Tag Archive: David Mason

With today’s teaser announcement basically confirming Call of Duty: Black Ops III being Treyarch’s entry this year in Activision’s billion-dollar franchise (sorry World at War fans), I got to thinking about what exactly we want to see from this newest installment in the Black Ops series.  With a three-year development cycle this go around, I imagine Treyarch has had plenty of time to mess with some new ideas, or—more than likely—refine some older ones. So, here are the top five things I’d like to see from Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Editor’s Note: There will be references made to the endings and plot twists of the previous Black Ops games in the following piece. Consider this your only warning. 

1. Returning Characters

So the teaser trailer features a number of echoes from the past Black Ops games. The ones that stood out the most to me is Black Ops II villain Raul Menendez saying “Your life will be consumed by absolute loss” and Sgt. Frank Woods mentioning “You’ll always need men like us.” Now, there were four different endings in Black Ops II, and we don’t know which one will be considered canon to pick up the storyline—but the hope is that it will be one where it allows both of these characters to return in some form or another. Menendez made a great villain, and Woods has been a fan-favorite since the first Black Ops. It’d make a lot of sense if we saw some returning faces for the series’ third installment, and that’s especially true for these two guys—and using those particular lines from them in the teaser makes me think it’s not that far-fetched.

2. Parallel Storylines

Something that kept Black Ops II’s narrative feeling so fresh was the constant shift in perspective from the 1980s to 2025. And, again, depending on what becomes canonical for the series going forward, the return of Alex Mason in certain endings leaves a lot more questions on the table than answers. Why tell players where he was during all those years he was missing from his son David’s life, when instead you can show them? If Black Ops III goes with the ending where Alex lived in the end, then you can very easily have the game go back and forth between explaining where he was in the 1990s and dealing with the inevitable ripples caused by Menendez in the late 2020s—and still have it all tie together in an over-arcing plot line.

3. Remove Strike Force; add campaign co-op

The RTS element introduced via the special Strike Force chapters of Black Ops II was an inventive and interesting idea that just didn’t pan out as well as it could have. Often your ally AI would leave you to “super soldier” through missions, and considering how much of the plot relied on the outcomes of said missions, it ended up being more trouble than it was worth. The idea of special “metagame” operations with larger teams affecting the outcome of the plot wasn’t the worst idea in the world, though. When you also consider how much of Black Ops II saw you weaving your way through each level with an AI buddy, the obvious addition that needs to be implemented instead in Black Ops III is campaign co-op. Whether it’s Mason and Woods at it again in a flashback, David and a nameless squad member in 2025, or a pair of guys protecting key interests around the world with a small army of drones instead of a group of incompetent AI to replace the Strike Force missions, I think co-op could easily be doable as an option here.

4. Return to form in multiplayer

We know multiplayer is a bigger draw than the single-player narrative when it comes to Call of Duty. To me, Black Ops II remains the best multiplayer experience of the last generation of the franchise, and I’ll always go back to it over Ghosts or Advanced Warfare any day of the week. After all, Treyarch is the one who came up with the Pick-10 system, and it was at its best in terms of balance and implementation when in this team’s capable hands. I’d love for them to go back to it, especially with three years to tweak things. Plus, the power of new-gen consoles has me really pumped up for the future of multiplayer with Call of Duty—even if they do nothing but fix the Pick-10 system after Infinity Ward bumbled what Treyarch did the first time around.

5. Deepest Zombies mode ever

It’s Treyarch’s turn to shine, and that means one thing when it comes to Call of Duty: Zombies mode. After Black Ops II’s Zombies actually started to piece together a few elements from previous games, and paid homage to many of the theories put forth by the mode’s ravenous fanbase, you have to think that Black Ops III will offer not only a bigger and more robust experience with the mode, but maybe even finally provide players with that definitive narrative within itself. Since the constant speculation amongst players has helped turn this into one of Call of Duty’s most popular features, it feels like it’s time to finally be rewarded.

Treyarch’s latest answers the Call again

Like the inevitable changing of the seasons, Call of Duty’s yearly release has become an event to which the gaming community can set their watches. In recent years, many gamers have criticized the cookie-cutter formula—the series has almost felt like a yearly “roster update” in the sports-gaming sense. After my time with Black Ops II, though, I can promise you this is one title that finally deviates from that formula.

