Published on January 9th, 2013 | by smikey11231
Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review
Summary: The best story in a Call of Duty to date along with several fun, new improvements make Black Ops II the best game the franchise has produced in years.
Classic Call of Duty with fun new improvements.
Treyarch sought to shake up what was beginning to be a monotonous formula with the original Call of Duty: Black Ops. While it did add some new features and a much better story, it still felt like the same old thing with a fresh coat of paint. Can Black Ops II achieve what the original failed to do? Let’s find out.
Black Ops II has many noticeable changes from previous iterations in the franchise. The first thing you will notice is that you aren’t just going mission to mission, you have a central hub area where you pick the mission you are going to play. The other notable change is that you are able to adjust the load outs you use in the mission. You can swap guns, attachments, grenades, and secondaries depending on what the mission and your play style may warrant. You don’t get the full selection of choices that you would in the multiplayer, but the variety is a welcome touch.
Black Ops II isn’t just a linear story that holds your hand the entire way, you are presented with a variety choices. These choices can affect everything from what missions are available to who lives or dies. What was surprising was that many of the decisions are made without you knowing that they are key moments that will affect later points in the game, often times not finding out until you return to the mission select hub. This forces players to either live with the consequences of their actions or play extra carefully. While not the first of its kind, this type of choice system makes you slow down and pay more attention in what is normally a run and gun style game. Another positive outcome of using this style of choice mechanic is that it encourages repeat playthroughs to reach the various outcomes.
Black Ops II’s story jumps back and forth between the 1980′s Cold War era and 2025 as you fight Raul Menendez from his rise to his current attack. You play primarily as Alex Mason during the Cold War sections and his son David Mason during the future missions. The missions set in the 80′s set a decent backstory on the villain and the events to come, however if you haven’t played the first Black Ops you are likely to miss out on the emotional attachment to several of the characters. As you proceed you are given reasons to care about the newer characters, but the sections involving Alex Mason and Frank Woods don’t have the same impact without the history behind them.
David Mason gets the most well drawn out story a protagonist has received in a Call of Duty title. He isn’t just the typical hoo-rah grunt you see in military shooters; he has an interesting backstory while continuing to be someone you care about and want to see win in the end. His sections are also where they introduce new tech into the gameplay mechanics, such as the Quads and the ASDs. These change up the feel of how you approach situations as they can quickly level you and your squad.
What Black Ops II’s story does best is paint Raul Menendez as a person you both hate and sympathize with. Treyarch does a wonderful job of making him human, not just a mad man doing evil for the sake of evil. He walks that fine line of genius and insanity without ever being over the top and goofy like you would get with the typical mad, genius villains. He has his motivations and, while his methods are extreme, you understand them. Hell, you may even root for him at times. Menendez by far steals the show as he is the most developed and well acted character in the game.
As you progress through the story, you may notice a new type of mission to the Call of Duty formula: Strike Force. While these may be side missions, they’re outcome is just as vital as many of the main story sections. The amount and selection of the missions changed depending on what decisions you have made by the time they are unlocked. They tend to handle like a Tower Defense style game as you control a variety of troops and mechs. The objectives of the Strike Force missions range from defend the position to escorting a transport. This is another example of how wide ranging your choices are, I didn’t even realize that there were more missions available than the ones I had played until after I had completed the game. Unfortunately, the good idea to change up the play style by including Strike Force missions is marred by clunky controls and a nearly incompetent AI make this more of a hassle than a perk. I often found myself skipping the overhead view and going into the perspective of one of the soldiers and just fighting my way through enemies when that was available. This hinders Black Ops II more if you happen to fail any of the missions; you have the option to replay them, but at the cost of some units. If you run out of units you will be unable to complete later missions, ultimately making it all the more painful watching your AI allies rush to their death without being able to control it.
