The year is 2025, Frank Woods returns, not to the battlefield but to tell the story of what happened next.
This time round Alex Mason will be doing all the shooting, well in the 80’s anyway, as the game shifts to the future (2025) you will fill the boots of his son David.
Multiple storylines are mapped out during the course of the campaign depending on the actions you take or fail to take.
COD: Black Ops II will boast improved graphics, making it the most visually stunning game in the entire Call of Duty series. The setting is no longer the Cold War, but the near future, a 21st Century where technology and weapons have merged and a new generation of warfare has been born.
Single-player mode will now include a branching campaign that will be based on the choices you make, giving you more opportunity to re-visit your missions, making different choices for different outcomes each time. The multiplayer mode promises one thing – the same, but better!
-The game’s story will jump between two timelines, with the primary one set in 2025. “Most” of the game will be set in 2025.
-It is a direct sequel to Black Ops.
-We will find out definitively what happened at the end of Black Ops—presumably, Mason didn’t actually kill JFK, given that he’s out in the field in Black Ops II. But who knows?
-The second timeline will be set in the late 80′s near the end of the Cold War.
-The story will be narrated by Black Ops character Frank Woods, now an old man. Apparently he didn’t die at the end of Black Ops after all.
-In the 80′s timeline, players will take on the role of Black Ops protagonist Alex Mason.
-In 2025, players will take on the role of David Mason, who is the son of Alex Mason. The father/son relationship will play a part in the story. Hello daddening of video games!
-In the game’s fiction, there is a second Cold War happening between China and the US due to the scarcity of Rare Earth Elements used to make tech devices and military weapons.
-The story is based on a real-world possibility, as China (according to the folks at Treyarch) currently controls 95% of the rare earth elements in the world. Topical!
-Many of the real-world hooks are inspired by P.W. Singer’s Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.
-A good deal of the 1980′s action will take place during proxy wars in Central America. Tropical!
-Game Director Dave Anthony hinted that we may find out more about “imaginary” Viktor Reznov. “He was essentially a figment of the player’s imagination,” Anthony said.
“Or was he?” Studio Director Mark Lamia chimed in, playfully. “Will we find out more about that?” asked Anthony with a smirk.
-David Mason (the son)’s callsign is “Section.” Which is kind of a cool callsign.
-The villain will be a man named Raul Menendez, who in 2025 is pitting the Chinese and US governments against each other by hacking into their drones and other robotic weapons.
-The 1980′s missions will chronicle what started Martinez on setting his current-day plans in motion.
-The story is was written from the ground up by Dark Knight and Batman Begins co-writer David Goyer. Goyer joined the first Black Ops part of the way through. He wanted to “create a memorable villain” with Menendez.
-Menendez has hacked into the US’s unmanned drones and unleashed an attack on Los Angeles. In the mission we saw, a fleet of drones were destroying buildings in downtown LA.
-There will be at least one female character in the game, a pilot named Anderson. She laid quite a bit of waste during the entire LA mission.
-The president in 2025 is also a woman, and appeared in the “Attack on LA” mission.
-David Mason’s sidekick is a soldier named Nelson who appears to be played by Michael Rooker of Mallrats and The Walking Dead fame.
-The game will be using full-body performance capture to place its actors in the game; the tech demo I saw demonstrated both male and female actors captured with the sort of clarity we’ve come to expect from games using full-performance capture. James Woods will reprise his role as Frank Woods, of course.
-From what I saw in several demo sections set in a burning, futuristic LA, drones are controllable in combat and will play a large part in the game. Players have a drone-controller on their wrist in the game, and can use it to assign targets and waypoints.
-There will be horses, and horseback-riding, during at least one sequence in the 1980′s. They even went so far as to bring a horse into the motion capture studio.
-At one point in the demo, the player jumped into a futuristic anti-aircraft gun and shot down enemy drones.
-Vehicle segments will be back, including one piloting a futuristic VTOL airship. Part of the VTOL mission was mostly on-rails, but the second part involved free-flying and dogfighting with drones.
-The Black Ops II story will be branching—it will feature choices and variable outcomes. Wait, what? Yep.
-At one point, players had an option to either grab a sniper rifle and cover their squad, or rappel down to join up with them. Presumably that choice leads to a slightly different gameplay experience—this looks like one of the smaller of the choices offered in the game.
-A large part of the branching will be due to Strike Force, which is a brand-new game mode featuring tactical, open-ended gameplay in sandbox-style levels.
The New Game Mode: “Strike Force”
-Strike Force missions will be woven into the core single-player campaign, and will present themselves as various black ops missions available around the globe.
-Players won’t be able to play all of the strike force missions in a single playthrough.
-Strike Force is currently only included in the campaign and isn’t a separate mode. It won’t allow for multiplayer but, at some point down the road, could be fleshed out. “Things like Zombies originally -started as unlocks,” said an Activision representative after we followed up to make sure. “We’re not taking the option off the table.”
-Depending on the outcome of a given strike force mission, the story will change. “You’re going to choose a mission,” said Lamia, “and that’s a branch for the story. Say there’s three missions out there—you’re not going to go back and play all of them; the story goes on. If you die on a strike force mission, you die in the story.”
-Going on that, it would seem that the playable characters don’t feature in the Strike Force missions.
-Strike Force allows players to control squads of troops, giving follow/hold commands with the shoulder buttons.
-Strike Force also allows a zoomed-out command view via an unmanned aerial drone that lets you to set waypoints for your units to achieve shifting goals.
