Another year, another Call of Duty. This time around it’s Tecyarchs turn to give us our dose of rage inducing, profanity filled, first person adrenaline with Black Ops 2. Ever looming in the ominous shadow of Infinity Ward, the developer has pulled out all the stops this year with a host of new features and some similar faces, but has it paid off?
While for most gamers the campaign is not the main pulling power of the franchise, Treyarch have been successful in providing what we expect in a Call of Duty game: over the top action, gunplay and set pieces aplenty. Black Ops 2 puts you in the shoes of David Mason, son the main protagonist Alex from the previous game and a commander of the Navy Seals, as the world is once again on the brink of destruction, Mason must do battle with the terrorist Raul Menendez, while trying to discovered what became of his father with the help of an old friend, Frank Woods.
The single player campaign is split into two story-lines. One follows Alex Mason during the Cold War, as a now elderly Woods retells stories of his youth, the other, set in a not too distant future, follows David and his team of Seals as they try to save the world from inevitable extermination. However, the changes in eras and characters seem to be purely aesthetic and only there to fuel the story, while the weapons are different, you’ll find yourself employing the same strategy time and time again. While it certainly won’t win any Oscars, I found Black Ops 2 to have the easiest to follow plot from a modern Call of Duty game, and it will keep you entertained throughout the 5 – 6 hour long campaign.
In terms of game play, not much has changed in the last 2 years. You’re still moving down tight corridors, hiding behind cover waiting for that bad guy to show his head so you can blow it off with a vast arsenal of weaponry. A nice touch added this year is the ability to customise your load-out before starting a mission, choosing weapons, attachments and even perks with more becoming available as you progress. One mission does try to veer off the rails slightly in offering a vast battlefield in the desert, however, it is only an illusion and you are quickly hurried from one objective to the next with no real freedom. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, I enjoyed the linearity, it helped to keep the story focused. It would seem the whole world has gone open world crazy these days and it was a genuine pleasure seeing Call of Duty stick to their guns.
The newly added Strike Force mission, however, do not help to keep the story focused. A hybrid between normal gameplay and a birds eye strategy element, Strike Force serves as a distraction from the main storyline, however not a welcome one. You can control up to 4 squads at any one time, instructing them from an overhead view, and then immediately jump into the action by selecting a single unit and directly controlling it in first person. Strike Forces main downfall is in the controls. like many RTS games, they are just too fiddly and cumbersome. With too much happening on the screen at once you often feel as though you are battling the controller as much as you are the enemy, expect to encounter cheap deaths as you cannot keep up. All too often, I found it less work to tackle the entire mission from a first person perspective and use one lone solider to complete the level. These side missions are entirely optional, and follow an ever-so-slightly related storyline but it’s so dull that by the end you won’t have remember what you were doing or why you were doing it.
It must be said though, the game is an absolute delight to look at. This is my favourite period in a consoles lifeline, when it’s approaching it’s end as we get to see it pushed to the limit, and Black Ops 2 does exactly that. Environments and character models are remarkably detailed, lighting effects are great and the cut scenes are especially noteworthy. The game is also a treat on the ears, apart from the usual rock music mixed with some of the best sound effects in gaming, Black Ops 2 has really raised the bar on voice acting with actors such as Sam Worthington, Michael Rooker and Tony Todd here giving stellar performances and really bringing life to their respective characters.
Multiplayer is back and as strong as ever, Treyarch have taken the ever popular “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach” and the majority of what you see you will have seen before. There is a slightly different method of unlocking new weapons and perks, using unlock tokens, but it feels much like the last instalment and has yet become restrictive in what I can unlock. Killstreaks have now become Scorestreaks, with you earning points for everything you do whether it be killing an enemy, capturing a point on the map or destroying enemy equipment. Each reward will be called in once you have a met the point requirement.
One very welcome addition is the inclusion of league play. This sees you playing a total of 5 placement games to be placed in a league, the idea being that the games matchmaking system will place you in games with players at the same skill level. There are 6 leagues in total, and you will be promoted and demoted depending upon your performance. All weapons, perks and Scorestreaks are unlocked from the beginning to give a level playing field, this forces the focus on placing well, progressing in your league and getting promoted. Hopefully this is a sign that Black Ops 2 is wanting to be taken seriously as an e-sport.
Zombies has undergone somewhat of an overhaul, I can hear the screams of many a gamer already. Don’t worry, you will still be up until the early hours of the morning mowing down wave after wave of the undead. Tranzit is a new mode, similar to previous instalments of Zombies, in which a group of 4 players survive for as long as they can, while obtaining and upgrading new weapons. The catch? You get to ride in a bus! No, seriously, that’s it. The map is divided into 5 sections, which are traversed via a bus that runs on a constant loop. Miss the bus, and you’ll be stranded in that area for a good 10 minutes before the next comes. This can cause all sorts of mayhem to the point of hilarity, usually when players get left behind or decide to go on a bus ride by themselves. My only gripe with this new mode is that there is only one map that ships with the game, and while it is large, it still feels somewhat lacking. Activision, the money cows that they are, will undoubtedly release DLC to expand on this, and we will all buy it as usual, but I’m wondering if by that point will it have worn a little thin?
Treyarch have done exactly what is expected of them, no more and no less. They have delivered a short, over-the-top, fun filled single player campaign coupled with an improved version of the series renowned multiplayer. I found the new style of zombies to be a bit of a let down, here’s to hoping this will be improved in the future with DLC. League play makes me very excited and I look forward to see how it pans out, will it take precedence in multiplayer? Or be shunned into the dark by those who like to prestige 20 times? Probably. Overall, many of the improvements and new features are welcome and add variety to the game without detracting from the Call of Duty experience. This is both it’s success and downfall. You can’t help but shake the feeling that it’s just a prettier version of the game you played 2 years ago.