Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
I’d like to start this review by saying that Call of Duty is a polarizing franchise. Not only because of its mainstream success and domination but due to the dual developer system which has allowed the franchise to continue the aforementioned domination with year after year releases.
There’s a lot of value packed into this game. It’s like playing three different games that happen to share the same control scheme. The game allows you to choose what it defaults to on start-up, Campaign, Multiplayer or Zombies.
Most argue that the game’s meat is in the multiplayer, but I have always been fond of Call of Duty’s campaign mode over all. For the purposes of this review, I will center on the campaign before talking about multiplayer and a dash of zombie magic.
Black Ops II follows Treyarch’s successful Black Ops game, which moved audience attention away from the modern combat theater to the past when President Kennedy was the Commander-in-Chief. Black Ops II dances around Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare series by jumping between eras, the future and the past as dictated by Frank Woods.
The game begins with a rather confounding introduction to the game’s everpresent bad guy, Raul Menendez. From there, the hardest part is piecing together the disparate bolts of fabric that weave together the game’s narrative. Because of the game’s span from the Cold War to the future war, the details don’t quite make sense until you hit the final leg of the campaign.
Anarchy, revenge, martyrdom and family make up the cloud of themes that Black Ops II draws from. Then there’s also the new set of choices that you can make as you play through the campaign. These threw me for a loop when I encountered them. That’s because I put in the disc thinking that I would be taken through a wild ride without the need to mull over any decisions. The sudden choices that made up the game ask you to think on your feet, as if two enemies entered your crosshairs and you only had one bullet to use.
These new choices coupled with the challenges you can shoot for on each mission add a bit of replayability to what would have otherwise been a business-as-usual campaign. Then there are the Strike Force missions that add a bit of variance and flavor to the experience. These are separate missions you can undertake that affect the campaign.
Unfortunately, these missions were wildly difficult on Veteran, my difficulty of choice for the campaign, and so I opted to skip them as I played through the campaign. Other people have commented on the same problem and suggested that I leave them for another play through at a lower difficulty.
Speaking of difficulty, I would say that apart from the Strike Force missions, Black Ops II has the lowest Veteran difficulty out of the franchise’s modern releases. This might put off some people who were really itching to die repeatedly in the same sequences. Bummer, you’ll actually survive most of the time.
After being spoiled by game-engine-generated cinematics from other games, I felt a drop in the game’s visual quality once the game’s pre-rendered footage rolled.
In another bid to offer more choice to the player, you’ll find that unlockable weapons will become available as you play through the campaign. This means you can actually change your loadout for missions, perfect for the player that can’t let go of using his favorite gun.
The campaign highlight is Raul Menendez who proves to be horrifyingly unpredictable, something he proves throughout the course of the game.
As far as multiplayer goes, Black Ops II makes some very interesting decisions, the main one of which is the allocation of equipment. More than before, you can mix and match equipment based on what you deem most important.
You can do things like opt to drop a tactical grenade in order to equip perhaps another attachment on your secondary weapon, or you can opt to go without a secondary weapon altogether in order to get an extra perk. This system allows you to carry up to 10 slots worth of equipment and perks.
This is done with the Wildcard system. Wildcards are extra perks you can equip (taking one of the 10 available slots you have), which can allow many different equipment combinations like my favored three-attachment rifle class. As with previous Call of Duty titles, your proficiency with a weapon will increase the amount of attachment options that it has.
Equipping a Wildcard will take up a slot by itself so that means you’ll be down one piece of equipment altogether in order to create your funky classes. Evaluating this trade-off is part of the planning that goes into making your classes. I would personally say that the new maps are balanced and more fun to play than the ones from Modern Warfare 3. Even the maps that favor long-range weapons give you plenty of areas where a shotgun or SMG is more valuable. I never felt like I was forced to pick a certain weapon-type in order to compete.
Another change is the removal of the support streaks that were introduced in last year’s Modern Warfare 3. At the same time, there isn’t a direct return to the killstreaks that we all have become accustomed to. Instead we have a new system aptly named Scorestreaks.
Rather than killing in order to unlock abilities in a multiplayer match, you have to acquire points. Kills, assists and the game mode’s objectives award points that increase your score. Reaching specific score thresholds allow you to launch attack dogs, VTOLs, Lightning Strikes, UAVs, etc. As usual, you set your streaks before the match begins.
The move to scorestreaks is meant to award strategic play as well as awarding the lone wolf mentality you come across in public games. Scorestreak rewards carry over from round to round as long as it is the same match. These two factors make objective-based modes more attractive. Team Deathmatch isn’t as fun as Kill Confirmed because you don’t get extra points and thus you don’t get as many chances to activate your scorestreaks.
Multiplayer on the whole is as disgustingly addictive as it’s always been. I actually felt kind of sick after I realized I’m basically playing the same game as I’ve been playing all this time, just with new maps and lethal ways of playing tag with strangers.
Honestly, I didn’t play much of the Zombies game mode. On the surface, I can appreciate Tranzit and the whole interconnectedness of everything. In this version of Zombies, the matches are longer and there’s a lot more ground to cover. The survivor feel is ratcheted up a notch because of the trek from place to place, opening doors and barricading zombies as you’ve been able to do before. If this is your preferred way of play then you’ll be happy to know that there’s a lot to do.
Black Ops II isn’t first in its class. It’s another in a lengthy line of shooters which has both defined this generation and will come to define the developers of the future, both for good and for bad. The formula is here, and say what you will about the added value and revamped systems, it’s simply more of the same. Read our Modern Warfare 3 review from last year and see how far the franchise has come.