Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops II – a fight for the future

December 29, 2012

Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops II – a fight for the futureThere is no other franchise bigger than the Call of Duty series on the home consoles. However, with Infinity Ward not in the same state as it once was, Treyarch has had to step up its game to become the top team to push the Call of Duty franchise. Could Black Ops 2 be the game that puts the studio in the forefront?

Story

While the story behind Call of Duty: Black Ops II is still all over the place, it may have the most cohesive plot yet in the series and one that you can actually understand. Besides suffering from Call of Duty’s usual over the top cheesiness, the story is actually quite good with much credit to David S. Goyer, writer of The Dark Knight films and upcoming Man of Steel.

When Treyarch said that Black Ops 2 is unlike anything else that preceded it, they weren’t kidding. The game offers branching storylines, multiple endings, RTS-like gameplay elements and robot mechs as it takes place in 2025.

The main hook for Black Ops 2 is a dual timeline concept, where part of the campaign will take place in 2025 and parts of it will be in the late 1980s. The story that takes place in the past is recounted as flashbacks by an elderly Frank Woods, who was also in the first Black Ops game.

blops2_2

David Mason, son of Alex Mason (also from the first game) is on a manhunt to track down the international terrorist, Raul Menendez leading him to Frank Woods. There is definitely much more emotion involved in Black Ops 2 as the first flashback shows a strained relationship between David and his father Alex. The flashbacks take place shortly after the events of the first Black Ops game as some interesting revelations are made about Woods.

After the events of the first game, Alex is now retired but then is brought back out on a mission to rescue Frank Woods. This creates some tension between him and his son David, who is around seven at that time and doesn’t want to see his dad leave him again. Alex tells David that “Uncle Frank” would do the same for him.

Things escalate and ultimately it is brought to light that Menendez was behind everything that happened to Frank. The story comes full circle three decades later in 2025, when David is on the hunt for Menendez, just like his father was.

Treyarch throws some interesting curve balls with the story as the game lets you take control of the villain, Menendez, allowing you to make decisions that will impact the outcome of the story. Without spoiling too much, the ending can change depending on the types of decisions you make, Strike Force missions taken and Menendez’s decision.

blops2_3

While the decision system is still rudimentary compared to the likes of a Mass Effect game, it is actually done quite well minus the minor plot holes left at times.

I have to really applaud Treyarch for taking a big risk with the branching storylines and hope to see it continue to be implemented in future Call of Duty games. It does make me wonder if Treyarch plans on porting decisions made in—game over to Black Ops 3 if there is to be a follow up.

Gameplay/Design

In addition to story plot decisions in the game, the studio also introduces Strike Force missions, which is Treyarch’s attempt at mixing RTS elements with a shooter. The missions show an overview of the area, allowing you to command squads or assets to attack certain points on the map. Players can even take direct control of the squad in FPS mode to win the battles.

While this concept is progressive, and a trend we have seen popping up lately, the implementation is really hampered by the unreliable AI of the squads. Almost every time you make an engagement you will have to jump in and take direct control to prevent all of your men from being slaughtered, making for a grindfest. Completing one of these missions is mandatory, the rest of the four are optional. However, you must complete all of the optional Strike Force missions to get the best ending possible.

blops2_4

While the multiplayer modes remain largely the same there are a couple of new modes such as Multi-team, offering 3vs3vs3 matches and Hardpoint, a variation of Domination.

There are notable changes with the multiplayer mode that have to do with the in-game economy. “Kill Streaks” have been shelved for ”Score Streaks,” players who earn points for following mission objectives and supporting their teammates can now earn perks instead of dolling them out to those with the most number of kills.

This is a welcome change as this has been one of COD’s biggest deterrent as it focused so much on Kill/Death ratio and rewarded those with the highest kills. The loadout system has also been revamped and opened up to 10 slots/points allowing players to customize it to their heart’s content. Gamers will not be limited with a specific type of load out like one primary, secondary, several perks and grenades, but can mix things up as they please.

