Failure in Black Ops 2 Could Be Call of Duty’s Greatest Innovation
Of course, all we’ve seen so far is a lengthy demo picked by the developers to show off the very best of what the game has to offer. We haven’t yet seen anything close to a meaty story and character reveal. What we have seen, however, suggests that for all the ways Treyarch seems to be pushing the envelope in terms of what a Call of Duty game could be, they’re also relying on some series cliches with both disappointing, and potentially unfortunate implications.
Much has been made about the game’s ‘New Cold War’ setting, and we definitely approve of taking on what seems a very likely outcome of the current economic competition/cooperation between the West (and Japan), and China. But for all the possibilities this setting contains, it does indeed appear that Black Ops II is mining territory already exploited to near-depletion by Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare. That series eventually culminated in World War III between the United States and the Russian Federation, a war actually caused by an independent agent, the nefarious Vladimir Makarov, who had his own reasons for sparking the deaths of millions.
Meanwhile, Black Ops II’s US/China cold war may or may not go hot — it’s not entirely clear what’s happening during the Los Angeles Campaign — but the actual antagonist is the generically Latin-named Raul Menendez, who is seeking to provoke a world war. I’ll reserve judgment until I actually play this thing, but based on that information alone, this frame, especially the near-future setting, is essentially Modern Warfare dressed up in drag. It would be sad to see a series with the kind of potential Black Ops has for fixing up the tired FPS wargames genre devolve into simply reiterating familiar territory, a problem that has morally and narratively neutered the other Call of Duty titles.
On a more political note, it’s also troubling that all signs point to Menedez being some kind of radical leftist seeking to stir things up for the world’s dominent economic powers. In this current, very serious economic downturn, and with all the pain and misery happening worldwide as a direct consequence of the mad scramble for resources, leading to many nations’ foreign policies being devoted to propping up systems dependent on inequality, it’s a bit disturbing to see a plot that seems to depict the plight of the 99 Percent is nothing more than a con for power hungry people.
Obviously such monsters exist, and I wouldn’t suggest a video game ought to simply vomit my own politics back to me, but I hope the game doesn’t cartoonishly have patriotic American capitalists gunning down rows and rows of straw-socialists, and instead strives for some kind of nuance. It’s great that Black Ops II wants to take on some politically charged fare — here’s hoping they do so with intelligence and tact.
Worth Getting Excited
Lots of gamers have lots of complaints about the Call of Duty series, and those complaints are often very fair. But even with the elements about which we’re a little worried, or which we haven’t actually seen in action (none of Black Ops II has been playable yet — demos have been eyes-only so far), it’s hard not to get excited about the fact that Treyarch is actively working to bring lots of newness to a series often chided for not doing so.
There are great things about Call of Duty games: They scratch the blockbuster itch. They have enormous scale and great set pieces, and because they’re so successful, they have the money to really deliver on those experiences. Now, Treyarch is giving us a good reason to be excited about Call of Duty again with a lot of new ideas that could seriously change the series for the better. For now, we’re reserving judgment, but for the first time in a while, we’re genuinely excited for what the next Call of Duty game will offer.
Check out our full rundown of Activision’s Pre-E3 demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and watch Game Front’s interview with Treyarch’s Mark Lamia.