Pros: Deeper multiplayer loadout customization system. Interesting singleplayer.
Cons: The "improvements" feel too familiar. Not enough variety in gameplay.
Black Ops was a CoD game which pulled the majority of its themes and backdrops from Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and other masterworks in film defining the era. You took on the role of Alex Mason, a US special forces soldier fighting against the various elements of communism: Castro, the CCCP itself and participating in the Battle of Tet. This time around, you take on the role of Alex in the Cold War era continuing the fight against communism and a Nicaraguan narco-terrorist named Raul Menendez. The game hop scotches from the past to the future where you’ll also take on the role of Mason’s son David – who is fighting a new Cold War against China over mineral resources. The gameplay is the same as it always was but the gadgets of the future are enough to make James Bond blush.
It is not correct to say that BO2 takes over where BO left off. BO left off with the possibility of the protagonist being part of the JFK assassination. To properly pick up where BO left off, you'd probably have to play JFK RELOADED. If you wanted to see where that tidbit went - don't bother looking here because this game doesn't bring it up at all.
When I first heard of Black Ops 2 through a release trailer on YouTube, I was completely skeptical about it. “How the hell are you gonna’ be the guy from Vietnam fighting in a war of the digital future?” I thought. I was worried I’d buy BO2 and feel like I’d wasted money. Well, after getting my hands on the game and playing through it, I can now say that CoD: BO2 is definitely worth buying for the singleplayer experience as well as the multiplayer experience. In many ways, it’s exactly the experience I’d expected from a “CoD” game, but in many ways its visuals have been scripted to offer shocking moments worthy of a playthrough. The futuristic missions are basically the same as the modern day missions. There are no laser guns or teleporters...instead, the guns are high tech upgrades of current weapons or future concepts that are currently being tested in the O.I.C.W program. There is more use of robotic drones and more use of automated turrets.
Unfortunately, Black Ops, like every single game in between Modern Warfare and itself fails to offer a storyline as fresh as Modern Warfare. Modern Warfare’s combination of storytelling and technology integration was groundbreaking and innovative in a time where console first person shooters such as Halo were limited in ideas. After MW, each CoD game did its best to reach for suspense but mostly fell flat. For example: in MW2, the mission “No Russian” had you take the role of an undercover agent alongside a group of terrorists who blasted their way through helpless civilians in a Russian airport. Unfortunately, no matter how you choose to play this mission, its linearity and lack of actual consequences made this experience one of the weaker moments in the game.
Black Ops 2 attempts to change the status quo by offering a branching storyline based on your performance. Even if you fail a mission’s objective, you won’t fail the game. Your failure (or choices) will simply change the story’s narrative so that you’ll end the game with one of several possible endings: some good, some bad. In fact, finding pieces of intel or simply shooting a bad guy may be reflected in your game’s future by forcing you into a more difficult/less difficult mission objective. This game also implements a real-time-strategy system I haven’t seen since the Command and Conquer series in 2002: Renegade. This portion of the game, “strike force”, allows you to command troops and drones to accomplish shorter objectives via an overhead view. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence and command list isn’t very good and you’ll end up being frustrated with your pathetic AI allies who’ll rush into hails of gunfire while you try to figure out why you couldn’t stop them. Failures/success in strike force effects the outcome of the game. Therefore, you’ll need to figure out ways to park your allies near strategic targets while you do all the hard work – or risk losing them all.
Progressing through the game still consists of the same old hand-holding and the same checkpoint relief. Playing this game in Veteran difficulty, I found myself getting killed at the most inopportune times - especially when I didn't respond fast enough to scripted events. It's a shame no CoD game yet has offered the wide open sandbox style of Crysis/2. It's even a greater shame that the AI hasn't noticeably changed since the first game. The enemies don't have to look directly at you to shoot you dead and they spawn into the map infinitely until you reach a checkpoint. why can't there be a set number of enemies and more than one way to kill them beyond shuffling along the linear path? Even a horseback ride through Afghanistan's repulsion of Soviet forces becomes an on-rail shooter ride where you can't consciously choose where to go beyond an invisible path.
MULTIPLAYER: WHAT’S NEW?
CoD4: Modern Warfare redefined the first person shooter online multiplayer experience by #1 tracking every single thing you did, #2 assigning you points for your exploits and #3 allowing you to unlock new items and weapons based on your experience. Black Ops didn’t stray far from the formula of MW, but did manage to add a few new features: #1 a points system which you needed to use to “buy” weapons, perks or killstreak rewards, and a wager match that allowed you to bet on your performance. Win – gain more points, loser – lose the points you bet.
