Gearing up for next month's release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3? We know that time is of the essence, so we've recapped all the major events from the series over the next few pages. Whether you're going in cold or if you just want a refresher, you'll be caught up in no time.
The Black Ops series spans multiple generations, taking players from the jungles of Vietnam to a futuristic Los Angeles seized by military drones. What starts out as a straightforward assassination mission soon becomes much more complicated, as former friends reveal themselves as traitors, and betrayals on the battlefield yield shocking results. For now, though, let's return to where the series started.
Call of Duty: Black Ops begins in 1968 with CIA operative Alex Mason strapped to an electric chair. His captors are convinced that he knows the location of a Russian numbers station, and Mason, suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations, recounts the events leading up to his capture.
Previously, Mason and his teammates Woods and Bowman tried to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as part of America's failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. Mason unknowingly ends up killing a body double instead, and he stays behind in Cuba while helping his squad escape. The real Castro captures Mason and hands him over to General Nikita Dragovich, who in turn hauls him off to the Vorkuta Gulag forced labor camp.
The next year Mason spends at Vorkuta isn't especially pleasant, as you might imagine. During his imprisonment, Mason befriends fellow captive Viktor Reznov, who shares a common enemy with Dragovich. Dragovich, along with his comrade Lev Kravchenko, betrayed Reznov during a Russian operation in 1945, using the deadly nerve toxin "Nova-6" against his own squad before fleeing with the chemical weapon's ex-Nazi creator, Friedrich Steiner. Reznov vows revenge, telling Mason "Dragovich, Steiner, Kravchenko ... All must die."
Reznov and Mason spearhead a prisoner uprising and both escape, though Reznov is presumed captured as Mason flees to the United States. Returning to military duty, Mason travels to the Pentagon and meets President John F. Kennedy, who sends Mason on a mission to sabotage Russia's space program and kill Dragovich. During the briefing, Mason briefly hallucinates aiming his weapon at Kennedy's head, but the vision ends before he can act on his urges. That's probably nothing to be concerned about, right? Off to Kazakh!
Mason, Woods, Bowman, and newcomer Weaver successfully destroy their target. Though Dragovich is thought to have perished in an explosion, Mason fails to confirm the kill, and believes that he's still alive. Mason spends the next five years unsuccessfully hunting Dragovich, eventually leading him on a U.S. military mission to Vietnam, where a Russian defector promises information regarding Dragovich's whereabouts. The defector, who turns out to be Reznov, leads Mason, Woods, and Bowman to Dragovich's partner Kravchenko and a wayward shipment of Nova-6. The shipment is lost, and Mason's squad is captured by the Viet Cong and Spetznaz soldiers. In the confusion that follows, Bowman is executed, and Woods and Kravchenko apparently die during an explosive struggle.
Elsewhere, Weaver and CIA agent Hudson track down the whereabouts of Nova-6's creator Steiner. Mason and Reznov get word of this development, and two teams - Weaver and Hudson, and Mason and Reznov - separately converge on Steiner's location on Rebirth Island. Mason gets there first, and Reznov kills Steiner before Weaver and Hudson can interrogate him for information regarding a planned attack on the United States. Mason is detained and placed in military custody. Players then experience the scene from Weaver and Hudson's perspective. The pair see Mason execute Steiner while reciting Reznov's dialog. Reznov himself is nowhere to be seen.
Mason's current-day captors are revealed to be Weaver and Hudson, who are trying to make sense of his sabotage. They reveal that Steiner, on Dragovich's orders, had psychologically programmed Mason to kill President Kennedy during his imprisonment in Vorkuta. Mason refused to be broken by the training, leaving his inner programming incomplete and unstable.
Mason's fellow captive Reznov takes advantage of the situation, himself reprogramming Mason to assassinate his own enemies: Dragovich, Kravchenko, and Steiner. Reznov actually died during the prisoner uprising in Vorkuta, but his thirst for revenge lived on in Mason, who hallucinated Reznov's presence in Vietnam and at Rebirth Island. Mason had been doing Reznov's posthumous bidding all along, leading him to kill Steiner while suffering from the effects of brainwashing.
In the years after Mason went missing in action, the U.S. military learned that Dragovich planned to set off Nova-6 in locations across the United States through sleeper cells activated by Russian numbers stations. Crucially, Mason is believed to have been programmed with the ability to decode these broadcasts, though even after interrogation and repeated listenings to the point of auditory hallucination, he does not recall his training.
