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Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review: Treyarch is the New King of COD

Activision was gracious enough to send me a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for the PS3, so for the past three days I’ve dedicated my gaming life to completing 2012’s COD offering on the Veteran setting (don’t worry it’s quite easy this time around).  I’m happy to report that Treyarch has crafted what many will consider the best COD game post the COD 4 revolution that took this franchise out of the past, and placed it in modern times nearly 5 years ago.  I truly believe that Treyarch has stepped up their game to the point that they’re now the definitive leader in Call of Duty game design.  Yes, I know Infinity Ward started it all, and reinvented the franchise with Modern Warfare, but considering that IW is a shell of its former self due to the mass exodus of IW devs in 2010, I can’t help but pass the mantle to Treyarch due to their excellent work in Black Ops 2 (BO2).

This studio has taken the yearly COD formula and spruced it up just enough to really make BO2 stand out from the last few Call of Duty offerings.  I’ll be very honest with you all.  I, unlike many of you ($500 million in 24 hours, have become slightly burnt out on the whole COD scene these past few years.  Activision’s yearly release schedule has crammed this franchise down our throats for the entire run of this current console generation, and for the most part each game is more of the same with a sprinkle of new technology and fresh graphics.  Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 isn’t as reinvigorating as 343’s work on Halo 4, but it’s solid story and near future warfare tech are just enough to breath a little bit of new life into this gaming juggernaut, so if you’ve been putting off picking up the 9th title in the COD franchise I hope my review will give you the push you need in either direction.  Enjoy, and stay frosty!

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

EB 8.9 out of 10 Buddhas

(Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 version were evaluated)

The Awesome

  • A COD first: Captivating tale with branching paths and alternate endings
  • Best 3D mode in gaming
  • Stellar visuals and sound
  • Extremely violent

The Not so Awesome

  • Strike Force missions just don’t seem to fit in the traditional campaign
  • Short and surprisingly easy campaign
  • Great 3D mode will cause your eyes and brain to scramble because you leave it on too long

Preferred Platform

  • The Xbox 360 definitely takes the cake. The PS3 visuals just didn’t seem to be as sharp and clear, and the platform is currently plagued by connection issues (as of this writing).

Story

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 still follows the Bayhem formula of story design, and doesn’t lack in the over-the-top action department, but this time around I believe having David S. Goyer on the writing team definitely helped to create a more interesting plot.  BO2 is set sometime after the events of the original, and it still focuses on many of the protagonists from that game such as Alex Mason, Frank Woods, and that Hudson dude, but it also incorporates a near future storyline that features a brand new cast of characters with David Mason, the son of Alex, taking the leading role in that era.  Treyarch did a masterful job of mixing both the past and the present in BO2, and I loved how they accomplished this through flashbacks being told through the eyes of an old Sgt. Woods to the new generation of super Navy Seals in David Mason and his partner Harper.

Sgt. Woods makes Rambo look like a girl

Mason and Harper are near future soldiers whose main story takes place in the year 2025 in a world that is ruled by technology and social networks.  They are tasked with saving the day from a drug dealing terrorist named Raul Menendez, who has built up a cult following of epic proportions by pitting the super nations of the US and China (China runs the SDC, which is a coalition of forces that support their beliefs) at odds with each other, as well as playing on the minds of the masses with his Cordis Die social movement.

In the year 2025 the Earth’s economy and military forces are ruled by Rare Earth Elements (REE), which have allowed for the development of all of BO2’s future weapon and gadget technology.  Mason and his fellow JSOC (think the a coalition of forces that support the US and its beliefs) members are tasked with protecting their own in the second Cold War, which just so happens to be with China and its SDC forces, and they need the help of Old Man Woods to learn about how Menendez plays into the big picture.  BO2 isn’t just another COD game about the free countries of the world versus Commies and terrorists, so don’t expect more of the same when you fire up the game for the first time to embark on your campaign run.  By mixing two different eras that utilize the same cast throughout, Treyarch has managed to create an intriguing tale that spans many decades, which will keep you glued to your seat to see what happens next.

