Console: Xbox 360
Reviewers: Jon, Reid, Patrick

Pros

  • More content than you can shake a Famas at
  • Completely redesigned class setup
  • Unbelievable amount of detail in the design

Cons

  • No dedicated servers to allow for map/game filtration
  • Would like to see more innovation of the menu system in future titles
  • Leveling up may be a little too easy
Wow look at all that game in there! There is so much that we decided to split up the review to be able to go more into detail on the different aspects of the game. Jon will focus on the presentation and the campaign experience. Patrick will cover the multiplayer, and I will cover the zombie game play.

Another holiday season comes our way and brings with it an event that rivals the excitement that most of us experienced when the name Santa was even remotely mention when we were children.  No, I’m not talking about thanksgiving either.  Every fall we put in our pre-orders, stand in lines, and ensure our internet connection is firmly in place for one event….the next Call Of Duty.  Black Ops II hits the scene this year and brings with it just as much anticipation as Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare line.  The hype is there with an overhauled Multiplayer, a new approach to this year’s Zombie Mode, and the promise to bring an amazing Single Player experience, Black Ops II sets its sights high.  The question is does it deliver?

Presentation: A

Black Ops II comes out attempting to set a new standard for this generation’s first person experience and it sure hits hard.  The first time you load the game in your system, you will be treating to an amazing cinematic intro to the storyline of Black Ops II.  Yes, this will happen before the main menu but the clip is very entertaining and most importantly skippable.  Nothing rubs us the wrong way as an intro sequence that takes forever to advance after a few dozen sittings.

The main menu is pretty standard for today’s games, but serves the purpose while setting the tone for the game’s near future timeline. My only issue with this system is the division of the game’s three main sections being Campaign, Multiplayer and Zombies.

You are immediately presented with this option and upon selecting your choice, you are taken to an individual menu centered around each section of the package.  The Campaign, Multiplayer and Zombies carry their own main menu which may keep the title screen free from clutter, but also adds a few extra seconds of load time.  This is just nitpicking, and I realize this is a method that Call Of Duty has had in place dividing Singleplayer and Multiplayer for a number of previous games now.  It does however allow the option to set your default load to multiplayer speeding up the time it takes to get into matches slightly, but this mechanic still seems dated to me.  I would really enjoy some fresh innovation in the methods used to navigate between each mode.

With that out of the way, Black Ops II doesn’t fail to impress.  The visual flair, audio fidelity and game controls are everything you would hope for.  Sure, this entry brings back the game engine used for previous titles in the franchise but with a long list of improvements, this doesn’t ever feel like an issue.  Does Black Ops II look as good as Battlefield 3?  That is up for debate, in my opinion not so much.  But BO2 also runs at 60 fps and it shows.  To be honest, I am happy to trade-off a slight edge in the graphics department, for what most people consider to be the most responsive gun-play in the industry.

This is where Black Ops II really shines.  While you may have to wait until the next generation for a complete overhaul visually, the game play is some of the best you will see.  This entry brings incredibly fast, smooth game play while introducing a few new lighting and texture techniques to provide moments throughout that never fail to impress.

Possibly one of the biggest changes comes in the audio department. Trent Reznor taking on the title theme and Jack Wall composing the rest of the soundtrack brings a whole new feel to the franchise.  With themes that invoke a sense of emotionlessness and serve to haunt the game’s menus these compositions are truly memorable and have every right to be presented in the soundtrack released on launch day.  The audio serves the future elements well and pulls its weight in providing the fresh atmospheric setting of BO2.  The in-game audio also seems to have been overhauled.  I found the explosions and distant gunfire seem to fall more along the lines of Battlefield 3 quality.  This was always one of the areas I thought DICE had the edge on, but with these subtle changes the Call Of Duty franchise clutches the crown of the premiere FPS franchise even tighter.

Single Player: A

I will give it to Treyarch, they finally found a way to make a Call Of Duty campaign very interesting.  Sure some of the Modern Warfare storylines were entertaining, and who didn’t love some of the areas that Black Ops touched on?  With Black Ops II we are introduced to a great villain, a timeline that touches on both past and future timelines, and some of the series most brutal moments.  My first step into the Single Player campaign threw me in Angolia set in the 80’s
with a countless number of enemy forces charging my way armed with rifles and machetes.  Of course this gave me the opportunity to open fire in every direction and grab a machete of my own.  I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I used said machete, but I had no clue that it would result in brutal decapitation that would make Kung Lao proud.  This isn’t the only instance of brutality in this year’s entry, but probably the most entertaining.

