The Future Is Now
Treyarch has taken the next logical step in its flagship franchise’s evolution. Call of Duty has been to the past, it’s done the present…with the official unveiling of Black Ops 2, the long-running series will finally make the leap into the future. As some of our expert analysts predicted a few weeks ago when scrying into their crystal balls, the seminal FPS looks set to trade in its automatic rifles for laser pistols and rocket packs. Walking tanks, futuristic dropships, and unfriendly automatons all look set to make their series debut.
But not everything’s coming up roses following Treyarch’s announcement trailer. Not ’til we’ve had our say. Listen up, Marine! Our staff’s gonna learn you. Communications Manager Daniel Mahdavi, PC Correspondent Chad Morelock, Apple Correspondent Tom Rippon, Editor-in-Chief Martin Watts, Microsoft Correspondent Meg Smith, and Sony Correspondent Rexly Penaflorida II are gonna come at ya; ah hell, it looks like the whole staff’s up in arms over this one. So take notes, and mark our words: It’s BNBGAMING’s Friday Roundtable!
* * * *
While the concept and the ideas Treyarch are using seem really cool within the Call of Duty franchise, this game just isn’t making any changes from the overly formulaic set-up that both Infinity Ward and Treyarch have devised. From the video you can immediately see that the game is not too detached from the Modern Warfare 1/2 scenario, and, with the exception of the ultra-awesome looking robots, the trailer could easily be one for any of the last four Call of Duty games. When we discussed the possibility of a futuristic setting, I had envisioned a potential change of mechanics, or even of engine, to freshen the game up and draw in people who have shied away from the last few iterations. From the reveal trailer, I can immediately guess that this was too much a case of wishful thinking. They have reskinned the tanks and the guns, and moved the war to make the Chinese the enemy (highly original – note: sarcasm) and now we have another Modern Warfare 2 clone game that will likely have sales figures in the millions.
Having said all that, I am still leaving the door open for the game to bring something new, and if Treyarch does manage to innovate I will definitely be in line for a copy on PC.
Where other people see something new, I see the same problems I’ve always had with the Call of Duty franchise: slow-paced gameplay, linear levels and an over-reliance on setpieces. I’m still waiting for the Call of Duty game that’s going to win me over and turn me into the rabid fan that everyone else seems to be. The problem with the Call of Duty series, to me, is that it’s neither a tense and realistic tactical shooter like ARMA or Raven Shield, nor is it a fast-paced, fun-oriented shooter like Tribes or Team Fortress 2. I’ve long felt that they need to lean in one direction or the other to win me over – and this would probably alienate a portion of their fanbase. Unless they start getting funky and allowing zero-grav combat in space where a single suit puncture would result in a painful decompression, I’m not guessing they’ll be piquing my curiosity anytime soon.
Although nice try for getting me to look with the walking tanks, Treyarch.
I have to say that, while we do bash Call of Duty a lot, it is precisely because it is none of the things Chad mentioned that it became so famous. When the first Call of Duty games started to appear, we were amazed at how brilliantly they got away from the very arcadey feel of previous shooters, with a much more “Hollywood” feel to them. Call of Duty should never be a game like Tribes or Team Fortress, nor anything like ARMA, because it is Call of Duty, and their games aim to make every moment and every play as epic as war movies. The issue is just that they built the franchise on the success of innovation, and now they appear to have forgotten that. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a game worthy of Game of the Year awards because it gave us something we had never played before, and was made so well that it drew players in. The multiplayer was slicker than anything competitors could offer, and it challenged players with many levels of pace and intensity. Now, the Call of Duty franchise has been caught up, most notably by series like Battlefield, and Activision is unwilling to move it forward.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 still has the ability to innovate, and just because we are seeing set pieces, a strong (but predictable) story-driven narrative, and similar gameplay shots, doesn’t mean Treyarch isn’t going to throw a bunch of curve balls at us, and surprise us with a host of new ideas that we’ve never seen before. It is precisely because this could happen that I will get excited about the game, but until it can be proven that the studio wants to bring something new to the FPS genre, I won’t be anticipating it. It’s very easy to bash on games like those of the Call of Duty franchise when we have nothing to lose if we’re wrong. What I’d like to see is some hope for the game and pressure on Treyarch to bring us something totally new, if not in this generation then in the next.
