The yearly juggernaut that is Call of Duty has completed another cycle and has yet again landed in store shelves. No matter what I say here, or what other more notable publications may have to say, the game will sell more copies and make more money than your average sovereign nation. With that in mind, it is interesting to see whether or not Activison has chosen to maintain the status quo of what has worked in printing them currency for the past four years, or if originality is finally thrown into the series in any form. Surprisingly, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 does try some new things, with varying degrees of success.
Published by: Activision
Genre: Military First Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U
What works: Addictive multiplayer | Replayability in campaign mode | Best gunplay in the market
What doesn’t work: Lame Strike Force missions | Confusing TranZit mode
To quell the worries of millions of frat boys and thirteen year old Xbox Live trolls, the multiplayer has remained mostly untouched. The game modes you have grown to know and love are all unchanged, the new weapons feel balanced, and the future setting helps in bringing in some cool new toys to mess around with. There is a new league mode that will leave competitive types salivating, ranking you by skill level and promoting players who stand out. Major changes have come in the shape of scorestreaks and the Pick 10 system. Scorestreaks are here to replace the innovative killstreaks of yore, with game changing unlocks becoming available depending on the score you rack up before you die. A UAV will still cost around 3 kills, so no worries there, but this does give players in specific game modes, say a flag carrier, the ability to wreak havoc without piling up a kill count. There are about two dozen streaks to unlock and they are all satisfying to use. From the clever escort drone, to the brutal Lodestar, you will be changing your strategies to play in the most score efficient way.
The Pick 10 system is an interesting new way of approaching load outs. You can now choose from ten unique items to bring with you to battle. If you want to have a class with a fully supped up main weapon and no side arm, go ahead. Rack up on wild cards and give yourself all of the perks but only carry a factory stock weapon, go nuts. This level of customization lets very particular players enjoy the game just as much as the guy who takes every new weapon he gets to battle.
All of the maps are expertly designed, with prime choke points, sniper nests and wide open areas in all of them. They aren’t as ripped from the main story as previous entries, but the variety in types and locations makes up for this. However, Activision recently announced that the beloved Nuketown will only be playable on special occasions, leaving what is arguably one of the best maps in multiplayer gaming out of the equation for most of the year. Another sad omission is the addictive Wager Matches from the original Black Ops. While gun games and kill confirmed are welcomed back, one of the more interesting aspects of Call of Duty multiplayer has been scrapped.
While the multiplayer remains mostly untouched, the single player story has received a notable upgrade. Taking place in 2025, it is split between the end of Alex Mason’s military career and his son’s battle for good in the near future. The game embraces this setting pretty well, but while the technology being used is believable, it is somewhat farfetched that it will be in use in about ten years. In the end, the story is a standard level sci-fi military action schlock that entertains movie audiences every summer. Nonetheless, there are hints of brilliance in there at times, especially when it comes to the main bad guy. He was one trait short of making the short list for greatest antagonists of all time, yet, poor scripting demotes him to just another crazy loon. Frankly, poor scripting is the cause for a lot of problems in the campaign, with little annoyances like Cubans speaking Portuguese at times burning a hole in my brain. The story has not received the same attention as the multiplayer, and it is understandable considering where the moneymaker is at.
What makes this campaign mode stand out from others in the series is the multiple endings depending on what choices you make. There are about four possible finales and they all depend on a couple of key choices you make in the main mission. Some of these are obvious, like shooting someone or not, while others require you to find a secret object in a particular mission. None of these choices explicitly tell you that they will affect the end, ensuring completionists to play through the whole thing multiple times. The story is still a roller coaster of scripted events, but these binary choices do add some level of variety to the outdated formula.
Another new addition to the single player story is the Strike Force Missions. These optional segments place you in charge of a group of units with objectives to hold or capture certain areas in a designated amount of time. You can also jump into any unit on the map and control it directly at any time. Unfortunately, the missions lack that beautiful organized action that has given Call of Duty its name sake. Often times units will not react properly and you just end up giving massive orders to huge groups of units, rather than forming any sort of tactics. The segments aren’t very fun and in the end you are better off skipping them.
Being a Treyarch production, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 harkens the much awaited return of Zombies mode. This time, however, there is a new mode called TranZit that attempts to bring a story to the chaos. What’s baffling though is that starting the game mode up gives no instruction on what to do or how to do it. You ride a bus to different areas and collect parts to build something, but this is something I learned after looking for instructions online. Maybe it is a way to add to the confusion of an actual zombie apocalypse, but I was more frustrated than anything. Survival mode is still a hell of a good time, and the new Grief mode that pits groups of player together to fight for the most points changes things up in a good way. Sadly, the confusion of TranZit left a sour taste in my mouth.
Blast Factor: In the end, Black Ops 2 is another Call of Duty game. One can hate it for being the same thing every year, but the fact is that what it does, it does to near perfection. The gunplay is tight and fluid, the multiplayer is some of the best around and the campaign can fit right in with any major Hollywood blockbuster. It is not the best game in the series, and the variety added is too little too late, but it is not enough to detract this into “bad game” territory. Considering the piss poor showing by Medal of Honor this year, there is only one choice when it comes time to fill that military shooting need, and it is a pretty good one.