LOS ANGELES (AP) – The new installment of the wildly popular Call of Duty video game franchise will transport fans to a completely new place: the future. But setting half of Call of Duty: Black Ops II in the year 2025 could be the riskiest gambit yet for the successful shoot-’em-up series known for its relentless past-and-present realism.
Black Ops II flip-flops between the clandestine Cold War of yesteryear and a cutthroat conflict in the near future where cyber-terrorism, drones and souped-up rifles that can peek through walls serve as everyday instruments of warfare. It’s a bold leap for a franchise that’s spent the past nine years firmly rooted in an unflinching “Rambo”-esque reality.
“The new setting gave everyone in the studio a creative freedom we didn’t have before,” said Mark Lamia, head of Black Ops developer Treyarch. “We want our games to have that plausible, grounded feeling, but make no mistake; we’ll err on the side of entertainment every time. It is a game. While it’s important to tell a story, the game has to be fun.”
The flash-forward won’t merely affect the story-driven, single-player campaign. Robotic tanks, electrifying grenades, flying drones and other high-tech doodads are being added to the arsenals of Black Ops II soldiers. The change will undoubtedly alter the landscape of the multiplayer mode, the franchise’s addictive feature that keeps gamers coming back.
The Call of Duty series began as a World War II shooter before gaining unprecedented success when it morphed into a modern day interactive action flick. Even with the series already the most unstoppable force in the gaming world, the game-makers enlisted a military analyst to serve as an overseer who could guide the developers away from simply creating science fiction. The first rule? No laser guns, at least not in the hands of soldiers. Another real-world flourish included casting China as a geopolitical superpower opposite the United States.
On the flip side, to maintain the series’ cinematic sensation, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based studio again called upon The Dark Knight Rises screenwriter David S. Goyer, who consulted on the story of the original Black Ops back in 2010. This time, Goyer advised the Black Ops II creators from the beginning of development.
Goyer recommended that developers create a Call game with a branching narrative, one that shifts and changes depending on players’ actions. While hardly revolutionary for the medium, it’s the first time a Call of Duty game employed such consequences.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 last year topped previous Call titles and shattered entertainment industry records by selling 6.5 million copies and earning more than $400 million within 24 hours.
But franchises “can only remain successful if you keep innovating,” said Goyer. Black Ops’ sophomore chapter concludes in one of several possible ways – all depending on how wannabe marksmen play the game. Goyer and crew acknowledge they’re not completely certain where a Black Ops III would go from there, but they’re sure of one thing: They’ll think of something.