Treyarch is definitely breaking the mold here and adapting elements found in other shooters such as Battlefield 3 and Killzone 3. These changes really open up COD to a wider audience that may be focused less on body counts and more on objectives. blops2_5

The multiplayer mode is still unfortunately hampered by its buggy spawn system that the series have yet to quite work out. Often times you will be spawned right on top of an enemy making you cannon fodder. I have been in matches where the opposing team has hijacked the spawn points turning the map into one big trap. Basically a spawn trap is when several of the opposing team members position themselves in certain locations to force the map to spawn enemies in the same spot over and over again.

Many other shooters implement squad spawning and randomized spawning to avoid these issues.

As promised by Treyarch, Zombie mode has received a substantial update in a good way. In addition to the traditional Survival mode, where you have to survive wave after wave, the studio introduces Grief and Tranzit.

Tranzit, is one of my favorite new modes as it plays out Left 4 Dead-style, where you must clear out various areas by hoping on and off a bus that will stop along its route for you to find goodies. The other new Zombie mode is Grief, which is a 4vs4 match where the goal is to literally give the other team "grief” by sabotaging them so the zombies take them out first. While the concept is novel, it falls short on its execution as the number of ways to really grief the other team is limited.

blops2_6

While most of the improvements made to the multiplayer mode help add to the longevity of the game, the Zombie mode continues to standout for Treyarch. With the amount of content and replayability, the studio could split the Zombie mode off and make this an entirely separate game.

Wrap-up

Its evident that Treyarch took many risks in Call of Duty: Black Ops II by implementing branching storylines, multiple endings, new gameplay modes and revamped the multiplayer economy system. While some things really didn’t work that well such as the Strike Force missions and Grief mode in the multiplayer, change ups to the loadouts, Kill Streaks and Zombie modes are all definite improvements to the series.

Branching storylines is still something new with the Call of Duty franchise and while its implemented well in the game, it ultimately ends up feeling like that only a handful of decisions influence the ending. However, this is definitely something Treyarch should be able to build upon and expand in the next game.

With all of the improvements mentioned above, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is really not more of the same but feels like a different beast in some regards. I would highly recommend fans of the franchise and of the shooter genre to give Call of Duty: Black Ops II a shot.

Score

4.5/5

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25 Responses to “Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops II – a fight for the future”

  1. MAK:

    I just beat this game a few days ago literally. And I have to say, I was really impressed.

    Things were a lot smoother. The graphics were relatively the same, but were better. The story mode was really enjoyable.
    I liked the fact that you can customize your load out for each mission. The challenges for ever mission are a little refreshing and also frustrating for trophy hoarders.

    I haven’t played zombie mode yet, BUT I did notice something worth mentioning…Mike Ferro, are you paying attention?…you can chose to install textures to your hard drive to so you can have a much smoother zombie game when you’re in the 50th round.
    I was honestly very impressed.

    This was definitely the best CoD campaign-wise.
    I also enjoyed the Candy Man actor as the general.

    This game was better (more enjoyable) than Assassins Creed 3, and I hate to say that.

    And Mike…like I keep saying, Infinity Ward is no longer real. Of course Treyarch is going to lead now. Duh.

  2. CaptBirdman:

    Had to do a double take.

    Mak! Hate to say I told you so mate hahaha glad you enjoyed it. I agree with you that Treyarch is now the lead… I thought this was the best CoD ever, and I know that may be a controversial opinion as COD 4 was held to such a high regard, but that’s just my opinion, for whatever it’s worth.

    Now if everyone else can dismount the hate train to just give it a try, I think they’d change their mind too, if only a little bit.

    P.S. Zombies is pretty awesome, for those that didn’t like much in WaW and BlOps 1. I didn’t like it either, but it’s pretty fun now. I’d play with you Mak, but I’m in Vegas now, and don’t have access to my PS3 for a few more days…

  3. ncaissie:

    Hi guys. I’m on vacation in Florida so won’t be posting much.
    I brought my brothers bike so I have the freedom from the wife and kids. LOL
    Happy New Year! If I don’t get on before.