Meet Harper one of the near future soldiers in Black Ops 2

This time traveling storytelling tactic is why I believe Goyer and the writers introduced the new villain Menendez in BO2.  His end game is bringing down the current world powers to appease his lifelong quest of revenge against the U. S. of A. for transgressions committed against him throughout his life.  Let’s just say that he’s hell bent on using these new REE enabled technologies to exact his vengeance on those he deems responsible for some of the more tragic moments in his past, and he is in no rush to do it as he takes nearly 30 years to complete his plan.  Because of this Treyarch was able to utilize familiar characters from the original Black Ops, while at the same time introducing new ones and some awesome new gear in the near future setting.

Like I mentioned earlier I thoroughly enjoyed the story in BO2, and I think the main reason for that was the use of two very different eras, as well as an overarching plot that carried itself through both time settings.  Some of the “Oh Snap!” moments you may see coming from a mile away, but I still enjoyed my time with this game’s relatively short campaign (7-10 hours depending on skill and difficulty), and consider it the best COD tale since MW4.  Besides, this is the first COD game to have multiple endings and branching paths, so I have to respect Treyarch’s work on BO2’s story.  It’s no Halo 4, but it’s a solid and gripping tale of espionage and terrorism.

Raul Menendez is a dick, but he has 1 billion Twitter followers!

Gameplay

For all intents and purposes Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 functions just like the 8 other COD games that came before it.  Control wise there’s nothing new whatsoever, but that’s a good thing because the controls weren’t broke.  The biggest additions to the COD formula that BO2 brought to the table is the near future technology, and the new Strike Force missions.  I’d like to begin with the near future weaponry, because to me it is the shining light in BO2’s new gameplay innovations.

I think what I appreciated the most about this future tech is the fact that I could actually see some of it coming to fruition in our own future.  It’s not like Treyarch created technology that could only be feasible in a fictional universe like Star Wars.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got some of their ideas from actual military R&D projects.  I’m not even talking about the drones, because those types of devices really are currently being used in real world warfare.  I’m referencing the weapons and technology that David Mason and his team use in their portion of the game’s tale.

I think some of these new weapons like a high powered rifle that can shoot and see through walls is what made this one of the easier COD Veteran campaign runs I’ve attempted, because they give you that much of an advantage over the dimwitted AI (Trust me I’m not complaining, I’m not ready for a stroke quite yet).  I also appreciated using some of the near future spy tech such as David’s magical wrist band of technology, and his HUD enabled shades.  Most of this futuristic tech hasn’t been seen in a game before, so I was pleasantly surprised with what Treyarch dreamed up in that department.  It definitely helped BO2 to feel a little more original than the last few COD games, and I hope they return to the setting in the inevitable Black Ops 3.

Yes, those are soldiers with jet wings!

Unfortunately, not every change to BO2’s gameplay is as perfect as the new weapons and gear.  Treyarch has implemented a new campaign mode called Strike Force missions, which resemble a hybrid tower defense game that enables you to take control of your defensive structures in a first person mode, or from an “Overwatch” view of the entire battle field.  The fact that they don’t need to be completed to beat the game is a dead give away that they were crow barred into the campaign because someone had an idea at a developer’s meeting, and everyone at Treyarch bought into it.  I felt like these missions broke up the pace of the campaign, and really took you out of the main story since none of the cast is ever directly involved in these missions.  Not to mention the fact that they’re nearly impossible to beat on Veteran, so they can actually get your blood boiling if you’re going for the super good ending on harder difficulties.

If you can remember what Ubisoft did to the AC franchise by implementing a similar tower defense mini-game in Revelations, then you’ll have an idea of what the Strike Force mini-game does for COD.  I think fans of the series will either love, or hate this mode, but there won’t be any inbetweeners.  It’s definitely a polarizing gameplay addition, and doesn’t ruin the game itself, but I would’ve liked to have seen it implemented in a different manner.  You know, maybe as a stand alone campaign in addition to the main tale, or it’s own game type altogether like Zombies, or Multiplayer.  It just didn’t feel perfect to me, and I would’ve preferred more traditional campaign levels than the sideshow that Strike Force is.