Right from the get-go, the plot hits with an innovative one-two punch, as the story splits between two time periods. We get to play as both the original Black Ops protagonist, Alex Mason, in the ’80s as well as his son, David, in the near future of 2025. The key thread that connects them? The villain, Raul Menendez—but this isn’t your standard-issue Call of Duty baddie. The considerable talents of writer David Goyer—co-writer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight—bring Menendez to life, as he exudes a sinister demeanor and delusions of grandeur that remind you of a cross between the Joker and a classic Bond villain. But Menendez also reveals a human side that elicits empathy at times, making him easily the most interesting, entertaining antagonist the series has ever seen.

After years of creative stagnation, Black Ops II’s campaign is a revelation. Once you get past the first couple of missions, the game introduces branching paths that can change the ending depending on how you react to the situations presented before you. This injects a healthy dose of replayability you usually don’t get from a Call of Duty campaign, making a seven-to-eight-hour experience worth going through multiple times.

The main campaign is joined by the new Strike Force missions, which add some real-time strategy elements to the proceedings. You serve as a handler for a squad who must carry out diverse objectives depending on the mission, issuing orders from above or taking over as any single unit and fight the battle in the trenches yourself.

Whether it’s assassinating targets or protecting computer terminals holding valuable information, the Strike Force objectives are supposed to help determine how you play. Unfortunately, once you dig into these side missions, you’ll realize how incompetent the ally AI is; it often ignores your commands, and soon the RTS view becomes null and void. In the end, it’s better to try to supersoldier it and control one character at a time in order to win the day. Strike Force is a great idea that finally brings some new gameplay elements into the mix, but it’s poorly executed, making some of the missions a bit of a chore depending on the parameters.

Aside from this one glaring flaw, however, the campaign is the best since the first Modern Warfare. The story enthralls from the start, and the gameplay is still definitively Call of Duty—especially with some sweet future tech like the Millimeter Scanner that allows you to see foes through walls.

It wouldn’t be Call of Duty if I didn’t mention the multiplayer, though—and in Black Ops II, this element’s better than ever. The new “Pick 10” system works like a dream in terms of customizing your classes, and the user interface simplifies things so that most anyone can use it to maximize their killing potential in any match. Plus, with new modes like Hardpoint (Call of Duty‘s take on King of the Hill), League Play for official competition, and CODcasting for those would-be pro-gaming broadcasters out there, this is the biggest, best multiplayer suite ever seen in Call of Duty.

But if multiplayer helps define Call of Duty, Zombies mode—which now offers three play options—defines Treyarch as a developer. In fact, this mode’s now been expanded to the point where it could almost be its own standalone game. TranZit offers a deeper experience as you explore a variety of locations, ferried from place to place on a robot-driven bus that has clearly seen better days. Meanwhile, Survival is more of your traditional Zombies experience with self-contained levels taken from sections of TranZit mode. Finally, there’s Grief mode, which puts two teams of humans against each other to see who can survive the zombies the longest.

Let’s face it: Call of Duty is a phenomenon beyond our control at this point; the game will sell millions of copies no matter what a reviwer says. But with branching story paths, the most impressive multiplayer yet, and a Zombies mode that’s to die for, I can say that—for the first time in a long time—I’ll be proud when I answer the call with everyone else when Black Ops II releases.

SUMMARY: The first Black Ops put Treyarch on par with Infinity Ward; with Black Ops II, they surpass them. This is the most impressed I’ve been with Call of Duty since the first Modern Warfare; aside from some problems with the Strike Force missions, this is a shining moment for the franchise.

  • THE GOOD: Best story since the first Modern Warfare.
  • THE BAD: Strike Force missions are a great-but-poorly executed idea.
  • THE UGLY: The stunning renderings of Manuel “Pineapple Face” Noriega.

SCORE: 9.0

Call of Duty: Black Ops II is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and Nintendo Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.   

Back in Black

The original Call of Duty: Black Ops took a risk with the franchise by inserting players into a new conflict for the series—The Cold War—and changing up its storytelling mechanic to where most of the game actually takes place via flashbacks. Much like the rest of the franchise though, Black Ops was a huge success, and the new characters introduced resonated with gamers everywhere. So where could Treyarch go from here with their next chapter in the Call of Duty franchise? Well, if the original Black Ops was a change of pace, then Black Ops 2 looks to take the franchise and turn it on its head (in a good way).