  4. CarlB:

    Careful riding NC… and have a Happy New Year.

  5. CarlB:

    If only they could have put as much quality into Declassified…

    http://www.psvitahub.com/2012/12/247-wall-street-calls-ps-vita-one-of.html

  6. ncaissie:

    Thanks CB always do.

    I’m going to buy COD BO2 when it hits $10-$30.
    Yeah the vita COD just pisses me off. I haven’t tried it yet and don’t plan to without a demo or to borrow it. I’m the only one I know with a vita so borrowing probably won’t happen.

  7. oldschool1987:

    Didn’t even bother completing the campaign. At first it was enjoyable but then I quickly got bored. Seriously, how OTT was the jeep chase bit!? Even Michael Bay would have said it was too much. As for multiplayer? No thanks, BF3 is still king.

    I didn’t want to be known as a hater so I bought the game (as with every single other CoD) and gave it a very fair shot and no, CoD is shit now.

  8. CaptBirdman:

    http://images.wikia.com/ben10/pt/images/4/47/Yao_ming_meme_by_lecatinga-d4kpe13.jpg

  9. oldschool1987:

    Sure Bird, pretend my opinion is worth fuck all but that’s my opinion. I have the game a very fair chance. I bought the game against my better judgement to see if the hype is earned this time and it is 100% not justified. I’ll agree that the story seemed interesting at times but the game is just shit now. I know you have such a hard on for CoD and anyone who thinks negatively of it is instantly a hater (how I’m a hater after buying every single CoD on day one except BO2 is still a mystery. Especially since I was a huge supporter up until MW3).

    Now I will say some positive things, the horse level was pretty cool, I definitely enjoyed that. The weapons were pretty awesome. The story was interesting and well executed from what I saw, until I got bored of the gameplay. The graphics were slightly better, if a little/lot dated.

    Main gripes: Same game once again with a few changes to justify its price (branching story). The graphics are dated (plus above for being slightly better but its still dated looking). The online is dull with not much variety and full if angry butt hurt little kids. Spec Ops mission are terrible. CoD is known for being OTT but this took it to another level! The jeep bit was ridiculous, everything ever explodes! The bit where you play as the twat who’s sister got killed was stupid, he becomes Hulk? Fuck off.

    I swear if they announce Modern Warfare 4 and Black Ops 3 I’ll laugh my fucking head off.

  10. MAK:

    @Bird & @Oldie

    “I swear if they announce Modern Warfare 4 and Black Ops 3 I’ll laugh my fucking head off.”

    Well since we are talking about the next CoD sequel name and Las Vegas…..I’ll double down that they will call it Call of Duty 5.
    (Get it? Black Jack, Black Ops? Ha. Okay I’ll stop)
    I’m sure they will continue with the black ops story, but as for the Modern Warfare series, I’m sure they will make it CoD 5: New Subtitle.

    If not, then oh well. Fuck me.

  11. CarlB:

    @nc,

    At least we still have KZ: Mercenary to look forward to as a good shooter for Vita… TBD next year… and memory card price drops now (at least on Sony’s site):

    http://www.psvitahub.com/2012/12/ps-vita-memory-card-prices-cut.html

    Still about twice as expensive as a standard UHS-1 Class 10 card ( h**p://www.amazon.com/SanDisk-MicroSDHC-Memory-Adapter-SDSDQU-016G-AFFP-A/dp/B009QZH7D8/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1356993429&sr=8-5&keywords=16gb+card ), but at least it’s an improvement.

    h**p://www.eurogamer.net/articles/df-hardware-how-fast-are-vita-memory-cards

  12. Roca.:

    oldschool used to be a one of the biggest COD fans in this side, he gave BF3 a fair chance and his opinion about BF vs COD are very honest.

