Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review (PS3/360/Wii U): “Death, Deceit and War Returns”

Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a first-person shooter developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. The majority of this game was played on the Xbox 360, with a portion also played on the Wii U. Sure, it’s another Call of Duty, but this time, it is quintessentially different from prior COD titles of the past. Activision and Treyarch have tried to create a game with more character and depth than any of the previous entries in the series. However, does it succeed?

Story: 4/5

The story of Black Ops II spans over three decades, with half the game taking place in the late 1980s, while the other half takes place in 2025. Alex Mason, the protagonist from the original Black Ops, returns in the 80’s Cold War missions, and his son, David Mason, is the main character for the 2025 missions. For the first time in COD history, the developers have created a well fleshed out villain. Raul Menendez will become the central figure-head of the story, the most vile of villains. Without giving away anything, I can say that this storyline fares better than most of the Call of Duty’s and is a true credit to what the writers have crafted. Call of Duty campaigns are usually very straightforward, and the campaign here shares a lot of the fundamentals that the majority of the games in the franchise have had. Huge explosions and exciting set pieces are once again a part of your world, making you feel like the action hero in a blockbuster movie.

If you’re a fan of COD storylines, then you will be quite happy with the tightly scripted story for the most part. Looking to make some changes to a traditional formula, Treyarch has added some crucial choices in the game that will affect your story’s outcome. Some of these choices are things that may seem minor on the surface, but are actually quite monumental to the ending of the game. There are more than five endings to the game, which is certainly another change to the traditional Call of Duty’s. By the time I had completed my single player playthrough, I was amazed at how thrilling the storyline was. The final mission’s tension was simply outstanding.

Overall, I was more than surprised that Treyarch was able to make some vital changes in the traditional story elements, which enhanced the plot a great a deal. Bringing in David Goyer, the script writer from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, was hands down the smartest move Treyarch did. For the first time ever, this was a story with deep characterization and feeling. I did have some minor gripes with the plot itself. While it was stronger than most Call of Duty’s due to the characterization I mentioned, the sequence of events just never felt as consequential for the characters in the beginning. The fact that the writing was exceptional for the character, made the central plot kind of fall into the background significantly. Playing through the first three or four levels was a slow and boring start for me due to the intro of the story. It finally kicks into gear towards the middle of the game, but I felt it should have had a motivating plot from start to finish, not just halfway through.

Gameplay: 4/5

The single-player campaign takes you through a variety of missions that are more varied in design than the first Black Ops. You can complete the story in about 7-8 hours on normal difficulty. Regarding changes, I must state a serious con that stuck out to me. Treyarch decided they wanted to add a real-time strategy (RTS) element into the game called “Strike Force” missions. The very first Strike Force mission occurs early in the campaign and inadvertently slows down the action and story. These missions are objective-based. The game makes you see an eagle-eye view of the battlefield from above and allows you to command your squads below. The problem is that it simply does not work, with troops often ignoring your commands. Therefore, you’re only other option is to take control of the squad manually and play as one of them. Essentially, you are now just returning back to the normal COD single-player gameplay, thus rendering the “aerial God view” broken. More of these missions will pop up as you progress. Thankfully, unlike the first mission which was mandatory, the rest are optional. I found it very difficult to even want to play a second RTS mission because the AI was completely broken and incompetent the first time around. Aside from this, the rest of the campaign is where the single-player mode excels. As I stated earlier, the choices you make will affect your ending in the game, whether good or bad, it is entirely up to you. There is a rewind feature that lets you go back and make different choices, which is a nice feature.

The fundamentals of Call of Duty haven’t changed, but it does make some strides to keep it stimulating. The level design has more of an open-world feel than ever before, giving you a grander sense of size. There are also vehicles and even a horseback action sequence that works astonishingly well. Incorporating more of an online feel to the campaign, Treyarch has added challenges for each mission, as well as customizable loadouts. This device lets you choose different weapons, as well as perks, for starting your next mission. If you feel overwhelmed however, you can always choose the default loadout which is aptly titled “Recommended”. Bouncing back between the 80’s weapons and warfare to the 2025 era definitely keeps things interesting.

Of course it would not be a Treyarch Call of Duty without a Zombie mode and this time it is no exception. Zombie mode has certainly become a phenomena on its own. In this third iteration of Zombie Mode, you are given a somewhat ambiguous beginning. You will need to explore your surroundings in order to open up the world around you. You will use a school bus to move between areas. You can still earn money to unlock newer weapons, ammo and of course, new areas. Happily, I can report that it is still a thrill to play and just as enjoyable as when we first played World at War’s Zombies back in 2008. There is a new competitive mode that lets you form two teams. After creating the two teams, the object is to see who can last the longest. However, the twist here is that you can lob raw meat at your adversaries or stun them while they try to heal themselves. Obviously chucking raw steaks at your opponents will grab the attention of zombie hordes looking to feast. Zombies are packaged nicely in its own campaign, almost feeling as it could be a standalone $20-30 game.

If Zombies isn’t your strong suit, than I suggest giving the “holy” multiplayer a try. Treyarch has made some much-needed tweaks, making this certainly the finest online COD game in recent years. First off, they have changed the loadout system, now calling it “Pick 10”. This valiant direction essentially lets players design their loadouts as to how they see fit. If you want an extra perk, add in an extra perk. If you want to carry more frag grenades, then you can. The stipulation is that you will need points. At the beginning, you will receive ten pre-selected points. After that, everything you choose gets a point or points assigned to it. With this system, you can essentially design any loadout you want, no matter the combination. If you want to carry three main weapons, plus a side weapon, that’s fine. On the flip side, you might have to lose some perks in order to splurge on weapons. This makes the multiplayer fresh and exciting once again. Perks will also be character focused now as opposed to weapon based. This means perks for a holding a gun steady or taking more bullets are character based. Gone are perks solely focused on gun specifications. In replace however are a ton of new weapon attachments that will leave you concocting all sorts of deadly creations.

