Call of Duty: Ghosts Review (PS4 / Xbox One / PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii U / PC): “Not Giving Up the Ghost Yet”

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Call of Duty: Ghosts marks the second generation leap in the series’ history, making expectations for the newest iteration even higher than usual. Ghosts was released for the 7th generation consoles ahead of the next-gen versions, with the PS4 version now out and the Xbox One version serving as a launch title. Ghosts takes a trip back to Infinity Ward’s more current-day time period seen in the Modern Warfare series, but with a major twist: playing the losing side. Being a Call of Duty title, a high-budget campaign experience, riveting and addictive competitive multiplayer, and a co-op mode are assumed to be the standard fare. But is Call of Duty: Ghosts an exceptional entry in the series, or just a ghost of its former self?

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Story: 3/5 

The first step to answering that question would be to tackle the game’s single-player campaign mode. Despite its title, Call of Duty: Ghosts has nothing to do with Modern Warfare 2’s Simon “Ghost” Riley or its storyline; instead, Ghosts takes place in an alternate timeline in a similar time period as the Modern Warfare series. The campaign starts out with the Walker family, consisting of Logan (you), his brother David “Hesh” Walker, and their father Elias taking some R&R on the San Diego coast. A series of tremors cause the Walker family to head back home; however, to their horror, they find the streets and homes along the way being torn apart, with the pavement being shifted into rough crags and homes being tossed about like toys. A quick flashback to 15 minutes prior shows that an earthquake wasn’t the cause of the destruction, but rather a hostile takeover of the U.S.’s ODIN Satellite, loaded with deadly tungsten rods designed to level any threat on the ground on a massive scale. A couple of NASA-trained American soldiers are able to call off the attack and destroy the ODIN, but not before several major American cities are utterly destroyed. Back on the ground, Logan and Hesh link back up with Elias and evacuate the town on a truck, but not before seeing the results of the ODIN strike below, leaving several gigantic craters in the ground.

From here, the game skips forward 10 years and involves America’s war with the South American Federation, a coalition of countries responsible for the ODIN attack. American is battered and broken, but not beaten, as you and Hesh work with Elias to commence surgical strikes against the Federation forces occupying the U.S. You’re joined by your Army-trained German Shepard, Riley (likely a homage to Ghost himself), and through a series of circumstances and missions gone sideways, meet up with the titular Ghosts themselves; a cadre of elite, special-forces-trained soldiers, and work to take your place amongst them.

While Ghosts’ story certainly sets a good enough stage within the first 30 minutes of play, there really isn’t the personal connection that was present in previous titles, like Black Ops 2. Raul Menendez is a constant thorn in your side, and makes it clear he has a personal vendetta with the Masons and Frank Woods. His followers play mostly a supporting role; the whole time, your mission is to take Menendez down. That sort of connection is lacking in Ghosts. For the majority of the game, you’ll find yourself facing a faceless enemy in the Federation, pulling off surgical strikes that seemingly lack any sort of overarching goal or reason; it’s just taking what you can, where you can. While this certainly fits the scenario of the game – placing players in the losing position from the get-go – it really has a negative impact on the game’s story and makes it hard to care about the missions you’re carrying out. It’s also jarring that the story simply skips forward 10 years after the first level, with you and Hesh suddenly committing surgical strikes against the Federation occupation forces, along with your dog Riley in tow; it’s all very sudden. When did Logan and Hesh join up? Where did Riley come from? These are simply questions you’ll have to leave on the back burner.

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Call of Duty finally makes its way to space.

Character development is another mixed bag with Ghosts. The Walker brothers – yourself and Hesh – have a constant and unbreakable bond throughout the game, and this really does come through a lot of the time. Whatever happens, you can count on Hesh being there to support you. The father, Elias, is another story – while he talks about his pride in his sons and how much he cares about their training and development, he comes off as a rather cold character in spite of what he tells his sons. It feels odd to have Hesh refer to Elias by rank one minute, then segue immediately to calling him “Dad” when there isn’t any warmth to warrant it. Then there are the Ghosts themselves, Merrick and Keegan being your most constant companions. Early on in the story, they come off as condescending and superior, basically telling you that you can tag along if you do “what I say, when I say it”. Over time, however, they learn to respect you and Hesh, until an eventual camaraderie builds. Other than their titles, however, I didn’t feel particularly moved or awed by their skills or behavior. Ghosts are near-legendary in the game’s universe, but to me, they felt like just any other soldier you’d find in a Call of Duty game. Perhaps that speaks to the strengths of the series’ characters, but I expected a little bit more from them.