The story of Black Ops 2 looks to take place in two main conflicts—the first of which is The Cold War of the 1980s. With talks of Iran, Afghanistan, and Ronald Reagan’s STAR WARS program permeating the culture of the time, you will once again work with Alex Mason and Frank Woods. Yes, Woods is alive and well (and being played by James C. Burns again) as we find that Mason’s unstable mental state had him believe Woods was dead in order to carry out his Manchurian Candidate mission. In the game play demo we saw, we briefly were introduced to what Black Ops 2’s Afghanistan would look like—along with being graced by Woods’ distinct attitude as Mason and Woods rode on horseback (with realistic horse movements as Treyarch went as far as to mo-cap some thoroughbreds) through the Afghanistan desert, working in the best interest of the time for the United States.

The other conflict will not take place in the past or even modern times—but in the future of 2025. There, you will play as Alex Mason’s son, David, who has followed in his father’s footsteps as an ass-kicking soldier supreme who has to stop a ghost from his father’s past—Raul Menendez—from ruining America’s future.

“While playing the game, you’ll see through the eyes of Alex and Frank how this monster is created in the first Cold War,” explains Black Ops 2 Director Dave Anthony.  “Then, in 2025, while playing as David, you see him again and you actually experience what this monster is capable of. While working with David Goyer [writer of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight] on pushing the story and re-writing the rules on the story telling aspect of Call of Duty, the first place we really looked was the villain himself. We wanted to create a human being—not a two-dimensional character. The best reference I can probably give you is if you look at a TV show like The Sopranos, where the main character of the show—Tony—is a villain. He is a cold-blooded murderer; he does things we in our right minds would never do. But, you find subtle layers of understanding of who he is as a human being. You find yourself empathizing with him on many different levels—it puts you in a real conflict. So we have that side of Raul Menendez, and working with David Goyer on this—the man who wrote Heath Ledger’s Joker—you can imagine how far Menendez will go. It’s been very exciting because we’ve been working on this character non-stop for 18 months and I can say that Raul Menendez will be a very memorable character for you.”

Continuing with the two conflicts aspect of the game, Black Ops 2 is really centered around two things: Player choice and parallels (beyond just the father-son relationship of Alex and David and a villain’s past and present). And it wouldn’t be a Call of Duty game if there wasn’t a conflict with global ramifications throughout. So, the first big parallel is that—much like how the 1980s were about oil and stopping the spread of communism—the Cold War of the future looks to be similar.

Doing extensive research and bringing experts on future warfare in like P.W. Singer of the Senior Fellow Brookings Institute (to add to Call of Duty’s go-to-guys on warfare Lt. Col. Hank Keirsey and Col. Oliver North), Black Ops 2’s geo-political conflict revolves around REEs—Rare Earth Elements. REEs are important because they power the laptop you might be reading this on, the iPhone you use to call your friends to talk about this preview with, or the flatscreen TV you’ll end up playing Black Ops 2 on—and 95% of the world’s REEs are currently mined in China. Electronics manufacturers are at the mercy of the world’s most populous country, and a country which could cripple the economies of many other countries if they so choose because of it. The demo we saw of Black Ops 2 hints that they might do exactly that, as REEs make everyone forget all about oil.

In terms of player choice, there are now branching paths in the middle of chapters—similar to what you might see in Gears of War, where you can choose to go down different paths with your character and see the same conflict from different angles. The example we were shown was where David could choose to take a sniping position on an L.A. freeway and cover his troops as they moved through some rubble below, or lead the charge himself and take the lead. Same conflict, two completely different points of view—an element which could give some great replay value to the campaign.

The most thrilling new aspect of Black Ops 2 may be the technology though, both in-game as well as the stuff that actually powers that game. In terms of gameplay, the demo we saw had David firing a sniper rifle with specially-charged bullets which could actually fire through concrete as thick as L.A. freeway support columns. And, we knew where to fire those specially-charged bullets because of the special X-ray-like scope attached to the gun. As David then wove his way through Los Angeles—the target for one of Menendez’s attacks—he took control of a small squad of Quad-rotor drones that he commanded through an area in a fashion similar to how Commander Shepard commanded his team in Mass Effect 3.

But you aren’t the only one in control of fantastic technology like spy drones outfitted with weapons as Menendez and his group obviously know a thing or two about hacking government equipment. Aside from these aerial drones, there were also ground drones called C.L.A.W.s that reminded me of AT-ATs from The Empire Strikes Back—another loose parallel to Reagan’s STAR WARS plan perhaps? So, aside from terrorists, David now had to contend with these unmanned drones that are more deadly accurate than a human could hope to be. And, because they don’t think like humans, they have a completely different A.I. pattern for you to contend with.

