Call of Duty: Black Ops II is not the revelation we’ve been waiting for, but it makes bold new changes to a very stale formula, including mission goals that affect the overall game, real-time strategy levels, customisable loadouts before each mission and the slickest multiplayer of 2012. Lock and load.
I need to speak about the story first, because it’s incredible. While it may dive into torture porn in some places to hammer the point home, it’s still leagues above the flag-waving plots of previous titles. Maddeningly, it’s also incredibly hard to get into at the start of the game, thanks to a million pieces of information all vying for importance. Other sites that say the story is convoluted and pointless make me wonder if they played the game to its conclusion. Here’s the gist of it though and just to be clear, here be spoilers.
Alex Mason is dead/missing in action/whatever and his son, David is the new star of the story. Kind of. What the trillions of adverts, pop-ups, McDonalds Happy meals and Black Ops II underwear sets did not let on is that a fair portion of the game is spent in Mason senior’s shoes. From the 80s to 2025, the story crisscrosses between father and son and ends at an extremely satisfying conclusion. There are multiple endings to Black Ops II depending on the choices you make throughout the game, and each one is memorable. Yes, story choices are the same “press A to execute or B to save” method we’ve seen before, but it’s handled with aplomb.
The missions, now with a modicum of choice thanks to the new RTS-lite Strike Force missions (more on this later) are varied and heart-pounding. It must be said though, that Black Ops II has the most quicktime (QTE) events and moments of hand-holding in any Call of Duty title, ever. And I can see why this was done. Black Ops II single-player isn’t a game, it’s a Hollywood spectacle which has already generated more money than an actual big-budget studio film.
Strike while the iron is hot
The graphics engine is pushed into unforeseeable territories. There’s not a single lazy texture or poorly animated soldier, just HD textures and natural movement. Black Ops II is all tight corridors and dirty warzones, with a rock-solid 60Fps keeping the action in check. That doesn’t stop the game from directing us towards sweeping vistas that at least provide the illusion of space. Sometimes though, but not often, Black Ops II opens up and gives us a branching map to explore. Near the end of the game, there’s an assault on a private island that caps off with a breathless fight in a non-linear outdoor garden. For the first time in COD‘s history, I actually navigated a level on my own stead. This idea bleeds into Strike Force missions which while innovative and exciting, are far too easy.
Faces of death
Black Ops II is a decent continuation of the COD multiplayer formula, with little in the way of innovation. It’s a good then, that the multiplayer in COD was already the best of its generation. Instead of lamenting the buttery smooth controls and incredible netcode, let’s highlight the best new updates to Black Ops II multiplayer.
Next, there’s a new set of multiplayer modes which are so engaging and bro-tastic, that it boggles the mind as to its past absence. It’s called Party Mode and it’s a bucket of bloody fun. Modes include Gun Game, One in the Chamber, Sharpshooter, and Sticks and Stones. Of all the modes, Gun Game is the best, and most frustrating of them all. Every kill earns an upgrade to the current weapon. You start with a crappy gun, and work your way up to a sniper rifle or best of all, rail gun. That’s just the beginning of the fun. With well over 50 multiplayer modes, league championships and more, there’s literally months of online killing to accomplish.
What of the humble zombie, overused in both film and video games? Black Ops II brings back the zombies back with Tranzit, a survival game with a story tacked on for good, but mostly bad, measure. Over the course of the missions, players hold back the zombie horde and explore each level for objects needed to advance. Zombie killing is excellent fun, hog-tying an adventure game to it, is not.
Tranzit is a failure then. The game never, not ever tells you what to pickup, or hints at what objects you need to advance. It’s all trial and error, very much like the adventure games of old. At least Monkey Island was funny and entertaining. Why should I be forced to use a walkthrough? This is case of, “People, let’s just copy Left 4 Dead but remove the humour, charm and objectives.”
Call of Duty: Black Ops II comes highly recommended. It’s an actual, innovative COD and this alone makes it worthy of purchase. It’s difficult to get on the negative bandwagon and pick apart Black Ops II, so I won’t. If you love shooters, you’ll die for this. If you don’t, Black Ops II will turn you into a fan.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II reviewed on an Xbox 360