The linchpin that brings the squad together is, without a doubt, your dog Riley. You learn to work with him very early on, and he proves an invaluable ally throughout the campaign. More than just an extra soldier in the squad though, it’s clear that he shares an extremely personal bond with you and Hesh. Logan is there with a quick pat on the head for a job well done, and Riley returns this affection by remaining faithful and loyal to you and your squad, ready to attack anyone who poses a threat. Riley’s welfare was constantly in the back of my mind, even when we were separated between missions, and when Riley was in danger, I found myself getting increasingly anxious, even being pushed to anger against his attackers whenever he got wounded. I even found myself emptying entire magazines into his attackers, more than enough to put them down, after Riley was attacked. It really speaks volumes about Riley’s design and integration into the story when you can say that he has a profound emotional reaction on you, and without him, Ghosts would have been a vastly different and shallower experience.

Of course, no modern Call of Duty game would be complete without a face for your enemy, and Ghosts has one in Gabriel Rorke. A former Ghost himself, he now finds himself working with the Federation, and a big part of the story involves you trying to find out why. I know I mentioned before that the Federation is a faceless enemy, and that still holds true – while it’s clear Rorke is meant to be the big bad of the story, he’s not really around enough to reinforce this fact. After encountering him early in the story, you spend a good half of it trying to track him down, and he really doesn’t take a personal stake in the campaign until later, towards the end. Most of the time before this is fighting hordes of nameless, uninteresting Federation soldiers. When he does appear, though, he makes for a stellar antagonist. He’s voiced extremely well, has all the snide confidence of an enemy who always thinks he has one over you, and knows exactly where to hurt his victims the most. If the story had involved him more, it would have made for a more accurate depiction of the situation you find yourself in, with the Federation working for him, not the other way around.

Overall, the game’s story comes up a bit short compared to games of Call of Duty’s past. It starts off sufficiently, and ramps up towards the end, but there’s a large swath of the middle of the campaign that will be an absolute drag, making missions feel hollow and pointless without a gripping story to motivate you. There’s also just too many questions left unanswered.  The campaign should take around 5-6 hours to complete on normal difficulty, making the story small enough to digest while still having some depth to it, but those of us used to the blockbuster thrill rides of Black Ops I & II and Modern Warfare 3 may feel a bit cheated this time around.

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Underwater too.

