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Game Review: Call Of Duty: Black Ops II
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Call of Duty: Black Ops II Image

Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Xbox 360| PS3 | PC | Wii U
DEVELOPER: Treyarch
PUBLISHER: Activision
RELEASE DATE: November 13, 2012

Releasing a new title in a video game franchise every year is no easy task, and with it comes something of a curse. While fans of the games eat up each annual installment, most others eventually get bored and yearn for something more fresh and original, as was the case, for a recent example, with both the Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty franchises.

Due to this, we saw both series look to refresh their respective franchises this year. Assassin’s Creed III ran away from the historical Italian setting of its previous three installments and relocated to the United States during the American Revolution. It’s still basically the same thing we’ve seen released by Ubisoft the past four years or so, but the setting change has clearly been appreciated and the game has gotten generally positive reviews. As for Call of Duty, developer Treyarch had the tricky task of revitalizing the franchise with their own sequel, Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Treyarch’s parent company, Activision, has had themselves a good operation going the past decade or so, with two different developers—Infinity Ward and Treyarch—alternating every year to put out a new Call of Duty game. Games that have been shattering records and making the company stunning amounts of money the past few years.

Lately Infinity Ward had been leading the charge with the highly successful Modern Warfare series, while Treyarch offered the lesser enjoyed in between titles. But Treyarch stepped away from the oft-used World War II setting and stepped up their game for the 2010 release, Call of Duty: Black Ops. The game didn’t change much of the formula, but it did offer new settings and was widely considered to be an excellent new entry in the long-running series. But because they didn’t change the formula much, you could feel things getting a little stale, which only carried over with the release of Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 3 in 2011, leaving the door open for Treyarch to truly impact the franchise here in 2012.

But while there was a need for a change, the amount of money the games were still making was undeniable. It’d be crazy to change too much when Black Ops broke records, and MW3 then went and broke those records. Hence why Treyarch’s task was tricky. Thankfully for us, Activision was kind enough to send along a copy of their latest game to check out and see where this year’s offering takes us.

Black Ops II still offers that same high-speed first-person shooter gaming experience that consumers have been exchanging their hard-earned coin for the past few years, but it also tweaks some things, adds some new gameplay elements, and an offers an original futuristic setting with some cool new toys to play with.

The first thing to note is that the game isn’t entirely set in the future. The main storyline is set in the year 2025, where you play as David Mason (son of the first Black Ops‘ lead character, Alex Mason), but there’s a tremendous amount of continuity between the two games, and half of the campaign’s missions are set in the past as David gathers information from an old friend of his father’s, Frank Woods, about the game’s primary antagonist, Raul Menendez. The result is a back and forth between the past and the future as we learn more about Menendez and his connection to both father and son.

My main concern from the moment we found out Black Ops II would be set in the future, was that it would feel too science-fiction and not realistic enough. I don’t play Call of Duty games looking for a Halo experience. We could eventually see that it wasn’t hard sci-fi, and that made it all the easier to enjoy. Because it’s set only a little more than a decade away, it still feels realistic and believable enough while also offering some insanely fun new weaponry to play with. Invisibility suits, guns that scan an area showing you where people are hiding and let’s you shoot through walls to hit them, and explosives that fire out fast as bullets and stick to your target are just a few of the impressive new toys to play with.

I also have to applaud the story, which was penned by one of the writers of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and wrote upcoming movies like Godzilla and Man of Steel, David Goyer. Previous sequels in the franchise have had familiar characters and such, but this game feels like a legit follow-up to Black Ops, with characters from the original, new characters that tie to the old ones, and and an original story that intertwines the two. It also helps when you get to fight alongside Michael Rooker, with Tony Todd cursing away as an admiral you serve under.

Also new this time around are Strike Force missions. These really help to add a new layer to the Call of Duty franchise and shake things up. Basically you get a mission to do, but you don’t play as one of the game’s characters. You get certain squads and artillery to work with with, and you get to take on the mission in a first-person shooter/real-time strategy hybrid. You can pull back into Overwatch mode and choose a soldier to jump into the fight with, or you can take over a turret or high-tech robot. Or you can play the whole thing in said Overwatch mode as a real-time strategy game. It’s up to you how you want to get it done. These are a little overwhelming at first, and it will take time to get used to the controls, but they’re a welcome addition. You don’t have to take the missions on, either. They’re only available for a certain amount of time. But they do also affect the outcome of your campaign; successfully completing your objectives will help you, while failing could lead to certain characters dying along the way and other things not playing out how you planned.

Strike Force missions aren’t the only thing that affects your game, as well. There will be certain decisions along the way that alter the way your story goes. I haven’t played enough to see how differently things can go if I went down a different path, but if these things do meaningfully impact your story, then they’re a very smart move by Treyarch and open the game to much replayability. Hell, even if things don’t change too much, it’s still appreciated just having choices to make and consequences to those choices.

Speaking of replayability, that aspect of the Call of Duty games doesn’t often come from the campaign…though again, it’s a welcome addition. The replayability of course comes from the highly competitive world of multiplayer. There were a lot of different reasons people weren’t as fond of Modern Warfare 3‘s multiplayer as previous games (I have to get to WHAT rank before I can play Hardcore?!), so it was up to Black Ops II to reignite that passion fans had about it. I personally still think the original Black Ops has better multiplayer action (simple is better in my book), but I’m much more into it this year than I was last, and it seems that at least the few CoD fans I’ve chatted with agree.

Exciting changes have been made to multiplayer, as well, such as much more choice in customizing what you enter the game with. Instead of taking what they offer, you’re given 10 slots to work with. This means that if you never use your secondary weapon, or tactical grenades, for example, you have the option of not taking them and instead using more attachments on your primary weapon or extra perks.

If an action packed campaign and endless multiplayer battling isn’t enough for you, Treyarch still has one more card up their sleeves: zombies! As always, the zombie addition is a fun way to waste time when not playing the other two gameplay options. There’s a few modes to try out this year, one of which has you making your way through a hellish post-apocalyptic wasteland that’s overrun by the dead, with an old, run down bus driven by a creepy robot as your transportation from one area to the next.

When it’s all said and done, Treyarch really stepped up to the plate with Call of Duty: Black Ops II. The series was badly in need of a few tweaks, and fans were given that and more with endless hours of entertainment to be had here. For my money, it’s right up there with the original Black Ops as the best in the franchise, and that, my friends, says a lot about the effort Treyarch has been putting into their games.

Now we can only wonder if Infinity Ward will try to shake things up and retake their throne with the rumored Modern Warfare 4, or if they’ll stay the course.

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