Year after year since the release Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the nagging criticism Iaid against the multi-million dollar franchise is: when will Call of Duty innovate again? Infinity Ward broke ground with COD4 and ever since then both it and Treyarch have been iterating on the same formula.
And why shouldn’t they? It’s a formula that sells millions of copies and despite the cries of a vocal minority (including myself), this franchise continues to be extremely popular. Treyarch didn’t have to go the lengths they did with Call of Duty: Black Ops II but they did and I have to commend them for their efforts.
The first Black Ops was Treyarch’s first legitimate crack at carving a niche for themselves. They fed off the Cold War motif and built up a narrative that grabbed my attention like no other Call of Duty game before it. It was no longer a globe trotting adventure where each locale was the highlight. It was about the characters and their stories that were the focus now.
I enjoyed how Treyarch told the story in Black Ops. Having Alex Mason reflect and retell his story was a clever way to mask the location hopping this series is known for. In this sequel, they revisited that non-linear technique without all the screaming and yelling of an interrogation. They used old man Frank Woods’ recollections as their vector back to the Cold War era where we learn about the origin story of Black Ops II’s protagonist and Alex Mason died. Meanwhile in 2025, Alex’s son, David, was moving the story forward with his own set of missions. On top of all that, for the first time in Call of Duty game, I’m able to shape that story’s outcome.
Treyarch must have been tired of hearing the criticism against linearity in Call of Duty games because they’ve given us the ability to choose how our own single player experiences will pan out. There are different endings. I’ve only seen my own ending but I wanted to immediately drop back in and replay the campaign to see how the other events unfolded. Some choices in the game were as obvious as the Paragon and Renegade choices found in the Mass Effect games. Others were a lot more subtle and cosmetic like me not reacting quickly enough to prevent a squadmate from being injured. They even added an entire class of missions called “Strikeforce” missions which can be ignored entirely.
It took me by surprise at first but now there’s a sense of urgency to certain objectives because if I’m not pushing through the army of hired guns attacking me, my target could get away and that does affect how the story will unfold. The lack of “restart last checkpoint” forced me to either accept my mistake or restart the entire mission. I did a mix of both.
In-between the choices and cutscenes is the same old snap to target shooting gallery that we’re all familiar with. There were a few instances of endlessly respawning enemies and if they’re not going to address that now, I’m just going to say it’s a staple of the series.
New weapons, vehicles and gadgets were to be expected with a game is set in the future. The ability to pilot drones, mechs and even other soldiers wasn’t new to the franchise but they were never given as much limelight and control like within these Strikeforce missions. It’s a shame then that they weren’t well executed.
Strikeforce missions, on paper, sounded amazing. The ability to control squads of soldiers and ordinance from an overhead commander perspective as well as the ability to assume first person control of any unit at any time should give Call of Duty a fresh angle. It could have worked out if the artificial intelligence was actually functional. Sending units to positions often resulted in them running to their deaths. I couldn’t rely on the squad commands whatsoever. I was better off sending them towards the objectives and then assuming control of whoever managed to survive the trek there. And since the enemy A.I was as pitiful as ever, watching them tango with my forces was awkward. Call of Duty without a tight script is an ugly sight.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s shift to the modern era gave Call of Duty a fresh coat of paint. Black Ops II’s shift to 2025 did not yield the same result. There weren’t any flying cars or anything remotely out of the realm of possibility. There were lots of drones and HUDs but nothing to inspire the imagination. The shift did bring in Jack Wall (of Mass Effect fame) though. Thus while it may not look futuristic, it did sound the part. Did you know dubstep is still a thing in 2025?
I rarely wanted to immediately replay a game let alone a Call of Duty campaign but that’s what Black Ops II left me yearning for. It’s the nature of a game with choices — I just wanted to get in there to see how it all pans out. While it wasn’t a wholly original approach on any front, it was a commendable effort by Treyarch to differentiate itself from the games that preceded it. It was a fun ride and one that I easily regard as one of the best in this franchise’s history.
For more information on Call of Duty: Black Ops II, visit the official website.