Review

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold, when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang upon those boughs which shake against the cold.”

Or to put it another way, it’s Call of Duty time. This year we assigned our review to someone that isn’t very good at Call of Duty: me! I have played, completed and mostly enjoyed the campaign of every Call of Duty release this generation but when it comes to multiplayer my experience has been somewhat more erratic. If I put the time in and am playing on a team with friends then I’m not awful, I’m just not very good. In short, my team would very likely be better off if I wasn’t there. None of this means I can’t appreciate a good entry in the series and Black Ops II is most certainly that.

“Tired with all these, for restful death I cry.”

I didn’t get the story in the original Black Ops. Too many names and all those numbers muddied the narrative for me and left me checking Google to see what actually happened once it was all over. Thankfully Black Ops II has no such problems. The story unfolds cleanly across the two distinct time periods and while I enjoined the future sections to a greater degree the necessity of the back story being told kept me engaged during the those set in the past. The big change here is choice. Spread throughout the campaign missions are some game changing choices you are given to make. Some are very apparent but others are almost transparent to the player. I was certainly unaware that I had a choice at times. This raises a question: a completely transparent branching story in a game would be amazing but if the player were unaware it was happening they wouldn’t appreciate what an achievement it was. So sometimes you need to choose to kill person A or person B. Not a perfect situation but very enjoyable and it’s a path that I hope the series continues down. The writing team should also be showered in praise for including the hacking of a retinal lock without resorting to someone having their eye ripped out.

“And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth, eternal numbers to outlive long date.”

Another impressive addition to the campaign are the Strike Force missions. These are interspersed with the story-based missions and are optional sections where you take control of all friendly units within a battle scenario. You can switch between controlling your units from a top down real time strategy perspective or take direct control of a single unit, switching back and forth and between units as you wish. The theory is sound and very much reminded me of the PC FPS/RTS mash up Natural Selection. However in practice things just get a little too crazy and I found the best way to handle myself was to jump into a foot soldier and fight my hardest with my fingers crossed. I really hope this idea isn’t dropped. I would love to see this type of gameplay polished and used to tell a full Call of Duty story in the future.
“Sweet love, renew thy force.”

While the distinction is now quite extraneous, this is a Treyarch developed game so Zombies are once again on the menu and as with all areas of this release this has been expanded and iterated upon. Now supporting eight players and multiple game modes it stands up very well as its own game and no longer has the feel of an after market fan mod. If you liked the Zombies gameplay in the past you’ll be very pleased indeed.

“The earth can yield me but a common grave.”

While it is the largest part of the package I don’t have too much to say about the multiplayer in Black Ops II besides that it is surprisingly fresh after all this time. I’m still awful at it but the every change, subtle as they may be, is for the better. The most obvious is the new setting. The near future is a great place for FPS combat. By jumping ahead a decade liberties can be taken with the technology on offer and it adds a nice new feel to the combat. The fancy scopes and high tech support ordnance is really fun when combined with the new customisation system that gives you a huge amount of freedom in your loadout. You can now equip up to ten ‘items’, be that weapons, add-ons, perks or grenades. Wildcard unlocks even allow you access to multiple perks in each category. Let’s say you never use your non lethal grenades – drop them out of your load up and get yourself both Hardline and Lightweight perks. There is a cost and balance to everything but the freedom is there to be play how you want to, even if you want to start your matches with no perks, grenades or weapons besides your knife. The numbers (ahem) show that players are dedicated to the Call of Duty multiplayer setup and this is a fresh lick of paint and a ton of polish to an arguably perfect setup.

 

Summary

While those that berate the Call of Duty series for its stale yearly re-releases are making a valid point, that point is very much diluted with the release of Black Ops II. Considering the target audience and our place in the current console hardware cycle Treyarch have released a very slick package. No, it's not Shakespeare but that's not what players want from the franchise. They want a playable action movie and this delivers just that. New ideas and an interesting new setting left me enjoying this far more than expected. Die hard fans will have already bought this but I urge those that have written this off as more of the same to give it a look; there is a lot to like.
8/10

Yes, the player on the left there is calling in the Angry Birds support package.

This is the 'look a bit through walls' scope. In stores early 2025. Pre-order now.