Say what you will about the Call of Duty series, but you can’t deny it’s amazing success and popularity. While the Modern Warfare series and concept has stagnated, Treyarch’s Black Ops series has a unique narrative that deserves your attention as well as inventive multiplayer that changes how you play. The most surprising things about Black Ops II is in the periphery while the core gameplay remains the same.
Black Ops II picks up 57 years after the ending of the first game, taking place in 2025 where some bad things are about to happen, and the son of Alex Mason visits Frank Woods in a VA Hospital to get information on a terrorist threat. There’s a great duality in which you take missions between time periods of 2025 (the present) and the 80’s. Being able to see both generations of Masons allow you to gain information and backstory for the game’s villain, Menendez. You can either sympathize with him or grow to hate him as you see him rise to power.
Treyarch has introduced a lot of elements into the story that are things you wouldn’t expect: like real-time strategy and player choice. The real-time strategy is completely underwhelming, in a series of optional missions – you can command AI to secure or protect objectives or jump into the thick of combat yourself. These Strike Force missions are terrible in every way, and not fun. The AI rarely listens to your commands and does little to protect themselves. You’ll have opportunities to try again, but it’s too frustrating. The sad part is that losing these missions alters the ending of the game. Black Ops II also features the ability to choose your loadout before missions. While it’s not quite like the multiplayer, there are many similarities as you can choose weapon attachments, one perk, and unlock new abilities and weapons along the way by completing mission challenges. This allows you to experiment and feel more invested in the story.
For the first time in Call of Duty, is the ability to influence the ending (there are multiple). They are binary choices, but with not so black and white outcomes. Some options will be apparent to you, while others not and you won’t know the reward or consequence of them until the mission is over. Black Ops II has a strong, branching narrative that’s bold and ambitious that slowly unravels as you bounce between time periods. It loses itself along the way, but comes around intelligently and with minimal frustration. It’s been a while where a Call of Duty game feels like a Call of Duty game. The world is under attack, there are larger areas to fight in, you get in many vehicles, and it has a sense of being historic and important all at the same time.
No longer Nazis, but still Zombies. The unexpectedly popular mode returns for the third time. The Survival mode returns, with all-new locations. But Grief and TransZit steal the show. Grief has you and another team either working together or against each other to survive the onslaught of zombies. You can’t kill the other team, but you can slow them down for the zombies to finish off. Sadly, the mode should feel tense but it just comes off as frustrating and annoying. TranZit takes the Survival mode and gets you on the move to upgrade your bus and survive as long as possible. The bus will take you to five different locations, each more difficult than the last. While this mode gets you out of one area to defend. It is more confusing than it has to be, as there’s no context as to what you need to do in order to succeed. I was able to learn by playing and discussing with friends, but it should be a bit more clear from the outset. I really just wish Zombies mode was Spec Ops.
The Call of Duty engine is showing it’s age, but Treyarch impresses with some awesome graphical effects like lens flare blowouts (JJ Abrams style) with high saturation in areas. There’s some great reflections and gun modeling with amazing detail. Explosions look great and the billowing smoke has a good thickness to it. Overall the game has great lighting that makes it look better than any of its predecessors.
Weapon sounds are downright frightening. You know what the historic weapons sound like, but when you get into future missions – they are surprisingly crunchy and impactful sounding. Treyarch also built out a suite of audio options to choose for your experience, I’m torn between “Treyarch Mix” and “Supercrunchy”, but any of them will push your headset or sound system to deliver unprecedented audio.
Having played both the PC and Xbox 360 version, I can say that the PC version is superior in graphics. On PC, you can play with a gamepad, but are likely to get hurt real bad online with those using keyboard and mouse. Though, it’s a lot easier to find a game on Xbox than it is on PC, the player count is much higher and I have more friends playing it on that system. The PC version is stellar with many options to choose, I was able to crank them all up and get over 100fps still. Though, the PS3/360 is no slouch still pushing (mostly) 60fps.
The multiplayer game is still about shooting dudes, completing objectives, earning XP and ranking up while unlocking guns along the way. That’s what you do, but how you do it is different. You still have your 5 preset classes and 5 custom classes that open up to you. Black Ops II now has “Pick 10” where you have ten slots and it’s up to you on how you want to fill it. I built a class called “Stupid” where I have no weapons except grenades and I chose to double-up on perks to where I’m an always-running, knifing machine. I’m all offense with no defense. The pick 10 can be used in proper ways such as letting you carry two primary weapons at the cost of tactical grenades. You get to be really personal in your decisions on what you want in your class builds.
Of course not everything is unlocked, you’ll have challenges to complete, weapon levels that unlock attachments, and ranks to earn. With each rank you’re given an unlock token. You’ll unlock weapons based on rank, but your scorestreaks are locked behind levels and tokens. Scorestreaks take the place of Killstreaks in that you must get a certain number of points to use your abilities. There are no Deathstreaks here either, but with Scorestreaks they require more kills but are more rewarding if you’re an objective player that doesn’t get many kills.
If you buy Black Ops II new, you’ll get Nuketown 2025 as a bonus making the multiplayer maps at launch rest at 14, which is a great number given the amount of modes ranging from Team Deathmatch to Search & Destroy and even MW3’s Kill Confirmed getting a playlist here. Returning from Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3 is the Wager Matches, now known as Party Games which include: Sticks & Stones, One in the Chamber, Sharpshooter, and Gun Game. Now you can play with friends and strangers while still ranking up and having fun.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II vision of the future is scary and not too far off. This makes the Call of Duty series hard to go back to a modern military setting. The success is in the future of the storytelling and the series in general, providing a fresh take on weaponry will make everything feel like new.. There’s a lot to like and little to dislike about Black Ops II. I can sum up Treyarch’s thought process for Black Ops II: choice. Everything you do in the game, whether it’s in Campaign, Zombies, or Multiplayer allows you to make a choice making you feel in control.
A copy of the game on Xbox 360 and PC was provided by Activision for review purposes