As a movie lover who always thought that movies were the end-all, be-all facet of the entertainment experience, it has always perplexed me when games have had launches that were larger and more intense than the opening weekends of Hollywood’s biggest films. The idea that thousands of people buy tickets and munch popcorn from paper bags was somehow much easier to swallow than the idea that millions of gamers were hunched over their controllers playing the latest video game.
But Activision’s Call of Duty franchise has continued to dominate the entertainment arena, as each successive new game breaks the records set by the ones before it, with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 holding the current record of biggest entertainment launch ever by raking in $400 million on its first day.
That record is in jeopardy today as the next game in the series, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, launches worldwide. This time around the series has gone to great lengths to ground the storyline, which is set in the near future of 2025, in reality by consulting experts like Oliver North, whose bread and butter was covert CIA ops, and P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War about technology on the battlefield.
But even more impressive to film fans will be the big gun that the team brought in to consult on the storyline: Davis S. Goyer. He’s had a hand in the Blade trilogy, the Nolan Batman films, and the upcoming Superman and Godzilla reboots, and he equates working on a video game to working on a television series, as you tend to think of the levels as episodes. Which made more sense to Goyer than it did to some, as he is also a big video gamer.
But despite the fact that he also worked on the original Black Ops game, Goyer wanted to push forward with the sequel to make antagonist Raul Menendez the most compelling villain that has ever been seen in a Call of Duty game, and to add branching storylines to the plot as a fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. You know, to complicate things even further. But they also had to do this with a cohesive narrative that jumps forwards and backwards in time, tying together the story of a father and a son, and a madman fixated on breaking the United States.
Has it paid off? The answer is a resounding yes. While the series is known for epic campaigns with tons of cinematic moments, this new game represent a successful foray into true interactive storytelling, where your choices in the game change the actual outcome of the plot. While you can’t bury your fingers in between multiple pages in order to revisit your choices, this gives gamers a real incentive to replay a game once they’ve completed the campaign.
Of course, those cinematic moments are still buried throughout the game. In an effort to remain spoiler free, here are some of the best cinematic moments in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 along with the corresponding films that they hearken back to. We would highly recommend playing the game and making your own filmic conclusions, but here’s what went through our heads while we spanned the epic story. You can blame David S. Goyer.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Point Break: There’s a scene where the protagonist and his partner are rock climbing, and they use these super-tech nano gloves that adhere to rock faces. Once you make it to a precipice, you and your team dive into an enemy camp wearing flying squirrel-esque wing suits. The nano gloves feel right off of Tom Cruise’s hands from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, although these actually work just fine. And the wing suit moment recalls the bromance in the sky from Point Break, although without nearly as much whooping and gyrations.
The Last King of Scotland: One of the first levels in the game is a flashback to Angola, where a rotund dictator leads his forces against the MPLA. While you fight through this section by his side, it’s nearly impossible to watch him without recalling Forest Whitaker’s Amin from The Last King of Scotland. Except without the drama and no James McAvoy in sight.
Die Hard: Deeper into the game, you’ll be infiltrating the innards of a gigantic, luxurious floating city. But superstructures tend to look the same on the inside, and as you crawl around access tunnels and maintenance hatches in ever-shrinking environments, you’ll find yourself recalling John McClane from Die Hard. Although he didn’t have access to the fairly awesome tech you’ll get to use here.
Battle: Los Angeles: As you’ve seen from the bombastic trailers for the game, part of the game involves an enormous drone attack on Los Angeles, laying waste to much of downtown. That recalls many of the moments from this overlooked sci-fi film, where invading alien forces decimate much of the City of Angels, led by lantern-jawed Aaron Eckhart. Although just to be clear, there are no aliens in this game.
Citizen Kane: While the standing yardstick for video games as art has been “if games are art, where’s our Citizen Kane?” we want to be clear here in saying this isn’t it. But, it’s a huge step in that direction. Very few games show you the genesis of a villain, and delve into the fires that stoke their fiery hearts of hatred. But this game takes you deep inside the backstory of Raul Menendez, showing you exactly why he has a bloodlust for the United States. He’s one of the best video game villains we’ve ever seen, and his journey reminds us of Charles Foster Kane and who his worst enemy ended up being. If you need to ask who, watch it and you’ll understand.
Days of Thunder, Mallrats, and The Walking Dead: We can’t talk about this game without mentioning Michael Rooker’s stellar performance. His raspy voice goes about and beyond the call of duty (wow, bad pun!) here, and the character he plays sports a character model of a much younger Rooker. But it’s an unmistakable voice that you can’t miss, and we’re glad he returns to Call of Duty (he appeared in the zombie map Call of the Dead for the original Black Ops), bringing with him memories of some of our favorite characters.