Call of Duty Black Ops 2 Review
Who's saying what
In recent years the Call of Duty (CoD) franchise has come under fire for its lack of innovation and two-dimensional plotlines. The first Black Ops spin-off was an opportunity for the series to explore scenarios extra to the core Modern Warfare tale… but if you ask me, they’re all just a mish-mash of exotic accents, grunts and post Cold War sub plots involving stolen warheads or shit of that ilk.
Black Ops II (BO2) draws on the first game’s lore, focusing on key bad guy, Raul Menendez. As is typical of recent CoD releases, you hunt Menendez down in two different decades—Regan-era 1980’s and the rather familiar future of 2025. Tortured soul, Alex Mason, reprises his role, fleshing out the backstory in 80’s Nicaragua, whilst his son David attempts to piece together his life and avenge his father’s death in 2025.
I’ve read reviews that state that BO2’s story is strong and very well written, but perhaps these reviewers have far too much time invested in the game and have had a chance to analyse the complexity of it. Perhaps they’ve read the PR kit. I found I couldn’t tell who was who and whilst I generally understood the objectives of each mission (kill until you cannot kill anymore), I found it hard to place where in the story each mission fit. And so, BO2 became a fast paced “mish-mash of exotic accents, grunts and post Cold War sub plots involving stolen warheads or shit of that ilk.”
Correct—I quoted myself within the same story.
Traditionally, the CoD series has been Americans (and the odd Brit) against the Russians and/or the Arabs, as they’re very easy enemies to employ. Interestingly, BO2 sees us teaming up with rebels in Angola, playing as a Middle Eastern character (I honestly can’t remember where he was from), working alongside the Mujahedin and the Chinese (but then against the Chinese). To my mind, it’s the first game of the series to properly acknowledge allies other than the English.
I assume, though, most gamers will take the same attitude I did—“cool story bro.”
Another first for the CoD series is that the game is set 13 years into the future. Developer Treyarch have done a nice job of making this future look kinda the same, but kinda different. Treyarch have loaded 2025 with many new and exciting ways for us to kill one another. Key tech used:
· Drones: today the US uses drones like they’re going out of fashion—in BO2’s 2025, drones are king. In fact they’re core to Menendez’s plan to incite world war. Various types of drone are used on the battlefield. Hover drones are unmanned helicopters with searchlights and mini guns. Quad drones are small UAVs with tiny machine guns on them—like very annoying mosquitoes. Larger drones, similar to the ones we use today, only they look like stealth fighters. David uses a spider drone equipped with a camera to crawl through an air vent
· VTOL aircraft: the future is laden with various aircraft that can vertically take off and land. You get to pilot a Lockhead Martin F-35, no less
· Invisibility cloaking: I’m not sure this will make it to the battlefield by 2025, but it sure is being worked on today. BO2 doesn’t make enough use of this tech to my mind. Once it does make it to the battlefield, it will play a bigger part in warfare—instantly the battlefield is EVERYWHERE. Anyway, it’s a fun tech to use.
We also see flexible displays, quantum computing, Minority Report-style personalised advertising (it is already a reality), Minority Report-style gesture driven interfaces and wearable computing. There is more tech I haven’t mentioned, but I was too busy killing to take note.
You’ll be overwhelmed by the embarrassing choice of weapons. Expect to tread over a dozen different weapons in any given theatre. Will the soldier of the future really be that spoilt for choice? On that point, BO2’s single player campaign allows you to customise your weapon loadout, before each sortie. It’s a nice feature that had me agonising over red dot sights versus thermal imaging sights, suppressors over barrel extensions and extended magazines over faster reloading magazines.
If you’ve played any of the more recent CoD and Battlefield games—the gameplay is exactly as you would expect. The controls are intuitive so much so that even though I have not played CoD for a year, I was killing, reloading, switching weapons and throwing grenades like I was born that way. It’s a great fighting system and I’m glad they haven’t touched it.
The devs have improved the way your enemies come on too. Gone are the incessant waves of foes that continue to spawn until you reach a certain magic boundary. BO2 accepts that humans are finite, so if you hang back and pick guys off, eventually they’ll stop coming. It’s a refreshing update. The level design can be cool in parts, though some of the outdoor stages are a bit naff.
Unless you’ve got a lot of time, don’t bother with the strike force missions. In each, you control multiple units including sentry guns and robotic gun drones. You’ve meant to direct the operation in a combination of top down overview and first person views, sending troops to guard strategic points on the map. But as the action intensifies (almost immediately) the laborious controls get in the way. Call me time poor/shit at games, but I couldn’t deal with this. Treyarch were merciful in making these missions optional.
Multiplayer, otherwise known as being humiliated by my six-year-old nephew (that actually isn’t a joke) is something I haven’t bothered with yet. Call me too busy to care. But from what I’ve seen, it’s all a bit the same, save for some token refinements. This isn’t a bad thing.
Unless you’ve still got your notes from the first game, don’t expect to understand the story too much. Just sit back, shoot until no one stands and let your teammates open doors for you. Black Ops 2 is a solid, fun shooter that I'll be replaying... with my six-year-old nephew (I quiver).
(Xbox 360 reviewed)