The Sins Of Our Fathers… – Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
The year is 2025. As tensions escalate between China and the United States immersed in a high-tech cold war, David Mason will be tasked to find the man responsible for bringing the world to the brink of extinction. Revisiting the past of his father, Alex Mason, David will put together the clues as to how Raul Menendez came to power, and hopefully, find a way to stop him.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a first-person shooter developed by Treyarch Studios that continues the story of Alex Mason (the first game’s protagonist). While the main story of Black Ops 2 is centered on Alex’s son David in the year 2025, the game also features missions in the 1970s and 80s with Alex assuming the lead role. Treyarch takes us on a journey through the ages to help us put the pieces of a greater puzzle together. A continuing dialogue between David and Frank Woods takes place between missions to fill in the gaps of the story and provide narrative to past missions. During these retro-missions, players can expect to take part in campaigns that have been notable to the military history of the United States, including the CIA incursions into Afghanistan during the Russian invasion, covert operations into South America during the infamous “War on Drugs”, and the Angolan Civil War.
Treyarch ties these historical military theatres together into the main story of Black Ops 2 with the pursuit of Raul Menendez. Menendez is the leader of a drug cartel, who later becomes the man behind a group known as Cordis Die in the year 2025. His intention is to start a war between China and the United States by staging a series of cyber-attacks that cripple the Chinese Stock Market and then taking control of the United States’ automated military hardware.
The story of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a compelling one; however, it is a bit slow to start as it takes a few missions before you really start to understand the links between the past and present missions. In previous installations, one of Treyarch’s weaknesses had been in their writing, and at first I felt this was going to hold true in Black Ops 2. A problem that I had with the story in the first Black Ops installation was that I found myself not really caring about the characters, which essentially turned it into “just another mindless shooter” for me. While I started to get the same impression from Black Ops 2 on the initial missions, Treyarch managed to turn that around quickly with an intriguing story amongst the fast-paced action, and the multiple endings that depend on the outcomes of your missions and the decisions you make (such as who lives or dies). This adds to the replay value of the game by keeping things fresh with each playthrough in single-player mode.
Treyarch also breaks away from the traditional run-and-gun style of the first-person shooter with Strike Force missions throughout the campaign. These missions are more tactical squad-based scenarios where you can control multiple units at a time, with the purpose of defending assets in a designated area until the clock runs out. You’ll manage soldiers on the field as well as equipment such as Drones, Automated Defense Turrets, Robots, and an aircraft in a tower-defense style manner. You can also select a single asset on the field to take control of, putting you into the perspective of that particular asset, this is useful for when the team you leave at a Control Point isn’t getting the job done, which happens somewhat frequently.
The developer also breaks up the monotony of the run-and-gun levels with some pretty interesting current and future-tech that’s much more than eye-candy. One of my favorite moments features the use of Glider Suits to make your way to an objective, flying over some beautiful mountain panoramas and taking care not to hit the treetops. Another fun moment involves the use of Nano-gloves, which allows your soldier to grip the walls of a rock face like you’re Spiderman, swinging from one point to the next to reach your next objective. Both of these gadgets are featured early on in the game, and I would have liked to have seen more moments like this as you progressed.
One complaint about the single-player game is with the enemy AI, which is dodgy at times. The best example of this that I encountered was in the first mission where you’re fighting in Angola. Waves of enemies descend upon your position in an open field, and I often found them running past me as though I wasn’t even there. While it gave me some time to sharpen my knife work (see what I did there?), it was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser seeing so many inbound bad guys acting completely oblivious to my presence. This only seems to happen in the large scale battles that take place in the game, as I didn’t notice the enemy having any problems throwing a wall of lead my way in the smaller, close-quarters combat scenarios.
Treyarch made an exceptional effort designing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, featuring a wide variety of levels in different locales, ranging from lush tropical forests and ancient ruins deep in the desert, to modern cities and high-tech laboratories. Each level is simply stunning with its detail and beauty. The character models look fantastic as well, although they can at times look a little plastic in certain lighting, which detracts from the realistic framework the characters are set in. Facial animations, however, are spot on – especially during the cutscenes. Try as I might, it was nigh impossible to get the game to glitch or bug graphically. I only encountered the occasional fragments floating in the air after destroying a Drone or Robotic Unit, but these were few and far between. Effects in-game also get some high quality treatment with little details added in for realism. Dust particles swirling about in the desert from an incoming chopper, or the flash of lighting in a rainstorm really add to the dramatic experience of the game.
