Monday, January 21, 2013

Call of Duty: Black Ops II Xbox 360 Review

When people envision the future, usually it involves flying cars, holograms, maybe some genetic manipulation that finally allows us to gain superhuman abilities. Not many stop to consider what it might hold in regards to warfare. The world does not grow slowly over time. We leap ahead in bursts of technological evolution. It took us 40 years to go from a calculator the size of a gymnasium wall, to a supercomputer we can fit in a drawer. In Black Ops II, we can do so much more. From gloves that can cling to any surface and support any weight, to holographic scopes that can see through walls, to body armor that can bend light to make you appear invisible, the future of warfare seems terrifying (and yet super cool) indeed.

Drone on Drone action

Black Ops II mixes the standard Call of Duty campaign formula up a bit by utilizing new mission types and adding in decision points that can alter the way the story plays out. Do you choose to spare this person? What would be the result if he died? Is staying undercover better than attempting to take out the target? The decisions can be small, but they also are personal, and they do affect the ending. One of the things that Treyarch delivers for this game is a deep involvement in the characters lives and emotions. Certain revelations can hit you right in the feels.

Call of Duty has always been satisfying to the fans. The story telling is well done and the characters are easy to relate too, suffering the same consequences of their actions that we all do. Small skirmishes during the war settings reinforces the possibility of these events actually happening, as they are not detailed, nor important enough, to change the history of those wars. Jumping back and forth between the future of 2025 and the past of the Cold War is very smooth. It is more of a challenge to actually lose track of your progress as you transition between times. It makes for a very believable campaign, and you soon find yourself feeling like you are in the war zone.

Raul Menendez
Returning to the life of Alex Mason (a protagonist of Black Ops), the first mission of the past involves you making your way deep into enemy territory to rescue Frank Woods (another protagonist from Black Ops and the narrator of the Cold War era gameplay). Switching gears, players then take control of David Mason. A soldier in the year 2025, David is after the same man his father was 40 years ago, Raul Menendez. The villain usually plays second flute to the main characters performance, but in this game, the bad guy actually makes the game. Menendez is a cunning opponent, always ten steps ahead of both Alex and his son David. Even when you think you finally have him in your sights, he always manages to escape your clutches and ends up causing much more harm. This is not a lucky break for him, he plans it every step of the way.

One change to the campaign aspect that keeps it fresh is the addition of Strike missions. Dropping a few squads to defend a target, rescue hostages, and escort convoys are a way to shake up the staleness you eventually start to feel from the campaign missions. Not all of the strike missions are easy. Switching between taking control of soldiers and equipment (such as a turret or drone) can be confusing the first few times, as the controls can be a bit finicky. You can overshoot your target putting yourself into a bad position to fight the enemy single-handed. By the way, the AI sucks.

The campaign formula is pretty stale after so many missions, but there are several gadgets that really make it a lot of fun. My personal favorite is a sniper you get that can see and punch through walls and vehicle bodies. Gotta love popping domes through 2 feet of concrete. The choices and the ability to replay the missions makes it more enjoyable than most past campaigns, and the replay value is a bit higher, mainly to see how those choices play out.

The multiplayer side of Call of Duty games have always been big selling points. A lot of gamers, casuals and hardcores alike, invest hundreds of hours trying to get the best attachments, the best guns, and the best perks. Black Ops II shakes it up a bit with the loadout system. You are allowed 10 points to play with and customize your loadouts. Each item (guns, perks, attachments) all count as one point. You can stack em however you want, whether you want a couple of kickass guns with full attachments, or go into the fray with an SMG and a few frag grenades, the choices are numerous to suit your play style. The COD points system has been replaced with tokens to unlock certain gear as it becomes available.

One big drawback to the COD multiplayer is that higher ranks equal more abilities to equal a distinct advantage. A level 2 can be overwhelmed by the 3rd prestige level 40 even when the new guy puts several rounds into him while his back is turned. A FLAK jacket can absorb grenade damage that normally would throw them through the window to splatter all over the sidewalk. Players should always spawn with the same choices, nobody getting special attachments that can see through walls or highlight a target just because they are a higher level.

That's where League Play really shines. After the first few games you are separated into certain divisions. These are not set in stone and you can rise or fall depending on your performances. The draw to them is the fact that all players, whether level 1 or max prestige, have everything unlocked. Players can mix and match every choice in the loadout menu, allowing for much more balanced gameplay, leaving the players themselves to be the decided victor, not their equipment. It is more intense and a greater overall experience than the traditional multiplayer for this series. Live streaming is a neat little feature as well. Tying your console to your youtube account, you can live stream all of your League Play matches to show what a badass you are with your prone sniping skills.

Unfortunately, one drawback to the newest title is the Zombie mode. Let's face it, zombies have been done. They were fun for a while and the first installment in Call of Duty was an extremely fun game mode. There has not been enough innovation to this mode to really warrant any real amount of time to spend with the undead. Riding the bus starts out interesting, but that eventually stops being entertaining. The bus gets stuck a lot and the boards you need to rebuild are slow and clunky, usually ending up with a zombie gnawing at your back. The glowing blue eyes never really made any sense, but they are still highly abundant. Seeing them coming through the fog (smoke? mist?) is not really that dramatic, and overall detracts from the experience. Another problem is that the zombies don't want to die. The biggest thing about zombies is to "remove the head or destroy the brain", but apparently an entire mag of pistol to a zombie cranium and all you get is a pissed off zombie. Surprisingly, the knife seems to be a zombie killing machine. I'm not sure what a knife has over an SMG or a 12-gauge, but that's how it plays out. I know zombies don't exist, but c'mon. A knife? Seriously?
Really guys? Who are you gonna infect in the sewers?
Overall the game is fun. The campaign is great and the multiplayer is the standard run-n-gun, prone sniping, crazy ball of enjoyment. The changes made in the MP are great additions and ultimately will be what keeps players on this title for a while.

  • Great storyline
  • Immersive characters
  • Higher replay value
  • League Play changes up the MP scene
  • Intriguing plot twists
  • Impressive emblem system
  • Zombie mode has become stale
  • Flight controls are sometimes awkward
  • Disgusting emblem creators
  • Strike AI is horrendous
Overall Score: 9.0/10

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