The multiplayer mode of BO2 offers the classic CoD match rules: core (regular maps/modes) hardcore, kill confirmed, team deathmatch, Capture the Flag etc. “Hardpoint” joins the match rules – a mode where you essentially play “King of the Hill” while defending points that move dynamically. There are even multi-team matches which allow up to 4 teams to battle in a classic mode such as team deathmatch or kill confirmed. What has noticeably changed is the depth of the traditional loadouts. In the old games, your loadouts were very limited: one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, one grenade, one special grenade, a set of perks and a set of killstreak rewards. This time around, there is a new system, “pick 10”, which allows you up to 10 points with each part of your loadout contributing to that total 10 points. This way, you can choose whatever you want, so long as those options add up to just 10 points.
There is also a new system, “Wild Cards”, which allows you to break other rules regarding your character’s bonuses. You can possibly equip up to 6 killstreaks, 2 primary weapons, or the ability to equip more attachments to a gun than usual.
Similar to Modern Warfare III, the designers of BO2 decided that perks should affect the character only, but leveling up of a weapon should effect only the weapon. Therefore, you’ll need to use a weapon continuously to build the possibility of options for it. Perks such as “sleight of hand” which allowed fast reloading of any gun you held are now replaced by a special clip attachment which allows only that gun you’ve leveled up to reload faster.
Taken as a whole, the multiplayer tweaks create a multiplayer experience you’ll want to replay until you’ve unlocked all the weapons and possibly all their attachments.
When you get tired of shooting friends online, you can try your hand at the upgraded Zombie mode. Essentially, you are placed in situations where you must defend an area from zombies trying to get in and kill you. Like the previous version, you have access to weapons from the singleplayer mode, but the zombies make up for your technological sophistication by getting faster and entering the map at locations you can’t so easily monitor. Therefore, this mode requires play with adept friends. Within zombie mode is “grief” – a mode where two teams must fight each other to be “last man standing” while making things harder for the opposing team. You can entice zombies to attack an opposing teammate by throwing attractants near him. If you manage to be last man standing – you win! There is also “Tranzit” – a mode where you move around larger areas with an armored bus while zombies pursue you. After playing the innovative (and frightening) Left4Dead, the small maps and lack of intensity in CoD’s Zombie mode simply don’t hold my attention. While many other people love this mode, it’s one of my least favorite.
Unfortunately, what hasn’t significantly changed is the gameplay. Call of Duty as a series has consistently given us small maps with small borders. You basically run around hoping to shoot other players in the back whilst hoping not to be shot in your back. If you open fire, the return fire is almost immediate and you die. If you manage to kill someone, they respawn almost instantly and get another chance to kill you. The killstreak rewards are reskinned versions of weapons we’ve already seen (i.e: predator drones and robotic turrets). Allowing you to control them remotely or activate autopilot doesn’t truly make me feel any better about them.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
The game offers a sound mixing option that lets you listen to the game at the levels individual sounds were intended to be listened to. The gunfire and grenades explode with satisfyingly vicious reports. I have no complaints with the sound at all.
Graphics are good, but are in no way innovative or ground breaking. Everything is static and unchanging, but highly detailed. Compare this to Battlefield3 which offers moderately detailed, but highly destructible environments and you’ll probably agree that Battlefield3’s graphics still have an edge on the entirety of the CoD series. Modern Warfare 2 pushed the number of onscreen objects to the max and the rest of the CoD series merely copy pasted. That’s not to say Black Ops 2 doesn’t offer good visuals – it does, but most of those visuals come from shock rather than sophisticated technology. The maps do not allow you to actually experience the draw distances like Battlefield 3’s do. Here, you can see great landscapes without being able to travel to them. What does make BO2 cool is the slow motion effects which allow you to savor the moments of shooting someone in the face or slicing through their jugular with a machete. Unfortunately these moments don’t give you full control of your character as they are all scripted.
Black Ops 2’s multiplayer offers more replay value, but isn’t necessarily better than the other Call of Duty games before it. It’s new, and with very few big-budget releases lately, it stands unchallenged and is a “must-buy” simply because there really isn’t much else worth buying (i.e: HALO4). Black Ops 2 is definitely an excellent entry in the CoD franchise, but doesn’t play much better than the predecessors. The character controls heavy (even in multiplayer), soaks up bullets from the ridiculously accurate AI enemies and the overall action lacks the variety I found in Battlefield3. Being able to pilot helicopters, jets, tanks, and other vehicles while providing cover fire or suppressive fire for teammates to complete worthwhile objectives is what set that game above this one. Black Ops 2’s multiplayer is a repetitive chaotic mess, but its strength is the “personal” feel it gives you when you put a lethal bullet into your opponent.