Treyarch believes Black Ops II is the best Call of Duty yet, and has bet much of its success on the new 'Strike Force' missions. These non-linear scenarios are short, self-contained sandbox stages within the game's campaign, offering the player a series of choices that will then impact the game's outcome; there are even choices within the missions that can lead to the death of key characters within the game's narrative.
One example I saw of this at a recent press event at Treyarch's studios was a simple choice of either covering your squad with a sniper rifle from a perch, or taking the boots on the ground approach and fighting alongside them. Unlike the regular campaign levels, the game will continue on even if you fail the Strike Force missions - the story will progress regardless, with your actions shaping the landscape in an overarching battle between the U.S. and China - what Treyarch boss Mark Lamia dubs as "proxy wars in the larger global conflict".
Throughout the campaign you'll be offered a selection of Strike Force missions at various junctions, with the selection of one locking out the others on that playthrough of the game. Lamia emphasised how there will be plenty of incentive to play the campaign numerous times, boasting that "this is the most replayable Call of Duty yet".
Treyarch also told us that, upon completion of the Black Ops II campaign, you'll be shown a screen showing your victories and failures, alongside teasers as to how differently the story could have played out if you'd opted for a different path, again encouraging multiple takes of Black Ops II's campaign.
During Strike Force missions you'll also be able to utilise the game's RTS-like 'Overwatch' feature, allowing you to set waypoints and objectives for your squad to follow. You'll be told how many troops you have available and then place them strategically around the battlefield to your advantage. You're also given the option to control nearby drones and robots, adding an occasional alternative to Call of Duty's trademark infantry-led approach.
One scenario we encountered was set in Singapore, with the player being assigned the task of disabling a missile defense shield before it leaves a harbor. During this mission the player is given various tools to accomplish this in multiple ways. Most notably the mission featured a jet fighter, building on the brief controllable Hind sequence during the later stages of the original Black Ops; the plane is controlled by the player, rather than the typical on-the-rails scenarios we're used to in these sorts of games, and it allowed for some thrilling dogfights.
Though no multiplayer details have yet been confirmed by Treyarch, there are a lot of features within the Strike Force missions that look heavily suitable for co-operative play outside of the campaign, so fingers crossed that Strike Force could be Black Ops II's answer to Modern Warfare's Spec Ops.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II's ambitious Strike Force missions are certainly an exciting direction for the series to take, and in my opinion they emphasise a commitment by Treyarch to deliver the most complete Call of Duty yet when Black Ops II is released in November.