Game Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops II

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It’s that time of year again everyone, a time when we all have a few more sick days and a time when we may not communicate with loved ones enough. It’s Call of Duty time again and this time Treyarch is back with a brand new campaign and the same old multiplayer you know and love. Will this year’s edition continue the great track record for the series or, is this year the year that Call of Duty finally takes a step back? Let’s find out!

Treyarch has brought back their Call of Duty: Black Ops series with Call of Duty Black Ops II. While I really haven’t played much of the Call of Duty games since Modern Warfare 2, I was very interested in Black Ops II after seeing the trailers and different features and I can proudly say that this game was not over-hyped. There’s a reason this game got the biggest entertainment launch numbers of all time, it really is that good.

The biggest problems that the Call of Duty series has had over the years is its seeming inability to please the gamers who want a new experience every year while still catering to the fans enjoying the core gameplay. With this year’s game, it seems Treyarch was really trying to capture everybody’s attention with the various new gameplay elements, tweaks, and enhancements they’ve added.

The core multiplayer experience has remained the same with the added benefit of changing the way players can customize their loadouts, adding new game mode, and adding other little tweaks and enhancements. The “Pick 10” customization system is the first big improvement that players will notice. A big perk of this is that you’re no longer defined by a single class which will help players address their strengths and weaknesses much easier than before. When you create a custom class, you can spend up to ten points. Each point represents a single weapon, perk, or attachment. There are also Wildcards which allow you to do things a little differently. If you want an extra attachment instead of a grenade, go ahead. If you want an extra grenade instead of an attachment, do it up. It’s all in how you play and it gives the player a lot more freedom.

It can get a little bit hectic out there.

Unfortunately, the one problem that I’ve had with this series ever since I could remember is that the unlocking of weapons leads to some balancing issues. A low-leveled player never fares very well against a higher leveled player and while this is too be expected to some extent, it’s hard to level up when you’re getting mauled down all the time by a guy who has a much better gun than you do. In League Play, this issue doesn’t persist considering everything is unlocked.

Streak Rewards are obviously another long-standing issue that I really hoped they would have fixed. I get it, you’re awesome at the game so you get some extra perks to use against your opponents. That makes sense. When it happens constantly though, how are these novice users supposed to fight back. I say, if you die 7 times in a row, they should give you a Death Streak reward that allows you to get back at some of these people that never seem to die.

Kill Streaks have been reworked. They’re now called Score Streaks. Instead of counting kills, it adds up points from anything that adds to your end-of-round score. Instead of needing three kills for the first reward, you need 350 points, and so on. It’s not such a run and gun mentality now as with previous iterations but, there is still an awful lot of Score Streaks being utilized each round and it really begins to ruin the whole point of the streaks. These should be something that only the best of the best get each round and yet everyone gets them. That’s something that really should be cause for concern. Good players have to be rewarded and bad players shouldn’t be punished by every single person on the map who happens to get a Score Streak. There needs to be a happy medium. Oh and by the way, those drones get old very quickly unless it’s you that uses one.

Damn drones.

Obviously new modes are the most exciting aspect of a new Call of Duty game and Hardpoint has proven to be a good one. It’s exactly the types of game mode you would love to  play with a bunch of friends online. Each Hardpoint basically sees a team holding a makeshift safe house. You can have some of the greatest games ever if your teammates think about what they’re doing while you can have some of the worst if they’re new to the game. Hardpoint truly is a great new addition to the COD franchise and one I’ll definitely be playing again and again. Multi-Team allows you to play with a squad of teammates like something out of The Expendables being out-manned and out-gunned at every turn. It’s a mode that requires a lot of strategy and a lot of teamwork like Hardpoint. These two new additions to the Call of Duty multiplayer will keep you busy for a long while.

Of course there’s still the much talked about Zombies mode which I was always a fan of. There’s still the old favourite Survival Mode but, Tranzit mode seems to be the focus in this one and while I didn’t really get too far along. It seemed like a decent attempt at a Zombies campaign mode. The one weird instance I had was with the bus that carries you from destination to destination. You can actually miss this bus which pretty much ends the game for you. This is something I can’t really wrap my head around and while it’s not exactly easy to be left behind, it shouldn’t happen at all. The mode has potential, I’m just slightly confused by it. Grief was another new mode and it was extremely well done. The object is to outlive the other human team after two are dropped in with the zombies. You can throw meat at the other players luring the zombies and even stun an opposing team member while they’re reviving their teammates. Obviously these modes aren’t going to take the bulk of your time but, they’re good to have for those quick gaming sessions.

Take your team into battle!

The campaign mode in Black Ops 2 tells the story of two Masons and ties them together with the different characters, some of which you’ve seen, some you haven’t. Alex Mason is the the protagonist from Black Ops who chased Dragovich and Kravchenko down. Mason’s missions takes the fight to 80s era enemies while his son David fights in 2025, where he follows in his daddy’s shadow. China is the new enemy and the world finds itself on the brink of war. This is easily one of the most compelling campaign modes of the Call of Duty franchise and is intriguing to play through. The futuristic setting allows for some great weaponry both realistic and futuristic  to play around with and there’s definitely no shortage of strategic ways to use them.

Strike Missions are one of the better additions to the single-player experience. It’s like a fusion on an FPS and overhead RTS elements. It’s nice to see Treyarch trying new things to make the Call of Duty experience a little different here and there.

Some people have found the AI to be terrible in Black Ops II and that’s where I truly have to disagree. During the campaign, the cpu attackers were relentless and tended to come at me if I stayed in cover for more than a few seconds. They definitely didn’t sit back behind the same piece of cover all the time. The second things I’d like to touch on is the fact that Black Ops II still looks  very good despite its dated engine. It’s a case of the developer getting the most out of their resources and I for one didn’t have a problem with the way the game looked.

Graphically, the game holds up quite well.

Overall, Call of Duty Black Ops II didn’t innovate in the ways that gamers may have wanted but, the tweaks, new game modes, and improvements make it worth a purchase. If nothing more, it’s fun hopping on a game with your friends and getting mowed down by a bunch of suburban commandos.

*Activision provided a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops II to FYIG for reviewing purposes*

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