Graphics

If I hadn’t just played Halo 4 the week prior to BO2, I would’ve deemed it the best looking game on the Xbox 360 (PS3 not so much) to date.  It definitely takes second place without a doubt.  The game’s visuals are top-notch throughout, and really bring a sense of realism to the COD franchise, and gaming in general with its amazing character renders.  The character models looked nearly as life-like as those in Halo 4, but what held them back was their movements.  For some reason the mo-cap in BO2 just didn’t have that realistic feel like H4, or L.A. Noire.  That’s not saying they sucked donkey nuts either, as they’re easily a clear indication in regards to where game graphics are headed in the next generation of consoles.

Absolutely loved the look and feel of this mission, horse warfare FTW!

Black Ops 2’s particle effects also look amazing, and there’s a ton of them considering all of the explosions and destruction in this game.  The textures in each level are clearly defined and look very sharp in HD making each of the unique landscapes featured in this game feel alive.  I was also impressed with the frame rate, which ran smooth as silk with nary a hiccup.

Although, what impressed me most about this game’s visual prowess is its excellent 3D mode.  I was so impressed with it that I reviewed it separately in this post.  For my full thoughts on the subject read that article, but to sum it up the 3D in BO2 is the tits.  If you’ve played a game in 3D before you probably noticed that the game’s graphical fidelity took a drastic hit when it is enabled.  That’s not the case whatsoever in BO2.  In fact, I preferred playing in 3D, and completed 95% of the campaign using it.  That’s probably why I can no longer see and think straight, but it’s well worth the health risk to play this game with three dimensions.

Sound

Just like the graphics category BO2’s sound profile is stellar, but not as impressive as Halo 4’s.  I hate to keep using that as a litmus test, but let’s be real.  Halo 4 and Black Ops 2 will define the year in gaming, so they have to be compared to each other.  I didn’t feel like the campaign score was anything to write home about, and the weapon sound profiles didn’t seem to be that much different than the past.  The surround sound is superb though, and will make you feel like you’re in the middle of the conflict against Menendez.  There is one aspect of BO2’s sound scape that does kick Halo 4’s ass, and it takes place in a post-credit scene after beating the game.  All I can say is that it’s an awesome pile of WTF that will make you wonder what the hell you’re watching on screen.

Multiplayer

Out of the $500 million dollars worth of units sold I’d have to guess that $499 million of that total came from COD gamers that are only interested in the game’s multiplayer component.  I guess I can’t blame those types of fans, because COD 4 introduced one of the most addicting multiplayer modes in this generation, and each subsequent title has improved upon its formula.  BO2 is no different.

Unfortunately, I tend to suck at twitchy FPS multiplayer these days, so I’m not enjoying BO2’s multiplayer as much as some of those 10 year-old savants out there, but that doesn’t mean its the game’s fault.  BO2’s multiplayer is spot on, and retains most of the formula found in previous COD games.  There’s still prestige modes, custom classes, and kill streaks (now called score streaks), but BO2 allows you to further tweak these stalwarts in COD multiplayer gameplay.  The maps are all pretty solid, and offer a mix of close quarters and open field combat, but I still haven’t found a map as excellent as COD 4’s Shipment, so I can’t get too excited about BO2’s map offerings.

I appreciated the fact that you can now tweak the living daylights out of your classes through tokens which you earn for playing matches, and can then spend on new load out upgrades when they get unlocked by leveling up.  I’m not so keen on the token formula, but they do force you to make informed decisions about how you want to play the game, so I guess they do add a bit of strategy to the mix.  I also appreciate the fact that your streak awards are now based on points and not kills, because when you can’t hit the broad side of a barn from 10ft away like myself, it at least gives you hope that you’ll get to drop a massive streak award without being a COD All-Star.