  13. CarlB:

    I think it’s safe to say that disagreements and differing opinions are fairly common on this site.

    @os,

    So on your personal opinion scale of rating a game 1 (unplayable) to 10 (perfect), where does Declassified for Vita rank, and how much higher is Black Ops II for PS3 in comparison?

  14. CarlB:

    ^no negatives allowed…
    ;)

  15. oldschool1987:

    Declassified is 2/10. Its awful!

    BlOps 2 is a 5/10 at the most. That’s not completely terrible but its no different and has little to no variety and dated graphics. It needs a total overhaul and then I’ll try it again. I won’t hate it for hatings sake. You all know I’m no hater, calling me a hater is grasping lol.

  16. Zoar:

    There is one way you can grief more: You could help the other team. That is, if this game will allow it.

  17. CaptBirdman:

    @Zoar

    Yeah, that’s one way to reach astronomical levels, 8 players vs Zombies (in Grief). Just have to work together.

    @Oldy

    I’ll try to keep my responses succinct.

    “Sure Bird, pretend my opinion is worth fuck all but that’s my opinion”

    I am actually one of the champions of letting those with opinions have them on this site. I enjoy your opinion, even though I disagree with you, so please do not misunderstand the point of that photo. It was just an “OK…” kind of deal. Relax.

    “I know you have such a hard on for CoD and anyone who thinks negatively of it is instantly a hater (how I’m a hater after buying every single CoD on day one except BO2 is still a mystery. Especially since I was a huge supporter up until MW3).”

    Now now… Let’s not say things like hard-on. I am a fan of games that do what they set out to do, and for the most part, Call of Duty does this quite well: sell a lot of games, provide an enjoyable experience that people across the globe can pick up and enjoy, and put it together in a tight package. The series is successful, and it is for a reason. What I’ve gathered in my time on this website, is that if it is popular, you people hate on it. Look that’s fine, and I’m not criticizing anyone, but don’t deny that you people do: the iPhone (or just Apple in general), Xbox 360, Wii, Call of Duty, Avatar, and various other things. It’s awesome to have an opinion, and I support that 100%. But it’s only cool to be contrarian if your name is Christopher Hitchens.

    “Same game once again with a few changes to justify its price (branching story).”

    Now here we get into things that are not opinions, and where I feel compelled to set the record straight. A few changes, really? For a franchise that gets flak for ‘not innovating’ (which is unfair actually), I would assume that even the ‘few’ changes would appease the people that do not like the series for such a reason. However let’s examine the ‘few’ changes BlOps 2 has, shall we?

    -Revamped Zombies mode, with a campaign and 5 areas ON disc (6 if you have the special edition), and Grief mode <– That's 3 changes there

    -Retooled campaign, with branching story line, a (weak) tower defense mode, and multiple endings (a first for any call of duty) <– another 3 changes

    -Completely fresh multiplayer (not in a gameplay sense, but in how it's played now) with the pick 10 system, perks being upgraded or nullified (such as Sleight of Hand), a tighter user interface, music (Ok that's small so I won't really include it, but I liked this bit) and MULTIPLE modes, more than any CoD to date <– That's another 4 changes

    Compare that with games you laud and then we see how irrational you really are Oldschool. How much does God of War change exactly? How about Infamous? Assassin's Creed?

    "CoD is known for being OTT but this took it to another level!"

    It's a game. So what? Uncharted is believable now? The millions of zombie games are now not over the top? I can respect an opinion, as I do yours, but being over the top is kind of a moot point when talking about video games.

    "The bit where you play as the twat who’s sister got killed was stupid, he becomes Hulk? "

    Menedez was something of a Bond villain. Look, if you can suspend belief of other unrealistic things like guns never jamming, or being able to call in an air strike in 5 seconds with no lasers or coloured smoke, then I'm sure you can let that go.

  18. oldschool1987:

    ” It was just an “OK…” kind of deal. Relax.”