Call of Duty’s multiplayer has always been where players spend the most of their time and Black Ops II will be no different. Like the single player, this mode has gone through many changes. The first, and most notable, is the pick 10 system. You can customize your loadouts based on the number of points you have available. You can skip having a secondary weapon in order to have an extra attachment for your primary, or you can skip having an attachment in order to have an extra alternate grenade. Another difference is that now your perks don’t directly impact your weapons, that is left to your attachments. So no more Sleight of Hand or Steady Aim; you have to use a custom grip and fast mag to get the effects you want. The Wild Cards are where things get interesting in the pick 10 system. Their ability to break the rules of the loadout system makes Black Ops II’s customization even more intricate. Things like extra perks, primary weapons instead of a secondary, and extra attachments are all are fair game with Wild Cards. Like all the other aspects of the pick 10 system, Wild Cards still require points to use them along with another point to use the effect they have (extra attachment for your primary for example). This gives you tons of options, but you often have to sacrifice things to get them. This marks one of the biggest changes to the Call of Duty multiplayer since the original Modern Warfare, and I couldn’t be happier for it.
Black Ops II removes the well known Kill Streaks and replaced them with Score Streaks. This gives players who focus more on the objectives the same chance to earn the wonderful toys that those who get large amounts of kills receive. This takes any points you earn during a life and adds them up, so capturing a base or killing people all go to the same affect. In the Kill Streaks you can use some of the regular options such as UAV’s and turrets or you can use some of the newly implemented items like quads.
After you get set up with the myriad of weapons options it is time to take the action to the playing field, so to speak. What you will find is the same frantic, fast paced multiplayer that people have lined up to play for years. The maps, while very nice to look at, aren’t anything groundbreaking for the series. The dark, brown tinted maps that seem to litter first person shooters lately have been replaced with bright, vibrant ones with tons of details to them. They tend to be slightly on the smaller side which lends itself better to the objective based game modes. For the most part the modes you have to choose from are all still the same with the addition of multi-team. Multi-team pits up to 3 teams of 3 against each other in a mosh pit style playlist.
The addition of League Play to the Black Ops series has you pitted against players of roughly the same caliber in select game modes. You play 5 matches so the game can calibrate where you belong in the rankings and then get paired up with others of about the same skill level. Play well enough and you get moved up a rank, while getting massacred gets you knocked down one. On top of having league matches, you are able to record and edit the matches using software in game allowing you to post videos or screen shots of your favorite moments. YouTube streaming is another feature making its appearance in this mode. Players can link their YouTube accounts and stream matches as they play. Along with streaming comes CoDCasting, which allows players to record matches then with a host of tools commentate on them with the end result being posted to their YouTube channel.
You can’t talk about Black Ops without discussing Zombie Mode. It has been brought back and placed on the multiplayer servers with separate modes and objectives. Survival is exactly what you would expect: see how long you can last against increasingly faster waves of the undead. Grief pits your team versus another on the same map where you fight against waves of zombies and another team where the victor is the last team standing. Then there is Tranzit. Tranzit keeps you on one large map with 5 separate areas all connected by a fully defendable bus. It will take you between areas and drop you off while you fight through waves of zombies and move on to the next area. You go from a bus terminal to a city with several stops in between. While it is primarily just Survival mode, you are able to use parts of the environment from different areas to craft together better strongholds.
The unfortunate side to the Zombies mode is the balance of damage. The zombies can take an entire clip of pistol ammo to the head and keep attacking while you get hit twice and are downed. I shot one in the head with a shotgun from about 2 steps away just to have it stumble backwards a couple steps and resume its attack. This was the case with a rifle and a few other guns making this mode’s difficulty feel artificial. While the Zombie Mode in the first Black Ops wasn’t without its flaws, you at least knew that when you hit the enemy you were actually doing damage. This was my favorite mode in the previous Black Ops, but this iteration left me walking away from every match going “meh, so that happened” before returning to multi or single player.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the strongest entry to the franchise in years. Between the well written story and new features in the campaign to the new loadout system and league play in multiplayer, this is the new entry that fans of the series have been asking for. Although the Zombies mode is disappointing, the game is a breath of fresh air in a series where repetition was beginning to make the franchise stagnant.
Editor’s note: A copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops II was provided by Activision.