Black Ops 2 is set in the future. It doesn't have any lasers (that we've seen), but it does have magic, allegedly-plausible sniper rifles with x-ray vision. America is under siege by its own drone army, hacked by a terrorist. China and the US are in the middle of a modern cold war. After a full afternoon seeing and asking about the campaign and multiplayer, I've digested the essential information worth your eye time here.
Treyarch cares a lot about predicting the future. Like, a lot. Enough to talk to us about their intricate plot premise for an hour and 22 minutes straight, show us clips from CNN and the History Channel, and send us home with this book (opens in new tab) for study material. Treyarch believes China's real-life monopolistic control over the production of rare earth elements—raw materials necessary to manufacture magnets, x-ray and nightvision technology, consumer electronics, lasers, and more modern things—are a realistic basis for a future cold war between China and the United States. “It's Call of Duty. It's got to be plausible,” Studio Head Mark Lamia said during the presentation.
There's an x-ray gun. With a weapon scope that could see through highway concrete columns and steel, the player picked off enemies at range as they hid behind cars or inside sneaky transports—shipping crates hauled by 18-wheelers. How does the weapon fire through feet of concrete? The mechanic Treyarch described for the weapon sounded interesting: you have to hold down your trigger as you're firing to queue up ammunition to penetrate that surface. Treyarch mentioned that this "wallhack weapon" could be a useful way of counter-balancing camping in multiplayer.
You're going to shoot a lot of robots. What I saw of Treyarch's 2025 setting for Black Ops 2 (which will also feature a flashback to the '80s) reminds me of a line from The Simpsons. In the level we were shown—an all-out attack on Los Angeles by hacked United States drones—the player probably shot as many people as he did robots. Whole swarms of Predator-lookalikes filled the sky. The most interesting one was called a CLAW (Cognitive Land Assault Weapon), a quadrupedal minigun that resembled a tiny robo-rhino. Shooting its legs crippled its movement, but it'd fight on as an angry turret even after that.
There's some amount of branching in the campaign. This is absolutely the most interesting change to Black Ops 2 that Activision has made public. A set of “Strike Force” missions will be playable through a war room hub in addition to standard campaign missions. Strike Force missions can be replayed at any time, and more interestingly, you can fail them. Whether or not you're successful, Treyarch says, will impact the game's—yes, and they really used this phrase—branching campaign.
What actual effect failure or success of Strike Force missions will have wasn't made totally explicit to us. Treyarch said that how you perform will influence the outcome of the overall war. I asked if this'd take the form of some kind of "high score" evaluation screen that'd appear after you completed the game, but Treyarch didn't comment. They did say that Strike Force completion would affect something like the death of the henchman of the game's villain.
The Strike Force mission we saw was a raid on the Port of Singapore by Navy SEALs. A team of four fast-roped into the shipping port from a helicopter with a mission timer of 20 minutes. These missions operate a little like a skirmish mode; this one felt like a multiplayer map populated by bots. That's a compliment, honestly. More interestingly, you could hop into “Overwatch Mode” at any point, a flying camera view, and assign movement waypoints to all team members. From there, you're able to take control of any friendly unit—drone or man—at any time.
“The kind of gameplay that's in them is more reminiscent of sandbox gameplay,” Lamia said. “Like, 'I get to do what I want to do in the world.' And that is exactly the mindset that you should have and it is exactly not the mindset that we typically put you in in a Call of Duty game. It's like, 'Here's your weapon, you're headed down that path, and we're gonna take you on this epic and cinematic thrill ride. And we're going to do that because people expect that and want that in a Call of Duty game and I think it's a hell of a lot of fun and it's awesome. But I also think this is awesome.”
They mocapped a horse.(opens in new tab)
It's written by the guy that wrote Heath Ledger's Joker. That's David Goyer , whose other credits include the Blade film series, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. If Chris Nolan trusts him, I hope we can too.(opens in new tab)
Loyal quadrocopters will do your bidding. During the attack on LA, the player character directed a squad of hovering, machinegunning quadrocopters to attack the enemy.
Multiplayer is a mystery. Treyarch said next to nothing about what changes would be made to multiplayer in Black Ops 2—this'll be the focus of a separate press event. Design Lead David Vonderhaar . Treyarch did make it explicit that there's no metagame link between the single-player and multiplayer. Zombies mode was reconfirmed, though Treyarch provided no hard details on it.
Dedicated servers on PC are unconfirmed. Studio Head Mark Lamia called anti-cheat a “huge issue” for PC gamers in my interview.