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E3 2012: The problem with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Spinal Tap’s amplifiers are awesome because you can turn them up to 11. That’s a bigger number than every other number on the dial. Thing is, 11 doesn’t mean much without the ten digits preceding it. You need to know that you can turn the volume down to a diminutive 3 for 11 to mean anything. Loudness is ultimately relative, as is action. This is the fundamental problem with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and its less than thrilling single player debut at E3 2012.

Activision’s first-person shooter is an icon now. The last three entries in the series, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and 3 as well as the original Black Ops, have all sold in excess of 20 million copies. That popularity has led Treyarch and Infinity Ward, the series’ stewards, to constantly try and best their set pieces.

The sample stage of Black Ops 2 demoed at E3 2012, showing a massive military drone attack on the city of Los Angeles, is supposed to be thrilling. Skyscrapers collapse, helicopters explode, and semis ram into Hummer convoys trying to protect world leaders. It never stops rattling off gun fire, explosions, and raised voices. It is, in other words, always turned up to 11.

That’s the state of Call of Duty though. Critics and fans stuck their noses up at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 because it too piled on the spectacle like a greedy fat kid at the make your own Sunday bar. The series began life as a cinematic but staid series of games based on World War II. It was a brazen imitation of Steven Spielberg productions like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, but a quality, respectful imitation. It has since transformed into a game every bit as loud and unrelenting as a WWE wrestler’s intro before a match.

With only five months until release, Treyarch doesn’t have time to transform Black Ops 2 into a different game. Going forward though, the developer needs to remember that explosions don’t mean a thing if the entire world is always exploding.

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