Today isn’t a good day… I’m up to my waist in ebbing water, and I nearly just got crushed by a bus as it floated down the street sideways – and to top it all off there’s an unmanned helicopter drone patrolling the streets and if it sees me, I’ll have more holes in me than the plot of a Paul W.S. Anderson movie. I need to get to the high ground before the shit hits the fan – thankfully I’m being fed information via the uplink on my wrist… and I’ve always got my CLAW unit “Brutus” to fall back on if things get really hairy.
Yes folks, Black Ops is back and ready to get the adrenaline pumping in your veins again if the copious amounts of Mountain Dew or whatever your favourite energy tipple of choice hasn’t already done that for you. The scope is bigger, the action is epic, the Zombies return, Multiplayer has been given an overhall and then there’s the RTS “Strike Missions”. This isn’t just a copy/paste of Black Ops with updated scenery… it’s a whole new ballgame.
Treyarch‘s latest outing is a bit of a risk – whereas before Black Ops had it’s feet firmly placed on the ground in terms of it being set in the present and past… this new outing is set in the 1970′s-80′s and the near future in 2025. This opens up all kinds of opportunities to play with prospective future tech, which includes augmented reality glasses, unmanned drones, robots, Ghost In The Shell-style thermoptic camoflage (or Predator-style for the old-school amongst you), high-tech surveillance and more. Thankfully the future sequences aren’t ridiculously removed from reality, and the tech in use actually feels tangible and at least semi-plausible in terms of possible military development.
The storyline in Black Ops 2 is surprisingly robust & compelling for what is usually a very linear game format, with the antagonist actually having a decent motive. Like it’s predecessor the game takes place in a semi-flashback format told by retired soldier Frank Woods as well as “present day” 2025 - set 10 years after the original Black Ops it centers around Raul Menendez as the story’s antagonist, and his efforts to unleash a devastating cyberattack as penance for injustices against him back in the 80′s.
There are very few games that have had me end up empathizing with the villain, and this feels like a more involved & intricate story as a result. The great thing about the game is that Treyarch has included decision-making pathways that give very different results and even different game endings depending on your actions – this improves the replayability of the campaign dramatically for those of us that want to see all 5 endings without just reverting to YouTube. I’m rather glad of this, as a lot of players I know wouldn’t even bother with the campaign and skip straight to the multiplayer… with any luck they’ll think again and spend a bit of time experimenting with different decisions and endings in the campaign.
The gameplay is much the same during the normal campaign sections, aside from when you take control of a CLAW unit or an ARG robot etc. There are a few missions that radically alter things though – these are the new Strike Missions. These are essentially Real Time Strategy missions where you have to defend or attack particular objectives within a certain time frame – at any point you can take direct control over any soldier or robot under your command… this is a godsend as unfortunately the AI of your soldiers isn’t particularly good, often taking a totally different route to you to get to the same destination… yet usually through the enemy stronghold and promptly getting shot in the face. You’re going to need to step in & take control often if you want to succeed – I found I’d usually control and ARG bot or a soldier – the CLAW is a bit too cumbersome despite is beefier firepower.
The RTS sections aren’t perfect (and they’re thankfully optional if you want to avoid them entirely aside from the first tutorial-like one), but they’re a glimpse into what could be a great game mechanic… or a possible game spin off? Now although these sections are optional, if you want to do as well as possible you’ll need to complete these missions as you make allies and have extra resources available as a direct result of your actions. However if you fail them too often, you can permanently fail them as you only have a limited number of strike forces at your disposal.
Something else I really like is that your allies in the game also get changed depending on your actions. For example, fairly close to the beginning of the game there’s a driving section where your companion Harper (played by Michael Rooker aka Merle in The Walking Dead) is manning the 50 cal on the back of the jeep and you’re advised to avoid flames at one point… At the time I was boosting the speed of the jeep, so failed in avoiding the flames, and now whenever I see Harper he has burns on one side of his face. It’s these little cosmetic things that really immerse you in the game and give your actions a sense of worth.
Graphically the game is great – the water effects are amazing, and it’s hard to find fault with the game unless you really nitpick… so for the sake of being overly critical - some shadows aren’t always accurate and sometimes pixellated, and despite the character models being really really good, human faces don’t always convey emotion as well as they could. Harper’s character model (pictured) is spot on for Rooker though… to the point where sometimes I wondered how he has two hands… and hair.
The soundtrack is stellar too, featuring music by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor as well as some bonus “easter egg” tracks by Skrillex & Avenged Sevenfold which can be located in the Zombies game mode (by collecting the teddies in a certain order). Sound effects in general are all spot on, with the equipment and guns sounding accurate for their real-life counterparts – and the future tech effects are all subtle enough to add to the plausibility. The voice acting is great, with the aforementioned Michael Rooker doing a decent turn, and Sam Worthington returning as Alex Mason, along with a brief return of my favourite actor Gary Oldman as Viktor Reznov & finally Tony Todd of Candyman fame appearing as Briggs,
Now, we all know that the multiplayer aspect of the Black Ops franchise is one of the main pulls of the game, and with the adjustments made in this version it has been bolstered considerably.
