Future WarfareWhile it's no surprise that publisher Activision is releasing a new Call of Duty game this November - it will be the eighth core series entry in eight years - its identity had been intensely debated in the run-up to its announcement last month. As widely rumoured, the game will be a sequel to developer Treyarch's 2010 blockbuster hit Call of Duty: Black Ops, which has sold in excess of 25 million copies, making it one the best-selling entries in the series and one of the biggest games of all time.
While past Call of Duty titles have taken place during World War II, the Cold War and modern day conflicts, Call of Duty: Black Ops II takes the series to the future for the first time. In the year 2025 wars are being waged not over oil but 'rare earth elements' - chemical elements used in the production of pretty much any modern piece of technology, from nuclear batteries to smartphones. China controls over 95% of the world's rare earth elements and the US feels its rival is strangling American commerce.
In Black Ops II's near-future setting you'll likely be fighting machines as much as you will human opponents, with players taking on - and using - a variety of ground-based and airborne assault drones strapped with guns and rocket launchers. The game won't introduce over-the-top lasers or ray guns, but players can probably expect some advanced weaponry with fancy new attachments that allow them to dish out pain in fresh, exciting ways.
Mixing It UpBlack Ops II is a direct sequel and its story spans a 40-year time period kicking off in the mid-1980s. The only 80s environment revealed to date is Afghanistan, with early footage showing off horseback gunplay in a desert location. The majority of the single player game - and the entirety of its multiplayer component - will be set in the future, but it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine a number of levels taking place in the decades leading up to 2025. In the 80s-based levels, players will once again assume the role of Alex Mason, the CIA agent and former Marine Force Recon Captain who starred in the original Black Ops, while futuristic skirmishes will be played through the eyes of his son David.
Shaking up the regular Call of Duty structure, Black Ops II will go beyond linear storytelling by introducing a branching plot that enables players to personalise the adventure based on their choices and actions. The path players choose at key points in the game will dictate the fate of those around them as well as their own, and multiple endings should offer plenty of replay value.
The game also strays from the linear corridor shooter feel of some first person shooters with the introduction of new 'Strike Force' missions set in small, open-world sandbox levels. These task players with capturing and controlling three points on a map, and holding back waves of enemies until various story elements involving said checkpoints have run their course. Strike Force missions can be played from a number of different perspectives, allowing players to do battle in a traditional man-on-the-ground style, switch to take control of combat drones, or monitor and impact the battlefield from a strategic vantage point like a general, making use of cameras high above the site.
Multiplayer MayhemBlack Ops II will also offer a host of multiplayer options, including competitive and co-operative game modes. While these are largely being kept under wraps for now, Treyarch has strongly hinted that multiplayer will be influenced by developments in the eSports scene as well as social media trends, so perhaps we can expect some form of interesting prize structure that rewards online play, as well as new ways in which to connect with and share experiences with fellow players.
The fan-favourite Zombies survival mode, in which players are tasked with repelling wave after wave of increasingly deadly enemies, will also make a return. Quite where it can go next after taking players to locations including Nazi Germany, Shangri-La and the Moon in the original Black Ops is anyone's guess, but it will up the ante by doubling the number of shambling undead corpses, let eight participants play at once instead of four, and introduce new game modes.
It may be early days, but from what we've seen of Black Ops II it's clear that Treyarch isn't resting on its laurels by playing things safe. It'll offer the cinematic single player action and accessible but competitive multiplayer gameplay that has earned the franchise a monthly active user base of 40 million players across all Call of Duty titles, but in a strategy that has plenty of potential to confound critics who argue the series hasn't evolved as much as it should have, the developer has also chosen to innovate and attempt plenty of new things that look set to freshen up the brand.