Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 isn’t all that.
We wanted to get that in early because there’s a certain group of people out there to whom a Black Ops 2 review is irrelevant. The social aspect of Call Of Duty has become so ingrained in the videogame industry that to many it’s as much a tradition as Christmas.
As such, our Black Ops 2 review simply does not matter. Millions of copies will be bought – even enjoyed – just for the cycle to begin anew, but the fact is Call Of Duty is starting to feel its age.
It’s a shame because, as a package, this should be the greatest Call Of Duty yet. Black Ops 2 crams in a decent length single-player, brand new additions to Zombies mode and the adrenaline fuelled multiplayer action we know and love.
And whether you agree or not, each is as important as the other. Treyarch’s COD games attract a diverse bunch, with some buying purely for one distinct section of the game.
But it’s those who are considering buying Black Ops 2 purely for the single-player that need to worry the most. This is the most lacklustre Call Of Duty campaign for a while, but not for want of trying.
Black Ops 2 continues the story from the last game while tying in the new story arc of Raul Menendez and his rise to power. The problem is, the story tries to juggle far too many elements, crashing under its own unnecessary complexity.
This is, in part, thanks to the branching storyline, which does admittedly do a good job of creating variations on how the campaign progresses with a smart degree of subtlety.
You won’t notice these branches growing even when some of the choices are direct button prompts – and that’s a real credit to Treyarch’s work here – but all this hard work is undone by the dissonance with which the campaign unfolds.
Yemen is an interesting map, albeit a little confusing at first.
Flitting back and forth between the 80s and 2025 without any proper segue makes keeping up with the numerous plot points tiresome work, which only helps to make the main overarching story – that of Raul Menendez – all the more difficult to appreciate.
The campaign tries to add a little heart, a little meaning to a world war when, at its best, Call Of Duty relishes in non-stop bombastic gun battles and little else.
This reliance on telling a story – which, let’s be honest, isn’t COD’s strongest point anyway – ultimately pays the price on the gameplay itself, which fails to focus on the grandeur we’ve come to expect from Call Of Duty.
There are very few standout missions or sections to really celebrate with Black Ops 2, devolving the game into nothing more than a series of corridors and a carpet of corpses.
There are some entertaining moments, admittedly, such as the early sections on the Colossus – the manmade island for the wealthy one per cent – that delights in the sci-fi setting, even if much of it is ripped directly from scenes in classic sci-fi films.
And, as loathe as we are to say it, the few vehicle-based sections of Black Ops 2 just aren’t as good as the equivalent in Medal Of Honor: Warfighter. Flimsy controls make it hard to enjoy what should be a spectacular group of set pieces.
The voice acting and facial mocap of Woods’ cut scenes are genuinely impressive. It’s just a shame the engine is so ropey.
Even the Strike Team missions – which are the ‘new’ that Treyarch brings to an increasingly aging party – fail to live up to the initial promise they provide.
Pitched as a strategic element to Black Ops 2, the truth is unfortunately the opposite. While you can control up to four different unit types from a top-down view, each battle becomes so hectic and overwhelming that you just won’t find any depth to it; picking up a gun and shooting your way through is the only way to succeed.
This is most disappointing because the addition of Strike Team missions is genuinely a good thing for Black Ops 2, Treyarch just needed to focus on the tactical strategy that it these missions try so hard to provide.
So as we said, single-player is the weakest part of Black Ops 2. It’s not awful by any stretch and isn’t quite as mundane as Medal Of Honor: Warfighter, but it does fail to live up to the spectacle we’ve come to expect from our popcorn-flick COD campaigns.
It’s in Zombies mode where the largest areas of change have been implemented, now with three different modes for three distinct types of gameplay.
Survival is your basic Zombies mode, and anyone who appreciated the previous Zombies of Black Ops and World At War will continue to enjoy the very same game here.
Single-player is little more than a string of corridors, so the branching storyline is pretty well done.
Grief is a competitive equivalent, pitting eight players against each other in two teams. It’s just the same as Zombies mode, except with the disadvantage of competition. Knifing opposing players distracts them (but not injuring them), making it harder to fend off the incoming horde.
There isn’t much more to it than that and it is at odds with the mode as a whole. While you’ll work together as a team to survive longer than the other four, the competitive element doesn’t really work and is not preferable to the basic co-operative mode.
Lastly there’s Tranzit, the most intriguing of modes. This gives you much larger freedom over navigating the area, with a bus (driven by a robotic attendant) connecting areas together.
It’s optional to take the bus, however, and providing you have the right tools to cross the dangerous connecting roads it’s just as plausible to travel to different areas on foot.
