contain sequences in which players once again control Alex Mason, the protagonist from the original title.
Still, the futuristic setting certainly brings a completely different vibe to the series, making it feel aesthetically closer to, say, Metal Gear Solid 4 than a Call of Duty game. But, in the words of Old Snake, "War has changed."
Currently, this change is a little hard to stomach. Call of Duty has always been about presenting at least a somewhat realistic version of warfare. I mean, the original CoD games focused on WW2-era settings and weaponry, while the Modern Warfare series has focused on a "what if" scenario using real-life tech. Of course, Modern Warfare has been going further and further over the top, delivering a storyline closer to something you'd see in an action film than in the journal of a real-life solider. So I suppose future tech is really just the next step for a series that has been detaching itself further and further from reality with each installment.
At the same time, though, it's hard to not be optimistic about this. For years, we in the gaming press have been decrying the series, growing increasingly grumpy at the series' almost belligerent insistence on stagnation. I mean, the original Modern Warfare was the last Call of Duty game that felt truly innovative. While there have been slight tweaks to the formula—and a few additions, like Black Ops' Zombies—we had come to the point where we pretty much knew what to expect. The fact that Black Ops 2 is such a departure means that we cranky journalists may have to throw out our stock Call of Duty review template. (You know, the one that includes several variations of the phrase, "The series just doesn't feel fresh anymore.")
The timing couldn't have been more perfect. The CoD series has a long history of seeing each consecutive game in the franchise outsell its predecessor. This looked like it was going to continue with Modern Warfare 3, as early sales were again record-breaking, but MW3 ran out of steam more quickly than Black Ops did the previous year, and it hasn't yet caught up. Perhaps gamers are finally tired of shelling out sixty bucks a year for the same schlock? It is time, then, for another "Call of Duty 4" moment, the type of game that reinvents the CoD formula and re-solidifies the franchise's place in gaming history.
In the words of fellow Cheat Code Central staffer Shelby Reiches, "It's a new day and a new Call of Duty, one that finally looks to actually shake up the core gameplay, to which we've become so accustomed that it has become more a process of rote than one of pleasure. Treyarch's willingness to rip apart what's worked for them thus far, to take risks and challenge themselves to create an experience unlike what we've seen thus far, is admirable." I have to agree with you, Shelby.
Now, while I've mainly just been referencing the new aesthetic and feel brought on by the game's venture into the world of future tech, Shelby's own article on the topic delves much deeper into the actual gameplay elements that make Black Ops 2 stand out from the CoD pack. Since he's already done a great job explaining those, I'll refrain from simply regurgitating his observations and let you read them for yourself. (Here's a link to that article.)
My prediction: Black Ops 2 marks another turning point for the Call of Duty franchise, enough so that we may be forced to compare it with the original Modern Warfare in terms of influence. And, since Call of Duty has been such a driving force in the FPS genre, it's probably safe to assume that we're about to see a major evolution in the genre as a whole.
Of course, it could just be that we're just currently swept up in the magic of the Activision hype machine, and that Black Ops 2 ultimately ends up just being a cut-and-paste version of the original, just with a fresh coat of "future paint." I guess we'll know for sure in November.
Editor / News Director
Date: May 3, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*