I know, I know. What a flamebait title, right? Before you scroll down to that comments section to scorn my name and talk about how this discussion has been done to death, hear me out. In recent years, Treyarch and Infinity Ward have done a rather admirable job of ensuring that each of their respective takes on the Call of Duty franchise are respectably different from the other. The Black Ops “series”, if you could call it that, has done things significantly differently than the Modern Warfare canon of the Call of Duty moniker, opting for alternate history scenarios rather than implausible modern war tales. While this has certainly led to a tangible (and important) distinction between the two types of games each studio aims to create, both Black Ops and Modern Warfare are too hesitant to take serious risks that could potentially innovate the shooter genre much like Call of Duty 4 did back in 2007.
While Black Ops 2 looks set to take a small step forward for the Call of Duty franchise with slightly future-based gameplay, it could be argued that Treyarch is playing it safe by not going too far into the years to come. Black Ops 2 is said to be set in the year 2025, which, truly, isn’t all that far away. While some of the weaponry and vehicles appear to be a bit more sophisticated this time around, the way that you play the game doesn’t appear to be much, if at all, different. A setting may provide an elegant and intriguing backdrop for a game, but if the gameplay mechanics fail to follow the quality of the environment or art direction, it’s hard to look past the fresh coat of paint and deadly new arsenal to play with.
A perfect example of a title that infuses setting and gameplay mechanics would be the soon-to-be released Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Although the Ghost Recon franchise has followed the same basic template since its inception, each title has thrown a new, integral gameplay mechanic into the mix to keep things engaging and, well, badass. Black Ops 2 looks to add some new, futuristic vehicles and weapons to be used as killstreaks or mission-centric features, but adding new guns and vehicles can’t be considered innovation without also implementing creative new ways of using them. On the contrary, Future Soldier’s drone unit allows players to tactically scout out and tag enemies to feed new intel to their buddies’ cross-coms, and is something I’d consider pretty innovative.
While I was initially a bit curious about Black Ops 2’s near future setting, my excitement quickly died off when I noticed recycled animations, familiar landscapes, and unchanged storytelling. Scripted sequences, action-packed cutscenes, and melodramatic militaristic dialogue still seem to be staples of the game’s narrative style, and that’s a bit of a problem, given the fact that Treyarch’s singleplayer campaigns have been the weakest of the franchise. Although the alternate reality narrative could bring some awesome new set pieces to the story mode (horses, anyone?) the way you play Call of Duty isn’t looking like it’ll change a whole lot.
When the multiplayer reveal trailer eventually hits, things may change, but from the looks of it, Call of Duty won’t be pushing its gameplay mechanics ahead to match its futuristic setting. I’d love to see a more tactical Call of Duty game that pushed the limits of its gunplay beyond drop-shotting and hipfiring around corners. While Treyarch doesn’t need to make Call of Duty: Halo Edition, it would be great to see some new mechanics that didn’t involve slapping a new skin on some guns and re-recording a few sounds. And as it stands, it’s not looking like Black Ops 2 will be providing much more than just that, which is a serious missed opportunity given the potential of a Call of Duty equivalent of Battlefield 2142.
So, what do you think? Can Black Ops deliver a fresh Call of Duty experience, or is Treyarch playing it far too safe? Leave your thoughts below in the comments!