Tuesday, 27 November 2012

(Review) Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review (Xbox 360/PS3)

Over the last few years, for better or worse, Call of Duty has changed. It has its fans and, like everything, it has its haters. The last two Call of Duty's failed to impress me; however despite my best efforts, Treyarch got me excited for Black Ops II like they managed with the fairly average original Black Ops.
Despite the fact a full review is about to commence, the question everyone wants to hear the answer to straight off is, simply: does it live up to the hype?! Well, quite simply, no. But that does not mean it is a bad game by any means. It by far succeeds MW3, which means it is above being bad. Indeed, the answer 'No' does not (unsurprisingly) do the game any justice.
Black Ops II is a massive game and it's certainly best covered in segments, so let's begin with the campaign.
Set in the year 2025, you are thrown into the shoes of the original Black Ops main protagonist, Alex Masons, son. While he is the main man on the scene, you'll also control other characters in other time periods too. It is typical CoD design and to be expected, however as with Black Ops, you never feel like you are being switched between characters too often and you always get a good idea of who is who. Despite revisiting the past on a fair few occasions (1986-89 to be exact), the main story is all about the future and according to Treyarch the biggest threat to the human race (or more directly, the USA) is it's own robots. Well, while droids are causing serious problems, none of it would be happening if it weren't for a man called Raul Menendez. He's the bad guy, the guy behind the terrorist plots and the plans to destroy America, and, in the end, the entire world. While he is certainly an interesting enemy to come up against and does a lot to boost emotion and depth to the characters, his motives for his evil plans feel weak and unconvincing. As a character he is interesting and the type you enjoy watching and seeing progress in the story, however the actual role he is given is somewhat unrealistic and a bit, well, blah. Treyarch try to make you feel sad, angry and confused at the character all at the same time, but really his plans are too laughable to cause any serious emotional disturbance. The character as a whole is intriguing but the plot not so much.
Black Ops II does a fairly good job of adding more depth to all involved characters; including those returning from the first Black Ops, and certainly it is the first CoD game that actually affected my emotions more than usual. That said, the main success here is based on how well the characters are portrayed, the actual story, as mentioned before, is a bit mediocre. It feels like Treyarch definitely tried to go for a different, more emotional take, and they partly succeeded, but the overall plot certainly needs improvement.
Treyarch decided to opt for a more customisable single player experience in more than one way. One of these ways is the new 'custom load-out' choices you are given before missions - that is unless one mission continues directly on from another. This gives you the opportunity to change weapons, gadgets, attachments etc. or you can just start the next level with the default loadout. While not a terrible feature to implement it feels fairly useless except when replaying missions. You know little about what you will be tackling in the next level and thus you cannot really make any educated decisions on what to use. What's more, most gear is actually locked and requires story progression to unlock and this makes the entire feature feel kind of pointless. In the end I found it mostly just interrupted the flow of missions and immersion which is more of a con than pro.
The campaign has also taken more of an open route by allowing for 'free' choices which alter the outcome of the story and events within it. These choices may be small ones which you barely consider to decisions which will have you really thinking. It's a nice inclusion and does a lot to improve the overall experience as well as re-playability. I'm a big fan of choice systems in games and it is safe to say Black Ops II implements it well. You never feel overwhelmed with choice and the focus is still on the shooting, so it doesn't dominate. The balance is set well.
Aside from those already listed, the only other main change, or rather, 'inclusion' are the Strike Force missions. These are RTS styled encounters where you control a squad or soldiers on the battlefield to complete objectives. Unfortunately these missions aren't just hit and miss; they fly out of view, miles from the target. The AI is basically non existent and the RTS functions are far from in depth. It's a basic system in every way and does nothing for the game. This is a major problem because they are vital to story progression and outcomes. The best way to solve this issue is to just control the squads yourself in first person, which ultimately turns these from different, unique missions, into normal shooting missions. For missions that play such an important part in the story, these are a major let down. Luckily not all of the Strike Force levels available are compulsory to play.
The campaign is a bit hit and miss in truth. It offers typical CoD single player gameplay while going for the more 'deep and meaningful' story approach which is very much failure and success in one. The new features added try to mix it up and give a new take on things but in truth, what is wrong with normal story missions that play out as they used to? In a way it would be beter if missions followed on from one another without silly class setup interruptions and there were no stupid RTS missions that completely failed! A lot of these new features feel implemented for the sake of being implemented while not successfully switching things up in any way.
