‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 2’ Trailer Shows Robots, Horses and One Grizzled Vet

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With Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, developer Treyarch is promising the unthinkable: It’ll crack the mold that made Call of Duty into publisher Activision’s crown jewel and one of the most successful video game series of all time.

But you might not know it from the Black Ops 2 debut trailer, which contains the usual mix of guns, explosions, musclebound supersoldiers and ominous pontifications on the future of war. The trailer does show Call of Duty stretching its legs into a future filled with robot drones and other assorted high technology–along with flashbacks to horseback riding in 1980s Afghanistan, but in the video’s short glimpses of gameplay, it’s the same old COD.

In Treyarch’s comments to the gaming press, however, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 gets a little more interesting.

As IGN reports, Black Ops 2 will venture into new territory for the series with branching story threads. The game is set in 2025 and revolves around a cold war between the United States and China over rare earth elements. The unmanned drones that the U.S. military built for protection become the enemy when a terrorist named Raul Menendez takes control of the machines.

Players take the role of David Mason, son of the protagonist in the original Black Ops, and will have to make choices that affect the outcome of the game, and may even be able to fail in certain parts of the story. (David Goyer, a script writer on Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, is helping out with the plot.)

Treyarch is also promising a more holistic approach to the game’s supplemental single-player missions. A new mode called “Strike Force” will let players decide which missions to pursue based on the threat that each one presents, and whether to deploy human or robotic soldiers as allies. As a result, Strike Force will supposedly play a bit like a strategy game, allowing any given player to have a different experience.

In other words, Black Ops 2 wants to provide choice–an idea that’s come into vogue in other big-budget games such as BioShock and Mass Effect, but that’s been unheard of in Call of Duty‘s tightly-scripted universe.

Of course, it’s one thing to promise the world in previews, and quite another to deliver in the finished product, but I’m happy to see Treyarch attempting to breath new life into a popular but creatively formulaic series. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will be out on November 13, 2012.

(MORE: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Sells 6.5 Million Copies in 24 Hours)