The Call of Duty series with Treyarch in the developer’s seat has always been hit or miss, and it would be tough to call any of them “revolutionary” in the same manner that Infinity Ward changed the industry with the original and Modern Warfare. Recently, Treyarch has been hard at work making better Call of Duty games, and with Modern Warfare 3 stagnating and avoiding change comes Black Ops II, a game that embraces it by comparison and does things (mostly) right.


For starters, the experience is still smooth and polished for the most part. On consoles you still have the 60 frames per second that keeps it moving at a faster pace, and this time around the PC version also gets a lot of love with dedicated servers and some great optimization. Say what you want about Treyarch, but they are kind to the PC community. It isn’t as pretty as it used to be though, at this point the effects, animations and resolution are all noticeably dated on consoles. Even on the highest setting the PC version isn’t much to look at, but it doesn’t look terrible and the game gets the job done in the visuals department.


The writing in the Call of Duty series has never been amazing but with Black Ops the characters were memorable and likeable, and the settings meshed well with the intriguing espionage tale they were trying to tell, which made it the best told story of the Call of Duty series at the expense of the memorable set pieces we got in the more inconsistent Modern Warfare series. Black Ops II continues that trend this time around, but instead of skimping on the set pieces we get a good wealth of brand new memorable moments to share around the watercooler. Many of them, like using a wing suit to fly to an enemy base, or riding on horse-back while taking out choppers and Russian soldiers, add some freshness to the proceedings instead of the stale turret and bombing sequences so many shooters seem keen on reusing.


Some of the best moments happen as a result of the game’s decision to let you impact the storyline depending on how you play and what choices you make. It isn’t a perfect system, but what you do does affect the outcome of the game, and it avoids turning into a black and white morality system by forcing you to think logically and make hard choices. Some of the outcomes are affected by your performance, take too long to catch up to a bad guy and he might escape, or fail to sweep an area for intel and you might go into the field next time with less information to help you out. The story isn't perfect, it does try to be different from other shooters,but it still ends up having a few plot holes and moments of cliche, but it's otherwise a fun ride that got me invested in its characters and wondering what would happen next.


Even the combat and gameplay seem designed for player choice, with the new ability to select your load out before a mission allowing for much more flexibility, especially with the single player “challenges”, which add replay value and unlock exotic new weapons, some of which admittedly break the game when you are allowed to take a 12 round grenade launcher and Light Machine Gun with you, but for the most part it's balanced. Of course the perk system and grenade selection really does open up your options, while the use of the access kit you have lets you take alternate routes, unlock anti-tank mines, or help you rescue some trapped soldiers that can also make you a little more exploratory than with previous Call of Duty titles, and often the game gives you an alternate route or option when going through a level.


The weakest part of the single player would easily have to be the Strike Force missions, a semi RTS set of side missions that impact the ending of the game. While I applaud Treyarch for trying something new, Strike Force missions are underwhelming and not particularly fun or innovative. The AI is probably the number one killer for it, since friendly AI often run into walls or refuse orders, all while enemies are quickly advancing on the objectives. I found it easier to just have one or two good units to switch to, then I would stick to one person and lone wolf it to the objective, only switching if I had to for a certain objective or if I died, which given the ease of these missions wasn't too often. The main problem with these is that they would serve far better as a side mode and could use a load of polish on the AI front. They aren’t particularly engaging missions and hinging the importance of the story outcome on them is unfair when they also force you to use limited retries (which I can’t understand given the lack of this limitation elsewhere in the campaign, as well as the entire gaming industry at this point).


The new Zombies mode is still the same Call of Duty zombies, but the Tranzit mode does offer four new characters plus the biggest zombie setting to date in which you must take a bus to go around the map and build items or find Easter eggs while fending off the hordes. With four players it is a complete blast, but the zombies are still as annoyingly tough as before, and I’d say Tranzit is one of the hardest and most confusing zombie maps yet so I can’t even imagine playing with random people or by myself. If you have a good team though, it can be a total blast, but if you never liked zombies than Tranzit isn’t going to change your perception. It’s still wave based zombies with exotic weapons, mystery boxes, perk-a-colas and leaderboards, just much bigger and with a new coat of paint.


The multiplayer is the bread and butter of any Call of Duty game at this point and a Call of Duty game’s sales and fan base flock to the game almost exclusively for the online offerings, so how does the multiplayer fare? Well, it’s still fun Call of Duty multiplayer, and like the campaign it does try for new things. Score streaks give you rewards for points and team efforts as well as kills, and Pick 10 allows you much more flexibility in picking class load outs, both great systems that change up the multiplayer. The problem is that the multiplayer seems to be the least changed part of this game from previous games, even completely eschewing Contracts and CoD Points (which I loved in the original Black Ops). But it does do a lot of things right, the maps are well designed and it’s still fun, though I’d say it’s one of the weakest multiplayer entries yet.


There are a variety of new weapons in place and I do like the new system in place for unlocking attachments, and admittedly the Unlock Tokens are just simplified CoD points, but it feels a little too hectic, a little under polished, and at this point some of the abilities on hand aren’t very impressive. The lag compensation isn’t amazing, too often even with a great connection I’ve turned a corner and been immediately shot, or I’ve had my sights on a player who immediately jerked forward or to the left and killed me. In terms of polish Treyarch has just never been on the same level as Infinity Ward, so despite the ambition, problems like the spotty hit detection, easy to exploit control scheme, and highly unbalanced Submachine guns bring down the experience. Still, if you can’t get enough Call of Duty than the multiplayer should be up your alley, but it won’t change how you feel about Call of Duty multiplayer.


Overall, Black Ops II isn’t the revolution it strived to be. It has my favorite campaign of the series, but at this point both zombies and multiplayer are beginning to stagnate even with the changes Treyarch introduces. If you love or even just like Call of Duty, you’ll enjoy this, and if you were burned by Modern Warfare 3 you might even find yourself coming back to the series with this iteration. If you dislike the series, or find yourself becoming tired of military shooters, than I don’t know if Black Ops II will change how you feel, especially when the core formula is still similar to past entries. For the record though, it is an ambitious attempt to move the series forward that I haven’t seen since Call of Duty 4, even if it doesn’t hit the same lofty heights of change and polish.