Call of Duty is one of the best selling franchises of all time. You can say what you will about it, but the sales numbers speak for themselves. With storylines that manage to keep you entertained and feel like a part of the action, and multiplayer that gives constant rewards and never seems to end, there is always something to do in a Call of Duty title. With the yearly installments however, the franchise has come under more scrutiny for not having enough innovation or added content year to year. It is time to take a look at Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 to see if it can still wow us and live up to the standards that gamers have come accustomed to over the years.
Review Sample Provided by: Activision
Developed By: Treyarch
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC (Review Sample)
Genre: First-person shooter
Release Date: November 13th, 2012 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) November 18th and 30th (Wii U)
Written By: Brennon
Screenshots By: Brennon
The story in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 follows two separate, but connected storylines of the main character from the first Black Ops and his son, who choses to follow in his father’s footsteps. The storyline following Alex Mason (Protagonist from Black Ops) is based in the 1970’s and 1980’s. After being retired, the elder Mason goes back into duty to save his old friend Frank Woods. His reenlistment causes resentment to grow in his son David because it is breaking a promise that was made to never go back. Alex’s storyline is focused heavily around the story’s main bad guy, Raul Menendez, a Nicaraguan terrorist and gives you a good idea of who Menendez is and what he stands for. David Mason’s storyline is based in 2025 while the United States and China are in the midst of a second Cold War. David’s storyline is based on tracking down Raul Menendez who resurfaced after many years as the head of the “Cordis Die”, something like a more violent version of the “99 Percenters” that we have experienced here recently in the United States.
The gameplay is probably some of my favorite so far in the Call of Duty franchise. While I find most first person shooters to be somewhat repetitive and they all seem to be the same, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 manages to stand up above the rest. Both storylines have unique quirks about them that make the interesting and kept me playing. Both storylines use modern day weaponry, but they are utilized in very different ways which makes it exciting. In the Alex Mason storyline, you use Molotov cocktails, mortar shells which you bang against your hand and throw, and using melee weapons like machetes and axes. You even get to play as Menendez for a brief bit, who seems to go into a “Hulk like” rage whenever his sister is in danger. You use machete and machine gun to run down enemy after enemy shrugging off bullets as if they are air soft pellets.
David Mason’s story is a bit more modern and you get to use some newer and cooler technology. You and your partner swing across mountains using Nano gloves, you glide through the sky using a wing suit, and you get to use weapons which mark enemies so that they are easily distinguished. Also, most of the weaponry is more advanced. There are EMP grenades, cloaking devices, melee weapons that paralyze (or kill) enemies with a shock, and you even get to fire rockets from the back of horseback. Okay, the last one isn’t the greatest display of use of futuristic technology, but it is still one of the coolest parts about the game!
One new addition to the game is something known as strike force missions. In the new strike force missions, you are set in control of an entire team of units. Before each strike force mission you will be briefed on what the mission is and how it is supposed to play out. The strike force missions are the only ones that brief you on what the objectives are. All of the other missions in the game seem to just drop you in with some story and let you wing it. After a brief tutorial on how to control your squad and take control of specific units, you are dropped into your first strike force mission. Unlike regular missions, these are permanent. If you fail a strike force mission, you do not get to replay it; your success or failure will change the outcome of the storyline and its characters and can lead to many branching different paths and endings. Each mission is also only available for a short amount of time, I have yet to choose not to participate in one, but I am assuming if you do it counts as if you had failed that mission. In addition to the unique mission aspect, there are very many cool toys to play with in strike force missions. You get to take control of UAV’s, jets, and a couple of different robotic unmanned ground vehicles.
Multiplayer has been the bread and butter of the Call of Duty series for a very long time now. Each year things get changed and added to make it a little different than the previous year, but nothing major has changed in two or three installments of the series. That is until now; this year Treyarch has done a great job with multiplayer in my opinion adjusting how things work to make the game a more enjoyable experience for everyone. The first and most major overhaul is probably the kill streaks, they are gone. They are now called score streaks and point based rather than kill based. This is a very welcome change in my opinion, because in past years Call of Duty games have been a “Run and Gun” every man for himself type of game. The change to a point based streak system helps refocus the multiplayer on team play and fighting for the objectives in certain game types. No longer is it acceptable to go and do your own thing, because your team will rack up streak rewards quicker while working together and going for the objectives rather than playing every game as a slayer match.
The character load out has also been adjusted. Now each load out can have a maximum of ten items. These items are weapons, attachments, grenades, perks, and wildcards. With this new system, you can load yourself up on perks and wildcards if you want to, but because of that you won’t be able to have much in the way of weapons or attachments. On the flip side, you can have the best weapon arsenal known to man, but your perks and wildcards will be little to none. This new load out system is a good way to balance multiplayer gameplay in my opinion and it will lead to a lot less unstoppable or unbalanced builds that just bulldoze everyone else in the game.
