The Call of Duty franchise has been around ever since the days of the first person shooter genre’s growing popularity and while it didn’t have the worldwide mainstream fanbase it does now, the release of Call of Duty 4 completely changed that. As the series went on, it followed a pattern of slightly upgrading and adding a few minor new additions, mainly to the multiplayer component for its yearly releases, but with the release of Black Ops II, Treyarch has added deep and interesting upgrades and changes to all aspects of the game that makes this game the most ambitious Call of Duty game to date. Every Call of Duty game has featured a static point A to point B story that, while fun, felt routine. Black Ops II adds much needed variety in the campaign this time around by including, for the first time in the series, a non-linear campaign story with choices that can affect the outcome of the story and everything else leading up to it. The campaign features two main characters: Alex Mason and his son David and jumps between the 1980’s and 2025 between the two as well as special one-time use character levels between both timelines.
Both timelines feature decision choices both apparent and not so apparent that affect the 2025 setting, which makes for some interesting storylines. I was shocked, when talking to a friend of mine who beat the campaign as well, to find out that we had almost completely different campaign experiences. This means that for the first time in a Call of Duty campaign, players will have to play the campaign at least two or three times to see everything the story has to offer. Another nice feature for the campaign includes being able to customize your loadout before each mission similar to the multiplayer loadouts, which is a fun new addition to make things interesting in the campaign. The main antagonist for Black Ops II is Raul Menendez and thankfully contrary to what you may have seen in trailers, he’s not a traditional villain who wants to take over the world. While I can’t go into detail of why Menendez does what he does in Black Ops II due to spoilers, I can say that I was a little disappointed that he seemed similar to previous Modern Warfare villains, but just not focused on taking over the world.
His main reason for doing the things that he does in the game didn’t seemed justified enough even for a crazy villain. Another issue I had with the story of Black Ops II is that in the first 30% of the campaign I felt as if the game was bombarding me with vital information to the story that sometimes threw me off because it was too much at one time. At first I thought it was because maybe I was a little slow, but talking to friends of mine who played the campaign as well felt the same, but thankfully the game’s story becomes more streamlined as it goes on. The last new but flawed addition to the campaign is Strike Force missions, each becoming available depending on what you do in the campaign. These missions are separated, but affect the main story in Black Ops II and incorporate an RTS style mix into its gameplay. The problem is that the RTS elements aren’t great.
The Strike Force mission gave me a slight Mass Effect 3 feeling since if you accomplish them, you get help from other nation’s military forces at certain points in the game, but if you fail them you’ll pretty much be own your own. The Strike Force missions usually last no more than ten minutes and let you use an RTS tactical view of the battlefield to order troops and A.I. machines to attack and move to different locations as well as controlling soldiers and A.I machines at will. This is fine but the problem is that unless you utilize the Strike Force mission’s other feature to control the soldiers or A.I machines yourself, your squadron will die off quick. I also found myself having trouble switching between the soldiers and A.I machine in tight situations and it almost cost me a successful mission. These issues make Strike Force missions somewhat frustrating and makes the RTS tactical view element controls almost useless. If this mode will make its way into a Call of duty campaign again I hope that it can be implemented into more of an FPS/RTS hybrid than how it is now.
While getting into the multiplayer component of Black Ops II, I found many new additions that make for some interesting variation in its tried and true formula. Gone is the basic Create-A-Class system of past Call of Duty games for the new “Pick 10” system that allows you the most diverse customization options in Call of Duty’s multiplayer to date. Don’t use your secondary? Get rid of it. Want more than one grenade? Use a Wildcard (Special perks that allow for things such as an additional perk, additional grenade, and additional gun attachment). Want to run a knife only class or no perk class? By all means do it. The guns in the game that I was able to try out didn’t seem overpowered and I never found myself favoring one single gun.
Fan favorite game modes such as Gun Game and One in The Chamber return, as well as Boot Camp and Combat Training. New game modes also include Hardpoint (Dropzone from MW3), Kill Confirmed from MW3 and finally Multi-Team for 3v3v3 matches on various game modes. One thing that Treyarch has paid attention to going from Black Ops to Black Ops II is that the maps are now livelier and full of color. Some maps had me stopping in my tracks just to see how much detail that went into them, including Plaza and map that takes place on a Beverly Hills house. Treyarch also balances the perks by making Ghost the last available perk to unlock at the level cap of 55 and it only works as long as you keep moving. There is also the added bonus of no deathstreaks.
My only complaint about the multiplayer, and this has plagued Call of Duty games launches since at least Modern Warfare 2, is that the servers were at times bad and it took forever to find a match. The servers at the time of writing this review seem to have gotten better and its rare for me to have trouble finding and getting into matches now, but a problem that’s still occurring for me and various other players are console freezes. Even after two patches I’ve had my console freeze at least six times in matchmaking lobbies since its day one launch and going off of my twitter timeline, people have been reporting over ten console freezes. This problem is more of an issue on PS3 so if you have a 360 you may not have to worry but for those with PS3s, even though Treyarch is working constantly to fix this issue, tread with caution.
New additions include League Play, which is tailor made for people who want to battle against those at their skill level only through placement and division matches with a ladder leaderboard system. A completely new feature for Call of Duty’s multiplayer component found in Black Ops II’s multiplayer is the addition of a livestreaming feature that lets you stream your league play games through Youtube. At the time of testing it out myself I was only able to stream in 360p quality and I don’t have the best kind of internet connection and wasn’t able to get a hold of anyone else who tried the livestream feature so I don’t know if livestreaming is based on the streamer’s internet connection or if you’re only allow you to stream in 360p.
Last but not least is the addictive zombies mode that Treyarch has drastically fleshed out with a new “story” mode called Tranzit, the fan loved Survival, and a new competitive mode called Grief. Grief mode involves two teams trying to be the last team standing and the way you eliminate other team members makes more sense than what I initially thought it would be. When someone on a team goes down, their teammates will try to help them out, but people on the other team can prevent that person from reviving his teammate by knifing him, not to kill him, but to prevent him from helping his teammate. This may sound annoying and unfair, but if your team is smart and actually acts like a team it won’t be a problem. Tranzit features new characters who come off as Left 4 Dead spoof characters and a giant connected map that you can travel through via a bus, even though you can leave hot situations thanks to the bus, you’re never truly safe in zombies mode as zombies can catch up and board the bus as well.
In my time of playing Tranzit in the huge map that you’re given I was able to find six different map locations total and there are more than that. If Tranzit isn’t your thing, you can do Survival as well on separated maps featured in Tranzit, with each map having its own disadvantages, such as not featuring many wall weapons or perks to help players out, which makes playing Survival more fun than it sounds because of the need of different strategies needed to succeed. If you were never good at zombies or need a quick crash course there is now an easy difficulty and starter round selection in the Custom Games section of zombies, which makes Easter egg hunting or exploring that much more possible.
Another nice addition to zombies mode is a dedicated theatre mode that I’m sure fans will be thankful for. Minus a few shortcomings with the campaign, Call of Duty: Black Ops II met my expectations and then some as a whole. With its non-linear campaign, addictive and upgraded zombies mode, and all of the new additions to the multiplayer component that add some much needed variety, I haven’t been this excited to invest a lot of my time into a Call of Duty game in years.