Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review
When we look back over the illustrious history of video games, I often wonder where the Call of Duty franchise will fall in the grand scheme of things. From a sales perspective, the franchise is an unstoppable force. Apparently, Black Ops 2 grossed over five hundred million dollars in the first twenty-four hours alone, and has made well over a billion to date. The phrase “often imitated, never duplicated” springs to mind as well considering the slew of copy-cats that we all keep thinking might offer some kind of competition, but in the end serve to emphasize just how dominant and well crafted Call of Duty actually is. The latest installment is Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the sequel to the insanely popular original that released in 2010. And with a well crafted story, addictive multiplayer, and the return of the fan-favorite Zombie mode, Black Ops 2 may be the best the series has offered since the original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
The narrative bounces all over the place, from the past to the future, as you play as both Alex Mason and his son. Those sections that flash back are a blast! Hudson, Mason, and Woods are all back, doing what they do. It’s an interesting idea that, unfortunately, quickly loses steam as things become increasingly convoluted. It’s not necessarily difficult to follow – just confusing in how you get snippets and clues in between intense firefights and set pieces. It was actually quite cleverly written and very dramatic, especially towards the end.
In truth, the good guys are not the focus here, the villain is. Raul Menendez is quite possibly the most intriguing antagonist in the series to date. From the very opening cutscene – when you bare witness to what he has undergone – it’s surprisingly difficult not to feel at least some sympathy for him… even if he did go off the deep end and become a tyrannical, sociopathic murderer. As the breadth and scope of his plan come into focus, the depth of his agony and hatred are presented believably. I found myself wondering how many of America’s enemies went through similar tribulations, and if those trials fueled their hatred.
What I found most interesting is the introduction of player choice into the narrative arc. They decided to include decision moments – moments that would actually have an effect on the outcome of the game. However, be warned: some actions don’t necessarily have the consequences you might expect, so it’s worth paying attention to what you’re doing. There is something like six different possible endings so you know it’s more than one key choice that can alter the final act. Fortunately, the game is short – completionists can run through it pretty quickly to see all of the endings. It does invite some re-playability, something past campaigns have sorely lacked.
You can now change your load-outs before each mission during the campaign. This is a really nice touch. I, for one, appreciate being allowed to pick my weapons beforehand. It’s fun to try different styles in different situations. It’s not a huge deal, but at the same time, it’s one of those things where you get the impression the developers are actually paying attention to their fans.
Call of Duty is synonymous with action, and I’m happy to say that Black Ops 2 doesn’t disappoint in this regard. It’s like an interactive summer blockbuster! The gunplay remains the tightest in the genre, just as you’d expect. The huge arsenal at your disposal feels responsive and smoother than the competition.
There are also some weird, optional RTS sections. Sadly, I’m not sure they work as well as intended. It’s an interesting inclusion that really breaks up the pacing and forces you to think, which is a good thing. There are multiple teams in play and you’ll have a series of things to defend or overrun. With a quick button press you can zoom out and let the bots do all the work, managing the action like a puppeteer. Unfortunately, these sections don’t work terribly well in practice. The control scheme is overly complicated and the camera doesn’t pan very quickly. I can see this frustrating the hell out of a lot of players. Being able to control each individual group is fun, but it’s almost too hectic to really be effective.
Let’s face it: most people forgo the campaign altogether in lieu of the multiplayer. In fact, nearly all of the guys that I play with rarely ever even play the campaigns. This time around the multiplayer feels similar to the last two games, although the maps are better designed and it’s a little smoother. The consensus seems to be that the interface is better as well. Streamlining the lobby makes matchmaking even easier to handle. Connectivity wasn’t an issue either. Still, you can’t screen out all the idiots out there so public matches can be a bit of a trial. The important thing to remember is that it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. It’s also easy to get killed, a lot, until you are used to it. But don’t get me wrong, this is still one of the best developed, and more importantly most fun, multiplayer experiences available.
I’m not a big multiplayer fan, so the series doesn’t hold the same appeal to me that it does most of the rest of the masses. However, I love me some zombies! I missed the walking undead and running in terror with my friends. Zombies are still as fun and addictive as you might remember, although with the sequel they’ve added a lot to it. The Transit system was an inspired idea, especially when you commit to it. This mode remains a great distraction with friends, especially if it’s local!
As has become the norm, you gain experience no matter what you do, whether it’s playing the campaign, or any of the addictive multiplayer and zombie maps. Attain a certain level and reap the rewards like custom load-outs for multiplayer. Score Streaks (formerly Kill Streaks) are a lot harder to come by, which levels the playing field a bit. It’s sometimes difficult to tell who is on the same team some of the time… until they shoot you. That being said, Call of Duty remains the most fast-paced, electrifying thrill-ride in multiplayer-focused gaming.
The graphics aren’t bad per se, but not up to the same level as the competition. Some of the textures and focusing don’t look quite right and the characters can look waxy. The particle effects and lighting aren’t up to snuff either. However, while it’s not as pretty as Battlefield 3 (which, admittedly, set that particular bar pretty high), Black Ops 2 is probably the best-looking Call of Duty game to date. The sound effects are once again top-notch. Whether it’s guns blazing, radio chatter, or deafening explosions, Call of Duty always makes them pop, further immersing you into the experience.
On the one hand, Black Ops 2 can simply be written off as the latest in the series. In many ways, it’s really just more of the same. In my opinion, the last two Modern Warfare games were a little stagnant, following such a trend. I’m happy to say that, for me anyway, Black Ops 2 allayed my fears. Treyarch did an amazing job, creating another high intensity experience that sets the standard for every other shooter to aspire to. They have restored my faith in the biggest of all franchises, and actually have me curious to see what comes next!
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
This review is based on a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops II for the Xbox 360 provided by Activision.