Black Ops 2: Shark Jumping

Back in the late 70′s I remember watching a leather-jacketed Fonzie on a pair of water skis jumping a shark on the sitcom Happy Days (yes, I’m old…I know). While I didn’t realize it at the time, Happy Days’ writers had hit a creative wall and they came up with this Shark-jumping episode to try to put some zip into a once-dominant show.  Not long after the show aired, the term “jump-the-shark” became synonymous with an event that marks the moment that an enterprise begins to lose its edge.

I was reminded of that episode of Happy Days yesterday when I watched the latest Call of Duty trailer for Black Ops 2 (BO2). True, there is no shark in the trailer (though, a horse is) and Fonzie is nowhere in sight, but the parallels to the jump-the-shark episode are there.

My interest in the CoD series began about six years ago when I caught sight of a trailer for CoD2. As with many of you in the FPS scene, I was hooked on the series for years. So as to maximize their profits, Activision alternated two devs on the series. Infinity Ward was known for their technological savvy and Treyarch, for their fresh take and story-telling.

Since CoD3, Treyarch has taken CoD on a trip through time. After CoD:WW, they took us twenty years on from WWII into the Cold War with Black Ops. This installment, BO2, zips us into the 80′s and then forty-five years forward from that time right into the future.

While I did not predict Treyarch would take CoD into the future, in hindsight, it was pretty obvious simply by extrapolating the events from CoD:WW to Black Ops.  The MP5′s and Katana’s we saw in CoD:WW are now replaced by Halo-like Quad-rotors and mechs. Black Ops historical backdrops are left behind and replaced with futuristic guess-work as the game teleports deep into the 21st century.

One in three

Some of what you will be seeing in Treyarch’s latest offerings is a direct result of several members of CoD’s old modding community. I must admit that I am a bit conflicted by this game, because, while I wish those guys only success and huge royalties…I can’t help bemoan the fact that what I’m seeing in this trailer no longer resonates with me.

Interestingly, nearly one-third of the viewers on YouTube also seem to have some issue with it as those are numbers that have voted thumbs-down to the vid.

Why?

Here are just some guesses:

  • The graphics look tired.
    Advancing System Requirements used to freshen up most games when they were marked for PC customers. Cranking up graphics settings alone used to keep fans happy. Not any more. CoD is now as Console-oriented a title as you can get; however, Console hardware has not progressed for years and CoD has suffered greatly because of this. Developers can’t simply draw more polygons and drop jaws due to technological constraints…they actually have to innovate. CoD has not exactly been known innovative since CoD4.
  • The SP  “rail-ride” concept was old two versions ago.
    After eight, fairly repetitive versions of this game, fans finally have tired of the CoD SP ride-on-rails formula.
  • The “story” is not compelling.
    As much as I cannot stand SP modes, many of the Console crowd buys CoD for the story…no, really. That story was poorly told in Black Ops and the SP campaign was uneven for a AAA game. My guess is that fans have no confidence that BO2 will be any better. The now, no longer dead, Frank Woods is an example of this. Does Treyarch even care about being true to its story-arc fans?

It really is unsurprising that Treyarch had to propel the series into the uncharted future…they have exhausted their idea bank and are looking to the future for story-line fodder. The “idea-bank”, by-the-way, is what they threw in last time into Black Ops right after they tossed the kitchen sink. Now, they have horses and ducted-fan helos to show off in their TV ads…guess they couldn’t get the shark mo-capped.

Success

Having said the above, I wish Treyarch success with this title. For the most part, the studio is filled with good people and as I mentioned, there are ex-CoD modders on their team. I’m sure the title will sell well and Mark Lamia will be assured of having another $50M+ payday (like he did in Black Ops) and Kotick will undoubtedly go off and have another $1B+ year. The game’s massive advertising budget will guarantee these payouts.

When it comes to both the game’s story-line and the foregone-conclusion of BO2′s economic success, I think Black Ops 2′s once-dead character, Frank Woods said it best: “…none of this surprises me“.