    Totally misunderstood the meme, I apologise. My whole response was arsey because of that as well so I’m sorry for that as well.

    “The series is successful, and it is for a reason. What I’ve gathered in my time on this website, is that if it is popular, you people hate on it.”

    Wrong! Been a massive CoD can up until MW3, you know it, I know it, everyone here knows it. I’m also a massive Halo fan which is more popular.

    ” the iPhone (or just Apple in general), Xbox 360, Wii, Call of Duty, Avatar, and various other things”

    - Message sent from my iPhone.
    -Completed Halo 4 on my 360 and loved every second of it. Best Halo yet.
    -Own and at my Wii.
    -Always been CoDs biggest supporter until just over a year ago.
    -Avatar one of my favourite movies of all time.

    Sorry but I’m no hater, please stop using that as your only defense of my opinion. I don’t hate popular things, I hate things that are sold at full price with not much difference. I adore Halo and even I criticised ODST for being a full priced map pack. You keep callig me a hater and I keep proving you wrong dude.

    “-Revamped Zombies mode, with a campaign and 5 areas ON disc (6 if you have the special edition), and Grief mode <– That's 3 changes there"

    Can't disagree here, you may be right. Never played Zombies. Never enjoyed Zombie mode on any Treyarch CoD.

    "-Completely fresh multiplayer"

    Cosmetically, yes. But it's still the same when you get down to it. Compared to BF3 its nothing. Sorry but that's true.

    "How much does God of War change exactly?"

    3 games in about 8 years. GoW3 was different to the previous 2 and a lot bigger in scale. 9 CoD in 9 years and no difference. Apples and oranges.

    "How about Infamous? "

    2 was a big difference from the first.

    "Assassin's Creed?"

    AC2 is HUGELY different from the first. AC3 is hugely different from the 2nd. Brotherhood and Revelations are the same as 2 but it was always considered as an extension of 2 so I agree with you there and I got bored of Revelations. AC3 was massively different once again with a lot more gameplay added to it.

    "It's a game. So what? Uncharted is believable now?"

    Uncharted is based on Indianna Jones and even carries over its supernatural elements. CoD is a military shooter and has to be kept realistic up to a point but BlOps 2 went over that point by a few miles with that jeep mission. Other missions were good, that one was silly.

    "but being over the top is kind of a moot point when talking about video games."

    You do have a point here so I won't argue too much about this, its just the jeep mission was too much. That's all. It didn't seem to fit.

    "Menedez was something of a Bond villain."

    Nah it was just silly. Vaas from Far Cry 3 is a brilliantly portrayed villian. CoD can learn something from that if they want a villian worthy of being called a Bond villian.

  19. CaptBirdman:

    “Totally misunderstood the meme, I apologise. My whole response was arsey because of that as well so I’m sorry for that as well.”

    No need to apologise. I don’t mind explaining things.

    “Sorry but I’m no hater, please stop using that as your only defense of my opinion. ”

    I’m not calling you a hater, as a hater is someone who bashes something without merit. I acknowledge your opinion, as you have explained your reasonings for disliking it; I, however, just disagree with them. When I say hate, I mean just that: you hate the series, as in strong dislike, for whatever reasons.

    “Cosmetically, yes. But it’s still the same when you get down to it. Compared to BF3 its nothing. Sorry but that’s true.”

    Sorry, but that’s an opinion. An opinion, that is in the minority as CoD is ‘something’ to the hundreds of millions of people who buy the games, opposed to the few something-odd million who purchased BF3. Now THAT is true. However, your opinion will not be discounted, even if in the minority.

    “GoW3 was different to the previous 2 and a lot bigger in scale. 9 CoD in 9 years and no difference. Apples and oranges.”

