Failure in Black Ops 2 Could Be Call of Duty’s Greatest Innovation
For the first time, the makers of Call of Duty want you to imagine a world where the good guys might lose the war.
Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II might be the game that offers such a possibility. The next iteration in the storied first-person shooter series will be the first to include an element that has the potential to make huge ripples throughout the experience: real, consequential failure.
Activision’s Call of Duty series at once embodies some of the best and worst things about video gaming. In the “best” column, it’s hugely popular among players, providing a uniquely “video game” experience, and is incredibly successful — it consistently sets new records in entertainment sales when it launches a new product every year. That helps the video game industry by drawing attention, and more importantly, money, into it.
But that success also creates a mirror image in the “worst” column: Activision iterates the series very slightly once a year, with nothing really changing and without a whole lot that could be considered “new” or “innovative” being brought to the fore with each new version. Especially since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare brought the series to a new level of prestige, the games have been slightly different each year, but nothing so drastic as to really inspire players.
Enter Treyarch, the company that handles Call of Duty games that could be considered the “off-year” offerings. See, Infinity Ward developed the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, and that set of games changed the paradigm of the series completely. In the middle of MW releases are other Call of Duty games handled by another developer — Treyarch — that have other concerns. After Modern Warfare was World at War; after Modern Warfare 2 was Black Ops. And after Modern Warfare 3, there will be Black Ops 2, a Call of Duty game that might actually change the Call of Duty paradigm again, and for the better.
A Continuous Story
Since the series’ inception, Call of Duty games have been about big, boisterous single player experiences and intense multiplayer ones. Call of Duty currently sits as the standard of console multiplayer, and if you wanted to extrapolate, you could certainly make the case for the series defining modern PC multiplayer as well. But rarely are the stories of the games continuous; the Modern Warfare series changed that, although its characters are fairly two-dimensional.
Treyarch’s Black Ops title, on the other hand, was more focused on story and character than any Call of Duty game ever. It introduced a number of characters with top-shelf Hollywood voice talent (Gary Oldman, you guys!) and invested players in them. Black Ops II continues the story of the last game, which was set in the 1960s, and brings it into the near future. The characters of the first game appear in various ways in the sequel, as do their descendants: this is a direct continuation of the story gamers saw two years ago.
That’s a very good thing. Call of Duty has never really excelled in storytelling and in the elder days of the series, it was driven by the cinematic nature of the cutscenes and settings rather than characters and drama. Treyarch is, at the very least, trying to make more cogent, character-driven narratives a standard for its Call of Duty games. But that’s a minor investment in comparison to the really exciting feature of Black Ops II: failure.