What happens when too much of the same is released on an annual basis? I'd be naive to say that it flops. One swift reluctant glance at Apple's release module for iOS devices and it's obvious that isn't the case. Hence why the Call of Duty series has been so similarly successful despite the lack of any large leaps or bounds in game design innovation.
However, something happened today to suggest a change in the wind. Activision officially announced Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which is scheduled for a November release later this year. The first Black Ops title took the world by storm two years ago, and featured a story that spanned the Cold War. As the title suggests, players were entrenched in top secret, covert operations. The Cold War is a perfect backdrop for such a game, but what of Black Ops 2?
Black Ops 2 isn't set during the Cold War, at least not the one as we know it. This sequel is set in the near future, 2025 to be exact, where an enemy force has taken over the US army's unmanned weapons systems. The time jump is an interesting premise to say the least, but certainly not one unfamiliar to us.
Six years ago, another first-person shooter series took the leap forward in time. EA and DICE presented the world with Battlefield 2142, a modern sci-fi take on the franchise. Likewise, Ubisoft's Ghost Recon series has always had a focus on the high-tech and cutting edge aspect of contemporary warfare.
Developer Treyarch are notoriously known as the alternative Call of Duty gnomes, creating "copy cats" of the main franchise titles, at least according to the most vocal of fans. It's quite brave, and certainly commendable, for the studio to take such a large step towards the future. But why now? Why with Black Ops 2? Call of Duty as a series is historically known for being, well, historical. And while the Modern Warfare games are anything but historical, they at least reflect contemporary wars being fought in this day and age. Why not simply stick to the same formula?
Because there has been a change in the wind.
The first Black Ops was a massive success for both Activision and Treyarch, despite the naysayers as millions literally flocked to pick the game up in November 2010. Following that, Infinity Ward finished up work on the highly anticipated Modern Warfare 3, which went on to break sales records, smashing the debut numbers of its predecessor. Unfortunately, it still didn't manage to outperform Black Ops, falling behind in sales in the following weeks post-release. A sign that people were going elsewhere for their fill of action-packed entertainment.
So what's happening? Simply put, Call of Duty is losing traction. Since the release of Modern Warfare, the series has done little to push the genre forward. Each game offered the exact same type of gameplay, and the majority of the series' fanbase just don't buy the game for its relatively short and miniscule campaign. Five to six hours of shooting down corridors isn't worth full retail price. Call of Duty is played for its high octane, addicting online multiplayer. And that is exactly what Treyarch needs to focus on to rejuvenate the franchise.
Changing the setting is an interesting step in that direction, but won't be enough to convince those that opted out of Modern Warfare 3 if the gameplay remains exactly the same. At the very least, it opens up opportunities for cool and interesting weapons, kill streaks and perks. However, what is Treyarch going to add on top of that? Will the core change for the better? There were a lot of vehicles shown in the reveal trailer, but will players be able to pilot those or are they on-rails like usual? The biggest and brightest bit of info to come out of the reveal is something Treyarch are calling a "branching campaign," where the outcome of the war will actually be affected by the success and failures of your missions.
Let's not forget that by the time November comes around, Black Ops 2 is going to have some very fierce competition: Halo 4. This game at least has the potential to pull in a lot of players, many of whom have been waiting for a new Halo game for years. Call of Duty fans, on the other hand, have had a new game every year. By then, Black Ops 2 will also be facing Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Ghost Recon Online, both of which will be hitting retail much earlier, and the latter of which is a free-to-play online shooter, a distribution module that has been fast gaining traction in the industry.
Treyarch and Activision are looking to breathe new life into the military shooter genre, but if Black Ops 2 turns out to be the same thing with a fresh new coat of high-tech paint, it won't be enough to save it. For now, it sounds promising enough and we can't wait to hear more about its Strike Force Missions and branching campaign.