Gameplay: 4/5 

At this stage of the game – no pun intended – most of us know what to expect from a Call of Duty game. The mechanics have remained largely the same from year to year, and most could say that the series is afraid to take risks, but the mantra Infinity Ward and Treyarch seem to embrace is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Yet again, this stance seems to have been mostly successful in Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Solid, fast-paced gunplay is at the center of the Ghosts experience, as it has been in all Call of Duty games. Aiming down your sights and taking shots at enemies downrange is extremely fast-paced and responsive. Infinity Ward have replaced the “dolphin dive” mechanic – sprinting to prone – with a new sliding maneuver, where your character will slide for a few meters into a crouched position if you go prone while sprinting, or straight to prone if you hold the button down. This feels like a nice change, and makes dashing into cover much easier than in games past. It’s also now possible to lean around corners when aiming down your sights. A yellow arrow will show up on your crosshairs when this is possible. Infinity Ward have expanded our options a bit in terms of weapon variety, now introducing a new weapon category, Marksman Rifles. These weapons aren’t totally new to the series, as many long-range single-shot assault rifles and semi-automatic sniper rifles (such as the M23 EBR) have been present in games before. However, they now get their own category, and perform largely similar to each other, bridging the gap between the balanced performance of Assault Rifles and the long-range per-shot killing power of Sniper Rifles. Each come fitted with a scope and usually fire semi-auto, but other options exist. Players will also find that many weapons feature unique qualities built into the gun, like the Honey Badger’s integrated silencer or the bolt-action Sniper Rifles’ recoil compensators, which reduce kick after each kill.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the Multiplayer formula this year is Infinity Ward’s take on the Pick-10 system. However, rather than letting you spend points on every piece of gear and perk in your loadout, players have access to a primary weapon with two attachments, a secondary with a single attachment, a lethal grenade, and a tactical device for free, along with 8 “perk points” by default. This makes sense, as the game is extremely perk-focused this time around – there are 35 to choose from in all, from 7 unique categories. Some are returning favorites, others are weapon attachments seen in Black Ops 2 in perk form, while yet others provide completely new benefits, such as providing extra lethal or tactical grenades or providing a random extra perk at spawn. Each of these perks has a point cost in line with their power, and players can earn extra perk points by removing a secondary weapon, lethal, and/or tactical grenades from their loadout. This new system is an interesting take on the now tried-and-true Pick-10, but it can’t help but feel a little overwhelming at first. 35 perks in all is a lot to choose from, and using squad points – the new unlocking currency present in Ghosts – can feel risky when you’re not sure where to go first. Luckily, the game gives you a strong head-start by letting you pick a pre-set package when you first create a soldier. Whether it’s a weapon-focused Assault or Rush build, a stealthy silencer build, or a long-range Marksman Rifle package that you pick, the game will start you off with a weapon, two attachments, a secondary, lethals and tactical devices, and a selection of perks to compliment the playstyle you choose.

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The game’s new-found complexity really comes through when considering that weapons are no longer unlocked as you rank up anymore; squad points need to be spent to unlock them, but on the plus side, you can unlock them in any order you like, with some weapons costing more than others. You can also elect to use squad points to unlock perks early, otherwise a new one will be unlocked every other level or so. Finally, these squad points can be used to unlock additional members of your Squad – more on this below.  It’s definitely a less accessible system than Pick-10 was, but with some practice, players can come up with interesting loadout choices that make use of a variety of perks and equipment choices. Squad Points are also awarded at a more rapid clip than Black Ops 2’s unlock tokens, given that there are a variety of ways to earn them, including ranking up, completing assignments, and achieving field orders. In this way, it doesn’t hurt so much to drop 6 points into unlocking a new weapon to try when you can easily earn them back in just a couple of games.

Ghosts brings back the “Strike Package” feature present in Modern Warfare 3, allowing players to choose from an Assault or Support strike chain of killstreaks, or the Specialist package to earn more perks as they achieve more kills. Thankfully, taking an objective counts towards earning killstreak rewards, as with Modern Warfare 3’s Hardline Pro perk, but now available to everyone in the baseline. This was a huge plus for me in Black Ops 2; making killstreaks based on score, not number of kills, encouraged more objective play, and bringing this sort of reward system into what was already present in Modern Warfare 3 helped to keep this team-based feel intact. As in Infinity Ward’s last game, Assault streaks are designed to kill or hamper your enemies, while Support streaks are meant to support and strengthen your own team. Newer players who don’t feel confident in their skills may want to stick to the Support streaks at first, since your progress up the strike chain doesn’t reset on death. There are fewer lethal options in Support this time around, though, so players will want to commit to a team-player mindset when choosing this strike chain.

Speaking of strike chains, two very large changes have made their way into Ghosts. First, the fan-favorite  UAV has been replaced by a killstreak called the SAT COM. Rather than launching them in the sky, SAT COMS are placed on the ground, and function a bit differently from their last-gen cousins. SAT COMs provide stronger and better effects the more that are simultaneously deployed on the field at once. With one SAT COM up, enemies will only appear on your team’s mini-map when within line-of-sight of a teammate. With two, your team gets the traditional sweeping UAV scan. With three out at once, the sweeps occur more frequently. Finally, if you can manage to deploy four SAT COMs at once,  the sweeps will occur extremely quickly, and enemies’ directions will be displayed on the map as well. They still last for a limited time like UAVs, so it’s now extremely important to communicate with your team and ensure you’re getting the biggest benefit from your SAT COMs. Additionally, you’ll find that the Care Package is no longer a selectable killstreak; these are instead earned by a new gameplay mechanic called Field Orders. Enemies will sometimes drop light blue briefcases when they die; pick these Field Orders up, and you’ll be given a challenge to complete, such as getting a kill while prone or killing someone from behind, before dying. Achieve this, and you’ll be rewarded with a care package drop marker and a squad point. Fail, and your briefcase drops for anyone else to pick up. It’s an interesting mechanic that adds a new level of complexity to the meta-game.