Let us touch on the story.  I won’t go into detail in an effort to avoid spoiling any surprises, but I will say Treyarch did an excellent job with presenting an interesting villain and the dual timeline doesn’t ever get too confusing.  Seeing the main antagonist present in both timelines go a long way in creating an even greater sense of depth to the character.  I never once stopped caring about the characters and actually remembered every character by the end of the experience.

One of the biggest editions to the Single Player experience is the ability to customize your load out prior to each mission.  That’s right, you now have limited control over which weapons, attachments, equipment and even perks to bring to the fight.  With plenty of things to unlock as you progress, this not only provides more variety to multiple play-throughs but also serves well to give a greater sense of control over missions.  Black Ops II also includes branching story lines which maintains a record of certain key events throughout the campaign.  With multiple endings (which is a first for the series), and the mentioned customizable options this Call Of Duty experience feels much more dependent on your actions over previous entries and provides a more unique experience.  Don’t get me wrong, all of the large-scale events are here only this time you actions impact the outcome of the story.  I feel like these two new additions go hand in hand giving more weight to your equipment choices.  Did you fail to save a characters life because you chose a sub-par weapon? Would things have played out differently if you didn’t experiment with a new weapon?  The choice is finally up to you.

Speaking of new additions, the added and optional Strike-Force Missions are included in the Campaign experience.  These missions present themselves throughout the Campaign and take a more tactical approach.  In these missions you are presented with objectives and are tasked with carrying them out while taking the command of a Strike Team.  With the ability to zoom out to a live overhead tactical view, you are free to take control of any unit any time you choose.  This includes soldiers, turrets and other “drone” vehicles.  While this edition of really interesting in theory I found them to be overly difficult and cluttered in execution.  Often times, being forced to jump around to different points in the map to defend or attack different locations proved to be extremely difficult and would frequently result in a loss of units due to the poor AI controlled allies.  At first I really enjoyed these missions, but after a while they seemed to break up the story line and I started to dread playing them.  Thankfully, you are able to choose to some degree on when you launch these missions or if you even play them at all.  Beware though, the outcome of the campaign can be heavily affected by the result of these missions and choosing to overlook them could result in an undesired ending or chain of events.

I thought the Campaign of Black Ops II was nothing short of outstanding.  The perfect mix of storytelling and action kept the adrenaline pumping and the fluid gameplay only seemed magnified due to epic scale of the some of the Campaign’s events.  Lastly, to answer your question……Horses do belong in a Call Of Duty Campaign.

Multiplayer: B+

Moving on to the largest aspect of the game, Black Ops 2 Online Multiplayer. This year Treyarch has made some innovative changes, add-ons and improvements to already established staples of the online gameplay.

First off, the Create A Class feature has been totally reinvented to offer even more customization and personalization.  Gone are the standard class formats. With Black Ops 2 you are allotted 10 points to create your class with each item you choose counting as one point. So if you are more in to modding your weapons load out and laying off the perks or grenades you can potentially carry a load out that features two primary weapons with up to 3 attachments on the first and 2 attachments on the second. Another load out scenario would be taking a primary weapon with 2 attachments, no secondary, using 4 perks such as Cold Blooded, Ghost, Ninja and Sleight of Hand along with one lethal and one tactical item. The possibilities are really endless which adds a great deal of strategy in creating your class depending upon your play style or game mode that you are playing.

Killstreaks have also been completely redesigned. Actually the truth is, killstreaks don’t even exist anymore. Now before you freak out and rage quit this review you must know this, you still earn items such as care packages, stealth choppers and even dogs but the way you earn them has been changed. Gone are the days where the only way you could earn kill streaks was to actually kill someone. Here to stay, it appears, are the days where you are rewarded with SCOREstreaks that award you the items of your choosing for racking up XP in between deaths such as planting a bomb, capturing a flag, defending an objective and of course the XP you get for killing someone still helps you reach your scorestreak. This is actually an aspect of the game I frown upon pretty heavily. However I can see part of the motive behind it due to the fact that it does make the game easier for the gamers out there who might be just getting started with COD or who lack that killer FPS instinct which isn’t all in all a bad thing depending on your personal view of it. Nonetheless the options are endless with the scorestreaks with items as simple as UAV’s and care packages up to new items such as the dragonfire which is probably the coolest remote control item ever in a video game, I mean come on, it has to be. It’s a remote control hover craft with machine guns mounted on it!

