Call of Duty returns for another annual installment in the franchise. This time around CoD is back in black for another bout of covert ops in war torn republics in Black Ops II. Treyarch bring a host of new additions to the franchise in an attempt to mix things up a little. The result is a huge game with plenty of bang for your buck, but does Black Ops II do enough to separate itself from previous CoD games?
To answer the question above; yes indeed, Black Ops II goes above and beyond the call of duty and delivers us the best CoD experience since the original Modern Warfare. An exciting campaign with plenty of new features, combined with changes to the multiplayer, and the biggest zombies mode to date make Black Ops 2 the biggest CoD yet.
The campaign is set in the year 2025 and follows David Mason (son of original Black Ops protagonist; Alex Mason) and his squad as they hunt down the international terrorist Raul Menendez. This does sound like your typical CoD premise, but the story is well written with a lot of believable and likeable characters. About a third of the campaign takes place in the 1980’s, during the cold war, in the form of flashback missions as David Mason interviews Sgt Frank Woods about his father’s death and Menendez’ rise to power. The game handles the time jumping without jumbling the plot and the flashbacks provide a good backstory to the main narrative as well as insight into the motivations of Menendez, making him one of the best established CoD villains to date.
Throughout the campaign are all the things we’ve come to expect from the franchise. There are big, explosive set pieces, plenty of corridor shootouts and big sprawling battlefields. Treyarch have however added some new twists to the formula, which go a long way towards making the campaign feel distinct. For the first time in the series there are branching storylines and multiple endings to the campaign. You’ll be asked to make some decisions at key points in the story that invested players will find to be genuinely tough, and your choices will affect how the rest of the game unfolds. There are also a heap of things the game lets you do to break up the familiar action. In one mission you are riding horses in Afghanistan, you’ll drive a car on more than one occasion, you’ll penetrate enemy lines using winged glide suits, and navigate your way through a ventilation system using a small remote-controlled spider-like robot to name a few things. There’s plenty of variety, and the new strike force missions show that the developers really were going for a new CoD experience.
Strike force missions add a bit of RTS spice to the campaign as you are tasked with commanding squads from a top-down perspective. There are five missions in total that become available as you progress through the campaign, and whether you succeed or fail will further impact the final outcome of the game. Each mission has you fighting for different objectives, giving you an assortment of units to command. However, ordering squads around is not enough, and you’ll need to get your hands dirty. You can take direct control of any friendly unit on the battlefield, be it infantry, turrets, or any of the futuristic drones and war machines at your disposal. While it’s a clever idea to mix conventional CoD action with RTS elements, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The friendly AI units are as good as useless on their own and the game really requires you to take control yourself and get the job done. This renders the over-watch command part half-redundant, basically making it a tool that’s only good for ordering units into position, leaving you to take care of most of the heavy lifting. It’s a bit disappointing that strike force doesn’t realize its full potential, but it shows that Treyarch’s heart is in the right place, and it’s a step in the right direction towards broadening the series’ horizons.
While the campaign offers fans a lot of new things, multiplayer is of course the main attraction for the millions of players that play CoD every day. The competitive multiplayer is as robust and addictive as ever, continuing to build on the elements that the franchise has now cemented into genre standards. You’ll rank up and unlock new weapons, perks, equipment, emblems, calling cards and so much more. The game is constantly rewarding you with xp and such, which is very motivating for those times when you’re not on top of your game. Even if you are doing badly it instills the sense that you are making progress and achieving something.
As for multiplayer modes you’ll get the usual suspects like team deathmatch, free-for-all, ctf, domination, demolition, search & destroy and headquarters. The kill confirmed mode introduced in Modern Warfare 3 finds a home here as well, and there are the usual core and hardcore playlists. New additions include “multi-team”, where three teams of three duke it out in a moshpit of popular modes, and “hardpoint”, which is essentially a king of the hill mode that has teams competing for control over a single hardpoint that relocates every 60 seconds. The incredibly fun game modes from the original Black Ops’ wager matches return in a party games playlist that is just for fun. Since the CoD point currency system has been ditched, these modes don’t count towards your rank progression, but still provide some of the most enjoyable online fun around.
The big change to the CoD multiplayer experience is the reworked create a class system. Instead of your typical load out options of primary & secondary weapons, three perks, and lethal & tactical grenades, Treyarch are introducing the new “pick ten” system. You can create your class completely to your taste filling ten slots with whatever you want. Each weapon, attachment, perk, equipment and so on takes up one slot and you’re free to try out whatever combination. The wildcard feature further allows you to customize to your heart’s content. You can equip up to three wildcards that grant you some options like; filling your secondary weapon slot with another primary, take on a second perk 1, 2 or 3, bring an additional lethal grenade with you into battle and so forth. It’s a clever system that is balanced for the most part and really lets you create loadouts that you feel suit your playstyle.
Zombies are of course back as well and this time around there are a few new ways to play it. Treyarch have added a competitive mode where two teams are competing to see who can hold out the longest. The objective is to fortify your own position while trying to draw the zombie horde’s attention to the opposing team. The new tranzit mode gives the Zombies experience a new twist, with progressing levels that players travel between by bus. The core gameplay remains the same for these new modes as in the traditional survival mode, but they should definitively keep Zombies aficionados busy for some time.
Overall Black Ops 2 looks and sounds good, but the ageing engine is starting to show some wrinkles. It still manages to squeeze out some really cool set pieces, and guns and models look good, but Black Ops 2’s presentation doesn’t bring anything new to the table visually except some improved facial motion capture. The super smooth 60 fps framerate we’ve come to expect from CoD is of course present, and makes it a bit easier to forgive the lack of graphical improvements.
Each gun makes its own distinctive bang and ratatat, and the musical score is the usual mix of epic cinematic military fare and distorted hard-rock guitars with a dash of electronic beats thrown in to underline the futuristic setting. The voice acting hits the mark and helps carry the narrative throughout the campaign.
Treyarch’s latest offering goes a long way of appeasing both long-time fans, as well as those who have been criticizing the CoD series for a lack of new and fresh additions in recent installments. What we end up with is not going to revolutionize the shooter genre by any means, but we do get one of the best Call of Duty’s so far. Few other shooters come packed with as much content on a single disc as Black Ops 2. Veterans to the series will appreciate the new additions, and if you’ve never been into Call of Duty before; now is the time to answer the call.
We liked well written compaign with expert pacingr, robust multiplayer and "pick ten" system, and loads of content.
We disliked ageing engine and zombies are starting to get a bit stale.