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Squads mode puts up to 10 AI teammates at your command.

The traditional multiplayer modes – Deathmatch, Demolition, Capture the Flag, etc. – are all present here in Ghosts, along with a few new ones. Cranked is an exciting and fast-paced Deathmatch variant where killing the lead player will earn you multiple speed benefits, like moving and reloading faster, but also start a countdown timer. Keep getting kills to keep this clock alive, but if it hits zero, you explode. Search and Rescue is like Search and Destroy, but players drop dog tags on death. Pick up a teammate’s tags, and they respawn. Pick up an enemy’s tags, and they’re out for the round. Blitz takes the concept of American Football and adapts it for an FPS – a zone activates on each team’s side, and your team needs to reach these zones before the enemy do to score a point. There are many others, including Grind, Hunted, and Infected, and the sheer number of game modes available provides a large variety of game types to play. However, the biggest, and most interesting (in my opinion), addition to Multiplayer in Ghosts is the all-new Squads mode. Players can assemble a squad of up to 10 unique soldiers, customize their appearance and outfit them however they see fit, then go into battle alongside them against other players’ squads in all of the core game types. Each squadmate unlocks gear and ranks up separately, though unlocking and outfitting your squadmates takes from your shared pool of squad points, so it’ll take some time to unlock everything you’ll need for your entire squad. However, once you’ve loaded up your squad to your exact specifications and take them into battle, it’s extremely satisfying to watch them play intelligently with the gear you’ve given them. Assault Rifle characters will play the midfield; SMG and shotgun-toting squadmates will rush into the thick of battle; characters with silenced weapons will try to flank and out-maneuver the enemy; and squadmates wielding sniper and marksman rifles will set up in a good camping spot and pick off enemies in their field of fire. The AI is complete unprecedented in a Call of Duty title, and will provide a pretty stiff challenge. Squads will likely appeal to those players who get a lot of satisfaction out of designing a plan and watching it execute flawlessly; being able to outfit your squad to your specifications makes this possible and rewarding. Your squad will even earn experience while you’re away, fighting against players who challenge them in the mode’s Squad Assault gametype. Several other gametypes exist as well, including Safeguard, a take on Modern Warfare 3’s Survival mode.

Finally, for those of us looking for a different co-op challenge, there’s the new Extinction mode. Rather than fighting the living dead in games past’s Zombies mode, players will be staving off an alien invasion just two weeks after the first ODIN strikes in the story. Like Zombies, Extinction features four unique soldiers to play as, though this time around, players are given a series of objectives to complete, rather than just trying to stay alive; for instance, protecting a drill to destroy several alien hive sites, before staving off an alien attack on your evac chopper. Currency is earned by completing objectives and damaging or destroying enemies, and these can be used not only to buy new weapons, but to activate a pre-selected group of four power-ups, such as an ammo box or a deployable sentry gun. Teamwork and tactics are key in this mode, and having several objectives to complete provides a depth of focus not present in Zombies mode. It’s a fun, fresh-yet-familiar co-op mode that players are sure to love.

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Seriously. In space.

