Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Player Choice and Storyline

When Call of Duty: Black Ops II unloaded its rapid firing of trailers and game previews this week, gamers were acquainted with the 1980’s Cold War segment of the campaign and its 2025 Cold War follow up. The 80’s portion will not only tie up loose ends from the first Black Ops — returning to Alex Mason for a final clarification on his nebulous state of mind — but it will also groom antagonist Raul Melendez for his role as the technology hijacker in a war-torn future.

Call of Duty fans are no strangers to plots of global destruction and total warfare. Modern Warfare 3 set the bar about as high as it could go when it laid waste to New York City, London, Paris, Prague, and Hamburg, with the threat of nuclear annihilation in the background. Where Treyarch truly hopes to deviate its campaign from the ways of the past is by opening up the gameplay to unique player choices, and allowing those choices to fundamentally impact the underlying plot.

Activision’s Dan Amrich dissected much of the declassified Blacks Ops II information on his One of Swords blog yesterday and explained just how it could all work:

“The playable level I saw – an escort mission protecting the President through a semi-destroyed downtown Los Angeles in 2025 – began with a choice: Snipe or Rappel? You’ll be able to pick paths during levels that better suit your play style or sense of adventure.”

The concept isn’t revolutionary. For ages, shooters (and we’re just naming a few) like Crysis and Rainbow Six have supplemented action with player choice: kill this enemy or let him go? Snipe from the high ground or slush through the trenches? It will, however, be intriguing to see the impact of variating a mission approach in a game so predicated on its blockbuster setpieces and linear roller coaster-pace. There’s the potential that we no longer think about Call of Duty as having “That Sniping Mission” or “That Tank Mission.” They could be one and the same.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Player Choice Branching Narrative

If such a setup is devised, players will no doubt be rewarded for taking multiple stabs at the campaign, but Amrich hinted that a more profound vision was responsible for the integration of player choice: each decision made can branch the story out in multiple directions and be responsible for the life or death of a character; the success or failure of a mission.

“What’s more – and this might come as a real surprise – you can fail missions in Black Ops II, and that will divert the main story. In some cases, people will live or die based on your success or failure on a mission, and that will affect the story’s outcome.”

Instinctively, comparisons of the idea will be made towards the Mass Effect series, and with the EA-vs-Call of Duty rivalry rearing its head once again today, it’s quite possible that Treyarch felt no shame in pulling some inspiration from the Shepard files. But unlike BioWare’s challenges in writing Mass Effect 3, Treyarch won’t be burdened with accommodating decisions from the last Black Ops — everyone got the same half-ending. At the same time, that wouldn’t necessarily stop the studio from starting now. There’s always the persistent rumor that Call of Duty may someday send gamers and their weapons into the final frontier of space, and it’s no longer irrational to think our actions in 2025 couldn’t germinate a USA-China space race in the future future.

That said, it’s more likely that the branching story designates Black Ops II as the last installment in the Black Ops canon. Assuming Treyarch doesn’t want the monumental challenge of binding narratives for what is first and foremost an FPS, the developer could just be pulling out all the stops in a final send-off — narrated by the dying rasps of Frank Woods. Regardless, the news does indicate a — yes — creative and innovative aptitude from a developer, and a brand, that aren’t associated with those terms too often. There’s reason once more to be excited about Call of Duty.

Ranters, how do think Black Ops II’s story — its player choice and branching narratives – will impact your enjoyment/experience of the game? Do you want to see the model used extensively, and in future Call of Duty’s to come?

Call of Duty: Black Ops II releases November 13, 2012, for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

Follow me @Brian_Sipple.

Source: One of Swords