Firstoff – the Call of Duty: Elite service is now free for all players (bar the incremental map & mission updates, unless you bought the Hardened edition or a season pass), and has been further interlinked with the Theater option. Users are now able to make Highlight Reels of their gameplay and upload up to 8 of them to their Elite record – you can also upload a further 3 videos for submission to Elite’s official channel – these will in-turn upload to your YouTube channel (if you’ve linked it). I’ve done this a couple of times, and found the YouTube upload a little sketchy – what was a minute and a half video got cut way short to about 13 seconds of gameplay. I’m hoping this gets sorted soon, and I’ll be experimenting further with it.
You can also broadcast your gameplay live to CoD: Elite too during league play – so make sure you’re good enough not to look like a total tool on there. The Elite app on iOS is pretty good too – I’ve been slacking off in work and watching people play live on there… I think it’ll get me in trouble someday soon when I don’t notice my boss watching with me.
Another welcome update is to the game’s prestige system. No longer do you prestige and lose all of your hard-earned work and have to start from zero. Now you revert back to level one, but all of your weapon levels and unlocks remain. So although you have to wait for level 30 for your weapon of choice…when you hit the required level all of your mods are there for use, with your preferred camo etc. You can choose to revert back to nothing for the hardcore among you… but I doubt many will go for that.
The main update to the multiplayer comes with the create a class option – the much publicized and anticipated “Pick 10″ system. This boils down to every part of your loadout being given a single point value… down to perks, weapon attachments etc… once you hit 10 points, you’re done. So if you want to tool yourself up with weapons and cut down on perks, you can… or you can remove all your weapons and have up to 6 perks if you want to. It really does make the system almost limitless as to what you can do with it.
There are no more proficiencies like “Kick” or “Focus” like in Modern Warfare 3 – anything affecting a weapon is done by the attachments. For example… if you want the equivalent of Quickdraw (formerly a perk) or the Kick proficiancy, you now have to equip a particular grip attachment, same with what used to be the Stalker perk in MW3 – that’s now the “Adjustable Stock” attachment and so on.
You can also equip “Wildcards” – these will allow you to have more than one perk in tier 1, 2 or 3, or allow 3 attachments on a primary weapon, or carry 2 primary weapons and so on. My favourite loadout at the moment is an SMG with a shotgun as my secondary gun… but I have no grenades or tacticals as a result.
Killstreak rewards have also been tweaked – they’re now known as Scorestreaks… so for other game types like Kill Confirmed or Hardpoint etc, you can rack up scorestreaks without it being based on kills. This works fine in Team Deathmatch too – when you get a UAV for example, you receive points for kills that your teammates make while the UAV is up… potentially bouncing you up to the next Scorestreak. There are some pretty nifty ones too – some of my favourites are the Hunter Killer Drone – like an explosive homing paper aeroplane, the Hellstorm missile is like the Predator missile from MW3, apart from you can split it into 6 smaller missiles to maximize damage & the AGR is an automated bot that will roam around killing enemies yet you can also take control of it remotely too if you want to.
Black Ops 2 multiplayer is dominated by SMGs at the moment too – most of the multiplayer maps are pretty small, which isn’t a great thing for you heartscoping snipers out there (all though all you quickscoping bastards will be fine)… And some of the better SMGs are available really early on. One of my favourites so far is the PDW-57 – it’s available at level 4, has a 50 round mag (bigger than most others, even some of them with extended mags equipped), a great rate of fire and it’s got a decent range too. So for all you run & gun players out there, you’re going to shine… for those of you that prefer to snipe or take things slow, you’re going to have to adapt… quickly. The multiplayer & league play is completely merciless – I’ve been playing a little over a week or so now, and my Kill/Death ratio is only at 1.27 (though I don’t get to play as often as I’d like).
The other hotly-anticpated aspect of Black Ops 2 was the Zombies mode – this is the Zombies’ 3rd outing in the franchise, and probably one of the best so far. You have the standard zombie mode, but more interestingly is the Tranzit option… where you board a bus and traverse from map to map gaining supplies all the while trying to survive & playing co-operatively with other players. Lastly you have the grief option which is a 4 vs 4 game where the aim is to hinder the opposition as much as possible so they get overwhelmed with the undead.
All in all Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a well-rounded game that has something for everyone – if you’re a hardcore multiplayer addict, then it’s perfect for you, and Pick 10 will keep you coming back again and again striving for that perfect setup. If you’re more into the campaign, the multiple endings and different variables keep it fresh & entertaining. And if you just wanna see how long you can last against a stream of flesh-eating monsters then you’re set too. The only gripes I have are more about how people play (quickscopers, drop-shotters & bunnyhoppers can all kiss my ass!), and a couple of issues to be ironed out with the YouTube uploading.
Buy it – you know you want to. Just do it. Oh – if you have a significant other… get them something nice too, ‘cos you’ll be kissing your social life goodbye for the next couple of months.