I think Daniel has perfectly summed up why Call of Duty continues to be so successful. It’s a very Hollywood-ised version of war. It’s grisly at times, fast-paced, and has a lot of action. This is why it’s bought, I think. Because people know what they’re getting by now, and what they’re getting is an annual dose of adrenaline.
However, I don’t know if Black Ops 2 will alienate or reunite the fanbase. It’s always been kind of divided by Infinity Ward and Treyarch fans bashing the games that their opponents release, even if they still buy them. Personally, when I saw that Black Ops 2 was to be set in the future, I was very shocked. Of course, at some point, we’ve all wished for it, and it was a massive part of our Future of Call of Duty discussion (an apt name, looking back), but it’s one thing to hope for something and another to get it. Futuristic Call of Duty is certainly a big risk.
If we’re judging whether or not Black Ops 2 will innovate, then I think the answer is yes and no. Within the Call of Duty franchise, BO2 is a massive step forward, not only because it’s set in a time period the series has no factual information on, but because they’re making new weapons, machines, and they’re likely to attract a crowd of people who, until now, have not wanted to get their hands dirty with CoD. However, they are certainly not innovating anything outside their own horizons. Games have been experimenting with the future since gaming began, and when watching the trailer, it’s easy for anybody with even a basic knowledge of gaming to point and say, “That looks like [Futuristic Game X] and [Futuristic Game Y].” Call of Duty is doing something they have never done before, but not something video games have never done before.
The problem is, because so many people turn a blind eye to other games, especially Call of Duty fans, Treyarch and Activision can trick them into believing this future is brand new. Black Ops 2 will be another money-maker.
I thought the trailer was entertaining and it’s nice to see the series move in this direction. However, even with the futuristic setting in mind, I doubt the series is going to be transformed or innovate for that matter. What I want to see is all these new robots, gizmos and what-not completely reshape the tried-and-tested gameplay formula. It’s like when they added MechWarrior-esque walkers to Battlefield 2142, which not only looked cool, but presented an exciting new challenge to players. How that transfers across to multiplayer is anyone’s guess, but then I’m of the opinion that competitive shooters have increasingly become more primitive since the release of Return to Castle Wolfenstein.
I’ll go on record saying (repeating) that I’ve never liked Call of Duty (specifically because I got burned by deceptive advertising way back when Finest Hour debuted on the Gamecube – not only was it not the intense experience the commercial promised, it was buggy as hell). Call of Duty is arguably to games what Michael Bay films are to film – lowest common denominator explosion-fests that make a ton of money; the main exception being gaming critics have been largely complimentary of the Call of Duty series. Or maybe it’s like Half-Life without any subtlety.
If BO2 manages to subvert expectations to the point that I actually play it for more than five minutes, then great. Treyarch and Activision will have proven me wrong. At least from a business standpoint, changing the setting has been great for the series in the
past. But really, I’m not getting my hopes up to be converted to the Call of Duty megachurch off I-15. I figure I’ll view it the same way I’ve viewed every game with the COD name since somewhere in the mid-2000s – bland brown shooter paste, more resembling Army C-rations than entertainment to me, and even less appetizing.
Also, I just want to point out that Black Ops is a bit of an outdated term at this point. As per Steven Heck in Alpha Protocol, “The US doesn’t do black ops anymore. They changed the color to somethin’ else – orange, I think. Yeah, that’s the new black.”
On the whole, I agree completely with Tom on this subject. I mean, does Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 really bring anything new to the table?
Okay, there are a few ‘new’ additions, like branching storylines, but, as Tom said, this is a feature that is new to the series not video games as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong, I think what CoD does what it does extremely well. It applies to a niche market and impressively draws in gamers from all four corners of the globe. Realistically speaking though, how many times can you put a new spin on war?
