Year after year developers Treyarch and Infinity Ward have pumped out a new Call of Duty game on an annual basis. Over the years plenty of naysayers have put the series down for sticking with the same formula for so long. 2010 saw the arrival of a story-focused Call of Duty: Black Ops, which pushed the boundaries of what we were used to. Two years later Treyarch is back with Black Ops 2, and this time Call of Duty has changed more than I would have ever expected.
I’ve been thinking about Black Ops 2 for a long time and, in reading various opinions and playing the game for myself, I’ve decided to split this review into the three main building blocks of the game: Zombies, Multiplayer, and the Single Player campaign.
Ever since the first “Easter egg” Nazi Zombie mode arrived in Call of Duty: World at War, zombies have become an exponentially growing part of Call of Duty, even warranting an iOS port for both World at War and Black Ops maps.
Having said that, Black Ops 2 ramps things up significantly with two new game modes. Tranzit, the cooperative campaign of Black Ops 2 Zombies, seemed to have had the bulk of development time. Zombie veterans should be used to the endless banter between characters, and the silly dialogue returns in Black Ops 2. In Tranzit, players are put on a bus in a pseudo-campaign that, while without the polish of the normal single player campaign, manages to still be a blast as players move between small maps. As always the Zombie modes are intended to be played cooperatively, so the sparse story is actually a bit welcome so players can focus more on each other and playing together.
Returning for the third time is Survival and, while typically the focal point of Zombies, it takes a backseat to Tranzit. In the time that I spent in survival it became increasingly clear that survival is no longer the focus of the game; the maps I visited were small snippets of Tranzit maps and while they’re good to mess around in for a bit, they were nowhere near the scope of the survival maps that gamers are used to.
Another new mode is Grief, which allows you and three friends to split into teams of two. Once split, each team will try to outlast the other in terms of survival, and while players can’t directly harm each other they can do some quirky “attacks” such as luring zombies towards them with meat, or stunning one partner as they revive the other. These little additions make Grief mode seem more like an experimental mode that Treyarch is testing the waters with. Something that is made apparent throughout the rest of the game.
Treyarch has made some huge departures from the usual formula in its multiplayer mode. The most notable of these changes is the create a class system, which up until now has remained fairly formulaic. This time around however, comes the ten point system. Everything you can equip yourself with costs you a point to equip, be it guns, perks, or the new wild cards (which add a whole new level of complexion to the classes). The new system works very well and no longer has COD Bucks like in the first Black Ops, rather the new system works on unlock tokens that players receive as they level up.
In my time with multiplayer, I’ve noticed a significant change in player play styles. There is now a much bigger focus on movement, the tried and true method of camping no longer seems viable and players who remain in any one location for more than a few seconds are essentially willing their life away. In this respect I applaud the map design, as the maps flow naturally. I felt very comfortable maneuvering around in almost any situation on most maps, fortunately to accomplish this sniper spots are still intact and I’ve discovered players with some creative spots to maintain their trade.
In terms of new game modes there isn’t much to speak of aside from HardPoint which is essentially King of the hill, the closest mode to equate it to would be headquarters.
Overall, I think this new direction is a great step for Call of Duty. While it may just be the novelty of a new system, I believe this equal playing ground between players is much nicer this time around. I never felt like I was at too unfair of a disadvantage, and the times that I was at an advantage felt earned.
Single player in Call of Duty has become a bit of a movie experience to my friends and I. When I say a “bit” of a movie experience I mean it essentially is a movie; we’ll gather on the couch as someone plays through the campaign, we’ll marvel at the slow motion explosions and pistol shots as a cliché story plays out.
While the same stays true for Black Ops 2, it’s much more enjoyable this time around. At select times players will be given the option to choose between two equally “difficult” people or objects. Be it a situation of who should live or what not, each choice alters the story in a different way which, for dedicated Call of Duty players, may warrant multiple playthroughs.
Some levels also experiment with new methods of gameplay, with one level allowing players to control a huge squad of both soldiers and drones, and while the AI in this level was exceptionally poor I still had a blast switching who or what I would play as.
While the stories in Call of Duty are typically a by the numbers deal, the enemy typically has a “noble” desire that could warrant at least some grounds for sympathy, this was especially evident in the first game with Viktor Reznov. Though this time around, the antagonist in my experience with the story was so plainly evil without any redeeming factor. While action-focused players won’t be too bothered with a bad guy being “too” bad, I did enjoy the small amount of believability the games possessed.
Overall Black Ops 2 is very much an experiment, whether it succeeded or failed is up to you but the fact of the matter is that with such a long line of unchanging games, any experimentation is welcome. It’s clear with some of the newer modes, Treyarch didn’t have time to polish them to the level we’re used to.
That being said, I love the new route Call of Duty is taking and I’m hoping they continue to improve upon the foundation Treyarch has laid out next year and for years to come.