Not a year goes by without another Call of Duty game hitting the shelves. That much is a fact when it comes to gaming. It’s a constant in our world. No matter what happened the game will live on. This time around it’s Treyarch’s time to take the reigns again and return with Black Ops 2. Is it worth the purchase price? Or can you pick up last years version for pretty much the same game (or the year before, or even the year before?).
If you played Black Ops, you will probably recognize some of the characters right away. The main protagonist is David Mason, the son of Alex Mason from the first game. You’ll actually alternate between father and son back and forth, but the story is still David’s story more or less. You will jump between the 80s and the year 2025 as you try to uncover the terrorist plot by a Raul Menendez who has a score to settle with the Mason family it seems.
The story takes some predictable twists and turns, but ultimately pays off. The villain’s motivations are well fleshed out and for a long while you almost sympathize with him, that is until the game hits the final third and everything gets switched around. The futuristic setting does give the game a bit more leeway to get creative which pays off more often than not. Seeing slight silly nods like the U.S.S. Barack Obama seems a little premature, or seeing the ill-fated General Petraeus as the future Secretary of Defense has already become a quick joke.
From an audio standpoint, the voice work is phenomenal, all of the previous cast returns including Sam Worthington, and some new faces (voices) join the fray. If you’re a Walking Dead fan (which you should be if you’re not) you’ll recognize a familiar presence too. The action also sounds great, explosions rattle and guns sound off with a distinct finality. Even the future weapons sound authentic (although how would we know right).
Visually, CoD has always been strong. Player models are well defined and the interface takes into account some of the future toys you might have to use. While not Crisis or Halo, I did have to pause a few moments to see how much the game had going for it. Everything comes together well, and looks fantastic without as much as a slowdown in the frame rate. It is safe to say that this is the best looking Call of Duty left as both studios continually squeeze the game engine to the very last drop year after year.
Black Ops 2 brings the most to the genre and the franchise since the original Modern Warfare, that is a fact. At some point, you have to pause and realize that hey, running down corridors and shooting won’t change much, so most of these games will remain the same, but Black Ops 2 tries very hard.
The single player campaign has tremendous pacing. You’ll never know what you’re going to be doing from one mission to the next until you get there. There are some vehicle sections, drone sections etc, everything spread out nicely. The game does not dedicate full levels to driving like Warfighter did, and is better of for it. It just uses those sections as a good way to advance the story just a little bit each time.
The level design deserves lots of credit. If you’re used to narrow corridors, you’ll be surprised by some of the areas. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a point A to point B affair, but some environments are open enough for you to experiment with different approaches, something not many FPS allow the player to do. This brings some rewards too. Certain areas through the map can be accessed to grant you extra boosts, weapons or even an occasional drone to bolster your ranks. All of this is seamless and you don’t have to do it, but having the choice to say “yes” or “no” is nice (although I doubt many people say “no”).
The game does present a few other options per missions. A series first, you are now able to customize your load-out before each operation. It doesn’t change that much, but it’s a nice touch, especially if you get comfortable with certain pieces of equipment. The game also offers choice when it comes to the story, there are different endings and even a few segments where you must choose a course of action that may alter aspects of your game in the future. These are nice touch (although some of them are a bit too obvious), especially in the moments where you don’t even realize you have a choice, or you miss a part of the level that can impact parts of the story.
Yes, in the end, it’s mostly an illusion, and there are a few choices that really don’t do that much, but it is a valiant attempt. Black Ops 2 gives the player more freedom than any other FPS. Between them and Halo it is clear that shooter developers are now looking into dynamic level structure and progression when it comes to gameplay, and that is a good sign for the genre.
There is even more variety with a “tactical” aspect of single player. At some points through the campaign you will be offered Strike Force missions. These are optional and will only be available through set periods of the campaign. They will also affect the campaign. You will be given a number of foot soldiers, drones or other unmanned equipment and tasked with an objective. You can use the top-down view to give commands or hop into any soldier or drone at any point.
Unfortunately, although unique, these Strike Force missions are poorly executed. For one, the AI is pretty bad. It is doubtful you will accomplish anything without manually assuming control of a unit at some point. A number of times I’ve ordered commands and saw my soldiers either get mowed down or ignore what I said completely as the enemy overtook the objective. Other times, the enemy spawns just way too fast for the resources you have at hand. In these scenarios you will often get overran through no fault of your own and will have to pray the next set of friendly units is not far behind. When you manually take over a unit however, some missions become way too easy. There is no good balance here and the mode is best avoided at all costs, even if it does have benefits for the campaign. You’ll live. Trust me.
Finally, what is any FPS without a stable multiplayer. Here, Treyarch takes a number of risks yet again. Most of the maps are a lot smaller and more confined than I was used to from previous games. It will never take you more than mere seconds to find where the action is and it does feel frantic and fast paced. There aren’t too many camping spots, and even if you find one, odds are you will have to move pretty quickly. Unfortunately, this also leads to a whole lot of spawn chokes where there were moments where I could barely spawn without being shot at almost immediately.
Gameplay remains the same with a pretty standard progression of leveling up, unlocking perks, kill streaks and weapons. Everything feels like Call of Duty should. Of course, the access to future weapons makes the game that much more intriguing and some attachments, like the scope that lets you see through walls are a whole lot more useful than others. There is a standard, overwhelming array of match modes for every kind of player here as well.
The biggest change comes in the class system. Treyarch has switched things around yet again to introduce what they call a pick 10 system. Here, you’re truly in control of how you want to play. What a few extra attachments on a weapon? Sure, go ahead. Want a fourth perk to make things a bit more interesting? Just give up your secondary weapon and get that. The twist is that you can customize any class with up to 10 options when it comes to attachments, perks, grenades and other equipment, but once you reach that, that’s it.
Zombie mode returns, but if you weren’t a fan of this in the previous games, don’t expect this one to convert you. The scenarios are pretty much the same and for me, it got stale really quick. Then again, I know plenty of people who’ve wasted entire weekends trying to get as far as possible in each mode. So I guess it has it’s appeals.
Verdict: In the land of Call of Duty, things barely change. This time, it’s safe to say that Black Ops 2 is the most different CoD since the original Modern Warfare came out in 2007. Sure, the campaign is short, but it is dynamic and engaging enough to see through to the end. And it’s not afraid to slowly try out new things and concepts. The multiplayer is still just as fun, easily accessible to old and new players. Black Ops 2 takes a lot of risks, many of which pay off. Sure, some of them, such as Strike Force missions feel out of place and underdeveloped, but they are optional and you can easily avoid them. If nothing else, Black Ops 2 proves that the Call of Duty franchise still has some room to grow, however small that room may be.