The lights are on
Let's get this out of the way first. I wrote blog a few weeks back about how I was not buying Call of Duty Black Ops 2 because, for me, the franchise is slowly losing its bright and shiny appeal. That being said, I got my hands on a used copy of the game and played it for about four days before returning it (thank you wonderful GameStop used game return policy). During those four days, I hammered out the campaign and played my fair share of multiplayer and zombies. Here's what I think of it.
CampaignGameplayFor the most part, Black Ops 2 follows the same formula of its predecessors, making only minor tweaks to the control scheme. Don't get me wrong, that is not a negative. I feel the control scheme for Call of Duty has set the standard for shooter controls and if it isn't broken, don't fix it. However, I did experience a number of instances whereby my weapon would not reload unless I mashed the X button repeatedly. To be sure it was not a controller issue; I cycled through all three of my different controllers and experienced the same issue.
A similar control scheme aside, Black Ops 2 has added some new features to the campaign to try and spice up the gameplay. To start with, players are tasked with selecting their load out prior to starting a campaign mission. While this is optional, I frequently found myself switching out the guns and attachments due to my disagreement with the game's assessment of what the recommended load out should be. These new guns and attachments are interesting, though I found most to be gimmicky and cause the player to focus more on their attachment than the combat taking place around them.
Another big campaign change is found in Strike Missions. Essentially, these are missions (mostly "optional", though they have a huge impact on the story's outcome) set up as quasi-real time strategy games with varying objectives from defending a base to assassinating a high-level official. While I applaud Treyarch for thinking outside the box, the end result is an unpolished mess that feels incomplete. Units are slow to respond, if they even respond at all, and the missions become moments of just stashing the units to cause havoc for the enemy while I take immediate control of a soldier and handle it all myself. The result are missions I could not stand to play and ended up skipping, resulting in a less than great ending to the story.
AudioWhile the gameplay elements of Black Ops 2 left some areas for serious improvement, the audio of the campaign is nothing short of outstanding. Aside from some grossly unnecessary dubstep and a ghastly after credits scene, the music compliments the game perfectly. It is difficult to go wrong when Trent Reznor is running the audio show for you.
In addition to a solid soundtrack, the voice acting is superb. Sam Worthington makes an encore appearance as Alex Mason alongside the dark gritty voice of James C. Burns who returns as Sergeant Woods. Other notable additions to the voice crew include Michael Rooker and Tony Todd. Every line from these actors is delivered with feeling and the character in mind.
VisualWould that all shooters could run at 60 frames per second, which makes the game feel a whole lot smoother than these other games using fewer frames per second and more sophisticated graphics engines. While I did run into a few texture issues here and there, the visuals of Black Ops 2 remain just as polished as it predecessors with solid and vivid explosions and excellent motion and facial capture (except for the bit after the credits, many of the faces looked terrible in that sequence). Additionally, for gun nuts like me, the sequences of cycling a weapon after picking them up were a small but welcome touch.
StoryCall of Duty Modern Warfare and the original Black Ops set the pace for what first-person shooter stories could do. Each was intricate and believable to an extent. The best way I could summarize the story of Black Ops 2 would be to say that the game appears to have been written by a post-The Sixth Sense M. Knight Shyamalan and Michael Bay...and that isn't meant in a good way.
Like watching David Copperfield perform the exact same card trick over and over again but just changing which card is used, the constant (and extremely predictable) story "twists" get old very quick. At one point, a twist that is supposed to be shocking was dulled by the fact that I did not understand what had just occurred. One second my partner was next to me, the next he is on the other end of the field...unless he had mastered teleportation, it made no sense.
While the principal villain, Raul Menendez, is a well-crafted character the player can relate and sympathize with, I found his escalation of a personal vendetta to an international assault confusing. Only one line would address this swap from simple revenge to all-out war and it is delivered almost as a side-note.
It is difficult to convey my feelings on the campaign without spoiling it, but suffice it to say I thought the story was not very good at all. While there is some replay value to alternating choices and seeing the change in the outcome, I see no reason to suffer through the campaign again. Some "choices" come off more like accidents and there is no option to start from the last checkpoint, you either restart the mission or die.
MultiplayerThe multiplayer of Black Ops 2 is just as one would predict: just about the same as the other Call of Duty games. While a new "Pick 10" system has been created, allowing more customizations for on-line play, I found the freedom to be a little too free. I would prefer some degree of guidance when it comes to load outs than just to pick 10 things and go with it.
Zombies have added some new features worth trying out for those that are fans of this bonus bit. A new almost-competitive mode pits two teams against each other to see who can outland the other one. While this is an interesting twist, I would have liked to see more direct competition between players rather than just interrupting a team revive or throwing out zombie bait. Ultimately, the mode offered little for me I could not find executed better in a dedicated zombie title.
Treyarch took some much needed risks in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which they should be applauded for. Unfortunately, few of these risks paid off in my book, suffering from poor execution. The multiplayer remains mostly un-inspired and got rid of a lot of the multiplayer elements I miss from the first installment of the Black Ops series. Additionally, a terrible story backed with a terrible post-credits sequence that, in my opinion, serves as a virtual middle finger from Treyarch to the player rounds out a mediocre entry in the Call of Duty franchise. Call of Duty fans and total fan boys will of course love the title and lambast me for criticizing it, but I am glad I am sitting this one out. I give Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 a 6.5/10.
Nice review. I don't agree with you on the story, but you make some great points about the host of shortcomings Treyarch offered up this time around. That scene with Mason and Woods is extremely confusing, I'm with you on that, but I really enjoyed being able to play through both creating the monster and destroying him. Although, after reading your criticisms I have to say looking at it through that prism, I can't say I really disagree.
It's nice to see someone with criticisms about the game actually explain them instead of just going with the whole, "I didn't like it, COD sucks," thing.