Let’s start this off with a fact: some people are getting sick of Call of Duty games. With the majority of gamers only buying them for the competitive multiplayer modes, gamers seem to be mostly sitting in one of two camps: those who lap it up year after year and play nothing else, and those who are getting bored and looking for something new to crop up in the series. Before Black Ops 2, that was a very valid concern. Despite Infinity Ward’s Spec Ops in Modern Warfare 2 and 3, and Treyarch’s zombie modes in their last couple of efforts everything has started to feel a bit stale for some. But this year we have something quite intriguing: a Call of Duty game that not only appeals to those who are a bit afraid of change and like to do the same thing over and over again, but also those who are looking for something new and worthwhile.
The main issue with Call of Duty is how difficult it is to get a decent, balanced game online. With so many people obsessing about spending every spare minute online, ranking up and hitting those prestige levels (my weapon is bigger than your weapon, and so on…) the likelihood of jumping online and getting a close fought and fair game is practically zero. Black Ops 2 looks to get round this with League Play, dropping each player into a certain ranked league based on an initial 5 match assessment. From here, poorer players drop down the leagues, with the cream rising to the top and giving everyone a series of games against those with a similar ability. Or at least that’s the theory. In practice things don’t work quite so well. Despite finishing in the bottom half of my team in all of my assessment matches, I ended up in a gold league near the top of the tree. Confused, I played on to see what would happen when I carried on my usual less-than-average performances, and it quickly became clear that it was the team performance being judged, not mine. Despite some players getting huge scores, being on the losing team meant they dropped down the league, which clearly isn’t really mirroring the point of the game…
But that said, there are other toys to play with. The co-op zombie mode is back again and lets you team up with friends to take out hoardes of zombies which climb out of the ground, gang up on you and generally do their zombie-like pain in the arse stuff. It’s a nice diversion, and one that I’d rolled my eyes at in my frequent “zombies don’t fit into this type of game, surely” way, but it’s genuinely good fun once you get into it, even if it’s a rerun of the previous zombie modes. It’s another example of how co-op gaming is, for many, taking over the reins when it comes to multiplayer gaming options. There’s more elsewhere, such as the party modes previously seen in the last Black Ops, including the brilliantly tense One In the Chamber mode where you’re only given one bullet to use initially. These modes (leagues included) are relatively quiet though with most hardcore gamers sticking rigidly to what they know and love in the game’s main online rankathons.
And I suspect that’s where most people will head immediately, and never leave. Which is not only a bit boring (surely?) but also misses out on a great area of Black Ops 2: the main single player campaign. Unlike some other FPS titles, this doesn’t feel tacked on or on the disk just to keep people happy – this is a fully fledged campaign with some great ideas and variety to keep you going. Not only that, but the story is great too, mixing up some flashbacks with futuristic action, and despite this jumping around (which acts as more of a story telling tool than trying to be clever) you always end up playing characters within the same family, which gives the whole game a great fluidity between time periods and missions. Also thrown into the mix is Strike Force missions, giving an almost RTS spin on things, letting you order units around, take control of any of them at any point, and generally kick as much ass as possible. Purists will look on it as getting in the way, and will ignore anything other than the first mission (which is the only one you can’t ignore) but it’s another fine example of how Treyarch have tried something a little bit different to spice up the experience for those who look for it. Disappointingly it’s not as strategic as it might’ve been, meaning it hovers awkwardly between balls-out shooting and strategy decision, but full marks for effort. It’s a quality campaign though if a little short, and deserves to be played by all of the millions who have bought this already.
And that previous sentence sums up the overall Black Ops 2 experience quite nicely. There are plenty of great ideas here, and some parts of the campaign (such as making your way through some flooded streets, showing off some gorgeous water and lighting effects) will go some way towards taking your breath away. The online leagues are a brilliant idea, but aren’t quite set up right and need some tweaking to be effective. The extra strategy missions would have been great if they’d been a little more developed, but are still a clever move which gives us some new toys to play with.
It makes you think that with some extra development and a chance to enhance the new options this could’ve been a quite incredible online shooter, but as it stands it’s just got a few small issues. That’s still nothing to be ashamed off, and I’d take my hat off to Treyarch (if I was wearing one) for trying something new and different with the latest in the long, and quite samey, line of Call of Duty games, and with a bit of luck some of the gaps might be patched at some point soon. Still, a very worthwhile purchase, and a fantastic campaign, but don’t expect major innovations round every corner.
Reviewed on PS3