As a recent diagram doing the rounds on the internet showed, there’s a cyclical way in which people feel about Call of Duty. From anticipation to ecstasy, through comparison and hatred, all the way back to anticipation in preparation for the latest incarnation from Activision. There’s some truth in this, and rightly so; each stage makes sense, you’ve liked previous games so it’s natural to be excited about the sequel, or you’ve played the predecessor so much that you’ve noticed annoying nuances that frustrate. All-in-all though, Call of Duty is a behemoth, and I’m still a sucker for it.
Black Ops 2 dares to be different however, with additions to your individual experience you shape the story, you mould your multiplayer character, and you create the game modes you get to enjoy. With a plethora of changes, it’s important to explore which ones have worked, and which ones have not.
The campaign mode continues the trend of balls-out Chuck Norris meets Satan action, yet it begins so brashly that I felt as if I’d seen it all before, quite literally. You’ll notice the engine hasn’t aged well aside from the more emotive character animations in the cut-scenes, and with a gameplay mechanic of moving so many yards to an arrow before the next arrow appears before you then have to press X before a door opens before you shoot some baddies…..you know the drill. But get past what appears to be the worst script in entertainment history, and the fact you appear to be Super Human, and there’s actually a story here.
Moving on from Black Ops in no way except for everyone involved, not least the main protagonist David Mason, the son of Alex Mason, the brainwashed nut in the original (you’ll notice no-one seems too concerned about how he tried to kill the president after a brainwashing that saw him basically recreate Fight Club). Anyway, you find yourself in yet another situation where no-one can be trusted. Filmic references to Braveheart, Homeland, Reservoir Dogs and even Naked Gun (though that might just be me) make the action seem relevant, which is quite the achievement as these subtle nods are plot devices that actually make you interested in the story. That’s not to say it’s not ridiculous, in film form this would be straight to BetaMax, but the missions do improve as you become rooted in 2025, rather than the flashback missions.
The antagonist here is Raul Menendez, who might be trying to end the world, or might simply be a bit annoyed about something from his past that ending the world seems the most logical answer to resolving his problem. Either way, he has enough depth about him that you’re never really sure whether he is run by his head or his heart. It works wonderfully well and with maybe a few stronger performances from his sidekicks then the threat of the world ending would seem greater. Whilst it seems odd to discuss the performance of these characters, you really do get a feel for some of them that the blockbuster Call of Duty strives to be warrants such discussion.
Choices crop up along the way, sometimes they’re unknown and sometimes in the form of a question. Kill or don’t kill? There will always be a consequence. Whilst I appreciate this has been introduced in order to arguably immerse you more into the game, it happens at the times of most involvement where a button choice to decide someone’s fate removes you from the story and makes you all-too aware that you’re playing a game. With a number of closing credits dependent on your decisions, be sure to make your decision and not one that you think the game wants- the beauty (and beast) of Call of Duty is the ability to replay sections and missions at the touch of a button so it doesn’t really matter anyway.
And it is in that respect that I think the game struggles, particularly in the opening levels. The mass market appeal of the game has transformed what was intense about Call of Duty 2 and 4 and made it into shooting gallery with no fear for your life. The checkpoints are too close, the enemies too weak, and David Mason is too strong. If you die it’s never too far to travel to get back to where you started and so the intensity is lessened. A major flaw for a game like this.
Nothing sums this up more than an early level on horseback. Ride to point A and the voiceover kicks in to, “hurry up, the soviets are coming” and then gallop to point B and dismount – his all happens in under 30 seconds. By the time I’ve wondered what was the point of that little venture I’m back on the horse blasting helicopters out of the sky with a rocket launcher. Now, the highway code says don’t accelerate past a horse in case you startle it, but riding one firing rocket launchers is perfectly fine, particularly if that horse moves through levitation as it does here. The horse physicals are horrendous, it all happens so quickly and at no point during all this did I ever fear that the helicopters with massive guns might win. At this point my pessimism had peaked.
But like I said, the longer it progresses the more fun it becomes as more gadgets and vehicles become available and the set pieces become larger. BUT…the introduction of a new game mode is one that should have been left alone: throughout the campaign there are a number of missions that fall under the new Strike Force banner. These take the role of a strategy game in which you can look over the battlefield and plan your assault or defence depending on the mission requirements.
The major problem here is that they are rubbish.
The tutorial is essentially pointless and the AI means the best option is to send your men and machines to an area then taking over yourself, lone gunman style. Thankfully these missions don’t need to be completed for the game to progress, although you will lose some story content should you decide against persevering with them.
On a side note, you should be prepared for more violent cut-scenes and sporadic cases of invisible walls. The single player campaign really does have hits and misses, but thanks to Call of Duty’s theory that ‘if you can’t say it in six hours it’s not worth saying’, I’d definitely recommend it. Maybe just take your brain out first.
With the single player campaign being so short, it of course falls to the multiplayer side to offer value for money and Black Ops 2 does just that.
Treyarch have added so many options to multiplayer that not only does it make for a great game here, but it also sets the benchmark for console shooters. I’m aware Battlefield and Halo also have stellar multiplayers, but for different reasons. Whilst you might not like the run and gun aspect of COD, or the lack Master Chiefs, a lot of people play it, and the customisation is the best yet seen in any of those competing games.
Each character has a maximum of ten items with which to arm themselves, and it is up to the individual whether they do that with weapons, attachments or perks. Unlocking wild cards to double up on perks is another option. For me personally this is great as I never use grenades or smoke bombs, so discarding them allows for another gun attachment or another perk. It just feels a lot more personal as you mould your soldier to your specific needs.
Maps-wise this Call of Duty feels like a breath of fresh air following the mess that was Modern Warfare 3. The variety of maps has high and low-lying levels throughout that it all seems reassuringly familiar. The scale of these maps isn’t too large or small either – arguably the baby bear’s porridge of map packs. Of course extended play will no doubt through up issues of camping and re-spawning…probably just in time for the latest map pack to be released.
Multiplayer for me is back to fine form and the amount of options both on an individual level, and in game-creation, make this not viable for trade for quite some time.
Before I forget, there’s a larger Zombies mode with a variety of game modes and customisation, which sadly plays poorly thanks to its manic nature, and for some reason, it has N64 graphics. Although I enjoyed my time playing it with people I knew, the hilarity of the Tranzit mode in which your locale is dependent on whether you managed to catch the bus in time works well, but bullet-proof zombies and a not-so-smooth mechanic definitely make this feature feel like an afterthought. I had to check my TV settings to see if the fog used to hide the landscape was taken straight from Turok 2, and I’m still not sure it wasn’t.
So there it is, another Activision blockbuster that plays like an Activision blockbuster. With highs and lows throughout it definitely feels like this generation is coming to an end. We need not only new engines to run our games, but new gameplay mechanics… Or will a shinier Call of Duty on the next Xbox disguise the fact that we’re basically playing as Chuck Norris shooting ducks at a carnival.
My guess, is that it probably will, and I’ll be there day 1.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is out now.
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This article was first posted on November 21, 2012