Graphics: 4/5 

We’re entering a new era of gaming with the release of the PS4 and Xbox One, so naturally a game’s graphics quality will be a top concern. Ghosts succeeds in most regards here, but it’s not perfect. Textures have taken a marked step up from the previous generation, with surfaces looking crystal-clear at a distance, while staying sharper up-close than before. Lighting, especially, has been greatly improved on the next-gen consoles, with lighting effects on surfaces and weapons having a more realistic sheen and shadow casting. In fact, there are going to be several times in the campaign where you might actually stop and just take an awe-filled look around. Sniper fans will be especially pleased, as zooming in with your scope no longer obscures your peripheral vision. Instead, the area around the scope will be blurred out, allowing you to barely see your peripheral vision zone while scoping in on a target. When you consider the amount of power this takes – the game essential has to render your view twice – it’s impressive. On the downside, however, there are many points during play where you’ll notice a marked decrease in framerate, especially during some of the game’s larger battles or outdoor areas. This is near-blasphemous for a Call of Duty title, a franchise known for constant 60-FPS performance. I wish I could say it didn’t take away from the experience, but when it happens, it’s not pleasant. There are also several graphical glitches that may creep in – a squadmate’s gun floating in mid-air during the campaign, for instance. These little cracks keep Ghosts from graphical perfection, but it’s still a game that doesn’t take the easy route on next-gen consoles, providing a noticeable step up from the previous generation.

Sound: 4/5 

Ghosts’ soundtrack suffers from the same issue as the story – it’s competent, and the tracks are appropriate to the situations they’re played in, but it’s not the kind of soundtrack you’ll find yourself humming when away from the game. Where Ghosts’ audio direction shines is in the voice acting and weapon sound effects. All of the actors in the campaign do a good job voicing their characters, but Kevin Gage steals the show as Gabriel Rorke. Rorke’s an old soldier with a fearsome reputation and all the snide confidence of a villain who knows he has the upper hand, and Gage delivers Rorke’s dialog like a knife sticking you in the side, bringing an extremely personal touch to your (admittedly few) encounters with the antagonist. This time around, Infinity Ward’s also put some extra effort into providing a more realistic audio experience with weapon design. Guns sound appropriate to their size and what they’re firing, but perhaps the most noticeable – and appreciated – improvement is when firing silenced weapons. Guns don’t let off wimpy pops when shot, but still boast a loud sound profile when suppressed, just like firing a real weapon. Along with louder footsteps in multiplayer, this really helps to break the uselessness of sound-enhancing headphones and perks in Black Ops II and present battles like they should be – loud, dangerous affairs.

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Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10 

Call of Duty: Ghosts may present the weakest showing for a game in its franchise in recent history – not counting Black Ops: Declassified – but Infinity Ward have shown that they’re still capable of producing a competent Call of Duty game. The campaign may be somewhat mediocre, but will draw you in to the game’s Multiplayer, Squad, and Extinction game-types, where most of Ghosts’ longevity will take place. If Black Ops II is staring to feel a bit old, Ghosts will give you the refresher you need.

PROs: 

+ New Create-a-Soldier system provides greater variety than Pick-10

+ Larger variety of multiplayer game types to choose from

+ Squads mode is fun and rewarding

+ Extinction is a fresh take on the tried-and-true Zombies formula

CONs: 

– Flawed, lackluster campaign

– Framerate drops more frequent than they should be

– Excellent antagonist isn’t present enough to be relevant

Call of Duty: Ghosts was purchased by the reviewer for the Playstation 4 system.

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Black Ops 2 DLC Allows You to “Become a Zombie”

 

Activision has finally unveiled the highly anticipated first DLC pack for COD: Black Ops II. The “Revolution” expansion pack is due out on January 29th for Xbox 360. The content contains five new maps and will be free for those who purchased the $50 Season Pass. For those who did not purchase that, it will be available at the traditional Call of Duty DLC price of $14.99 (1200 Microsoft Points).

“Revolution” for Black Ops II adds four new competitive multiplayer maps: Downhill, Hydro, Mirage, and Grind. The fifth map is for the highly praised “Zombies” mode. The map is a well known name from COD: World at War called “Die Rise”. However, the level has been completely changed and redesigned. Additionally, there will be a new game mode called “Turned”, in which players can compete against one another as an actual zombie! Finally, the Revolution DLC  for Black Ops II brings a bonus multiplayer weapon called the “Peacekeeper”, which comes with a new set of weapon challenges. The DLC will be made available for other platforms at an unspecified later date. For more news on this, stay tuned to Gamers Xtreme, and as always, “Game On!”