Collectables are scattered around each of the various sections, too, enabling you to construct equipment to improve your odds of survival. It adds a new dynamic to Zombies, and the idea of exploring a larger environment gives some additional motivation to gunning down the shuffling dead.
This isn’t Mason. You’ll only spot him during cut scenes with Woods, making him for an even more unidentifyable character.
Our only criticism of Tranzit – just as with Grief – is how rigidly it sticks to the tried-and-tested gameplay mechanics of Zombies mode. You’re still fending off waves of increasingly tougher undead, you’re still stacking up points to buy improved weaponry and, ultimately, it feels like there isn’t that much difference between Survival and the additional two new modes.
Which leaves multiplayer and, as expected, it’s as great as always. It’s the very same Call Of Duty gameplay we’ve come to know and love, and if that’s all you wanted from the game then you’ve nothing to worry about.
The maps themselves are improved over Modern Warfare 3’s small, boxed efforts – proving once again that Treyarch knows what it is doing when it comes to map design.
There’s a lot of variety to them as well, whether it’s the customary desert canyon landscape of Turbine or the unique leisure yacht map of Hijacked.
This diversity isn’t only aesthetic either, and each map needs to be tackled in a different way. Carrier, for example, is largely flat with a plethora of debris to take cover behind. Yemen, on the other hand, features a lot of winding roads and tighter corners – both requiring completely different ways of playing.
Maps like Aftermath are a little forgettable, but there’s plenty of variety to help find your favourite.
As with the original Black Ops, there’s always an alternate way of navigating a map so you’re never stuck dealing with an entrenched player who simply will not move from his favourite spot. It keeps the action going.
Scorestreaks are perhaps the biggest evolution for Call Of Duty’s multiplayer, however. As the name suggests, Scorestreak abilities are rewarded after earning a certain amount of points in a match.
It’s the best way to tailor the experience for every play style and emphasising the teamwork needed to succeed in certain modes. Scorestreaks will help to earn you additional points too, further rewarding you for tactical gameplay.
Activating a UAV, for example, will earn you 10 points for each kill earned by your team during its activation, while turrets will rack up extra points even if they don’t finish an enemy off.
It’s a great system that really rewards every player regardless of preference, from your lonely campers to your gung-ho flag capturers.
The reworked class system deserves complimenting too, since it really is the fairest way of letting every player have their cake. The only problem is you probably won’t be able to eat it too.
The Strike Team Missions are, unfortunately, a missed opportunity.
By limiting every class to only 10 ‘bits’ – weapons, attachments, perks, etc – you’ll need to become conservative with your choices. Do you want two types of grenades, or would you give one up for a suppressor for your rifle?
Additional wildcards can be used to unlock extra options, using up one of your 10 possible choices but enabling other bonuses. You may add a third attachment to your primary weapon, for example, or gain access to another perk slot.
It’s entirely customisable and, though you will inevitable encounter situations where you’ll have to pick one item over another, it gives you an element of depth and personal choice to class creation.
The only issue comes with the limited symbiosis between the class creation system and Scorestreaks.
Now that you’re rewarded for playing each game the way that you’re meant to, creating your own classes for every possible circumstance is more important than ever. In that sense, Scorestreaks really should be attached to the classes you create.
For instance, you may have a class you prefer to use for games of Domination and an entirely different one for Team Deathmatch. Maybe you’ll equip defensive Scorestreaks in Domination, such as the Guardian turret or counter-UAV, but in Team Deathmatch you’re better off sticking to offensive Scorestreaks.
These quadrotors can be used in multiplayer, and can give you a pretty decent advantage before anyone realises how they’re dying.
Without the option to match particular Scorestreak choices with certain classes, you’re forced to tweak and alter the options before a match starts – and there are even situations where you may want to alter your playstyle during a match.
There is a greater issue at hand, however. Black Ops 2 multiplayer is still just the same multiplayer gameplay, and no amount of tweaks to the system, improvements to the maps or the expected behind-the-scenes alterations change the fact that this is the same multiplayer we’ve played for years now.
For some this won’t be a problem, but others will consider this the most pertinent point our Black Ops 2 review has made – it’s not that it feels tired, just that it feels the same.
As great as all the changes are, they’re not particular revolutionary to the game. There’s no denying it’s still a great multiplayer mode, and the fast-paced run-and-gun action remains as compelling as ever, but nothing has changed – not really – and we can’t keep rewarding Call Of Duty for rehashing itself on a yearly basis.
Ultimately, why should you buy this year’s COD for multiplayer if you’ve already had your fill of everything Call Of Duty can offer?