DISCLAIMER: Battlefield 3 more or less drew me away from Modern Warfare 3 this last FPS season, and to date, is probably my favorite FPS of all time. Prior to it's release I was 100% glued and dedicated to the entire COD franchise, specifically everything from Modern Warfare up to and including Modern Warfare 3. So whether this review is a reflection of that recent franchise shift, overall COD fatigue, or an accurate assessment of Black Ops II, I leave for you to decide; because judging from the reviews and comments I've seen so far, people are going to be quick to simply call me a hater. To this I can only offer up this disclaimer. I was as die hard as die hard gets when it comes to COD (like every day and every night online), and I was out there last night at midnight with everyone else. So there it is.

       Treyarch's iterations in the COD franchise are always the titles I look forward to the most. Infinity Ward definitely brought my obsession to a boil with that first Modern Warfare, but Treyarch's insistence on innovation, good or bad, has always made them my favorite of the two developers. So when I began to tire of Modern Warfare 3 I wasn't really concerned; Black Ops II was on the horizon. Battlefield 3 had become my go-to FPS, but the lengthy wait between Expansion Packs and the overall disappointment with them when they released, had my thumbs a twitching for that November 13th release of Treyarch's newest title. Pulling up last night to the midnight release I was prepared for the worst. Modern Warfare 3's release strung that line around the building, back across the parking lot, and had they not snaked it back and forth for our safety, it would've definitely gone across the street. So when I arrived I was kind of surprised. The line was nowhere near what it was for MW3. Of course, in the COD universe, there really is a split between the Infinity Ward and Treyarch fans. Haters generally call them the same exact thing, but to fans, and judging by the crowd last night, they're clearly not.

       My first instinct is always to head to the Campaign when that disc goes in, and regardless of how much more I've come to enjoy the multiplayer, last night was no different. At this point in the game, every fan knows what to expect when they start the Campaign, because regardless of who's developing these things, it's almost always the same structure. Save the world from one man's plan to destroy it; fight from country to country as you get closer and closer to your enemy; fall down at least 4 times; nearly get killed about 2 or 3 times in massive hollywood style set pieces; operate some sort of heavy weapon/aircraft; watch a buddy get killed; save the day. In that frame work however, Treyarch generally does the better job, and Black Ops II is the case in point.

       Menendez is probably my favorite COD villain to date. It's interesting this time around to not only hear about the 'bad guy's' reasons for being so video gamishly evil, but to see and even experience some of them first hand. It does a wonderful job of diluting the generally black and white morality scenario into a nice even gray. Following both Alex and David Mason makes this story so much more than just your typical future war story. Playing through the events that have created the monster as Alex Mason circa 1980, makes the future events as David Mason circa 2025 that much more rich and enveloping. Most stories play either cutscenes or NPC conversations when filling in back story's and histories, but being able to play through both creating and solving the problem makes Black Ops II's story that much more interesting and unique. Much like Treyarch's new additions to gameplay. Of course, interesting and unique doesn't always mean successful.

       Unlike previous COD Campaigns that more or less draw a straight line down the center of the battle, Black Ops II gives your actions more of an impact on the nuances of the story. While you're not going to find yourself with multiple endings, during the course of the game various cutscenes and scenarios will be available depending on your actions. Also unlike previous COD Campaigns, you're now offered an alternative to walking straight through the story, via Strike Force Missions. I'm sure by now you've probably heard a thing or two about these things, but I will say this; at least Treyarch tried to bring something new to the series. But that's probably the best you can say about them.

       It took me around 2 playthroughs with the tutorial and 1 mission before it all really sank in, but even when it finally did, it was still frustrating. Rarely does marking a location mean that any of your assets will make it there before you've lost the objective or have to send reinforcements. I have some advice for those of you that insist on playing them (which if you're like me you probably will); mark your locations for your infantry, CLAW, and turrets, and then pop in and out of controlling them, constantly. If you want troops to head to their mark, mark it, and then pop into one of those troops and just go there. Of course, this defeats the whole strategy purpose, but with the way the mechanics work, this is your best (and sometimes only) bet. I can't say I hated playing these, because I really didn't; but when it's all said and done, it feels like they're just not working the way Treyarch probably intended them to. Not to mention, unless you're coming at the enemy head on, if you pop into an asset, these morons don't even know you're there, even while you're filling them full of lead. Overall, A for effort, C for execution. They make for a nice little distraction here and there, but if you don't want to bother, don't sweat it, you're not missing anything revolutionary. The same can more or less be said of the Multiplayer.

       The Campaign is a great experience and you definitely don't want to pass it up, but what makes a COD game is the quality of it's multiplayer. Most people may not understand why so many people are giving this game such low marks, especially with such a great Campaign; but if you ask me it's the been there done that level of vanilla ice cream that Treyarch has given us in Black Ops II's multiplayer. In their defense, they have actually added a bunch of elements into the equation. That Point 10 system makes for an interesting balancing option for your loadout, and League Play is probably where I'll spend the majority of my time; but, uh… outside some new vehicles added to the killstreak, I'm sorry, Pointstreak, system.. that's all folks. I'd actually go one further than most people are and say as far as multiplayer graphics are concerned, we've moved backwards. Let me explain.

       As a motion graphic designer, I spend a lot of time working in details. This does not mean that I'm some kind of anal retentive nit picker that sees even the smallest tiny pixel out of place as the end of the world, but it does mean I notice quality. And something has moved way back with Treyarch's Multiplayer graphics. This seems to happen a lot when people move to the future, and honestly, it could really just be lighting and texturing limitations on consoles that make this so noticeable, but it hit me right away. I don't remember the name of the map yet because I've been getting a server not available message all afternoon, but it's the map that has you in what I assume is some sort of train station. I understand that people have this notion that the future is going to be this super clean minimalist design extravaganza, but that doesn't excuse things looking like flat surfaces of single colors. It doesn't take very much to add a texture to a surface, so what in the world happened? If you're going with that whole monochromatic minimalist future look you absolutely have to compensate for that smooth clean surface by adding lighting or reflection effects, or something; anything. What we're left with is just basic at basic's most basic base. I like Mondrian too, but not in my video games. I want texture and atmosphere. I feel like Treyarch moved about 4 years backwards in terms of graphic quality in their multiplayer, and I have no idea why. Maybe it's me, because really, it might be; but when you add this to the lack of innovation in the Treyarch multiplayer experience, I feel like the multiplayer is truly a let down this year. At it's core, it still is that same good time that it always is, but with the way they keep raising the bar year after year, leaving it where it was makes for a real disappointment.


       As a whole, Black Ops II is worth that $65 cover charge. I know a lot of people will disagree with that, but I think expectations are always so high that when either developer delivers simply 'a decent bit of fun', people get really upset and probably go too far in their condemnations. I really enjoyed the Campaign and I will certainly play through it more than once, which is more than I can say for most of them. Strike Force Missions aren't a massive reinvention of the wheel, but they're also not the disaster that a lot of people are making them out to be. They simply don't work how they're supposed to, but that doesn't mean that they're unplayable. There is fun to be had. And the same can be said of the Multiplayer. It's not what you normally expect in the series, especially not from Treyarch, but they didn't take anything out of the equation that they hadn't added themselves last time around. All your typical COD multiplayer moving parts are still there. With the new Point 10 and League Play additions, I will certainly be sinking a ton of my time into mowing down my fellow man. I'm just as let down as the next COD fan, and when it comes to the graphics, probably much more so; but at the end of the day, it's still a brand new COD title to enjoy for months to come. And if you truly get bored and that franchise fatigue sets in, don't forget…. ZOMBIES!!!