-Strike Force will allow you to control (at the very least) armed aerial drones, armed land-drones, and unarmed aerial drones in addition to being able to hop to the viewpoint of any of the soldiers in your squad.
-The strike force missions will unfold organically but will be written into the story—in that way, they’ll function somewhat like a single-player version of the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3.
-I think I heard Keifer Sutherland voicing one of the squad members in Strike Force, but I’m not sure. Consider this a Keifer! Rumor!
-Multiplayer director David Vonderhart relayed that the new approach they are taking is “One size does not fit all.” That means, he said, that there is no one way to play a Call of Duty game. So, they’re pulling back features like create-a-class, killstreaks, and other features and reexamining them, challenging their assumptions of “what cows are sacred.”
-Multiplayer will take place entirely in the year 2025—there will be no multiplayer missions set in the 80′s.
-They are taking the E-sports community very seriously. In part, that means that they’re focusing on making the game more fun to watch as a spectator. Hopefully that means super cute, colorful uniforms!
-Zombies will definitely be back in Black Ops II, and will feature all new modes that are more fleshed-out than ever.
-”There will be more zombies and more modes; just more.”
-The zombies are “In the multiplayer engine.” “If you think about all of the things we can do with our multiplayer engine,” Lamia said, “You can start to think about how we might be looking at this.” Okay then!
-Zombies are the only confirmed co-op aspect of Black Ops II. The campaign and strike-force modes do not appear to feature co-op.
Every past Call of Duty game has featured a rigidly linear single-player campaign. They’ve gotten shorter and shorter as the years have gone by, too—the last few games have featured campaigns that have lasted merely 4-6 hours.
Treyarch is aiming to change that with Black Ops II with the inclusion of “Strike Force,” a new, open-ended game-mode that’s folded into the single-player campaign.
In the game’s story, it’s 2025. There is a cold war going on between China and the United States. In addition to the timeline-hopping story of Alex and David Mason and Frank Woods, Black Ops II’s story will feature several points during which the player is given a number of different operations to undertake.
“You’ll get to these points in the campaign,” said Treyarch head Mark Lamia. “There’ll be these hotspots around the world, as you’d expect in a cold war. And you’ll get your intel drop on them and JSOC will come to you and say ‘Here’s what’s going on. We need to drop a black ops team in. Which mission are you gonna assign your team to.”
“You’ll choose a mission, and that is actually a branch for the story, and the structure of the campaign.” According to Lamia, if you die, that won’t end the game but rather will be included as a part of the story—your characters are disposable, though the high-level narrative will (allegedly) play out differently depending on how you do in the missions. It’s not clear whether the effects will be story-only or whether they’ll actually have an affect on the gameplay or settings of missions in the rest of the game.
(I got the impression that the actual missions will still feel fairly separate from the Strike Force missions, and that the non-game parts of the story will be the only parts that are affected. But that’s just the sense I got.)
Rather than taking on the role of any of the main characters in Strike Force, you’ll more or less assume the role of the entire squad, much like in one of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy games—specifically Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.
The missions play out over large, sandbox-y levels, which will call on players to use tactical thinking and creative problem solving to an extent we’ve certainly never seen in the corridor-happy Cal of Duty franchise before. It may not hit the heights of a true Tom Clancy game (particularly not a GRAW game), but it’s still a big shift.
The map I saw seemed quite a bit larger than an average multiplayer map, though nowhere near as sprawling as a large Battlefield map. As you play, a series of varied, narrative-driven objectives will roll over the map.
Players will have the option of hopping between the flying Quad drone, the CLAW tank, another armored mechanized tank, and any of the members of their squad. It wasn’t confirmed whether there will be more units available than that in the finished game.
Lamia referred to the view from on high as “overwatch mode,” which you can use to set up any sort of tactic you’d like to assign your team from a mobile camera looking over the battlefield. Lamia said that the objectives in a given Strike Force mission will always be the same, but “how you take on that objective, that’s up to you.”
The Strike Force mission I watched took place in Singapore—the goal was to hack into three electron lasers that need to be taken out in order to clear the way for a gunship. Despite that samey-feeling setup—how many times in these games have we fought our way to a control point?—watching Strike Force play out really didn’t feel much like watching a Call of Duty single-player level. The player kept switching control between his drones and his squad, and it felt and looked much more like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter than Modern Warfare II.
The amount of replayability and choice that Lamia described appears to be about on par with any other tactical shooter—if you want, you can try some different tactics in a scenario and see how it plays out. It remains to be seen how well Call of Duty’s AI will hold up when given a much bigger scenario to handle. Good artificial intelligence will go a long way towards making the Strike Force missions truly feel worth playing more than once.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the main reason this is a big deal is that… well, Call of Duty is a big deal. On its face, Strike Force doesn’t offer anything dramatically different than a years-old Tom Clancy game. It just happens to be included in a COD game. In fact, I didn’t see any sort of stealth options, or very reactive AI—they just came in waves and opened fire.
With that said, it’s nice to see Treyarch taking steps to shake up the Call of Duty formula somewhat. It certainly could do with some shaking! And as Activision’s spokesperson took great pains to point out, the zombies mode also started as a limited, unlockable feature, and it’s now got its own entire section of the game.
The action-movie blast-blast-blast-and-done formula of the past few Call of Duty single-player campaigns, while still financially marketable, has started to feel a bit stale. More than that, it’s started to feel like a missed opportunity to really cater to players who want a great single-player experience and don’t care about multiplayer.
Strike Force’s tactical gameplay will require a lot more thinking than your average Call of Duty mission, and a little bit of brains could well go a long way.