Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review
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A new height for storytelling in Call of Duty games paired with a remodeled multiplayer component that is as addictive and rewarding as ever makes for really attractive package, despite its shortcomings.
- New height for storytelling in Call of Duty games
- Multiplayer has aged with us, remodeling an addictive competitive online component to prioritize customization
- There's quite a bit of game here, and something for everyone
- Strike Force missions bog down a surprisingly good Single-Player campaign
- PS3 version doesn't run as well as its Xbox 360 counterpart
- We miss Spec Ops
It’s that time of year again. Call of Duty is back to dominate sales charts and our free time. With its evolution of campaign, multiplayer, and zombies, this one sets itself apart as the biggest jump the series has seen since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. While anyone who’s played a Call of Duty game or two should already know what to expect, Treyarch has worked hard on making this unification of three separate modes feel bigger and better than ever; the single-player campaign has evolved very nicely, multiplayer has once again been refined even further and zombies has been expanded upon, even if ever so slightly.
Single-player Campaign mode in Call of Duty games are usually seen as a hit by some and a miss by others. Some people love the 6-hour rollercoaster ride of the Modern Warfare titles, but others find it to be too “over the top” at times. Things got predictable—helicopters would explode left and right, player-controlled characters would die unexpectedly, and you performed a breach more times than you could count. However, one of the most critically-acclaimed facets of the first Black Ops was its deeper take on story mode. I’m pleased to say that Treyarch has realized things got a little too wild lately, and toned down the explosiveness accordingly while improving the campaign in many ways.
The game certainly still is action-packed, but you’ll notice after a few hours that you haven’t played through nearly as many “turned-to-eleven” moments as you have in CoD games prior to this one. Instead, the focus has largely been set on making the story more emotional, (ever so slightly) realistic, and, honestly, pretty damn interesting.
Upon initially booting the game, you’ll be greeted with the story mode’s intro cut-scene—a gritty video showcasing some graphic content, introducing the villain, Menendez, and a little bit of his backstory. All the while throughout this video you’re presented with just as much dramatic slow-motion as possible and an extremely melodramatic song that immediately sets the tone of this story apart from all previous Call of Duty titles. Treyarch had the right idea here: tone things down a bit, continue the original Black Ops’ story, but do so in a way that engages the player and tries to avoid the fatigue of yet another Call of Duty campaign. Black Ops II tells the story of Call of Duty’s most likable and interesting villain ever, Raul Menendez. His story is ridiculous and his rise to power is almost unbelievable, but he’s just the right blend of insane and suave.
Menendez stands out as the most interesting character in the game by far, followed by returning protagonist Frank Woods, now an old man, who guides you through most of the campaign by recounting his glory days and traumatic life events by telling his story. No other characters ever pop up as much as these two did since most are very one-dimensional and uninteresting, including David Mason, whom you play as for the majority of the game. However, by making players jump back and forth in time from mission to mission, Treyarch manages to cleverly keep good pacing throughout the story, usually hinging on the futuristic levels to deliver the awe of new technology and epic moments.
All in all, the story mode is way less “Michael Bay” and way more “Martin Scorsese”—that’s one of the biggest compliments I have for the campaign. This is a great direction for the Call of Duty series, one that should be rewarded for finally breaking the mold of stagnant, soon-to-be boring campaigns.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s new in the Single-Player Campaign by talking about story tone. Black Ops II features totally new mission types by introducing the Strike Force Missions—that are essentially Real-Time Strategy in genre—as well as branching storylines. That’s right: depending on how you complete each mission, which side-objectives you choose to go after and what decisions you make at key moments, you’ll be awarded one of many different story paths and endings—a first for the Call of Duty franchise.
I found myself caring about how I handled each mission way more than I ever have in a Call of Duty game. That, paired with the fact that you can now choose your loadout and special perks before a mission, make each level ... (continued on next page)