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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No Vita Price Cut…Yet. Plus More on the Horizon

The head of Sony Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida announced at Gamescom this week that the Vita will not be receiving a price drop this year, as anticipated. However, that doesn’t mean that prospective buyers shouldn’t hold out hope.

Sony engineers are working to reduce the manufacturing costs of their newest hand-held console in order to be able to reduce the retail price. Given the Vita’s lackluster sales since its release, a lower price would certainly help bring in more buyers – but it’s going to take time.

In order to bide some time until that can happen, Yoshida is hoping that prospective buyers will be interested in the many bundles planned to be released this year, including the LittleBigPlanet, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified bundles, among others. “People like cheap or free,” he continued, “…but this year we are trying to add value by creating different types of bundles. We announced we will provide LittleBigPlanet PS Vita bundle pack. That’s affordable for people who are looking for a good deal.”

Perhaps the Vita’s biggest weakness isn’t  its hardware and operating software – which actually received a very positive reception – but rather its game lineup. Sony certainly seems to be attempting to make this a top priority with its extensive game lineup set for release this year. The recently-announced PlayStation Mobile software platform is sure to provide plenty of content as well. Smaller games are easier to produce and can attract a lot of studios, quickly propagating supported platforms with plenty to do.

The recently-announced and soon-to-be-released support to play PSOne Classics on Vita is sure to give owners plenty of longevity as well.

If there’s one thing readers can walk away with, it’s with Yoshida’s own words: “That’s our biggest focus now. The best way to realize the potential of the PS Vita platform is to provide the content. That’s absolutely number one.”

GamesCom 2012 PlayStation Conference Recap

Sony sets the bar high when it comes to its press conferences, and GamesCom 2012’s was no exception. The conference was streamed live on PlayStation Access’s site at 1 PM EST, and in case you missed any of it, here are the major details. Brace yourself; Sony belted out a LOT of info.

  • LittleBigPlanet Vita will be available as a solo game and also in a new Vita bundle, which includes the system.
  • PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale gameplay footage with Dante, Spike, Nathan Drake, Big Daddy, Sweet Tooth, PaRappa the Rapper, Ratchet & Clank, Fat Princess, Sackboy, and more is shown. CrossBuy announced as a planned, recurring feature – buy the game for PS3 or Vita, get the version for the other console at no additional cost.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Ratchet & Clank: QForce announced.
  • Assassin’s Creed: Liberation will make use of the touch features of the Vita; Front screen used for “Touch to Kill” feature, while the rear pad is used for context-sensitive movements.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified details revealed:
    • Single-player campaign set between the events of Black Ops 1 and 2.
    • Will feature 4v4 multiplayer over WiFi on brand-new maps, including Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed game modes.
    • Will be available as a solo game or in a bundle with the Vita system.
  • Final Fantasy 7, Tomb Raider free for PlayStation Plus members starting August 20th.
  • Tear Away, a new Vita IP from Media Molecule, features paper as a central element.
    • Players can use front and rear touch pads, as well as the gyroscope and microphone to manipulate the game environment and fight enemies.
    • Fingers (representing the player’s) will actually pop out of holes punched in the game world.
    • Augmented Reality features, such as taking a picture for an in-game character to wear as a coat.
  • Killzone Mercenary, a new chapter in the IP for the Vita. Touch gestures enable different melee finishing moves.
  • PlayStation Mobile announced. Seemingly similar to the Apple App Store and Google Play, offers “Bite-Sized” games to be played on PlayStation-approved mobile platforms and the Vita.
  • PlayStation 3 Essentials series revealed – a selection of iconic PS3 games at a bargain price (20 Euros). First games in the series are Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Infamous, and LittleBigPlanet.
  • LittleBigPlanet 2 to receive “CrossController” DLC, featuring levels in which players use both the PlayStation 3 and the Vita.
    • Gameplay demo showed Vita being used as a second screen, providing extra information and level control.
    • Touch screen and rear touch pad used to manipulate the environment and objects in it.
    • Jumping into a pipe marked with the Vita icon changes the level’s perspective to the Vita screen, reminiscent to the cross-platform functionality of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.
  • PlayStation Plus to receive many great improvements soon.
    • Red Dead Redemption will be a free Plus title in September.
    • Cloud storage increasing to 1GB, from 150MB.
    • Plus service coming to Vita “soon”.
    • 25% discount on Plus subscriptions from September 5th – 19th for European customers.
  • Wonderbook:
    • Book of Spells will have head-to-head multiplayer.
    • Two new titles announced for the Wonderbook line-up:
      • Diggs Nightcrawler – a noir-style detective story. Retells the story of Humpty-Dumpty as a murder conspiracy.
      • BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs will allow players to select dig sites, use a virtual chisel to dig up fossils, and interact with dinosaurs and see them in action.
      • Disney will also be contributing to the Wonderbook lineup, though no specific details were given.
  • FIFA 13 will make extensive use of the PlayStation Move controller.
    • Players can mark opponents, draw movement paths for their team to follow automatically, and take shots by flicking the Move controller – even add spin by twisting the controller.
  • Until Dawn, a new game inspired by teen horror movies. Players will control seven characters whose relationships with each other evolve over the course of the game’s story.
  • Rain, a new Sony IP about a boy who can only see in the rain. No further details given.
  • Puppeteer has players control a character who can swap heads to gain different powers. A pair of magical scissors is central to the story, and allows the character to fight enemies and traverse the environment. The presenter stated his inspiration for the game was his desire to exercise his son’s (and his) imagination.
  • A new The Last of Us trailer – Ellie makes Joel a mix tape, and Joel admits that he’s seen events “from both sides”, implying he wasn’t always a good man.
  • The event closed with further Black Ops: Declassified multiplayer footage.