Treyarch has also implanted a bunch of new game types for fans of the multiplayer. Of course all of the classic hardcore and soft core public game modes have returned, but many additions have been made. There are a few new game modes such as party play, which has a few fun game types to mess around in whenever you are looking for something different. My personal favorite is called “One in the Chamber”, where players are spawned with a pistol and one bullet. Shots are one hit kills, and each kill rewards you with a new bullet in your gun. Each player has three lives and the last person standing wins. Along with this game mode there is also a gun game that counter strike fans will surely know of. Another welcome addition is multi-team play which allows for three teams of three players each to spawn in and go at it in a free for all of objective and slayer based gameplay. One last note is that there is a ranked game system. You can either load in as a team or a single player, and must first play five placement matches before you can start working on the ranked game ladder. It is important to note however that these game types seemed relatively empty as of now, I don’t know if this is because players are enjoying the public games and all of the different game modes it has to offer, or perhaps they are unaware that the ranked games are even an option. Doubtless the community who enjoy ranked games will grow as the game gets older and it will be much easier to get into a match.
Also back is everyone’s favorite game mode, Zombies! From the looks of it there are currently three different zombie maps (four if you got the bonus Nuketown zombie map with preorder) but I am sure that there will be more available for additional purchase through DLC. There are also a couple of new game modes with zombies. The first is called “Grief” and this game mode is team based. This mode lets two teams of four either play together or against each other in one of the zombie based maps. At the end of the game only one team will win, and it will be the team with the last man standing, but working together is still encouraged to get better weapons and open up more parts of the map. The second new game type is called “Tranzit”. This game mode puts players on a bus and allows them to travel from zone to zone slaughtering hoards of undead while upgrading the bus and even discovering secret areas to travel to on the map. This mode is probably the best choice for players who want to get a ton of perks and awesome weapons to assist in their dispatching of the walking dead. With all that said, both the maps and the actual gameplay made it seem like this rendition of zombies was kind of an afterthought to the rest of the game, it simply wasn’t on the same level as the storyline or multiplayer portions of the game.
The controls are all fairly basic first person shooter controls. Your WASD keys move you and your mouse aims and fires your weapon. Options like melee are set to V and crouch to C with prone being set to the left control key. All of these keys are completely customizable though, and can be set to whatever your heart desires. On top of the fully customizable key bindings, the game also supports Xbox 360 controllers natively. You plug your controller in and all the keys are already bound for use, you can also set these to be however you want, and can easily restore to defaults if you mess something up. You are even able to switch from keyboard to controller on the fly if you want to use controller for say operating a vehicle and keyboard and mouse for the majority of the first person sequences. The game definitely handles as more of an arcade style game than one based on realism, but I think that is what the Call of Duty franchise is best at, fast paced, heart racing gameplay where nothing is impossible.
The graphics in the game are good, but not great. It surely looks good enough to envelope you in the world around you and make you feel a part of the action. The explosions especially do a great job of keeping you on your toes and making it feel as if you are legitimately in danger. I had a minor issue with the constant red screen that you get when you are dying, but this is less the fault of the game itself and more the fault of the direction that first person shooters have been headed. The other issue I had is that the game was not stunning. It simply does not compare side by side to other modern day games. Even with the game on maximum settings, I was still getting 60 frames per second at almost all times, which is saying something for my PC. I don’t know if the lack of beauty is because it was developed as a console game first and ported over, or because they were aiming at allowing a wider audience of PC gamers to enjoy the most of what it had to offer. I don’t mean to say that it wasn’t enjoyable, because it was and the graphics certainly didn’t make it feel like a bad game, It just felt like it could have had much more to offer in a visual sense.
The audible sounds in games are something that is oftentimes overlooked or perhaps an afterthought in some modern games. Normally musical scores are bland and voice acting is somewhat cheesy. Black Ops 2 managed to bring an awesome display of both to the game and it was possibly one of my favorite parts. The music and sound that surrounds you in battle makes the game intense and emotional at the proper times and never seems to get old. The only time I found myself wanting to hear something else was on the menu, but only when I had spent way more time than I should have starting at my options or game modes. My favorite part of Black Ops 2 was hearing one of the characters talk, and thinking to myself, “Hey, that’s Merle from The Walking Dead”. Sure enough after a bit of research I found that it was indeed Michael Rooker, and he wasn’t the only one. The game also features Sam Worthington, from Avatar and Clash of the Titans, and Tony Todd from Candyman. It wasn’t just the known voice actors who made the game enjoyable either, there honestly wasn’t a single point where I thought the voice acting was cheesy or bad, which is saying a lot coming from myself.
Above is the character Harper who is voiced by Michael Rooker, and below is Alex Mason voiced by Sam Worthington.
Overall and Final Verdict
Overall I think that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a great shooter and will be enjoyed by many. I was honestly a skeptic coming into it, too many times have I shelled out the $60 for a Call of Duty title and been let down by how little they changed, or how changes they made to the game affected it in a negative way. This year they have actually managed to make me a believer again. The dual line story that manages to give a taste of different characters and weapons, and the strike force missions are completely new and exciting and affect the story dynamically with alternate endings and changing plotlines based on the outcome. The overhaul to both the weapon load outs and the new score streaks has made the multiplayer more objective and team based and less about running and gunning as a one man army, and that is a welcome change in my eyes. The new game modes, including the new fun party games are all welcome additions, and the ranked portion of the game has potential to grow and make Black Ops 2 a force to be reckoned with in the competitive scene. The zombies mode was fun enough, but seemed like kind of an afterthought, and the graphics were leagues away from what can be done with modern day technology, but the audio was amazing and the voice acting really made me enjoy the single player campaign. I would say to skeptics and returning fans, Black Ops 2 is definitely worth your attention and a definite step in the right direction for the franchise. I certainly can’t wait to see what the next release brings to the table.