Black Ops 2 single-player: a dream of death, starring a monster we created
I played through the Black Ops 2 campaign over a few sittings in a single day. I finished it in under 8 hours, and I can’t really explain what happened. The narrative is a mess, with the story jumping around back and forth through time, mixing real-world characters with fantastical gunfights and future technology.
It took a few minutes for the game to make me uncomfortable, but once I was shooting fleeing people in the back from a moving vehicle I remembered that yes, I was playing a Call of Duty game. They always bring a mixture of adrenaline mixed with a fine dose of shame at being so excited to be killing so many people.
You can try to keep track of the characters and their motivations if you’d like, but you can also treat the game like a rollercoaster: Just hang on and enjoy the ride. The experience is heavily scripted, but you’ll see and do amazing things. You’ll fight through an amazing floating city, and fly through the air wearing squirrel suits. You’ll wear gloves that allow you to stick to rock faces and swing with only another soldier keeping you from falling. You’ll fight alongside Manuel Noriega, and bump into David Petraeus. The numbers from the first Black Ops game will make a quick appearance.
You’ll watch a man burn to death, and you’ll go through sequences where you’re almost invincible, running from enemy to enemy, chopping them to pieces in a murderous rage. The Black Ops series is unrelentingly brutal and ugly, and there is no moral question about the use of torture; it’s just something men do to each other in this world. Might always makes right, and the game concerns itself with people who only feel comfortable when they have their finger perched near a trigger.
The problem isn’t terrorism, it’s capitalism
While the characters that float around the periphery of the story may seem like cardboard cutout versions of gung-ho soldiers, the bad guy is a pleasantly sympathetic character. Raul Menendez has suffered at the hands of the interventionist and US interest-led policies his whole life, to the point where it almost becomes darkly comical.
It’s like the sins of all our economic fathers were dumped onto the head of one son, and he’s given the tools necessary to fight back with everything he has. Menendez’s anger is righteous, and his tactics are efficient. He may be a brutal killer of entire cities, but he also kind of has a point about the whole thing.
America as a whole likes to paint the picture that things happen to us and for us, but certainly not because of us. The truth is that our soldiers have boots on the ground around the globe, we like to meddle in the politics of other nations, and we don’t seem to have an issue with taking out people around the world using our drones.
The idea of remote-controlled war has become so pervasive that it has begun to inspire art, and the Call of Duty series has long made a point of rubbing our noses in how distant and clinical this form of warfare can feel. It’s all too personal to the people who have seen the results of a drone strike, or are crushed between the cudgels of capitalism and politics. Raul Menedez is a monster that we helped create, and the game has soldiers state that they almost see his point of view a few times.
David Goyer, the writer of the Dark Knight Rises, came up with the concept for Menendez, which makes this game the second time he has cast the leader of the “99 percent” as a villain. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to side with the 1 percenters or the policies that created this boogeyman, but in between the explosions and gun porn the game does raise a few uncomfortable questions about international politics.
But is it fun?
Yes. I had fun playing this game, although I was ashamed at how enjoyable I found all the death and torture and horrible situations. This game asks you to have a wonderful time doing and seeing some pretty twisted shit. It also has issues with taking control away from the player, although a few stunt sequences while skydiving or flying various aircraft are visually breathtaking.
I played the game on my PC, which is something of a beast, and I played it in 3D with the sound cranked and listening via headphones. My heart was pumping the entire time. The game delivers spectacle in a way that’s unique; the team at Treyarch took what must have been a nearly unlimited production budget and ran with it. They show you amazing thing after amazing thing, and even though it doesn’t really add up to much in terms of story, the individual scenes hit the player like a hammer. The game dares you to not be entertained by all it’s throwing your way.
Black Ops 2 also provides a number of choices and objectives that change the outcome of the game in some ways, and this is a welcome update that gives players an excuse to play through the game multiple times. The Strike Force missions, where you control drones and soldiers from a top-down view, are needlessly frustrating and confusing, although it negatively impacts the game if you avoid them. I slogged through one, and decided to take my chances in the campaign. It’s a neat idea, and trying new things should always be applauded, but it just didn’t pan out this time.
Saying that Call of Duty as a series never does anything different is silly; the formula stays the same, but the single-player campaign always delivers on its promises. You will shoot sexy guns at people of different ethnicities while everything blows up around you in beautiful places and it will be thrilling. Any deeper meaning, moral lessons, or responsibility to the player are just icing on a blood-soaked cake. Black Ops 2 is going to sell millions upon millions of copies and take its place as one of the major pop culture releases of the year. And what is this piece of culture about? A victim of our excess coming back from the grave to destroy the country. These are now our fantasies, and they feel great.
Finished up here? Read our thoughts on the multiplayer side of things.