In the end, however, multiplayer is where it is at. You don't buy CoD anymore simply for the story; it's all about the online experience.
Despite being the series biggest selling point, it has also been it's weakest attribute in recent releases. MW3 was a bit of a joke and the original Black Ops tried to innovate but fell short. So, where does Black Ops II fall then? Well the bottom line is: it is Call of Duty. There is no revolutionary new gameplay feature that changes the experience completely and makes everyone who hated it before love it now and there never will be. The main changes come in the form of game modes, maps, weapons, killstreaks etc.
The entire multiplayer experience is set in 2025, so expect more future styled maps. Despite Treyarchs best efforts, the maps fall short for various reasons. First of all it has been evident for some time now that CoD is becoming far more fast and furious, with smaller maps and a more run'n'gun friendly design. Campers are pretty much non existent now, which is great for some people, but highlights a map issue I have. Maps are too small and too fast. There seem to be no larger maps to break up the pacing and match after match you tend to be faced with the same thing. Hell, I found it pretty pointless having more than 2-3 classes because all maps are so similar in design and size. That is a great shame because it becomes wearing after hours of play.
The second map issue I have is, quite simply, the graphics. 60fps engine offers a great gameplay experience and all but it is so old and grotty looking, mainly in multiplayer, you'd be forgiven for thinking I was playing an old MoH PS2 game. Well, maybe that is a bit extreme but you get what I mean?! Maps look bland and boring instead of being lively and gorgeous and this ultimately makes them far less enjoyable to play.
Create a class has had a minor overhaul (again) too. No longer are you simply unlocking items over and over again, nor are you using the loved/hated CoD points: instead you are given the '10 point' system which allows you to customise what 10 things your class contains. Forget having three or even two perks; stick with 1 and add more attachments to your guns and become a one man army or use all three perk slots to make yourself as fast as possible and become a speedy ninja - the choice is yours. It is a flexible arrangement which is interesting to play around with; however the style of play is still the same, so in the end having a good balance between perks, attachments, weapons and equipment is almost compulsory.
League play is a different way of playing multiplayer as it gives you the opportunity to play with players best matched to your skill level. On top of that everything is unlocked in league play, allowing you to get the full, free experience you get in custom games. It's a neat addition however I didn't find myself going into it anymore than I was normal matches.
Love or hate them Killstreaks are, of course, back, however the only changes to note here are the different ones on offer, and even they aren't worth noting. In truth a lot of the 'new' killstreaks are simply old versions of killstreaks made to become more futuristic. Nothing to see here folks.
In truth there is little to explain or share other than that already stated. Multiplayer is your typical CoD affair. The changes made are really more cosmetic than anything and aren't the type of alterations that will win awards or set new standards. There is only one other thing worth mentioning that comes to mind, and, unfortunately, it is not a pro. The amount of ammo it takes to kill someone in Black Ops II is far from satisfactory. The fact it can take up to half a clip to down a player is fairly outrageous. I didn't find it made me lose more gun fights; it is the same for everyone after all, however it is a fairly unrealistic change that appears to be deliberate. So, for the record Treyarch, it is not appreciated.
This is the part of the review I wasn't looking forward to, simply because it is the most disappointing. Zombie's is not exactly the new and improved affair I had in mind. There is no 'zombie campaign' so to speak of; instead we are given a more objective based game mode, however it feels as deep and interesting as a small puddle. The lack of new, fun, game modes is not the problem however, it is the maps. They just are not fun to play. Annoying fire, boring surroundings, irritating glitches and no real structure make the zombies mode borderline worthless. If any of the DLC maps are good then it will be worth having a game, but until then don't waste your time.
I've already reviewed several other CoD games, and the enjoyment I get from writing yet another article about yet another Call of Duty is similar to the amount of enjoyment I got from playing a week of Black Ops II. It's a fun game, and if you are still a hardcore fan of the series, then buy it, but, despite being a massive fan of the series since the beginning, Black Ops II fails to keep me very amused. It's better than MW3 by a mile; however it is also similar to last year's instalment in that it lacks any true innovation and change. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but a good way to express how this affects the series is to say that it no longer raises the standard of shooters; rather it simply reaches the standard it set a while ago.
Despite the fact it does not change the formula or raise the bar more, Call of Duty still remains the best at what it does, and that is the pure truth. It may no longer be unique but when you look at the other shooters of the same style and design that are on the market, CoD prevails as the best (for the record BF3 is a totally different shooter so I am not comparing the two). Black Ops II is a good game, and it is not broken or poor in any way at all, it is just that after 7 years of next gen CoD, it's safe to say I, and many other people have had their fill.

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