- Publisher: Activision Blizzard
- Developer: Treyarch
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: First-Person Shooter
- Pros: Dense Multiplayer, League Play, Addictive Gameplay
- Cons: Numbing Campaign, Tactical Missions, More of the Same
It seems virtually impossible that anyone could be unfamiliar with the world of "Call of Duty" in 2012. It's like people who have never seen a "Lord of the Rings" movie, don't own a TV, or still don't have a smart phone. You know they're out there, but they probably don't have a PS3. And so reviewing a game like "Black Ops II" becomes something of an exercise in futility. It's a franchise about which EVERYONE has an opinion. And most people who love it are probably too busy playing it to take the time to read a review. Everyone else, hates it and are just waiting for the next "Battlefield" game to come out. If you're somehow still on the fence, wondering if you should ask Santa for the most death-filled game released this holiday season, I can tell you this -- in no way does "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" falter from the recent installments in this franchise and it even makes some impressive upgrades to this money-making machine but the lack of forward momentum in the series is beginning to frustrate. If you've played a recent "CoD," you've mostly played "Black Ops II," for better and worse.
It's real simple. There's a campaign that most people use to acclimate themselves to the gameplay and frenetic style so they can then jump into the far-more-popular multiplayer portion or maybe hunt some zombies. If "Black Ops II" had no campaign at all, it would still make billions of dollars for Activision. However, great success makes for great scope and so the campaign of "Black Ops II" promises non-stop action with futuristic warfare gadgets spread across the globe. It certainly delivers a lot of bang for the buck but the campaign in "Black Ops II," which features both Noriega and Candyman (the always-cool Tony Todd plays a very recognizable role), gets numbing in its excess. From the first mission, in which you will shoot hundreds of barely-armed insurgents in the back as they flee, to the final chapters which include more explosions than one can count, you will run and shoot and run and shoot and run and...
It gets to the point where story isn't just subdued by the non-stop action but it's beaten, stabbed, and drawn & quartered. One might think it's silly to say that a game with as explosive a goal as "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" should be over-the-top but the game gets monotonous in its insanity. I stopped caring at all about anything that was happening other than surviving to the next mission. A bit of a break-up in the action would have been nice.
Oh, wait, I nearly forgot. In the most bizarre decision in "Call of Duty" history, "Black Ops II" includes a series of optional (although not completing them will change your ending) Strike Force missions, in which you have to tactically complete a mission by commanding troops to different areas of a map or even taking control of modern, mechanized weapons. In theory? Not a horrible idea. In execution, they're nearly un-playable. The map design is off for a tactical mission and the objectives are never quite clear. It's like someone wanted to re-use multiplayer maps by inserting them into a campaign in a unique way. All it did was make me want to go back and play "XCOM: Enemy Unknown" some more.
A "Call of Duty" game with a moderately successful campaign that feels more oppressive than impressive is nothing new so why do I keep going back to "Black Ops II"? That addictive multiplayer. The main addition this year is something very cool called "League Play," in which the player has access to all upgrades -- weapons, scorestreaks, attachments, etc. -- from the very beginning and competes in matched play games with equally skilled players to try and climb a rankings ladder. It makes for a very different experience than a standard Public Match, in which unlocking new upgrades and playing with them are essential to the gameplay. With the amount of options for gameplay style open to everyone it makes for a fascinating game. I found myself picking up weapons from my enemies just to see how they had upgraded them.
The depth of modes in "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" is the best of the year in terms of multiplayer combat. There are the standards like Deathmatch & Capture the Flag along with my favorites -- Kill Confirmed (collect the dog tags of your fallen enemies), Domination (control three points on the map), and Hardpoint (control one shifting point). "Black Ops II" really does, more than any multiplayer game, offer something for everyone.
But it's not perfect. The map design is lackluster. There are a few that work but several -- Cargo & Aftermath, for example -- are stunningly familiar, almost as if they were pulled directly from an old "CoD" game. I wanted a more fresh approach to map design (Hijacked offers a little bit of that) and I hope the downloadable maps throughout 2013 give me that. Because, as manic and frustrating as this game can be, I know I'll be playing it all next year. I'm not proud of it but it's an addiction.
Graphics & Sound
The game is not a visual upgrade over "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" in any way. In fact, a lot of the maps in multiplayer look more old-school than the best of that game. Admittedly, the campaign looks amazing and the motion capture for the cut scenes is impressive but this game looks no better than "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" and most gamers hate that title. The sound design is strong and the vocal work is good but most of the audio is just a variation on gunfire, explosions, and inane soldier chatter.
Your opinion of "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" is likely to reflect your opinion of past "CoD" games. This is not the one that's going to convert anyone although it's just as likely to not throw anyone from the crowded ship that is the biggest moneymaking entertainment franchise in the world. The two major additions -- the Strike Force missions and League Play -- balance out in the sense that the former is a mess and the latter is very clever. And so the "Call of Duty" ship keeps going. Maybe it will change directions and end somewhere more creative next year. Although it's unlikely to sink any time soon.