I have a confession to make: I enjoy the Call of Duty series. Some may scoff and hit me with a splash of Haterade, but the fact of the matter is, there's something that remains consistent with each new game in the series: I have fun. Fun is the operative word here, because while the series, like many others, has its obvious faults, what I care about most is whether or not I'm enjoying the game, and am intrigued enough to carry on. So far, no Call of Duty has let me down.
One of the obvious faults is that the series, by some respects, has begun to grow a bit stale. Well - depending on who you ask, that ship sailed long ago. While I'm a sucker for any new Call of Duty sequel that crosses my path, I can sympathize with those who are not. After all, we're talking about a class of games that sucks $50+ out of your wallet. You should be happy with it and feel that it's a worthy addition to the series.
It's not only the fans who realize this, but Treyarch as well. With the original Black Ops, the developer began to follow a similar Call of Duty path as Infinity Ward, by kicking off what was to become a continuing, unique story, much like we see in Modern Warfare. But that's not unique, so Treyarch cashed in on the zombie craze for the second time and added a robust split from the main game that had many fans addicted.
With the original Black Ops, Treyarch wanted to prove that it wasn't the "underdog" of the Call of Duty series. They were set to prove they deliver titles as good, or better, than Infinity Ward. While the success of that game versus Modern Warfare could be disputed, it seems to be widely agreed-upon that it was the best Call of Duty the company had ever created.
Improving on past success -
With Black Ops II, the developer wanted to up the ante - and by all accounts, they have. Treyarch has proven Black Ops II to be the biggest evolution in the series, with key additions ensuring re-playabilty of the single-player campaign - something pretty non-existent with previous titles. A zombie mode has returned from the first game, but rather than only stick with the "survival" implementation, Treyarch introduced an entire zombie campaign - one that can be enjoyed with up to 7 friends.
It's hard to say if I've been enjoying the story in Black Ops as much as the one in Modern Warfare, but there's no question that the level of story-telling done by Treyarch in Black Ops II is beautiful. I admit that I'm not much of a "story guy", and in a game like this, I could take it or leave it. But this game was different. The story was being told to me so well, that hours into the game, I decided to hop online and figure out which storyline elements I glossed over earlier on. I wanted to understand everything that was going on, and no longer skip over details.
Sympathy for the Devil -
Part of the reason for the success of the story-telling ties in with a mainstay of the series: being able to play through certain events through the eyes of different characters. This is an area where Treyarch pushes things forward again, because the player is actually given an opportunity at some point to play as the game's villain, Raul Menendez. You're not forced to take the word of what others have said about him, but rather see things through his eyes. You might even begin to feel bad for him. Yes - feel bad for the bad guy; a little sympathy for the Devil.
When I was placed into Menendez's role, I sat there, making sure I was seeing what I actually thought I was seeing. I don't remember playing a game before that actually let you play as the bad guy in this way, and see through entire events via their perspectives. The fact that part of his role felt reminiscent of the movie Machete only added to the intrigue.
Another first for Call of Duty is that a good portion of the game takes place in the future. The original took place during the Cold War in the 1960s, which followed special forces operative Alex Mason staged with the goal of seeking out and destroying the Soviet-built chemical weapon Nova-6. This sequel features two conjoining storylines; one taking place in the 70s featuring Alex Mason once again; the other in 2025 featuring his son, David. The goals now include seeing Menendez's rise to fame as Alex in the past, and seek him out as David in in the future. As a leader of Cordis Die, Menendez is on a rampage to hack everything that he deems valuable.
The game needs little help with keeping things interesting, thanks in part to the large number of geographic locations featured. You start out in Angola, and ultimately pass through Pakistan, Singapore, Yemen, Haiti, Myanmar and Cayman Islands - just to mention a few. You'll be wiping the dust from your eyes in the desert, soar through vast jungles and even engage in battle in a high-end shopping mall.