I took a year off Call of Duty. I used to be really into the multiplayer, especially in Modern Warfare 2 and the first Black Ops. I made friends through random matchmaking, got cussed out by twelve year-olds, heard various racial slurs and things that I never knew about my mother, was shot a bunch, shot other guys a bunch; you know the drill. I’m not ashamed to say I had fun with those games. I took a year off with Modern Warfare 3 because it just didn’t grab me and I was in a completely different place with what games I was playing. But I liked Black Ops a lot, so if anyone could get me back on the Call of Duty bandwagon, it would be developer Treyarch with Black Ops II. It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve touched a modern military shooter, and it felt good to return to the party. Even though ultimately, I realized this was a get-together that I didn’t want to stay longer at than necessary.
The campaign revolves around stopping a terrorist known as Raul Menendez who is trying to bring down the free world because his sister died. The story is cheesy, bombastic, stupid fun. Players control David Mason, son of Alex Mason, for most of the game. The story spans across the 1980s and on into the near future of 2025. Guns go bang, cars go boom, and five hours later you’re watching the end credits. The futuristic weapon tech at your disposal in 2025 is moderately intriguing. The most notable item is the Millimeter Scanner, that sends out a constant pulse that finds enemies behind cover and walls. The campaign is flat out ridiculous in an over-the-top, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond meets Black Hawk Down meets Michael Bay kind of way.
The key change in Black Ops II is the semblance of player choice. Various times in the campaign the game calculates something you did and keeps that change constant. Some of these changes are minor; some change the events of the story in pretty drastic ways. For instance, in one mission you take control of a vehicle with your teammate on the gunner seat. If you drive through the fire, your teammate’s face is burned. That change is recorded and represented through the rest of the story. Other moments are much bigger, like killing a high-value target or even a friend. For a Call of Duty game this change is pretty fantastic and the story wraps itself up in a nice bow at the end, no matter what choices you might have made.
To break up the monotony of shooting random guys through a level, Black Ops II employs a new type of Real-Time Strategy missions called Strike Force missions that are pretty much broken. You can take to the sky and signal the limited number of troops you have to attack or defend a position. The problem is the friendly AI is so ridiculously incompetent you can’t count on them to do anything. You might signal your troops to head to an objective to defend, but then they just start running at a wall. This means most of the time the tactical view is of no use because you’ll end up taking control of a single soldier or mech and plowing your way through the dense and trigger-happy enemy AI alone. The Strike Force missions are completely optional, but since they provide some story context (and achievements) you might as well slog through them.
Black Ops II’s multiplayer comes with thirteen unique maps of various sizes and locals that, while completely functional, follow the exact same formula from past Call of Duty games. There are generally three paths going down the left, right, and middle of the map with various perches and rooms along the way. The maps aren’t necessarily memorable like those in Modern Warfare 2 or the original Black Ops, but they are what you’d expect from Call of Duty multiplayer maps.
The “pick ten” class building system is one of the more noteworthy improvements from past Call of Duty games. Now, instead of building a loadout with whatever you wish (within certain parameters), you can choose up to ten different parts of your class. Each component from weapons and attachments, to perks and grenades takes up one point of the allotted ten. This brings a strategic element to class building since you can only outfit yourself with so many items. You can have a class with no weapons and only run around the map with a knife, or load up with an LMG, RPG, three perks, a grenade, and some attachments. In addition to the normal loadout tools, Black Ops II also includes a wildcard that you can equip (costing one of your ten points, of course) that allow you to slightly break the rules. With wildcards, you can take two of the same perk type or have other rule-bending loadouts.
Once in a match, I realized how Call of Duty this Call of Duty game is. I was cussed out by twelve year-olds, heard various racial slurs and things that I never knew about my mother, was shot a bunch, shot other guys a bunch; you know the drill. In Call of Duty there exists no teamwork or cooperation. It is a Darwinist, kill or be killed world. You get angry at the guy who shot you just there because you know something must have gone wrong through the client server because that Killcam shows something completely different than what you saw. After the match is over, xX420Slowbro69Xx says a series of nonsensical words through his blown out Xbox mic that you can’t really make out, but you know you should be offended by.
Zombies mode returns in Black Ops II and, to be honest, I’ve never really liked the Zombies mode so much. Tranzit is a new mode that takes you through all the different maps in Zombies and has a story that I just can’t be bothered to care for. I have nothing against zombies as a thing, in fact I really like the creature, but this mode just doesn’t do it for me at all.
There’s also a new 4v4 mode called Grief that pits two groups of four against each other and the horde of undead. If you shoot the other team, they don’t die, but their vision gets blurry. The antagonistic other team, coupled with the undead makes for too much chaos in a Zombies game. What ultimately ended up happening each time was the zombies would take out one side, but the other team could not complete the objective for the level so it just restarts back at square one for you to do it all over again ad nauseum. From what I played of the Zombies mode in Black Ops II it feels, looks, and plays exactly like the Zombies mode from past Treyarch Call of Duty games and that just doesn’t resonate with me.
At the end of the day, Black Ops II is a game that follows a strict set of routine motions that creates a fun package, but at this point doesn’t do enough to keep me on the hook. I used to love Call of Duty, and Black Ops II is definitely a good one of those. I enjoyed the stupidity of the campaign and I will maybe play more multiplayer with friends. After setting down the controller and beginning to write this review, I just felt sad. I felt like I was just playing the same game I’ve played time and again with a different coat of paint. Even with the few incremental changes to the grand design, Black Ops II is still mostly the same thing we’ve seen before. It’s not drastic, it’s not groundbreaking, it’s not bad, and it’s not great. It’s fine. And that just isn’t good enough anymore.
(Please note: I received this copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops II from Activision. These thoughts are mine and mine alone, not influenced by any outside source. This review contains my personal thoughts on the game without any corporate meddling or free Doritios.)