Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review

Call of Duty has been a big name in many households around, not just the United State, but the entirety of the world. The series has seen a plethora of releases- from the PC classics to the well-oiled franchise-creating machine of the console releases from Call of Duty: modern Warfare to now. The achievements of the Call of Duty series are numerous, but the most spectacular of all of them would be the current unseating of the previous FPS juggernaut Halo in terms of rich multiplayer and fanbase following that borders on cult-like indie love. While all of this popularity is wonderful, it also serves as a double edged sword in more ways than one- namely: makes too many changes to the tested and tried formula that fans enjoy, and you just might lose a portion of this vast fanbase, which all developers want to avoid as best as they can. Treyarch- while not the most successful shareholders in the Call of Duty business, does always somehow manage to spice things up in its own creative way, and with previous game changers such as World at War and the well-received Black Ops under their belt, Black Ops 2 proves to be no different. Not only did they manage to firmly shake the rooted multiplayer foundations for the first time since Modern Warfare 2, but they instituted their own interesting system and broke with online conventional warfare in more ways than one. With this ambitious overtone in mind, Treyarch just released Black Ops 2- which will, sadly turn off some to this particular Call of Duty game (and perhaps the tested series itself), and turn others even more onto it. With these risks in mind, let’s see what the game does right and wrong…

Although I do not necessarily mind linearity so much in classic FPS games, and generally stick to sandbox games such as Crysis when I pine for the nonlinear gameplay everybody occasionally needs, the addition of several factors that break the Call of Duty mold do make for some interesting replay options I suppose. Far from the restrictive linearity it usually showcases, this particular Call of Duty game- while have faults with the system (as any game does with two choice opportunities), does manage to pull off the branching choices aspect of the campaign. As for the addition of minor ‘Strike-Force’  segments of the game, which bring an almost surreal RTS quality to CoD for the first time- I’ll talk about that failure later. One of the most interesting results of the branching opportunities aspect of the game is that the choices you make can in fact change the narrative in subtle or grand ways. (Not spoiling anything) but you can even decide who lives and who dies in the end as well, a la Mass Effect 2 and it’s choices near the finale… Interesting, no? Sure, the abruptness of immediate choices such as ‘Kill/Don’t kill?’ are really out of place, but certainly not out of context for a shooter, and sure the subtle hints as to a choice and game changing result can be easy to miss at times, but come on- enjoy yourself and indulge! Of course, all of these decisions won’t change entirely too much- only some cutscenes and gameplay branches throughout missions, but they are still a refreshing break from the normal grind that is CoD’s single player story. You might actually remember something other than that epic set piece this time around…

Now, let’s get the messy business known as the Strike-Force missions out of the way, shall we? These “interesting” missions play out at key locations throughout the single player campaign, and only serve as a frustrating detriment to that otherwise enjoyable experience, much to my dismay- as the two Black Ops games have had some of the best CoD single player campaigns to date… Oh well, our loss right? (I’m looking at you Treyarch) Sure, Treyarch obviously wanted to shake things up a bit- integrate some RTS elements into the shooter, mess around with some strategy options, hold some aces… But it sure didn’t turn out that way. Between the utter embarrassment of trying to reign in your AI minions, ordering them around and continually being disappointed with the resulting waste of effort, countless glitches that just have to pop up in what is already the game’s weakest aspect, and the sheer uselessness of these frustrating missions (aside from an overall ending, I suppose), it’s a wonder the stillborn mode doesn’t bring down Black Ops 2 even further. Of course, complaints aside- cut away the burned flesh and cauterize that wound (mind you, it will scar), and you’ll have a single player campaign on par with the rest of the series as well, while granted it is initially confusing and as convoluted as the rest- if a little more…time-traveling-y. You’ll see some familiar faces, witness more epic set pieces, and hate the best (evilest) villain of the series to boot. (Although the newest character who you play as for the majority of the time- when not body swapping as with previous CoD narratives, is quite a Dick to be honest as well.)