It was certainly a lot to take in, but Sony certainly revealed a lot of exciting developments in such a short time since E3 in June. You can see all of the trailers and footage seen at the event below; be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below!











Goodbye Call of Duty, the Uncharted 3 Beta Dethroned You

Now, a majority of us have enjoyed the Call of Duty multiplayer at one point or another.  For me, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the first multiplayer online game that I spent months on end playing.  It was fresh, fast-paced and a ton of fun to play on your own or in a party with your friends.  I’ve clocked in over 50 hours just on the multiplayer alone so I’m not exactly a “n00b” when it comes to COD multiplayer.  However, once Call of Duty: World at War was released, I was already played out with the multiplayer and thought, “Wow, this is getting stale already…”  Then, a year later was Modern Warfare 2’s release…and I despised it for it’s entirely unbalanced competitive multiplayer.  Then, another year later was COD: Black Ops, which was, in my opinion, a slight step more entertaining than MW2 (thank you Nuketown), but thanks to Treyarch for slap-dashing the PS3 version (inexcusable seeing that COD: World at War was exactly identical with the PS3 and 360 versions) for me by making the game look muddy, sub-HD and have numerous connectivity issues.  The only reason I still play the Call of Duty titles are for their campaigns, which is the main purpose of the game.

Now, the Uncharted franchise was one of the games I didn’t want to steer toward the “multiplayer” territory.  I’m all about having a fantastic single-player experience and if there is multiplayer, it’s nothing more than a bonus that I’ll occasionally check out nowadays.  Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was one of my favorite titles for the PS3 and I thought how the balance between action-adventure and cinematic themes blended brilliantly.  When Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was announced with the mention of multiplayer, I thought to myself “Are you kidding me?  They’re going to lose their focus on the single-player to make a multiplayer component?”  I couldn’t have been more wrong…

Uncharted 2’s single-player not only stands as one of the greatest single-player experiences I’ve ever played, but also set a new standard with me for the multiplayer aspect as well.  By incorporating the single-player mechanics into a multiplayer style of play, it was unlike any other game out there…and still remains that way.  Everything just worked in such a brilliant form and in a way that I never expected.

Now, the Uncharted 3 Beta was released on the PSN a few days ago, and after clocking in some serious time with it, it’s by far one of, if not, the best multiplayer title that will be hitting the market this year.  Now, I was a serious Uncharted 2 veteran…between platinuming the game…to clocking in roughly over 60 hours with the multiplayer, I knew the insides and outs of that game’s mechanics.  So, what makes the Uncharted 3 Beta better than a full retail version of COD’s multiplayer?  Let me explain.