CoD was original once upon a time, but now, instead of offering the same experience with a few tweaks, it seems they are tagging on elements seen in other successful mainstream games. They’re claiming to add something new when in reality they are just using a wider array of tried and tested mechanics from other titles that gamers responded well to. Points off for lack of originality, Treyarch.
Now, I’ll admit, I really don’t care too much for the series. When I see the tagline ‘The future is black’, I think in reality the future of the series is green. So I don’t know where the series is headed, but I don’t think Black Ops 2 is the future, not by a long shot.
I’m a little less anti- and a little more skeptical than you guys, I think. While the CoD series has definitely been very samey lately, there’s no arguing the quality of the games. Every game Activision has produced in the Modern Warfare and Black Ops lines has been polished, high quality, and definite AAA material. What the games lack is innovation within the genre, and that’s something that 75% of CoD players don’t seem to care about. Black Ops did set pieces and fantastic storylines very well, and I don’t think we can knock them for that, but for the same reason that Assassin’s Creed is dry, CoD is dry. Assassin’s Creed 1 was a breakthrough game in that it gave players something they hadn’t ever had in any form before. Assassin’s Creed 1 was flawed though, and that meant that Assassin’s Creed 2 could come along and advance the story whilst making huge leaps in terms of its gameplay mechanic and the available missions and modes. Brotherhood then gave us multiplayer, but very little else.
CoD is the same. MW gave us a non-WW2 setting, set pieces like never before, and a unique gameplay experience. The future of gaming could look like CoD, but that takes believing that Treyarch can surprise us. I really hope they do, because there’s so much that hasn’t been done in the genre, but it’s going to take big industry minds to show us what that is by designing something we haven’t yet dreamed of. I really don’t think we can get much from Black Ops 2 other than the fact that the game will feature a futuristic setting and will have the same style/set pieces/storyline as before. To write the game off now is to write off all future sequels for lack of potential innovation in all series in the gaming industry. I really do think Treyarch could surprise us; I’m just skeptical whether they will.
Chad, I hear where you’re coming from, but it’s probably worth noting that the Call of Duty series is now predominantly a multiplayer one – single-player has been of secondary importance for some time now, so it makes sense that Treyarch/Infinity Ward adhere to the Michael Bay doctrine. It looks great in trailers, and I think it does benefit the gameplay to a certain extent by having these set scenes.
As argued in a recent IGN article, these scripted events actually reduce the feeling of linearity because they force the player into a situation that is different from the norm, without having to completely reconstruct the game environment. Besides, non-linear games tend to be quite difficult for your everyday gamer, and they’re not necessarily more enjoyable, either. I hope that the developers just use the new, futuristic setting to create some truly unique set pieces throughout the single-player, in addition to enhancing the multiplayer beyond the generic shootfest it has become over the years.
I agree with Martin. I borrowed MW3from a friend a few months back and played the campaign and I was immersed in it. After playing it once, I did realize that the entire thing was all orchestrated and linear, but the experience that those set pieces give you is full of these high-intensity events that you can’t help but get into.
I’ll add myself to the skeptics’ list for this game because, as cool as it is that they’re bringing the series to the future, I’m not too sure that they’ll divert away from their comfort zone and add some great new feature that makes it stand out from the rest of the series. We’ve seen three Modern Warfare games and one Black Ops title and all of them were identical. Sure, you have minor improvements in multiplayer, but for the most part they are all the same thing. I like the futuristic setting and to see all the new mechanized units in the trailer is pretty cool, but it does look like they still use the same weapons that we do today. This might be set only 13 years from now, but with all of the scientific progress that’s been made to create the unmanned robots, don’t you think they’d throw some money to the gun R&D labs? Either way, you can bet that people saw that trailer and were psyching themselves up for the game. It has a huge fanbase, and as long Treyarch and Infinity Ward keep spewing out a new Call of Duty game, you can bet that the horde of people that ranges from the guy who’s got “swag” to the 12-year old who thinks that cursing in every sentence during matches is cool will line up and buy the game.
* * * *
Share Your Thoughts: We’ve shared our thoughts and now it’s your turn. What do you think about the announcement of the new Black Ops 2? Is Treyarch moving the franchise in the right direction?