Call of Duty: Black Ops II was released during both the height of the series popularity and a cross road of uncertainty. Modern Warfare 3 became the fastest selling media title of all time but fans were beginning to feel the series had gone stale.
Treyarch didn’t want the series to go off in wimpier and instead took a major gamble with their third title in the series. Black Ops II was riddled with uncertainty as it partially broke with its predecessors Cold War era theme while working to be a more ambitious title. It would go on to redefine the series while being hailed as the pinnacle title of the entire franchise.
Looking back five years later, this is the story of how Call of Duty: Black Ops II become the best title in the series and one of the greatest shooters of Seventh-Generation era.
For the Record
Call of Duty was at the height of its popularity during this time as Modern Warfare had redefined the shooter genre while each new installment was putting blockbuster movies to shame at the box office. Modern Warfare 2 was one of the fastest selling titles at the time while Black Ops would generate more revenue on Day One than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 did on its opening weekend. All of that paled compared to how Modern Warfare 3 became the fastest selling media title of all time when it hit the $1 billion mark in 16 days, beating the 19 day record set by James Cameron’s Avatar.
With that success came a lot of influence on the industry in terms of either inspiration or terrible rip-offs. Titles like Medal of Honor, Crysis 2 and Killzone 3 borrowed elements from Call of Duty successfully without having to compromise what had made them unique. Then there were titles like Homefront and SOCOM 4 that took the “copy & paste” approach in regards to the gameplay to the dismay of everyone.
Following the success of Modern Warfare 3, the series was in need of some serious change as the formula was beginning to age. The Seventh Generation era was coming to an end and by this point many developers were experimenting with either ground breaking stories or new gameplay features. That is why Treyarch needed to give Black Ops II an updated gameplay setup along with a story that fans will remember.
The Future is Black
Activision first announced Call of Duty: Black Ops II in May 2012 with the first trailer. In a monologue that is narrated by an older Frank Woods, players are introduced to technologically advanced world that is on the brink of a new Cold War between America and China. In the center is Raul Menendez, who is working to pit the two superpowers against each other. The trailer ends with Woods reminding the viewer that the world will always need men like him to do the impossible.
The reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops II surprised everyone and not in a good way. Many fans were outraged the series was abandoning its Cold War theme while others felt the series had jumped the shark by being set in the future. Many critics also pointed out how the plot and themes are very similar to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. A few months later, the “Villain Trailer” was released that gave more details about the story along with the motives behind the games antagonist. This did help alleviate some concern fans had but it was still an uphill battle for Activsion.
Thankfully the gamble did pay-off upon launch as Black Ops II was both a commercial and critical hit. Critics and fans have praised it as one of the best entries in the series. The game would go on to became the fastest selling media title by hitting the $1 billion mark in 15 days, beating the previous 16 day record of Modern Warfare 3. The game still has a solid community while being the most requested emulator for the Xbox One.
A Tale of Two Cold Wars
The story is broken between two time periods as it goes back and forth between the story of Alex Mason during the Cold War circa 1980’s along with to that of his son, David Mason, in the year 2025. Both are on the hunt for the arms dealer, Raul Menendez who has been selling weapons to terrorist to fund his secret war against the West.
Starting in the 1980’s; Alex Mason and the CIA are in purist of Raul Menendez after learning about his activists with the MPLA during the Angola Civil War. Following the first encounter, Special Operations Group makes several attempts to capture him first during the Soviet-Afghan War and Operation Just Cause. However all of these attempts end in either failure or disaster. In 2025, Menendez has become a revolutionary figure empowering those who are oppressed by the 1%. In truth he is trying to orchestrate a war between America and the Peoples Republic of China. David Mason and the SEAL’s are trying to uncover his plot and stop it before the world is torn apart by a major global conflict.
Fresh from concluding The Dark Knight trilogy, David S. Goyer was brought back to create a thought provoking story with unforgettable characters. While at first glance it may appear that he just recycled the themes explored in The Dark Knight Rises, this game was less about comparing the Occupy Wall St. movement to the Jacobin movement but more of a critic America action during the Cold War and the blowback creates. This is best exemplified by the cycle of violence that Raul Menendez, Frank Woods and David Mason endure.
Menendez is a villain who is the byproduct of American foreign policy in Central America and CIA blowback. His story begins when most of his family was killed and his sister badly burned when a warehouse they were living in was burned by its American owner for the insurance money. He soon became a major arms dealer known to work with communist regimes, which got the attention of the CIA. Unlike other villains, he actually does regret some of his actions with the most notable being the remorse he has for killing Alex Mason in front of his own son. Despite being enemies, Menendez dose not taunt or mock David over the death of his father but instead shows his regret.
Continuing the cycle of violence was Frank Woods desire for revenge after Menendez tortured him and murdered his squad in Angola. The boiling point hit when the Special Operations Group and the Panama Defense Force botched a raid on Menendez compound which resulted in the death of his sister at the hands of Woods. It would be up to Alex Mason to finally break this cycle of violence and it’s in the good ending were he spares Menendez at the end.
A Soldier Inside of Us
At a time when fans were starting to question the future of the series, Treyarch took a major gamble with Call of Duty: Black Ops II and it paid-off. It was the fastest selling media title at the time and fans still consider it the best in the series. The game was also groundbreaking with a revamp gameplay and an unforgettable story.
No title in the series since Black Ops II has ever been able to match its popularity or success. Ghosts was panned by fans, Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III almost recaptured the momentum while Infinite Warfare failed to win over fans. Modern Warfare: Remastered was welcoming but many would have preferred a remastered Black Ops II.
It may have been five years since Call of Duty: Black Ops II was released but it has left a lasting legacy with fans. It was the perfect example of taking an established series and using it as a foundation to develop a more memorable experience.
Did you play Call of Duty: Black Ops II and what was your reaction upon completing the game? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. You could also check out our review for the game.