Author: Lydia Sung
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/call_of_duty_black_ops2/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
For all the flak we throw at Activision, Call of Duty remains one of the top franchises of this generation. Riding the success of Black Ops, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 pushes forward with a new story featuring some familiar faces, and through it, Treyarch tries to revitalize storytelling in the military shooter.
As the second installment in the studio’s highly successful sub-series, Black Ops 2 takes on an entirely different tone than the first. Changes to the campaign show Treyarch’s attempts to innovate, with clear efforts to combat linearity, and the multiplayer, with its many modes and enhancements, provides Call of Duty fans a little something new while keeping that integral competitive experience they’ve always known.
The Black Ops 2 campaign takes some time to settle into, starting out rather roughly before gradually catching its pace. Here, we have our first taste of post-modern warfare in Call of Duty, as players are dropped into the near future of 2025. Not that Black Ops 2 completely abandons the past; chapters alternate between 2025 and the not-too-distant past. During the 1980s flashbacks, we follow Frank Woods and Alex Mason in their search for a dangerous villain, Raul Menendez. In the future, Mason’s son, David, takes up the search and tries to prevent Menendez from completely ruining the United States.
For players who have just joined the Call of Duty craze or simply didn’t pay much attention to Black Ops, returning characters don’t have as strong an impact, since Black Ops 2 just sort of assumes we know exactly who everyone is. The action is as frenetic as ever, and the plot can start feeling just as chaotic at times, leaving little room to breathe and appreciate. In this manner, Black Ops 2 is very much a Call of Duty game, but what’s interesting is a clear effort by Treyarch to break this formula we’ve come to expect. Branching storylines give you some say in how the campaign ends, who lives and who dies – that sort of thing. It’s an interesting concept and worthy endeavor, but ultimately unsuccessful in practice.
Many of the choices you face during the campaign might seem obvious, yet choosing them will lead to failure. Others are just plain annoying, like having to save an NPC just to get a “better” ending, even though the guy isn’t exactly likable. At the very least, Menendez does carry a little more depth than most other Call of Duty bad guys. A clear effort is put towards painting this picture of a broken man, justifying his madness and ill intent. Heck, you may actually start feeling sorry for the guy at certain points in the story, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s become a complete lunatic with a savior complex.
The other big change to single-player is the addition of Strike Force missions, which basically let you change perspectives for a short period of time by granting control of other characters on the field. In theory, the Strike Force feature should provide a light strategic touch to this otherwise hectic action shooter, but the execution is beyond sloppy. A major debilitating factor lies in the faulty AI, as your AI-controlled teammates defiantly refuse to do what they’re told and wind up earning you more than enough failures to induce a controller-flinging rage. On higher difficulties (above Normal), these missions can feel downright impossible.
Zombies is back, and in Black Ops 2, you’ll find enough content crammed into this mode to keep you preoccupied for a good many hours without even touching the campaign or competitive multiplayer. The new Zombies can almost pass as an entirely separate game, with the new “Tranzit” and “Grief” modes joining classic Survival. Tranzit is Zombies’s own campaign, reminiscent of Left 4 Dead where players are shuttled from one small map to another and tasked with survival, facing the same challenges you might expect from any zombie game. Weapons and ammo are incredibly limited, and the zombies are frustratingly durable. The environments are also designed in a way that could lead to some sticky situations for the entire party – like being trapped in an alley with no ammunition. The overall difficulty of Tranzit feels a tad broken as it is, in need of some balance fixes down the line to make the experience more manageable.
Tranzit also tries to throw in a bit of narrative, though the story behind this mode is even flimsier than the one in the single-player campaign. For one, players are going to have trouble piecing together any semblance of a story, unless you’re willing to do some side reading online. Zombies simply does a poor job of leading players in any sensible direction, which makes this mode feel almost like a wasted effort. That’s not to say the idea of Tranzit is bad, because it really isn’t. Its current state, however, makes this mode a lot less fun than expected.
For those who don’t have the time or patience to tackle Tranzit, Grief and Survival provide alternatives. The former splits players into two teams of four against each other in a Zombies map, where one must best the other and survive. Oh, but there is a twist to Grief: players can’t directly attack each other. Instead, you’ll be harassing the enemy team with some strategic passive-aggression, like luring zombies to them, blocking off routes of escape, and other such tactics. Survival, on the other hand, has you choosing from Tranzit maps and, well, surviving as long as possible.
Multiplayer in Black Ops 2 pushes player customization to the forefront, implementing numerous tweaks to the old system for the sake of player freedoms. Through the new “Pick 10” system, you’re now allowed to create custom loadouts with few limitations. Never use your secondary? Now you may drop that secondary weapon altogether and instead bring an attachment for your primary. Similarly, the Wild Cards system lets you equip two perks from the same tier, though for the sake of balance, each one costs two points.
League Play essentially does away with the usual pressures of competitive multiplayer. In this mode, players start out by going through several matches to determine their skill level. Based on how well you do, the game then puts you with others of comparable skill, where all equipment is unlocked and characters won’t progress. If you do improve over time, then League Play bumps you up to the next tier. Should you start playing exceptionally poorly, the game will drop you down to a lower ranking. Certainly a nice mode to have, though it lacks the obvious satisfaction of earning those coveted unlocks. The obvious tradeoff is that players who’re either new Call of Duty or never enjoyed conventional multiplayer now have a far more accessible option. It might feel gimpy to multiplayer fanatics, but to a wider audience, League Play ought to be a welcome feature.
Not surprisingly, multiplayer is Black Ops 2’s greatest asset, while the single-player falls short of expectations. While you could argue that no one ever buys a Call of Duty game for the story, Treyarch put much effort into playing up the new and more robust campaign experience. The Strike Force missions and branching storyline are interesting to see, but nothing so far really improves upon the single-player campaign.
At the end of the day, your best bet is still Zombies and competitive multiplayer. Both have come back strong in Black Ops 2, with numerous improvements that remind us why Call of Duty now dominates the Xbox LIVE activity charts. The multiplayer simply never stagnates and remains the core component for the series, despite attempts to evolve the single-player. Of course, such improvements are a welcome thing, whether they were successful or not. At the end of the day, Treyarch proves they’re willing to alter the winning formula, and that’s a step in the right direction.
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