First off, the lobby system is already mind-blowing.  From the get go, you’ll notice the bottom right corner, which has the “Uncharted TV.”  Uncharted TV allows you to watch behind the scenes footage, trailers, gameplay footage and occasionally live footage of a multiplayer match going on at the same time.  If you want, you can even listen to the Uncharted TV through your headset as opposed to your TV.  I hadn’t even played the game yet and this blew me away already.  Then, you notice that you can customize the way the character looks, from the guns being customized with their own perks, to creating emblems and having “kickback” boosters.  This is similar to Call of Duty’s “Create a Class” system, but certainly feels different at the same time.  Upon inviting my friends into a party, we jumped into a team deathmatch and heard people being annoying on their headsets by either blasting music into it or just talking about nothing important.  Now, I usually mute everyone in a game except for my friends in my party but I couldn’t figure out how to mute each person individually in the lobby…until I pressed the highlighted “triangle” button for “mute all” which not only did what it’s intended to do, but actually didn’t mute my friends.  The game knew that my party should NOT be muted as opposed to those who aren’t in my party.  This is the first time I’ve come across a game that actually has, what I call, a “smart mute all” button.

This never gets old...

Starting off the match, we were treated to a cinematic cutscene of my team preparing for a shootout on a cargo plane and as the hatch opened, we saw trucks with villains (the opposing team) on them ready to take us out…then the match began.  As opposed to most games where you just start in a spawn point on a map and just blast each other for no good reason, this gave it a more cinematic approach.  It actually reminded me of the “Operations” mode of Killzone 3.  As we were jumping from the moving cargo plane (that was ready to take off from the runway at any second) to the trucks, I was enticed in how cinematic the multiplayer felt…something that sparked my appreciation for multiplayer again.  Even the fact that you can blow up a truck (that has the opposing team on there) that’s following the cargo plane on the runway completely awed me and made me forget I was even playing a multiplayer component.  Afterwards, the cargo plane hatch closed and a timer showed up on the screen counting down the seconds until the cargo plane took off.  Once it hit zero, you see the plane take off and then you continue the rest of the match in a new section of the map.  Then “power plays” come into effect where you may have to protect a specific teammate, or another team might have “double damage” that they can deal to you.  It’s at these moments where Uncharted’s outstanding soundtrack kicks in and further enriches the experience.  Multiplayer games need music…without music, the multiplayer is usually a tad boring.  When the music kicked in for “power plays,” I couldn’t help but sit at the edge of my seat and really pull off some insane actions in the time window that it played.  The “kickback” booster is really sweet as well.  Instead of earning “killstreak” rewards as in COD, you’ll earn “kickback” boosters which are achieved by completing certain “medals” or collecting “medals” placed at random throughout the map.  Currently, my “kickback” is the “RPG!!” which allows me to pull out a…you guessed it, RPG to take down enemies.  However, it only carries two rockets and if you die with it, you lose your kickback until you earn the medals again.  The other new mechanic is the ability to “sprint” now.  Now sprinting is used in essentially every game, but I never would’ve thought how much of a difference it makes in the Uncharted universe.  Unlike COD where you’ll sprint away from a bullet, turn around the corner and only find out that the bullet somehow hit you despite clearly turning the corner of that hallway or building (the soldiers in COD must know how to “curve” bullets), in Uncharted 3, you can ACTUALLY sprint away from bullets and not have to worry about Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy coming after you, curving bullets around corners.

Yes...this is the multiplayer.

In short, Uncharted 3’s beta blew me away within a single match.  I loved Uncharted 2’s multiplayer, and was a pro at it (not trying to gloat) but Uncharted 3’s Beta not only shows how incredible the multiplayer is going to be for the full retail version, but the fact that a “beta” actually feels more “complete” and “polished” than a full retail version is quite a feat.  If you haven’t downloaded the Uncharted 3 Beta yet, get off the “COD” bandwagon, and check out an innovative multiplayer experience.  You will never go back to COD with the same mentality.