Now, I know this is the part you’ve all been patiently awaiting, so I won’t tarry much longer. Yes, the multiplayer should live up to your high expectations, although it may seem a bit…the same-ish in most aspects. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with more of the same in terms of Call of Duty’s multiplayer, as it has been phenomenal for the previous four entries or so within the series… The only real tweak that Treyarch seems to have thrown in for the sheer heck of it is the intriguing ‘Pick 10’ loadout system. Basically, you have ten points to allocate into many different aspects (guns, looks, perks, etc.) and you can basically have up to six perks going at the same time- yes, I said six! Yep, perks- really mixing things up again, I know… Sadly, no currency or contract oriented gameplay returns, which seems to be a loss- as this system really does nothing other than make the fights slightly more wild with even more perks going on at once. Oh well, the multiplayer is still exciting as ever, so it’s not too big of a deal. One thing that does mix things up a bit however, and in what should be a very competitive way (professionally and not) is the addition of leagues and catering to e-sports as well. In league matches, everything is available from the get-go, CoD Elite stat-tracking is included free, and obtrusive map elements are stripped as well- all for the sake of good, clean, fun. Certainly worth a look at least.

Now, before we quit here- I’ll talk about Treyarch’s personal little baby- the Call of Duty Zombies mode, first introduced successfully in World at War, and used in all Treyarch titles since. While there are only two or three major maps (currently) and modes for Zombies mode, the TranZit one itself is quite the trend setter indeed. Not only are there as many secrets and easter eggs as usual, but the massive maps and towns filled with zombies make for one wild ride…quite literally, as luck would have it (if you call a zombie bus ride luck that is). While the undead modes have always been Horde mode knockoffs from the get-go, this one is as wonderfully enjoyable as the last, and the zombie filled bus ride only fuels the savage fire of competitive teamwork this time around… Be sure to replay the new maps as you wait for the anticipated NukeTown 2025 and others as well…

If you don’t feel like purchasing what may seem too ‘un-CoD-ish’ or simply ‘more of the same’ for the full retail price at the moment, then by all means- wait until you are ready to do so. If you don’t care and don’t want to be left out as all of your CoD-lobing friends hop back onto this year’s bandwagon, then by all means- go for it too! Just be sure to note, this is entirely up to you- as there are few significant changes in terms of multiplayer, and only a few changes to the single player formula- none of which are drastic, and only two thirds of which are actually mildly pleasing in result. Despite the issues most people are likely to have with the setting and failed RTS aspects of the Strike Force missions spread throughout the single player, Black Ops II- while not polished by any means, is certainly no terrible entry to the ever strong juggernaut of modern shooting and online competitive multiplayer. Treyarch has never been known for crafting Call of Duty games as well as the originators at Infinity Ward, although Black Ops 1 was their strongest entry yet, and was in all honestly probably better received than Modern warfare 3 (which, while good, was IW’s weakest link in the series), but that doesn’t make Black Ops 2 a terrible game- merely one that could use a few minor changes. I do however, despite my qualms over the final game here, look forward greatly to what should be the usual stream of content that accompanies Treyarch’s CoD titles- which is one thing they will always do better than the folks back at IW…

Concept: Change a few things in the stoic Call of Duty single player experience, which semi-decent results, but make no major changes in the enjoyable online multiplayer modes.

Graphics: The graphics look as great as ever, and the framerate is stellar as usual- however, I can’t help feeling that the graphics haven’t changed much since the first Black Ops. Although I don’t suppose that is terribly bad…

Sound: The firefights sound as intense as they look, which leaves you with some great audio treats- and the few scores that there are sound appropriately like Michael Bay is directing.

Playability: The controls are both as tight and sound as ever, with no major changes to either. From rigging animal traps in the 80’s to dodging and strafing in the near future, everything matches up well.

Entertainment: Sure, Strike Force should have been renamed a slightly less appropriate and hilarious name such as *** farce, but the game itself provides as much entertainment as previous series iterations have.

Replay: Moderate

Overall Score: 8.0

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