Ahead of the world reveal scheduled to take place tonight during the NBA Playoffs, Black Ops II has already been confirmed as the next game in the Call of Duty series. This was expected to be the case at least as far back as February, although we now have some firm details we could only guess at previously.
It has since been pulled, but for a brief period of time the U.K. website for Black Ops II was online. A November 13 release date was listed alongside a description that fills us in on the basic setup for the game: "Pushing the boundaries of what fans have come to expect from the record-setting entertainment franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 propels players into a near future, 21st Century Cold War, where technology and weapons have converged to create a new generation of warfare." A few screenshots were leaked (via Kotaku) as a result of the site's premature launch giving us a look at the quadrotor seen in an FPS Russia video the official Call of Duty site has been linking to recently. The preview image for tonight's reveal trailer on YouTube, which was uploaded privately and could not be watched, shows skyscrapers burning in the background in a scene that would not have been out of place in Modern Warfare 3.
This is a significant departure from what Treyarch has worked on in the past. Call of Duty started out as a series focused on World War II; when Infinity Ward moved beyond that setting and into the present day, Treyarch's biannual releases stuck with WWII for a bit longer before moving into the Cold War. It was presumed by many that Black Ops, given its success, would receive a numbered sequel set sometime during the Cold War, perhaps in the 1970s. Leapfrogging Modern Warfare and setting Black Ops II in the near future -- the FPS Russia video notes technology like the quadrotor could be seen a decade from now -- blurs the line between the two sub-series.
With the games from both developers running on the same engine, it's not as if they play any differently on a basic level. The major distinction between the two series, setting aside (and the elements that come along with that, like the weapons at players' disposal), has been Modern Warfare's cooperative Spec Ops mode and Black Ops/World at War's Zombies mode. It's smart to trade the modes off from year to year so neither wears out its welcome as soon as they would if they were seen annually, but I don't think either is enough to warrant the continued existence of the two sub-series if Black Ops is no longer going to be set several decades earlier.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun jokingly referred to the new game as Call of Duty 9: Black Ops 2: Modern Warfare 4 earlier today, and it does sort of feel that way -- unless Black Ops 2 is set significantly further into the future than the early info suggests, Activision runs the risk of blending the two sub-series together to the point where 'Modern Warfare' and 'Black Ops' no longer mean anything. The leaked screenshots hardly make it look as if BLOPS II is the futuristic space game there has been talk of for years.