Say what you want about Call of Duty, but considering its continued popularity, it’s definitely doing something right. The market-dominating series is now entering its ninth iteration, with Treyarch at the helm once again. Call of Duty: Black Ops II has been said to be the great shift in momentum that fans and gamers across the world have wished for, but did all of Treyarch’s courageous decisions work out as a whole?
Black Ops II’s story takes place in 2025, where Nicaraguan Raul Menendez is setting the world up for a disaster. The campaign switches between 2025 and the 80s, where the relationships surrounding Menendez, Black Ops’ Frank Woods and Alex Mason, and Black Ops II’s protagonist, David Mason, are established. While Woods and the new Mason are under your control the majority of the time, the story focuses more around Menendez and his struggles, making him an incredibly deep and tragic villain.
The story of Menendez is captivating, and it’s helped by the scenarios that put the player in his shoes. However, exactly how he became the worldwide threat he is drowned out by the back-and-forth storyline. The beginning and end of the game show his dominance and popularity, but the game fails to explore or explain what happened to him and Cordis Die between 1989 and 2025.
Even with this flaw, the campaign itself is excellent. It takes the basic Call of Duty formula and adds tweaks that make a huge impact. The first noticeable change is the ability to customize your loadout before each mission, just like you would in multiplayer. During your first playthrough, you’ll unlock more weapons, camos, equipment, and even campaign-exclusive perks to aid you in your journey. The element of choice is also more apparent in Black Ops II than ever, and you’ll want to replay the campaign to see all of the variations in storyline, unlock all of the customizable perks and weapons, and complete all of the difficult and creative challenges that Treyarch offers.
A strategic misfire
Intertwined throughout the traditional campaign are the Strike Force missions. These are missions are meant to provide a more strategic variant to the run and gun gameplay, replacing Mason with a full unit of playable soldiers, drones and turrets. While it was a great attempt to try to and change things up, Strike Force missions do more harm than good for the campaign.
In Strike Force, you begin in Overwatch mode, which serves as a Starcraft-esque map for moving around units. You can then take control of any of the units at any time. Unfortunately, the AI that is supposed to help you make it through each mission is downright horrendous. If you guide a squad of soldiers to defend a point, they will literally sit there as if nothing is happening, making these interludes tedious and frustrating.
A world of new options
The multiplayer in Black Ops II feels like a natural progression for the series. Treyarch have taken many problems, most notably pacing and camping, and introduced a slew of options to counter them.
During my experience, I found the “Pick 10” customization system to value the creative and the extreme. The more I deviated from the traditional Call of Duty loadout formula (primary, secondary, equipment, grenades), the better I seemed to do, mainly because I was putting a particular role on overdrive.
As an example, in a fast-paced environment, you want to be able to dominate at close range without having to switch out your gun. I made a class that utilizes three attachments with the PDW-57, and no secondary. This way, I had a weapon with high ammo capacity and buffs that I could choose from, including hipfire spread, aim-down-sight speed, faster reload, and longer range. The new system makes you approach it more like you would an RPG or strategy game, where dedicating to a role and playstyle becomes more beneficial than being well-rounded.
Putting your skills to the test
League Play is the most interesting addition to the experience as a whole, as it serves as a hub for everyone trying to take the game seriously on a competitive level. In League Play, your performance is evaluated in a set of five placement matches, and then you are placed into a small league inhabited by players of your general skill level. You then compete to see how well you can do within your bracket, which is influenced by your individual stats as well as your performance as a team.
League Play is an outstanding addition to Call of Duty’s multiplayer. All weapons, perks, and attachments are unlocked from the get-go, meaning you are never at a disadvantage. The criticism I might have is that they should’ve taken away killstreaks. Then again, UAVs and the like have become a core part of the game, and there are also more ways to take them down in Black Ops II.
The only problems with the multiplayer in Black Ops II are the same things that have plagued the series (most of all Modern Warfare 3) over the last few years — lag compensation and questionable spawns. Also, some weapons, such as the shotguns, will completely miss their target for no reason, often losing what should be an easy close-quarter encounter. It’s also likely that as soon as you respawn on a map like Shipwrecked that your rival will be a corner away from having his Thanksgiving seconds. These problems ended up killing Modern Warfare 3, and will need to be addressed by Treyarch if they plan on keeping up with Halo 4 over the next year.
Driving for your life
Last but not least, Zombies is back once again. Rather than the ridiculousness that most of the Black Ops Zombies maps aimed for, Tranzit takes players on a road trip that connects a few areas (collectively known as Green Run) into one.
A robot-driven bus carries you around the different sections of Green Run. Throughout each map, different weapons can be collected, different items can be made, and different strategies are constantly needed. Because the bus rotates on a set schedule, you’ll often have to hold out the swarms of enemies within the small individual stops.
The only problem I have with Zombies this time around is that the maps don’t hold up if you aren’t playing in Tranzit mode. They’re small and restricting without the bus connecting them, making them useless to play outside of Tranzit, even with the new competitive Grief mode.
The bottom line
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the culmination of what makes the Call of Duty series unique. Treyarch decided to make their third attempt an all-out assault on a formulaic franchise, keeping many of the things we’ve come to enjoy from the series while introducing new concepts and features that change the experience completely. Not all of these changes turned out terribly well, and the state of multiplayer will still be unknown for a couple more months. However, Black Ops II is easily Treyarch’s best work, and could be a patch or two away from being the best in the massive franchise.
- Release Date: November 13, 2012
- Genre: First-person shooter
- Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U
- Developer: Treyarch
- Publisher: Activision
- ESRB Rating: M
- MSRP: $59.99