    That’s a nice try. But, nuh uh. You’re obviously talking about core aspects of CoD to have a bullet point under the heading of sameness, but at the same time disregarding the core aspects of GoW to prove a point. Oldy, you know that is disingenuous mate… The core aspects of GoW have NEVER changed: it’s a button masher, concept of revenge is in EVERY SINGLE ONE, quick time events, taking an item or power from a god or enemy and using it.

    That’s in every single GoW, and those are its key core concepts. In this Call of Duty, its core concepts were shaken up, quite literally.

    “(Infamous) 2 was a big difference from the first.”

    No, no it wasn’t. Infamous 2 was nearly the same game, with ice powers and a new location. This is not a bad thing, mind you, but I’m just pointing out that it wasn’t as big of a difference as you claim.

    “AC2 is HUGELY different from the first. AC3 is hugely different from the 2nd. ”

    Sort of agree with the first statement, disagree on the second. Want to know why AC3 is getting average review scores? Reviewer boredom. They all comment that the game is pretty much the same as the others, with a shaky sailing element added on. That’s not my opinion, but what others have said, so take it however you want.

    “Uncharted is based on Indianna Jones and even carries over its supernatural elements. CoD is a military shooter and has to be kept realistic up to a point but BlOps 2 went over that point by a few miles with that jeep mission. Other missions were good, that one was silly.”

    Well, while I have no comment on that mission, per se, I will say that the Call of Duty games produced by Treyarch are also supernatural in nature.

    One word: Zombies. Another word: Magic. Last word: Moon.

    And about the villain, he’s a sympathetic character. Or at least that’s what Treyarch went for, and judging by the reviews, they accomplished their mission. And he was jacked up on drugs and rage; I mean, haven’t you seen movies or heard anecdotes about people on cocaine doing seemingly ‘impossible’ things? It’s just a game, so I can accept that because of that fact.

  20. oldschool1987:

    “I mean just that: you hate the series, as in strong dislike, for whatever reasons.”

    I don’t hate the series, I wouldn’t buy it otherwise. I’m just disapointed in it. The saying “How the mighty have fallen” comes to mind for me. If the game changes and not just minor adjustments then I’ll be a supporter again. Imo the developers think they can sell a full game with minor difference than the last and why can’t they? Because people buy it still, I’m one of those idiots lol.

    I suppose you’re right in a way about GoW but there’s something about it that never feels old, dated of repetative. But then again not did CoD until about 7 games in. If GoW doesn’t change much in 4 more games I will probably get bored of it. 9 games being the same is a bit much.

    “No, no it wasn’t. Infamous 2 was nearly the same game”

    Come back to me when inFamous 9 is out and if it hasn’t changed much with the same engine and gameplay.

    I thought the main gripes with AC3 was the bugs because of all the new gameplay elements added it wasn’t smoothed out for most people? I had little of these problems. AC3 is a BIG difference from AC2.

    “One word: Zombies.”

    Don’t remember Zombies in the campaign? Do they come in near the end or are you just on about the Zombies mode which is entirely seperate from the main single player, which is what I was referring to. When I said unrealistic, I wasnt referring to zombies mode or online but the campaign and you know it. Uncharted is a supernatural, Indianna Jones inspired game. CoD is a military shooter, sure the story is a bit more extreme than real life but it still shouldn’t be too OTT. The first BlOps never had this problem.

  21. Zoar:

    @CaptBirdman

    You’re mocking me, aren’t you? -Buzz

    What I mean is, in L4D, I heard one way to grief is to become a tank and help the survivors in Versus mode. This will make your infected team get mad at you.

    Maybe in Black Ops 2, you can do the same thing and help the other team win over your own.

  22. CaptBirdman:

    Zoar I was absolutely sincere.

  23. Zoar:

    @CaptBirdman

    Really? Then how is it still griefing? If all 8 players are working together, then…. who is being griefed?

  24. CaptBirdman:

    Well griefing is the point of the mode, but I was just saying that if they work together then they could get extremely high levels.

  25. Zoar:

    @CaptBirdman

    Oh, I see! Good point.

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