Black Ops 2: An object lesson in tone

Alternate title: Borders, Bigotry, and Body Dumps Redux.

The trailer for Black Ops 2 finally hit tonight. While the identity of the game and its future theme wasn’t particularly surprising, the extent to which they take it actually was. Enough to get me somewhat excited, even. Treyarch is clearly setting out on their own and trying to make something different, and for a series that has gotten a bit tired that’s the perfect move right now.

The really striking part was how different the tone seems than most of the other Call of Duty games. Particularly in the Modern Warfare series, the games had developed into this strange faux-earnestness, even bordering on jingoism. It was presenting itself as this mature, raw look at modern war, but it just kept going deeper into “Big Crazy Michael Bay Spectacle” territory. It’s as if the developers really wanted us to take it seriously, but nothing in the game led me to do that.

I made this observation near the tail end of the PAX East panel. The problem with a lot of controversial games isn’t so much the content as context. Tone matters. If a game presents itself as serious, it has to have a deft touch that most games don’t manage to quite pull off. If a game makes no apologies for its bombast, it gets more leeway when it dips into subjects that might otherwise be controversial.

That’s what makes me so happy to see this trailer for Black Ops 2. It’s hard to tell from the this early look, but it seems Treyarch is going further down the rabbit hole started by the first Black Ops. It’s semi-serious, but at its core it’s alternate history. It knows its ludicrous. It makes no apologies for it.

I’ll reserve judgment for the final product, of course, but this short look made me optimistic. That’s something I haven’t been able to say about the Call of Duty series for a while. Even games that I played and liked, like the original Black Ops, didn’t excite me based on the first glimpses. This one did. Apparently a little more fun and bombast can go a long way with me.

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  • I hate to say it, but he’s right. WiiWare was never an extremely bustling marketplace to start with, and it must be diminishing as people pack their consoles into the closets and wait for the Wii U. Even a somewhat high-profile indie game like La-Mulana probably wouldn’t be worth the investment.

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