This generation started with Call of Duty 2 at the Xbox 360’s launch in 2005. Since then, 7 more iterations of the franchise have arrived on the console and has been one of the consoles largest driving forces. In 2010, Treyarch took the fight of off away from the contemporary and placed it during the cold war with Call of Duty: Black Ops. This title had arguably one of the better storylines in the franchise but fatigue could be felt in the multiplayer. Now two years later, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has been launched and moves the conflict into the future. Can Treyarch continue the great single-player storyline that the first established while making the multiplayer feel fresh again?
The story of Black Ops 2 follows the arc of Raul Menendez, the game’s antagonist. Menendez is the leader of a populist movement that preaches economic equality. This plus experiences during his youth fuel his hatred for the western world and America. Once again, you will fill the shoes of several different characters, including some from the original Black Ops. During copious flashbacks, you will experience Menendez’s rise to power and in the future, you’ll try to uncover what he plans to do and put a stop to it. The basics of the story are easily understandable and the pacing of the finale is amazing but there are flaws. The first issue that there is an expectation for gamers to have mastered the story of the first game, or at least the characters. So throughout the game, characters will come and go through each section with little or no development or reintroduction. The only feeling is that you should know who they are, how this fits into the timeline, and care about them but you typically don’t. The other issue that builds upon the first is the constant flashbacks. There are simply so many characters that are largely interchangeable that it’s hard to follow sometimes. Overall it is a decent story with a fantastic lead up to the end but at times you’ll have times trying to follow the intricacies of the plot.
Little has changed in the Call of Duty franchise since Call of Duty 4. If you’ve played any of them since thing, the basic formula has gone largely unchanged. The game is a first-person shooter that gives you an option of different loadouts for each mission. A perk system gives you various advantages for reaching certain kill streaks. Weapons can be customized as well as your emblem. All of these are governed in multiplayer by a leveling system. In single player, you’ll get various new unlocks along the way as you progress.
The single player is still a highly scripted linear cinematic experience. You’re going to get huge explosions and awesome scenarios, especially with the new technological gadgets. It varies from the formula very little except for at two things. During the storyline there will be opportunities to participate in actions called Strike Force. In these missions, the game attempts to merge the first-person action you’re use to with real-time strategy of being able to move your units around. On its face, this sounds like a worthy endeavor but it fails to be fun. The AI of your troops requires a lot of micromanaging to keep them alive. So either you you’re your troops or just give up on them and deal with everything yourself, neither of which ends up being much fun. Secondly, these missions happen on unaltered multiplayer maps, which somehow makes the mode feel even worse. Luckily though, there is only one mandatory mission like this, the others are all optional. The other part where the single player formula changes a bit is with choice. At a couple parts throughout the game, you’ll be presented with choices which ultimately affect the ending and unfortunately one of the aspects that affect the ending are the Strike Force missions. But despite that, the choice is really nice and helps make the game feel more immersive. Overall, the bad is optional and the good is just as good as before if not better.
The multiplayer is largely the same as the prior titles. You start with access to a limited selection of weapons and items and through leveling up; you continually gain access to a larger arsenal. There are a couple differences though, leveling up gives you tokens to unlock weapons and the other difference is wildcards. Each class can be outfitted with a maximum of 10 items and using a wildcard can give you additional perks, attachments, and main weapons but the cost is two-fold. One point for the wildcard and one point for the additional item can make the choice costly but it adds a lot of variation to the gameplay. You can forsake all your grenades for additional perks. You can forsake your sidearm for additional grenades. If gives you a lot of flexibility in creating your class that the prior titles didn’t have and it’s a really nice touch.
The other part of the multiplayer package is the Zombies mode and this one has been expanded quite a bit. Instead of simple buildings, you have an open world. Each section is connected by a bus that automatically makes its rounds. You can try to walk it but going into the fog can be quite dangerous. This new mode is really cool if you have a good set of friends. There are items you can forge from various items around the world that allow you to do different things. It really pushes the mode forward but it does require more teamwork than ever as you can get quite separated if you really wanted. For those who want a more traditional Zombies experience, the locations in the large open world map comprise several individual maps that you can play on. In addition to this, there is a new mode called Grief that pits two teams of four against each other to see who can survive the longest. The twist here is that these two teams can not directly engage each other which make for some interesting gameplay. The last new mode is a custom mode where you can adjust some settings to create the perfect zombies experience. Overall, if you like Zombies, the updates here are fantastic. It truly feels like a true sequel to the original zombies’ experience.
The graphics engine has gone largely unchanged over the past few years so if you’ve played prior titles, you know what to expect here. The game is definitely beginning to show its age but the amount of stuff on the screen can be incredible at times. So while you may not be privy to the latest and graphic technologically, what is created on the screen can still be impressive. During the single player, tons of drones can be on screen with seamless transitions between different grand events. It works well and runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second. As for the age, the general detail is starting to lag behind the competition. Some of it is the textures and others just level design and models. In first-person view, everything is animated nicely and looks good but when observing others and events in the world, are not as good as other new games. Overall, Black Ops 2 is definitely showing its age in the graphics department but what it lacks in fancy new techniques, it makes up for it in the sheer volume of stuff going on while maintaining a high frame rate.
The one aspect that didn’t need much upgrading was the sound design. That’s the one thing that Call of Duty always nailed and that was the complete sense of war from the auditory perspective. A lot of the voice actors from the first title return to reprise their roles and they are accompanied by some great new ones. Everyone delivers their lines quite well. The sound design is also quite well done where everything sounds like it has weight and impact behind it. It has that Hollywood blockbuster feeling to it where everything just sounds badass. In multiplayer you’ll have to keep your ears especially open for the sounds of various proximity mines the can now possesses. If you don’t, you’ll die quickly. The music is well done and adrenaline pumping but forgettable once you turn the box off. The theme is done by Trent Reznor and sounds great but since it’s just one song, the feeling doesn’t translate to the rest of the soundtrack. Overall, this game sounds amazing from the great voice acting to the sounds of war. It really helps the struggling graphics come alive.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 keeps this great franchise going strong. While the individual elements of this franchise have gone largely unchanged over the course of this generation, Treyarch’s ability to deliver a fresh, enjoyable experience is amazing. The single player’s final couple hours are a great thrill ride that will blow you away. The multiplayer does have a slight learning curve with some of the new weapons but in the end, it is terribly addicting. You will die cheaply all the time but your frustration only lasts until you spawn again and then you’re in bliss all over again. The graphics are starting to show its age compared to its contemporary brethren but what it lacks in technological prowess it makes up for in sheer Michael Bay-level cinematic spectacles during single player. Voice acting is top notch once again as well as the sound design. You’ll feel like you’re in a high budget movie so hopefully your sound system is up to par. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 continues the quality we expect from this franchise and somehow manages to make it feel fresh all over again.