There 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.