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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Futuristic setting dangerous for Black Ops II

    When a “Call of Duty” game is released, it usually sells more copies than any other game of the year. With the announcement of Activision’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” 2012 is looking to be no different. But one part of the revelation could derail the franchise’s past success.

    “Black Ops II” is going to be set in the near future. If that made you raise an eyebrow, you’re not alone.

    Some may not find it odd. Others may even be excited. But this futuristic setting must be approached with caution. Treyarch, the developers behind “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and “Call of Duty: World at War” has never really dealt with a time period that didn’t already happen. Even Infinity Ward, the company that made all the “Modern Warfare” games, hasn’t ventured past the modern day. Delving into such unexplored territory is disconcerting to say the least.

    The good news is that, unlike Infinity Ward, Treyarch consistently puts out compelling — or at least well-written — stories. They always had an existing framework to operate in, so working without one is going to be a challenge.

    Bear in mind, a future setting doesn’t mean gamers are going to get a “Halo”-type game — which, while it sounds exciting at first, would probably be a disaster. More likely the games will be set 50 to 100 years down the road, in a world that doesn’t really look that different from today. After all, while there are only a few screen shots on the U.K. “Call of Duty” website to go off of, helicopters with four propellers don’t look much more advanced than modern technology already is.

    Instead, “Black Ops II” will be futuristic in a political sense. The various countries of the world will all occupy different political, social and economic states than they do today, and some may not even exist at all. China could have taken over half the globe as benevolent rulers or the United States might be reduced to a third-world country.

    A more likely scenario, however, will maintain the superiority of the U.S. and pit it — with the U.K. appearing in a supporting role — against one of its classic enemies: an oppressive regime. It doesn’t really matter who the enemy is, though hopefully it’s not the Russians again. Either way, the plot is always a free America against an anti-freedom entity, be it a terrorist organization or an entire country.

    That’s dangerous territory, though. Just look at what happened to THQ’s “Homefront,” a game in which North Korea invades the United States. The story was poorly received and the game overall earned mediocre reviews at best. Gameplay mechanics will save “Call of Duty” from flopping entirely, but there is still a risk of releasing a bad game that sells well.

    For the most part, the problem arises from uncreative writers never changing the international status quo in near-future settings. The Middle East is still fighting over religion, the United States is still the last bastion capable of defending freedom, China is kind of there causing problems in the background and Russia is still defiant and stingy — and cold.

    But what if all those scenarios were different? What if America becomes corrupt in the time between today and the game’s setting? What if the Middle East has settled down and the story follows a newly developing country trying to protect itself from foreign influence — with non-terrorist methods? What if Russia has collapsed under its own weight and the region is broken up into a handful of smaller, completely new countries? What if China decided to isolate itself again?

    These are far more interesting than playing some game about a locked-and-loaded American good ol’ boy leading the charge against a caricature of a country that’s been technologically pushed forward by 50 years.

    Nothing new will happen though — partially thanks to American gamers who would be appalled at the notion of America being, I don’t know, the bad guy. “Black Ops II” better do a damn good job with its unoriginal plot. If it doesn’t, it could be jumping the shark and ruin its credibility in one fell swoop.

    UPDATE: According to the gaming news site Kotaku, the U.S. will be up against China, which is a total surprise — but not really. The game is only set 13 years in the future, in 2025, so perhaps it makes sense that things haven’t changed all that much.

    Still, though, it’s not particularly exciting to see the only thing that’s changed in the next decade is all the United States’ defense is handled by robots that can be hacked by some random guy with bad intentions.

    — Jason Krell is the assistant copy chief. He can be reached at or on
    Twitter via @WildcatArts .

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