Overflow map

To be honest with you, the biggest changes to the COD multiplayer formula that Treyarch introduced in Black Ops 2 is its focus on e-sports, and social networks.  This game’s multiplayer is built with competitive gaming as a main feature, and it’ll definitely change the way developers think about their own multiplayer modes.  The most impressive additions to the multiplayer mode in BO2 is the ability to CODcast, live-stream, and play in leagues.  Each of these features setup this game to be the premiere title at competitive gaming competitions, as well as for sharing your gaming conquests online with a broad audience.

CODcasting allows you to create your own gaming podcasts with ease.  You can narrate previously played games in Theater mode to share with friends, so they can study up on your skills, or even if you want a new career in calling gaming tournaments as if you were the next Jim Nantz.  This feature can also be used to easily create online BO2 tutorials to share, or a way to study other top COD players tactics and skills.

The live stream feature is also impressive as it will allow you to stream your matches live to any device connected to the Internet.  It’ll also allow you to stream your own web cam if one is used.  This new feature will enable gamers who haven’t been able to pony up for the expensive equipment required to live stream games to have the ability to share their multiplayer conquests with the world without being a technical genius.  I foresee a whole bunch of new gaming infused YouTube channels popping up across the globe just because of BO2’s innovative built-in live stream feature, and that’s nothing to balk at.

The new League Play mode is the final major improvement to the COD multiplayer formula in BO2.  These leagues are skill based, so you won’t be competing against a bunch of teens who will pwn you to the point of giving up your FPS career.  Through a skill assessment you will be placed in an appropriate ladder for a season.  Within this ladder you will compete against similarly skilled gamers to increase your rank, and if you get good enough you can even get promoted to a new division.  For someone like myself who doesn’t have the time required to become a proficient COD multiplayer gamer, this League mode is a godsend.

Final Thoughts

I think many Call of Duty fans will always point to COD 4 as their all-time favorite, but Treyarch’s excellent work on Black Ops 2 will definitely give it a run for its money.  BO2 easily has the best campaign since COD 4, and it’s Goyer penned tale will keep you playing until the zany post credit scene rolls.  The use of a near future setting has allowed Treyarch to introduce some of the coolest weapons in and gadgets seen in a FPS series.  The graphics and sound are best in class, and give us a preview of what’s to come in the next generation of consoles.  If you’ve been needing to use your 3D HDTV again Black Ops 2 provides some of the best 3D gaming I’ve ever experienced.  As expected this game’s multiplayer is also better than ever.  If you’ve been feeling some fatigue with this game’s online offerings you may want to give BO2 a try to soak in all of the innovative features Treyarch has added to the mix.

The near future looks so promising doesn’t it?

The new Strike Force campaign mission will either resonate with you, or bother you, which is a bummer.  I don’t like how they’re somewhat forced into the main campaign, but I think the idea is a good one.  It just needs implemented better.

If you’re into challenging yourself as a gamer then don’t expect a ton of trouble from BO2’s relatively short campaign.  It’s by far the easiest Veteran playthrough I’ve completed, which is both good and bad depending on how you like to game.  Just don’t expect more than 7-10 hours of gameplay.

I don’t care if you like the COD franchise or not, but you have to respect the fact that BO2 sold $500 million worth of units in just 24 hours.  That’s a clear sign that Activision and its developers are still doing something right when it comes to the yearly COD releases.  I mean this franchise has now grossed more cash than other entertainment mediums such as the Harry Potter and Star Wars film franchises.  That’s the definition of a cash cow!

Now just because a game sells like crack in a Detroit neighborhood doesn’t mean its great, but Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is.  For all of its upside I give it an EB 8.9 out of 10 Buddhas.  If you’ve been a COD fan since day one it’s well worth picking up.  Activision has yet to snuff the life out of this franchise, and if subsequent COD games are as entertaining as Black Ops 2, I don’t know if they ever will.

 

[#ff entbuddha] “Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”

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Tags : COD: Black Ops 2ImpressionsmultiplayerMust Play
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.