After Mason attempts an escape from his captors, Hudson tracks him down and successfully breaks his brainwashing. Mason recalls that the numbers station is broadcast from the Gulf of Mexico-bound Rusalka, the ship where Castro originally handed Mason over to Dragovich. Mason and Hudson head there immediately to take care of unfinished business before the sleeper cells can activate. In the game's final mission, Mason, Hudson, and Weaver board the Rusalka and encounter Dragovich, who starts the sleeper cell broadcast. The team orders an airstrike while still aboard, and Mason hunts down Dragovich and kills him. The transmitter is destroyed, the numbers station broadcast terminates, and the sleeper cells remain dormant. Mason, Hudson, and Weaver escape, and jets fly overhead as a new dawn rises.
After preventing a war between international superpowers, Alex Mason retires to a quiet life in Alaska with his seven-year-old son, David. In 1986, Alex is called back into duty by Hudson, who heads up a rescue mission of personal interest. It turns out that Mason and Hudson's old partner, Frank Woods, survived his encounter with Kravchenko back in Vietnam, and had disappeared along with his squad during a since-disavowed CIA black ops mission in Angola. The mission sets off a chain of events that spans decades.
Woods explains that his squad had been held captive by Raul Menendez, a dangerous and unpredictable arms dealer with ties to the Soviets. Mason, Hudson, and Woods track Menendez to Afghanistan, where they discover Kravchenko instead. He reveals that he had placed moles within the CIA, and claims an alliance with Menendez. After Woods finishes off Kravchenko, the accompanying Mujahideen squad betrays Mason's team, and leaves them for dead. The team is discovered in the middle of a desert, and Mason claims to see Reznov among his rescuers.
Mason, Woods, and Hudson afterward close in on Menendez's headquarters in Nicaragua. During the raid, Woods inadvertently kills Menendez's beloved sister and only remaining relative, Josefina. Menendez spends decades afterward planning his revenge against America and Woods in particular.
In 1989, Mason's squad allies with real-world Panamaian dictator Manuel Noriega in an attempt to finish off Menendez. Noriega instead helps Menendez escape. Mason's team separates and Woods, acting on orders from a kidnapped Hudson, executes a masked man that he thinks is Menendez. The man turns out to be Mason. Menendez appears at the scene, kills Hudson, and cripples Woods, warning him that his revenge is not yet complete.
We jump ahead to 2025. Alex Mason's son, David, now a U.S. Navy SEAL with the code name "Section," questions an elderly and wheelchair-bound Woods regarding the whereabouts of Raul Menendez. Menendez had visited Woods recently, and warned him that his final act of revenge was approaching.
Menendez, now heading up a global populist group named Cordis Die, hacks the Chinese Stock Exchange and pins the blame on the United States. Swayed by Menendez's false but convincing evidence, the world's nations turn against America as Cordis Die's influence grows. China additionally locks down exports for rare earth elements that are critical in the production of U.S. military technology, weakening the nation's defenses.
Section's next mission to Myanmar reveals that Menendez is planning a second and infinitely more destructive digital attack using Celerium, an advanced computer chip capable of hacking and taking control of any computer system in the world. Following him to Yemen, Section captures Menendez and brings him aboard the USS Barack Obama (yup) for questioning.
A traitor in Section's team allows Menendez to escape. Menendez hacks the computer system aboard the Obama (yup) using smuggled Celerium and gains control over the United States' drone fleet. Menendez escapes and sends thousands of American drones to attack major cities across the globe.
After surviving a drone attack on Los Angeles and saving the life of the U.S. President, Section travels to Haiti to put an end to Menendez's plans before he can use America's military to attack other nations. Upon subduing Menendez in a final showdown, players can see one of several endings depending on whether a handful of major characters survived the events of the campaign.
In Black Ops 2's best ending, Menendez is imprisoned, and the virus he used to control the U.S. military is stopped. If Woods wounded the masked Alex Mason in 1989 instead of killing him, Mason reunites with his son after Menendez's capture.
That ending's a little bit too conventional, though. We choose to accept Call of Duty: Black Ops 2's post-credits sequence as series canon. Basically the Call of Duty equivalent of Silent Hill 2's infamous "Dog Ending," this scene recasts Woods and Menendez as members of the band Avenged Sevenfold. Asked if he's ready to rock, Woods rises from his wheelchair and proclaims "I'm ready to roll!" before the pair takes the stage in front of a cheering crowd. No, really. This is a thing that actually happens, and it rules.
Given Black Ops 2's ridiculous alt-ending and its futuristic tech that at one point transforms Section's squad into a fleet of flying squirrels (again, not an exaggeration), we're excited to see where Black Ops 3 takes the series. It's set in 2065 and stars a new cast of characters, but we're willing to bet that we probably haven't seen the last of the Mason clan.