Killstreaks have also been taken out and now replaced with “score streaks”. This was put into place in order to inspire players to focus on objectives, rather than just killing by the droves. Whether longtime fans will enjoy this more than killstreaks is too early to tell at the moment. However, I really enjoyed this change. Besides the standard modes making a return, there are some new ones to keep it fresh and evolving. “Hard Point” zeros in on seizing random areas on the map. You now can have several teams combating at once, which makes the standard modes feel more exciting. Incredibly, Treyarch has added in the ability to stream certain matches via YouTube, with certain restrictions of course. Generally, the online segment of the game is as highly addictive as it has ever been. Treyarch has tweaked just the right amount to keep it fresh, getting players moving on from the original Black Ops and even Modern Warfare 3.

Graphics: 4/5

The Call of Duty franchise has always had a cinematic approach to visuals. In Black Ops II, they sought to continue this tradition with large-scale set pieces and explosive destruction. The designers choreographed the action to make it a thrilling rollercoaster ride. I can say it succeeds in the category of blockbuster action, with the visuals to match. The landscapes of lush jungles, giant naval ships and Downtown Los Angeles looks pretty and pleasing to the eyes. Leaping off of a mountaintop cliff and flying down using a wingsuit is thrilling, mostly because you’re speeding through environments in 60 fps, while still being fully detailed. Black Ops II is full of these moments that stand out.

I must state however, while playing certain sequences on the Wii U and doing split-screen with a friend, the framerate did drop. Playing on the Xbox 360, the framerate stood steady at a solid 60 fps and for the most part, the Wii U did too when playing single player. Occasionally though, it would dip when you would enable the split-screen play between the GamePad and Pro Controller. Overall, I feel the visuals are great, but not stunning. I think it is more than time that we see an end in the reusing of the same modified engines Treyarch and Activision have been utilizing since 2007.

Sound: 5/5

What do you get when you combine an all-star cast with the composer of Mass Effect….give up? You get a stunning sound design from start to finish. Black Ops II, and Treyarch more specifically, has done something very clever. They have decided that the music in their games has to be just as important as the script itself. They brought in David Goyer writer from The Dark Knight Rises, and now they have brought in Jack Wall, composer of Mass Effect 1&2 to score BO2’s soundtrack, while also nabbing Trent Reznor for the game’s theme. These were bold moves for them to take and it clearly paid off. Getting more to the point, the soundtrack is refreshing and crisp. The tracks play like a sci-fi space-esqe, dark undertone that somehow fits perfectly in this covert world of espionage and deceit. The tracks in both the 80’s and 2025 missions work exceptionally well. If this wasn’t a sell on the audio already, the voice acting is top-notch just like in the original Black Ops. Alex Mason, Frank Woods, Raul Menendez all sound fantastic and full of life. They terrifically transcend the voice acting level from games to cinema quality so naturally.

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

There is a lot of content being offered to you within Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It is well worth a $60 purchase because you’re getting three different games in one. Whether single-player, zombie, or multiplayer is your thing, there is something here for everyone. Credit must be given to Treyarch for trying to bring innovation to a series that has been very worn-out, and they succeeded in a lot of ways. While the multiplayer is fast and fun in Black Ops II, you can’t help but feel it’s all getting a bit old now. However, the multiple endings for the campaign, significant choices in single-player, and an improved Zombie mode, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a solid and entertaining game.

PROs:

+ Fun and solid gameplay

+ Strong Story and Character development

+ Multiple Story choices encourage replay

+ Refreshing and original soundtrack

CONs:

– Strike Force Missions are broken and do not fit into campaign

– Slow start for story

– Framerate does drop occasionally on the Wii U version

The Wii U Experience:
By: Glacier928

When it comes to Black Ops II, it intrigued me that Activision and Treyarch decided to aim and shoot for the Wii U’s launch. While I won’t get into too many details about the game since R17 covered that in this review, I felt I should just add a bit about how the GamePad integration worked with BO2. First off, the GamePad services mainly as a screen that just showcases the current objective at hand, as well as the ones completed. However, with a simple tap of the Display button on the touch screen, the game will now stream 1:1 on the GamePad. While playing through the campaign, the game ran very smoothly on both the GamePad and TV.

However, playing through the multiplayer I noticed a few inconsistencies. First off, as R17 mentioned, playing online with a buddy split-screen will knock the framerate down a bit. While it’s nothing terrible by any means, it’s certainly noticeable. Regardless, it definitely provides for a fresh and exciting take on split-screen multiplayer. The other thing was the audio mixing on the Wii U version. For some reason, even with all the in-game audio settings at the maximum level, this version sounded very low. I found myself cranking up the volume of my TV to almost the halfway level before the audio sounded solid. To give you a better idea, my TV only needs to be at volume level 5 for the audio to sound great. In COD: BO2, I had the volume at 35 to just equal the sound of volume level 5 in any of my other games. While that may not bother too many people, I found this to be an inconsistency. Other than that though, playing through the online via Nintendo Network was lag-free and a ton of fun. People who were using their headsets were coming in loud and clear as well.

Overall, based on some of the time I spent on the Wii U version, I can say that Treyarch definitely put some time into this to provide an experience that matches the one available on the PS3/360.

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