The latest entry in the world’s favorite videogame series.
Another year, another Call of Duty game. It seems to have become a tradition for fans of the series, much like Christmas but with midnight launches instead of early morning present unwrapping and shooting your loved ones instead of buying them gifts. And each year, gamers get hyped about how good the game will be, whilst secretly hoping that it’s not going to be a dud.
But this year’s offering, Black Ops II from developer Treyarch, seems to have managed to pull it out of the bag, letting Activision breathe a sigh of relief for another 12 months or so. There will always be the doubters, those who declare that nothing will ever be as good as the last Call of Duty game. Well, let them doubt, and while they are, we get to sit back and enjoy a campaign that easily rivals most Hollywood blockbuster movies in its scope, a multiplayer mode which will make the hours fly by, and Zombies in what amounts to a surprisingly packed mini game. Who gets the better deal?
The core game across all of the different modes hasn’t really changed, which not everyone will see as a good thing. There are tweaks to the gameplay, and some interesting extra bits added, but the game remains more or less the same as the last few installments, albeit with a new coat of polish. While this entry in the series performs incredibly well, Activision are going to need to pull something substantially new out of the bag before long. But still, we don’t need to dwell on the future of the CoD series right now, especially when we are going to be jumping into the near future in the Black Ops II campaign.
But the near future setting is only half of the story really. The campaign actually has two intertwining storylines, one set in 2025 and the other in the 80s, that both involve the same bad guy, who goes by the name of Menendez. The story from the past involves Alex Mason, the very same guy from the first Black Ops game, whilst the future story is set around Mason’s son, David. I am not going to spoil the game by revealing the many plot twists that keep the story interesting, there are plenty of places on the net to find them out, but I will let you know that the campaign only clocks in at around seven hours.
That may seem to be a little short, or not given the recent trend in games that focus more on multiplayer options. However, Black Ops II has managed to pull something of a first by offering a branching storyline in which the player will have to make choices at certain times that will affect the outcome of the game. There are apparently six different endings depending on the choices made, so that really is a good reason to go back and play through more than once, making up for the relative shortness.
For the most part, the gameplay involves the standard shooting of bad guys whilst trying not to get shot yourself. There is nothing wrong with that, it is what we expect. That being said, the developers are not afraid to mix things up with some interesting diversionary sequences, such as having the player use some vehicles, including a fighter jet, or controlling a robot spider thing. Not all of these sequences work as well as one would hope, but they provide a nice break from the gunplay.
Interestingly, Treyarch have managed to create a real “Marmite” feeling with the inclusion of the new Strike Force missions. These missions, of which there are a few in the game, take things in a much more strategic direction as the player controls multiple soldiers and other battlefield equipment. The RTS element is certainly something new to the series, and can be entertaining if RTS is your thing and you ignore the slightly iffy AI, but these missions are purely optional. If you do decide to play the missions, the ability to take direct control of any soldier at least means not having to rely on the AI.
Essentially, the campaign is one massive action movie featuring epic set pieces, which look absolutely stunning by the way, and even more epic explosions. There is a Bond style bad guy, guns galore, and even some cool gloves that let you stick to a cliff face. What more could you want from a single player game? What? You want multiplayer as well? Fair enough…
The biggest reason for most gamers to pick up the new Call of Duty game is for the multiplayer. Black Ops II once again doesn’t disappoint. Not a lot has changed mind you, there are a couple of new modes and everything looks a little more polished. I am sure that there have been multiple tweaks behind the scenes, but the less hardcore player will likely not notice them.
The maps, which are all set in the near future setting of the game, are simply amazing. There is a nice variety for different types of games and different players, but all of them are designed incredibly well. Personally, I prefer the smaller maps, and have found that the luxury yacht based map and the train station map fit my style of play perfectly. And there is nothing more entertaining than watching someone standing on the tracks in the station map when a high speed train comes hurtling through.
The new loadout system tries to keep things balanced on the battlefield with the “Pick 10″ model, in which players have more choice over their loadout, but will also have to make sacrifices. 10 is the important factor here, with the player able to choose 10 weapons, attachments, perks, grenades etc.. There are rules to the choosing, but wildcards let you play fast and loose with those rules, allowing for some incredibly specialist loadouts.
The players out there whose only interest is the multiplayer game will find themselves enjoying the new maps, the interesting array of weaponry and the customisation possibilities, while still feeling comfortably familiar with the way the game plays.
Then there is the new, improved, and perhaps a little confusing, Zombie mode. For those out there who have yet to sample this particular little delight, this is essentially a survival mode in which the player, and their friends, must survive wave after wave of Zombies. To help with this, the player will receive cash for killing Zombies or replacing the boards over the windows/doorways after the Zombies have ripped them down. This cash can then be spent on improved weapons or other such Zombie-survival staples from either the perk-dispensing vending machines or the ominous looking chalk outlines found on the walls (A shotgun died here).
The standard survival mode, and the new Grief mode which features competing teams, have the players remaining in one area and fortifying themselves. In both of these modes, the classic Zombies gameplay still works and players will find themselves spending far too much time surviving multiple waves of the risen dead.
However, in the Black Ops II Zombie mode, things are given a bit of a twist with the new Tranzit mode, which has more than one location and the player can travel between them whenever they want by simply hoping onto the robot-controlled bus. The bus will take the player to the next area, whilst Zombies chase frantically along the road and even try to board the bus if the player is not alert.
There is also a story, of sorts. Just don’t ask me what it is all about. I was too busy trying to survive the Zombie onslaught to worry about the various snippets of information that can be found within the areas. There are secrets hidden throughout the different areas, for those of you with an inquisitive mind, but the core gameplay of finding somewhere to fortify and holding out against the waves of Zombies is still the strongest reason to play the game.
The same applies to the multi-part objectives within each area, they are just not as important as trying to survive. These objectives seem obscure when they are announced, and then the player is left to find parts which are not easily spotted amidst the chaos of flailing limbs and gunshots. Even then, once the parts have been found, there is very little indication as to what happens next. It all seemed a bit wasted.
When all of the fluff is stripped away, the Black Ops II Zombie modes are still great co-operative fun. Tranzit has some great ideas, but also some slightly pointless ones. The other two modes are much more classic and, as with previous games’ Zombie modes, will likely manage to eat away at hours of the gamers life.
At the end of the day, Black Ops II is a Call of Duty game and certain things are expected. The campaign is short but offers some new ideas that will keep players coming back for more, The multiplayer offers some great maps and is just as frantic as ever, and Zombie mode has expanded, although I am not sure if the direction it is heading in is the right direction.
Is Black Ops II the best Call of Duty game so far? Well, I’ll let the real hardcore players argue over that one. What I can say though, is that it contains a massive amount of content and doesn’t disappoint at all. There is a reason why the Call of Duty games are so popular – It’s because they are damn good. And BLOPS II is undoubtedly one of the best.