Treyarch, who holds the stigma as the Call of Duty “B” team, has delivered an improved single player and multiplayer experience withBlack Ops II – and yes, Zombies is back with a bunch of new impressive new modes. With alternate endings for the campaign and changes to the multiplayer formula, Black Ops II is the freshest COD experience in years, but that isn’t saying much.
The campaign begins with David Mason – the son of the main character from the original Black Ops, Alex Mason – visiting a frail looking Sgt. Frank Woods. Woods informs Mason about a cyber terrorist Raul Menendez – who is out for revenge after his sister’s death many years ago. Jumping back and forth between the futura era – year 2025 – and flashback missions from the 70s and 80s, you will uncover the reasoning behind Menendez’s actions. Expect to experience the typical twists and turns that you have come to expect in a COD storyline, along with several branching paths and decisions that will affect the outcome of the story.
With missions that are separated by 40+ years, the way you approach each one depends entirely on the equipment of the decade. You may have to shoot down a Russian Hind with a rocket launcher, take out gun boats with a mounted .50 caliber machine gun back in the 70s, while in 2025 you have to contend with stealth suits, drones – as well as getting to soar in the air with wingsuits. The gore level in the game has been cranked to 11 with heads getting decapitated by machetes, but if the blade gets stuck in the neck, be ready to stare deep into the eyes of a lifeless open mouthed face. From start to finish the campaign will only last 6-7 hours – which is typical for Call of Duty games.
Providing more single player content, Treyarch has included optional Strike Force missions allowing you to take control of any of the units on the battlefield as well as commanding them from above. The AI for the most part ignores any orders given to them, whether it is to move or attack producing an overall frustrating experience. Enemy AI doesn’t fare much better – running out of cover and straight into oncoming fire. Thankfully these missions are optional.
On the multiplayer front, Treyarch has made some substantial changes to the Call of Duty formula from customizing your class to Killstreaks – which are now called Scorestreaks. Using the “Pick 10” system, players are given 10 points to customize their entire loadout from weapons, perks, Scorestreaks, weapon attachments and newcomer to the series wild cards. Wild cards allow you to add additional perks and weapon slots at the cost of additional points. Want to load up on extra grenades or how about using two primary weapons instead of one primary and one secondary? Now you can truly customize your class to fit with your play style.
Scorestreaks replace the old Killstreaks system from the previous titles – it’s about time it was updated. No longer can it be exploited by campers that refuse to help with team objectives and just want to park themselves in a corner of the map with a sniper rifle. Completing team objectives such as capturing flags and defending capture points provide more points towards your Scorestreaks meter. What kind of new Scorestreaks can you expect? As the multiplayer takes place entirely during the future era, you can utilize flying drones that are thrown like a paper plane, the Guardian that projects a microwave field to slow down enemies and the Hellstorm Missile that can be scattered into a cluster bomb at any time. These are only a few examples, but there are plenty more for you to unlock and utilize.
Seeing how big the live stream and e-sports community has gotten over the past few years, Treyarch has included the ability to live stream League Play matches – as long as you are participating in them. Strangely enough you aren’t able to do any streaming outside of league matches, but you are able to record your matches to post straight to YouTube. The quality is passable, but isn���t as good as you could get from a dedicated capture device. Another new feature – CODcasting – allows you to use a set of tools to manipulate camera angles, set picture-in-picture and act as a game commentator in a spectator role. It’s the same type of tools that are used by professional commentators on MLG matches.
Zombies – a fan-favorite – has gotten a major upgrade with the addition of more game modes – giving you more ways to dispatch of the undead. Grief, Tranzit and Custom modes join the traditional Survival mode from the previous Black Ops. In Grief, two teams of four are trying to outlast each other, while at the same time trying to get the other team killed by throwing zombie bait at them or trying to knock them off platforms and into a bloodthirsty group of zombies. You can’t actually cause physical harm to the other team, so you have to be creative in your execution.
Tranzit – yes, it is spelt it with a “z” – is the most rewarding game mode, featuring an explorable open world with multiple areas. Taking you back and forth between the different areas, the “Johnny Cab” style automated bus must be defended from zombies that are clinging to the outside of the windows and roof. By finding and collecting different parts – carrying only one at a time – you are able to build defensive objects that could help increase your survival odds during the apocalypse such as adding spikes to the front of the bus or using a car door as a shield. I’m pretty sure the bus wants to get all the players killed as it isn’t shy about using a siren to let the undead know exactly where you are.
How does Black Ops II hold up across the different platforms? As of this review, PlayStation 3 users have been reporting multiple freezes and/or hard lock ups. During my testing I didn’t encounter either of these, but I was dropped from the servers while in a match. I also experienced lag in a handful of games, but the effects didn’t last longer than a few seconds. The PlayStation 3 version also includes an optional 1.8GB install for textures. Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game run at a sub-HD resolution as well.
Has Treyarch shaken up the Call of Duty formula enough to call it a evolution? Not exactly. Once you get through all the new customization options and branching paths in the campaign, the core gameplay still feels the same as every other Call of Duty game. While fanatics will love this, those who are looking for the franchise to take the next step may be waiting at least another year or two. I do applaud Treyarch for taking baby steps with the franchise and getting the ball rolling, but I do hope their next title will bring the evolution to the core gameplay.Note: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 3. A physical copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.