Moving on to game modes. As always there are a ton of game modes for BO2 ranging from all of the traditional black ops game modes such as Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, Domination and Demolition to a few game modes players may recognize from MW3 such as Gun Game and Kill Confirmed.

So let’s talk about the maps. Personally I have always thought Treyarchs maps to be superior to Infinity Wards and this year Treyarch continues to deliver. The maps have amazing detail and you can really tell they took their time planning out the placement of everything throughout the map. Also for those who bought the game on the first day or pre-ordered, Treyarch included the DLC code for Nuketown 2025, a futuristic take on the original Nuketown from the first Black Ops. In addition to having a reinvented Nuketown 2025, Treyarch has even gone as far as to give the Nuketown lovers even more to drool over as they included a Nuketown  24/7 game mode that cycles different game modes through every match with only Nuketown 2025 and no other map in the rotation.

As for some miscellaneous multiplayer mentions, there are a ton of superb offerings for players of the online multiplayer world of BO2. Some of the other cool features that I haven’t meant are as follows: You now have the option in your game lobby to hit one button to mute everyone in the lobby except for your party, which is nice because who really enjoys listening to twelve year old’s talk shit and having to take the time to go through and mute each individual player? Hands down a great feature from Treyarch in my book. Also along the same lines of the multiplayer modes you can play all of the multiplayer maps and modes by yourself or splitscreen with a friend against an opposing team full of bots which can provide for endless hours of fun. You can also play solo, split screen or online with the zombie’s mode which I won’t go into in much detail as that is covered elsewhere in this review.

All in all I have to say Black Ops 2 offers pretty much everything a devoted COD player could ask for. There are only two things I wish that had been added. The first is to add dedicated servers for each map and game mode so that you could filter the lobbies and choose which map you wanted to play instead of having to vote on it through a random map rotation. And secondly that they would have random spawns for some game modes such as demolition so that spawn camping was not a part of certain game modes (which MW3 I might add actually got right). But alas it’s far from a perfect world and that’s only two small complaints that pale in comparison to the excellence that is Black Ops 2 Multiplayer.

Zombies: B

Zombie mode. You already lose. There is no beating the game. But yet,  jumping in and running around in the dark, checking your six and randomly diving to prone due to paranoia is insanely addicting.

My biggest complaint from Black Ops was the difficulty. Especially getting into DLC maps like ‘Moon Zombies’. Those were just ridiculous. So what about the new maps?

Well, they are still pretty tough. But this time there is help. Playing the zombie maps on the ‘Survivor’ setting is your typical format. Survive as long as you can, either by yourself, split screen, or online. I almost can’t stand playing by myself anymore. It’s just not that fun. But playing online with 7 other people, like in ‘Grief’ mode…that is a blast. And playing on separate teams, choosing whether or not to revive the other team, or kill that zombie chasing a poor unaware player adds a nice variety to the play.

You still have guns on the walls, mystery boxes, and windows to board up, perk cola’s, and new weapons peppered in. And then there is the fire. AH the fire. Every map has fire coming out of the ground that is almost unavoidable. Even zombies catch fire! But of course, so do you. So be careful. Though it is annoying at first, you will get used to it, and it does add another layer to the game play.

If you want a strange mode to play, play ‘Tranzit”. In this mode you are able to get on a bus, which travels around the three green run stages like a bus stop. Here you are actually looking for clues and ‘Parts’ to try to explain what is going on. This is kind of like the ‘Story’ part of zombies. It’s tough. Don’t get on that bus if your low on ammo. And make sure you throw grenades at the zombies chasing the bus to conserve ammo. I recommend bringing a friend or 7.

Zombie mode is great fun, especially online. Those who like the way it has played in the previous games will have no trouble jumping right in. Those who long for something different, well there are enough different modes, customization,  and new weapons and settings I think you’ll find it is another great part of a brilliant game.

Replay Value: A

All of the options in Black Ops II have given so many reasons to come back for more carnage:

  • Campaign Mode – Alternate endings, strike force missions
  • Multiplayer – Leveling up, trying new weapons and load outs, prestige
  • Zombies – endless outcomes, multiple levels

Playing all this either online or local, with a clan, or random people, and the inevitable DLC for all the modes, this games replay value stays fresh, and will for a long time. It is a must play.

Overall: A

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