It seems like there’s a prevalent attitude within the gaming community that because the Call of Duty games are pretty much annual and very mainstream, that they can’t possibly be good.
They are just part of a perceived shift towards homogenized, bland games. I completely disagree.
Call of Duty games have always presented high quality, well written and, above all, entertaining games, and Black Ops 2 is no exception.
In somewhat of a curveball for fans of the original, Black Ops 2 actually takes places in 2025, a bit of a contrast from the Cold War days of the first game. However, it’s not completely alien, as the plot takes places across a series of flashbacks, as you end up jumping between Alex Mason, the original protagonist, and his adventures in 1986 and his son David, who operates a very sleek team of highly trained soldiers aboard the USS Barack Obama in 2025.
This stark change in setting makes Black Ops 2 feel like the logical folding in of the slicker elements from Modern Warfare series, and could be written off as gimmicky, if not for the way in which the plot is held together – through the central villain, Raoul Mendendez, who enacts a global scheme of politically induced anarchy over the course of almost forty years.
Whereas the original Black Ops followed a very easy path of establishing Russians as the bad guys during the Cold War, Black Ops 2 takes some great risks with the villain, establishing him as a charismatic (and incredibly sadistic) leader, developing an almost cult-like following with his ‘Cordis Die’ movement, which disguises his very personal quest for revenge as a worldwide rebellion against financial inequality, feeling a bit like the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Menendez is a truly fantastic villain and plays brilliantly into the failing of the ‘America to the rescue’ mindset that FPS games so often fall back on.
A number of key decisions – some of them incredibly dark – mean that Black Ops 2 plot is the most thematically large of any Call of Duty game I’ve ever experienced.
When you then factor in that the story covers about 40 years worth of anger, war and emotional turmoil, there’s a lot of ground to cover. The story itself is excellent, but at times the way the story is told is weakened due to the fact Treyarch seem to be trying to achieve too much.
Revelations within the plot sometimes feel awkwardly shoe-horned in, as if someone’s gone ‘We need to get that information out of the way, better do that now, somehow’.
The pay off is well worth it though, and Black Ops 2 will leave you feeling satisfied for the most part, regardless of what ending you end up with. One particular choice in the center of the plot really hits home emotionally, and left me feeling uncomfortable for hours afterwards. I won’t ruin it, but you’ll know it when you get there.
The gameplay that ties this story together is pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from Call of Duty – a tight, refined control system, capable enemy AI and cover systems, with an absurd range of different weapons available.
The story takes you through all manner of locals, and each is beautifully put together, with a particular emphasis put on facial graphics and lighting.
And while the campaign does seem to take a little while longer than usual to get going and really pull you in with those larger than life moments you’ve come to expect from the series, when it happens, it happens big time.
Some other small additions, like the ability to choose your loadouts before tackling each mission, and the addition of a collection of shorter tactical missions that give you control over a range of soldiers and drones mean that the single player campaign offers a wealth of replay value. Especially when you start unlocking the death machines – incredibly powerful guns that allow you to replay a level and lay waste to enemy forces just for the sheer fun of it.
As I mentioned, the series of tactical ‘Strike Force’ missions that run parallel to the campaign are another new addition to the franchise, putting you in control of large groups of soldiers, drones, Claw walking tanks and turrets and setting you out after various objectives, while controlling all of them at once in a sort of semi-RPG format.
While initially this wasn’t something that appealed to me, once you get a feel for how much time you should spend commanding troops from above compared to how long you should actually control these troops from a first person point of view, running around shooting, it becomes really fun, and a great way to blow off steam between some of the heavier, darker campaign missions.
The Call of Duty multiplayer experience returns here, and for the fans of the series that buy it exclusively to play online.
If you ever played a Call of Duty game online, you’ll know basically what to expect here – to get dropped into a match and you run around shooting at the bad guys.
This is essentially just another example of the further refinement made clear in almost every aspect of the game – as you play you unlock points which can be used to alter you loadouts and abilities, and give you access to an increased range of guns. I won’t go into it, because you’ve seen it all before, but that’s hardly a bad thing. It’s still a lot of fun and just as satisfying as it was in Call of Duty 3.
Speaking of things that you’ve seen before, the series’ now famous Zombie mode gets a massive revamp here and takes on a whole new life for Black Ops 2.
Feeling less like an add on just put in for the hell of it and more like an equal third of the game, the new and improved zombies mode is probably the thing you’re most likely to get your replay value out of.
There are currently five different maps you can play the classic Zombie modes on – zombies swarm in round after round – but interestingly, you can also play the new ‘TranZit’ mode where all these maps are linked together by a bus that takes you from place to place. Tranzit mode is an amazing addition for zombie fans, adding a level of puzzle solving and item creation to the robust world of killing the undead.
The massive combined map always mean that there’s some unexplored nook or cranny to venture down in hopes of finding a new piece for your super weapon or something else equally exciting.
Black Ops 2 isn’t without it’s flaws, but it’d be tough to argue that it isn’t one of the slickest FPS’s on the market currently – and you can almost certainly guarantee that this will remain the case until the next Call of Duty comes out.
But, as far as I’m concerned, if they keep being this intense, this well put together, and this fun, I’ll keep playing them.
Definitely worth a couple of play throughs.
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Platform: PlayStation 3 /
Xbox 360 /PC / Wii-U
No. of Players: 1 – 2 + Online