One thing that should be noted that I found very surprising was the exceptionally short load times, even when loading off-disc as opposed to having the game installed off of the hard drive. Most levels load in less than fifteen seconds off-disc, which I find to be rather quick compared to most other games.
Black Ops 2 features a praiseworthy voice cast with Sam Worthington reprising his role as Alex Mason, and James C. Burns returning as Frank Woods. Kamar de los Reyes delivers an intense performance as the game’s antagonist, Raul Menendez, which only gets better as the story progresses. Each actor really brings his best game to the table to ensure that the scenarios you’re viewing and engaging in feel genuine. Even the supporting cast (including Tony Todd as Admiral Briggs) does well to add to the story of Black Ops 2.
For those who have a craving for some “vitamin Z”, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 features a built-in Zombies game type. Three game modes are available in Zombies: Tranzit, Survival, and Grief. Tranzit is somewhat of a campaign/horde mode style gameplay with a large open world consisting of five maps. Players can choose to head down the road on foot, or on a rickety old bus driven by some crazy robot-zombie bus driver. Each area (as well as on the bus) has its own set of defenses and pick-up points for weapons and ammunition. In Survival (which shares two of the zones held in Tranzit), you must work together to survive wave after wave of incoming undead. Finally, Grief pits two teams of four against each other to outlast the opposing team against the endless onslaught of incoming zombies. While all three game types are entertaining, Tranzit by far is the most enjoyable – especially for those familiar with the Left 4 Dead series where working together can be the difference between life and death.
Of course, the real meat and potatoes are in the multiplayer aspect of the Call of Duty franchise. Unlike last year’s release, Black Ops 2 doesn’t require you to level up in order to unlock any of the content. This allows players to enjoy all of the game modes without having to grind their way through Team Death Match, which left lower level players at a serious disadvantage in Modern Warfare 3 (MW3). Black Ops 2 introduces some new game types (including Hardpoint and Bot Stomp), on top of the already full roster of modes (Team Death Match, Capture the Flag, etc.) available to players. The highly popular Kill Confirmed returns from MW3 to join the list as well, adding to the already large inventory of multiplayer options.
Hardpoint is a King-of-the-Hill type game where teams must rush to a designated location on the map and hold off the opposing team. The team that holds the Hardpoint accumulates points over time. After about a minute, the location of the Hardpoint will change and the two teams must rush in again to grab the next spot. The first team to 250 points wins.
Some new features of the multiplayer modes include CODCast, Live Streaming, and League Play. CODCast gives players an opportunity to view previously recorded matches, add their own commentary, or just observe the game and get some tips from other players to improve their own skills. Live Streaming allows gamers to stream their League Play game on their YouTube channel for other people to watch in real time. You can also enable your Eye Toy or Kinect, so viewers can watch you screaming at your television when you didn’t get that kill that you thought you should. It should be noted that for users with a bandwidth lower than 1.5Mbps, you will not be able to use the feature.
League Play is an excellent feature for those looking to get into the competitive end of gaming. League Play features two Series: Moshpit and Champions. The Moshpit Series uses standard matchmaking rules, and features a mix of Team Deathmatch and objective modes, while the Champions Series leverages competition rules. In both game types, you’ll be able to use the entire list of weapons, add-ons, perks, etcetera, as long as you don’t exceed a maximum of ten equipment slots.
Overall, Black Ops 2 is simply more fun than MW3 was. With the removal of the level requirements that MW3 had, it’s easy for you to jump into your favorite game types and start blasting away like there’s no tomorrow. The campaign is also far more compelling than last year’s release, and was much, much better written than the original Black Ops. The occasional AI hiccup does raise eyebrows from time to time, and Treyarch could have used a little more finishing in the character models in some scenes, but overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a game that should be in your library for the holiday season.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 receives a 4.5/5.0
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