After developing two by-the-book Call of Duty entries set in World War II, Treyarch finally flexed its creative muscles with Black Ops. That installment introduced a new Cold War setting, a more focused narrative, and a well-received currency system for multiplayer. These alterations to the series formula worked, and Black Ops set sales records upon its release. After this massive success, Activision seems comfortable with letting Treyarch take much bigger risks with Black Ops II. A near-future setting and significant changes to the campaign experience are just two of the factors that make this sequel the biggest shake-up in the series since Call of Duty 4.

In a move that few saw coming, Black Ops II primarily takes place in 2025. Players assume the role of David Mason, the son of the first game’s protagonist. This won’t be the only Mason you control, however, as his father Alex appears in flashback sequences set in the 1980s. As a direct sequel to Black Ops, Treyarch promises the return of familiar faces, including Frank Woods, who was presumed dead. The grizzled veteran accompanies Alex during a flashback sequence in Afghanistan. Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia tells me he appears as a “very old man” in 2025 as well.

As expected, the world of Black Ops II is in rough shape. In researching the future of global conflict, Treyarch reached out to military expert Peter Singer (author of Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century) to explore the factors that may likely lead to future wars. Treyarch learned that the resources most likely to cause tension are called rare earth elements, a theory that is backed up by a recent speech by U.S President Barack Obama on the subject. These rare metals are vital for the production of personal electronics (iPhones, televisions), alternate energy resources (wind turbines, hybrid cars), and advanced military technology (missile guidance systems, stealth bombers). In real-world 2012, China is the supplier of 95-percent of these elements. In the narrative of Black Ops II, the demand for these materials is the basis of a new Cold War.

With tension between the United States and China at an all-time high, it’s the perfect time for a sinister opportunist to make his move. Raul Menendez serves as your primary foe throughout the game, but game director Dave Anthony is hesitant to reveal many details about the Nicaraguan militant. A comparison was made to Tony Soprano, with Anthony saying “He’s the main character of [The Sopranos], but he’s essentially a villain. He’s a murderer, he’s cold-blooded, he’s ruthless...but he’s somebody you understand as a human being. You’ll find yourself understanding him as a human being and empathizing, but in the next moment, you’ll see him do something utterly outside the realm of anything you could contemplate doing.”

Throughout the story of Black Ops II, Menendez uses near-future technology to cause further unrest in the unstable geopolitical climate. One late-game mission sees the antagonist using an armada of unmanned drone aircraft to attack the G-20 summit in downtown Los Angeles. The Chinese know they didn’t send the drones, and their confusion is amplified when U.S. drones are sent to attack their homeland. We don’t yet know Menendez’s motives, but the mission we saw made his destructive capabilities more than apparent.

With half of L.A. in flames, the mission begins with David Mason protecting the female President of the United States in the back of a transport vehicle. Treyarch wants the future in Black Ops II to seem plausible, so the skyline resembles modern-day Los Angeles far more than the kind of futuristic cityscape you’d see in The Fifth Element. The scene on the streets makes Michael Bay movies seem subtle, with dozens of aircraft, numerous armed vehicles, and countless foot soldiers contributing to the overwhelming chaos. Mason’s vehicle narrowly avoids numerous explosions and crashes on its way to the city, but eventually finds itself in a nasty collision. Crawling out of the wreckage, Mason spots an AA gun on top of an army vehicle that’s perilously perched over a hole in the highway. He mounts the gun, locks on to seven enemy drones at once, and shoots them out of the sky. Mason repeats this process for several other groups of drones before it becomes clear that the vehicle he’s on top of is about to plunge through the highway to the ground below. After leaping to safety, our protagonist grabs his electrically charged (as opposed to gunpowder-based) assault rifle and prepares to take on Menendez’s ground forces.