Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 takes a risky stab at player choice

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 takes Activision's golden goose further into the future than its ever been — and that's not even the biggest risk the developers at Treyarch are taking with it.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 takes Activision's golden goose further into the future than its ever been — and that's not even the biggest risk the developers at Treyarch are taking with it.

That's not to say the 2025 segments in Black Ops 2 represents a safe bet from the franchise. All of the series' entries, even the Modern Warfares, were guided with differing levels of authenticity by the hand of history. Without actual events to inspire them, Treyarch had to find new inspirations for their battles and weapons from obvious sources like DARPA, and less-than-obvious sources like the TSA.

"Today, you probably flew here from somewhere, and the TSA had this X-ray vision to look at you while you're standing there," Activision VP of production Daniel Suarez told Polygon. "Well, 15 years from now, there could be a scope that allows you to see through X-ray that way. We sort of take those liberties of 'What's that technology that's here today that possibly could be used in that sort of format.'"

There's something even more jarring than the seemingly sentient assault drones and wrist-mounted utilitools in the demo we saw, an extended version of the game's showing from the Microsoft E3 press conference. No, the real shock came when our player reached the end of a crumbling offramp, and was given the option of sniping from his elevated platform, or rappelling to the road below.

You can literally just sit there and use Overwatch the whole time.

With limited exception, Call of Duty levels are thoroughly linear experiences. Areas like the infamous, maze-like Favela level from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are rare, as the vast majority of the Campaign battlefields are tightly scripted runs from Point A to Point B. In Black Ops 2, all that changes. Levels will offer branching paths to players with either scripted decisions — the shoot or rappel option mentioned above was presented with visual indicators on the UI — or just with different routes the player can navigate.

For instance, during our demo and the Microsoft press conference, the player made his way through a darkened, dangerous shopping center towards his destination. Your mileage, however, may vary.

"There's two other pathways you can take within that level that will get you to the endpoint, but there's different enemies, encounters and things that you'll see as you go through that," Suarez said.

The game's new Strike Force missions also give players choices unseen in previous installments in the franchise, the most important of which being: You can actually fail a mission, and have that failure influence the rest of the story.

Players will be required to choose between a handful of these missions at any given point in the story, each of which presenting their own challenges and unique gameplay conceits. The E3 demo mission, titled "Singapore," tasks you with moving soldiers, mechs, and drones around a battlefield, taking over capture points and ultimately calling an airstrike down on a weapon-stocked freighter.

You can fly between units using Overwatch, a birds-eye command mode which lets you inhabit the bodies of your units, or stay omniscient and deliver orders from above. It's a huge, strategic sea change — even so, you can also choose not to use it.

"If you want to play it straightforward and just be in first-person mode the whole time, you can, or if you want to change it up a little and be more strategic, you can literally just sit there and use Overwatch the whole time," Suarez explained.

For more on the choices you'll be able to take (or ignore) in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, as well as a bit of insight into the still-undisclosed multiplayer and Zombie offerings, check out our full video interview with Suarez below.

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