Game Review: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II’ for XBox 360

The Call of Duty series is the gaming industry’s equivelent of a Michael Bay summer blockbuster film. While the story might be slightly convoluted, millions of people flock to it and spend their hard earned money on a explosion filled, high octane, testosterone laced good time. In addition to the campaign, Call of Duty: Black Ops II includes both the standard mutliplayer and the Zombie mode from Treyarch which has given the studio something for people to remember them by.

It’s no surprise that Black Ops II had huge midnight launches at over a thousand locations across the country but lines of people don’t necessarily ensure a game will live up to the hype. But, Treyarch continues to prove why they are trusted with such a franchise.

The Long

First and foremost, regardless of anything else in the game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II captures shooter gameplay and control on a console at its finest. Everything from movement to aiming and shooting to damage detection all feel perfect in Black Ops II. The default control scheme is perfect for the genre and everything really just fits perfectly into place (at least on the XBox 360 controller) for the FPS experience. If you stripped down the graphics and setting, the engine behind Call of Duty: Black Ops II would still be an ideal shooter.

In addition to the traditional shooting of the game, there are small sections for players to get alternate experiences. There are various turret sequences in the game, some optional involving hacked control panels, and others involving vehicle mounted rockets to protect the President in the middle of an urban war zone. Additionally, there are some driving sections but they don’t do much to impress in terms of control as much as they are there to give exciting visual set pieces.

As seen in trailers, there is even a section where players are on horseback in the desert. This sequence doesn’t play that different from controlling any other vehicle though the horse can be kind of fussy at times about turning on the drop of a dime. Finally, one of the most fun alternate sequences comes from piloting a jet through downtown LA. While the vehicle controls are not as precise and realistic as one would find in the Battlefield series, they have an easier to drop in and play control scheme for a more arcade-like feel during these instances.

Multiplayer retains its high standard with both competitive playlists and multiplayer. There are tons of options for players to go into different match types whether it is by themselves or a part of a team. There are non-stop rewards for players as well which has proven to be one of the series’ crowning achievements (especially since most other online shooters have borrowed this method as well). This constant reward system is what keeps players so sucked in to RPG gameplay that it only makes sense that it would work in other genres too. Knowing you are only a few kills away from unlocking a new attachment to a weapon or leveling up and earning a new shot gun keep players going even past the times they would normally give themselves in a given game.

Zombie mode makes its return with new levels and new goals. Instead of just being a standard horde mode like some games, there are objectives for the players to accomplish. This of course is something that is always better accomplished when playing with a group of friends or at least a group of people communicating with each other over Live. Trying to interpret just the body language of players in these scenarios and missing out on pivotal moments can quickly spell doom for a team. The new environments capture a crazed zombie movie perfectly and fit right in with the rest of the achievements that Zombie mode has accomplished in the past by Treyarch.

For the first time, there are branching pathways in Call of Duty with Call of Duty: Black Ops II’s campaign. There are instances throughout the game where players are given a choice on what to do in various scenarios whether it is to capture or kill a certain individual that will affect future scenes as well as give variations to endings of the game. There will also be certain times a player doesn’t even realize they are at one of these pivotal points as some are not given button prompts but are just mission objectives.

If the objective is completed in the first attempt, the player won’t realize there has been a change to the progression. If they fail it however, the scene will be just ever so slightly different which allows the player to finish the mission but not complete that same objective again. It does put some emphasis on the player to play smart and try to accomplish everything correctly the first time but at the same time doesn’t punish them too badly as players can go back and replay story missions.

Also new are Strike Force missions. These are optional ops that players can take on to make further changes to the outcome of the campaign. In these, players are able to switch between a tactical view of the battlefield and order squads and drones to protect or attack certain targets. This mode attempts to create a hybrid of the FPS and RTS genres but the AI of computer controlled teammates can quickly become frustrating.

Players will find themselves hopping into characters and controlling them directly rather than focusing on the big picture perspective, which can lead to doom for a player if there are multiple objectives to worry about. These missions also don’t follow a checkpoint structure like the standard campaign and instead success or failure will lead to changes in the overall story like it does with the branching story paths.

The story in Call of Duty: Black Ops II is going to be a point of contention for some. At times, it feels like it is so wildly out of this world that no sane person could buy into it. The actions of the antagonist that so specifically target the player and his family while still having such an elaborate end game are a lot to swallow. But the only place this storytelling could work is in a video game. What does become intriguing is the way the game jumps back and forth with events in the latter half of the 20th century to those happening in the near future 2025. The juxtaposition between the older environments to the new futuristic ones maintains a certain level of intrigue as to how two stories so far apart in time can be so closely tied together.

Visually, the locales, characters, weapons and technologies are just as impressive as any other past Call of Duty title. In some cases, the designs can be even more so as they aren’t solely based on current or historical references. Now, the Treyarch team is forced to come up with believable near future that still fits into the story they need to tell while being possible only thirteen years from where we are now. There are a few visual hiccups though on occasion. Players may witness NPCs jump locations on screen if the players camera is focused on them at the wrong time. And, (SPOILER FREE) the end game “Music Video” has characters levitating a guitar without the aid of a guitar strap or holding on to a microphone in a very fake looking way. One would imagine with Activision having worked on the Guitar Hero franchise they would have paid more attention to those details.

The voice cast of Call of Duty: Black Ops II is an impressive one. Sam Worthington (Avatar), Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead), James Hong (Kung Fu Panda) and Tony Todd (Candyman) all lend their voices to the game. While all great performances, you almost wish that Rooker’s character Merle wasn’t so prevalent on the most recent season of The Walking Dead which is running along the same timeframe Call of Duty: Black Ops II is being released. Merle is such a dislikable character, it is hard to get away from that as Rooker’s character Harper is such a hero.

and the Short

Having never touched the series before, Call of Duty 2 was the first game I purchased with my launch XBox 360. With the ever improving gameplay, environments and constantly changing theater that the wars are taking place on, there is a lot to be said for the power of the series. While Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a fantastic game, some of the visual hiccups and gameplay choices keep it from being a perfect game. While it is good that Treyarch tried new things with the Strike Force missions, they aren’t as strong as other aspects of Black Ops II’s gameplay but will likely be improved upon in upcoming iterations. Regardless, the core of Call of Duty: Black Ops II in terms of both control, shooter gameplay and multiplayer are all there and it only makes sense that a game of this quality would be making half a billion dollars in its first 24 hours.

XBox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC)

Developer: Treyarch

Publisher: Activision

Price: $59.99

Score: 8.0

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