Another gameplay parallel we saw—and this one was more in line with the Black Ops series itself—was David having to fly what was referred to as an FA-38 VTOL (vertical take-off and landing). That such a plane could exist in 2025 is possible due to fact that the military is currently testing an F-35B VTOL manufactured by Lockheed Martin. Once airborne, David must shoot down a series of drones and the task itself that might remind some players of the Vietnam helicopter mission with Alex and Frank from the first game. That entire sequence though ended up playing out completely differently, as you might imagine the differences between a 1960s helicopter and a futuristic super-jet. 

Going back to the technology behind the game, I think players will be surprised at what Treyarch is getting out of their engine this time around: Their goal is 60 frames per second, and PC quality graphics on a console. A high bar to set indeed, but I would love to see if the team can pull it off. What we did see though was a pair of incomplete multiplayer maps dubbed “Aftermath” (urban area) and “Yemen” (rural area) that really showed us what they were trying to do to reach those goals, as different parts of the maps were in different stages. More complete parts had “reveal mapping”—a technology new to the series—which gives crevasses and cracks in the ground or walls a more sensitive, detailed, and realistic-looking texture to them. We also saw examples of brand new lighting schemes and particle effect, which included bounce lighting and self-shadowing to really emphasize the realistic qualities of light that are being added to locations.  I think the most impressive thing about these maps were how different they looked compared to anything we’ve seen before in the Call of Duty multiplayer.

“You’ll notice a lot of the areas you walk through are very distinct and unique spaces on the maps,” says Dan Bunting, Director of Online for Black Ops 2. “In ‘Aftermath’, I started in an empty parking lot and then moved into a parking garage, went into a destroyed street, through a fire escape tunnel, and ended up in a hotel lobby. We intentionally do this. Its important to us as designers that we design maps that are easy to understand and that players have a sense of space. As soon as they spawn in, they know where they are. They need to be able to call out to their teammates things like ‘There’s a flag carrier in the lobby!’, for example. It’s not just about communication though, it’s about how the maps flow. There’s always a learning curve when you first start off on a new map and we want to decrease that as much as possible. The fastest way to learn is by having very distinct spaces.”

Clearly, it wouldn’t be Call of Duty without its multiplayer—and it wouldn’t be Treyarch if the “Zombies” mode didn’t return. Thankfully, fans everywhere will enjoy shooting zombies once again, as that mode has been confirmed for Black Ops 2. The folks at Treyarch didn’t want to go into much detail beyond that, but Game Design Director David Vonderhaar did give us some interesting tidbits on what the team is aiming to do with multiplayer overall.

“When we knew for sure where we were going with the time period, and what the game was supposed to be like, it actually opened our eyes up to thinking very critically about challenging what assumptions we had been making about how this game should work, extending the systems that we have, and just what cows are sacred. Did the game have to work the same way it did last time just because it’s a sequel? We asked ourselves this and with many of the game’s core systems like create-a-class and kill streaks, we pulled all these things back to where they started from and asked why do we have this particular perk that acts in this particular way? Are they good? Are they bad? And we really just focused in on three key things on the design side. First, we wanted to create a healthy amount of balance. Like with the Ghost perk. It prevents you from being seen by UAVs. But that’s something that is just on/off. You can’t tune something that is just on/off. So we needed to put ourselves in the best position to where this content is tunable. Then we looked at progression.  Going from when you first pop that disc in to what for many people becomes 40, 60, even 80 hours of game play time. But most importantly, we focused in to make sure that players had the most diverse amount of game play. We challenged ourselves when it came to game play style and as long as we could keep coming up with counters for the most insane game play style then we’re confident we’d create this wide range of game play that appeals to the largest range of people possible.”

Of course, what better way to provide gameplay diversity than with a brand new mode? Strike Force Campaign is a mode that has some real-time strategy elements to it, where you can jump into the shoes of any character or drone on the field, or pull back to a satellite-like image where you can point out posts and command your troops to move where you want them to. And—depending on how well you do or do not do—the following missions and mission options could be drastically different. Again, strong player choice and replayability is being offered here, and Strike Force being its own special campaign adds a lot more meat to the game as a whole as it hits an entirely new demographic with the real-time strategy aspect.

All in all, I do not think I could have been more blown away by the demo we saw and the effort that Treyarch is pouring into this title in every possible aspect. And honestly, this is the most excited I’ve been for a Call of Duty game since the first Modern Warfare. From the parallel moments in history to the new player choices, game modes, and fantastic looking futuristic weaponry and combat, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is something that all gamers, not just fans of the franchise, should be keeping their eyes on as its November release steadily approaches.