Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 “America! F*** Yeah!”
When asked to review Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, I was tempted to copy and paste from my last FPS review. I still would’ve done if my editor didn’t read through my work to make sure I don’t plagiarize myself—damn journalistic integrity. But after a night (or at least the four hours that I was conscious until the meds kicked in) with a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which shall henceforth be called CODBO2 because it’s a name longer than the flippin’ game, proved to me that Activision is making some tentative progress. It’s at a snail’s pace admittedly, but it’s still there.
To bring you up to speed, you play in the near future as David Mason, a Navy SEAL in a world where America is beset by terrorists and hostile nations at all fronts and has only stalwart men from the right, good, and Godly Christian heartland to defend it and bring freedom to the farthest reaches of the map—often by means of carpet-bombing.
As the son of Alex Mason, the previous game’s protagonist, you pick up where your father left off by taking minor political fiascos and making great freaking big ones out of them because America’s leaders have always thought they knew what they hell they were doing and didn’t. While short, the story was intriguing, which is why I won’t give it away. I think the only major offset is that they felt the need to tie it into the previous game, including Alex Mason’s antagonist Kruschev, for no genuine reason other than to try to legitimize the tie-in in a shaky and overly-hasty fashion.
The multiple options in the story are presented in a non-linear fashion where past mistakes and excesses create future problems. They all come together to make it feel as if what you do matters and you only get the one chance at it. At the same time it can be frustrating because you often don’t realize a choice must be made until it’s already slipped through your fingers. I realize they’re trying for gritty realism, but you can’t emulate reality to the point that the story ceases to have a purpose. A story must tie up neatly, so there has to be the fallacy in it that a character sees his life choices coming, unlike reality where we don’t see what options we have until it’s too late.
What would really have fixed the story in my mind was more attention to the antagonist. You play as him once so you understand that revenge on America is his motive (like every other bystander that gets screwed over in a major military action), but that is a one-dimensional purpose, and there’s little in the way of making him real and human. At the same time he throws out an amazing array of twists. You expect him to do one thing, then another, then a third. There’s no introspection into the character. Actually, you don’t get much insight into any of the characters you play with or interact as, so while it may be a story which is technically well told, it’s also one that doesn’t engage you, so you really couldn’t care less about the cut scenes. I don’t know that they give enough evidence to make you think he’s up to any one thing in particular, and it appears to be propelled by the protagonist taking a flying leap at a conclusion, falling for what amounts to a feint from the antagonist, and then working to catch up. This occurs when the writer has failed to see the motives, thoughts, and intentions of each key character separately, and instead figures they’re all up to the same speed in the narrative.
Digging a bit deeper, CODBO2 has several underlying themes which, while each valid, because they do not present a unified front weaken the overall story and entertainment value of the game. One message seems to be that the sins of one generation will be paid for by the next generation and in the paying of these sins new sins shall be committed, resulting in the next generation paying for them and so on. The other angle appears to be that war is the cause of and solution to all life’s problems since America overthrows one tyrant and replaces him with another. On the other hand, America, while attempting to do right, accepts that in its past it has committed horrible, horrible crimes, perpetuating a very anglocentric mindset because we are the heroes and we fight for right and anyone who opposes us is an enemy. The assumption they make is almost comical in that we have the world’s best intentions and heart and we are the world police.