Back in black with 'COD'
As a huge fan of the Call of Duty series, I was somewhat wary when the reveal for Black Ops II showed futuristic technology gone wrong. I felt it was more akin to something out of the Terminator series rather than Call of Duty. However, I decided to give the new game a shot and try it out. I'm happy to say that despite major alterations to the typical COD formula, the latest addition to this franchise does not disappoint.
The new approach injects the series with a shot of adrenaline. The loadouts are completely customizable for every single regular campaign mission, including perks. More weapons, attachments and perks can be unlocked by completing missions and additional challenges. The special missions also add an interesting take, allowing you to command multiple units on the ground to accomplish a timed objective. As a twist, the outcomes of these special missions (as well as the regular missions) influence how the campaign's story and ending will play out. All of these changes combine to provide unprecedented autonomy for how the player would like to play the game.
It's fairly difficult to discuss a story with various possible outcomes and endings. It's possible that others will have played through a different storyline than I have, and will have different issues with the game. In my play-through, though I felt the fast paced action was thrilling and enjoyable, I was left with a lot of questions at its end. Without spoiling too much, the main villain, Menendez, inflicts an extraordinary amount of damage to the United States and its allies, and then seemingly abandons his own plan, calling to his followers to finish his work. One wonders if this is how Treyarch sets up Black Ops III. I suppose I understand why he did this, but it's still a stupid ending - he brought his hated enemies to their knees and then showed them mercy - why?
There's also a huge betrayal at one point in the story, during a point where your group of Navy SEALs could stop Menendez. Thanks to this betrayal, Menendez is able to execute major attacks on several large cities. Yet, this backstabbing makes no sense, and is never explained. Maybe others had different results in their play-throughs, but I found it extremely disappointing.
The game is as much about Alex Mason, the protagonist from the first Black Ops, as it is about his son David. In addition to the 2025 battles, the campaign takes place throughout many past conflicts, including the 1980s Angolan Civil War, the 1989 American incursion into Panama and the CIA's assisting the Taliban-precursor, the Mujahideen, in Afghanistan. Conflicts like these have rarely been explored in popular media, let alone video games, so it's interesting to see them in the COD franchise.
My main problem with the game is that I feel it was marketed incorrectly. Black Ops II was presented as a technology-gone-wrong kind of story, but it doesn't become this until its end. It's still a blast to play through though, and it's interesting to fight through unusual locales, like a billion-dollar floating ocean resort, or a city in Pakistan during a major flood.
The multiplayer is where Black Ops II really shines, however. I was severely disappointed with the online multiplayer for the first Black Ops game; for the most part, all of the weapons felt the same: high rates of fire and terrible accuracy. The maps were way too open, and sniping spots were limited. I felt that these issues were also present in Modern Warfare 3, and was unable to really get interesting in the multiplayer there as well.
Now, all of the weapons feel unique. Classes are more customizable than ever before. Want two perks from the Perk 3 category? Three attachments on your assault rifle? You can make this happen. All of your classes are completely customizable - there are really not a lot of limits to what you can do here.
The maps are also much improved, with sections of each map potentially beneficial to every type of class. Sniping, especially the rifles themselves are much improved, as are shotguns - two of the biggest complaints heard about the game last time around. The game remains fast-paced and mostly balanced, while seeming more challenging than previous installments. For the first time since Modern Warfare 2, I'm legitimately happy with Call of Duty's multiplayer.
The wildly popular Zombies portion of the game has also returned, bringing with it the new Tranzit mode. In Tranzit, players ride a bus around to five separate maps, accomplishing objectives and collecting parts for constructing items as they go. Players can play most of these maps in classic solo mode, or in versus mode with two teams of four. Be warned, no matter what mode you're playing, all of these maps are very challenging. The zombies are stronger and faster, and you now must worry about being damaged by fire and lava, in addition to the undead.
To be honest, I enjoyed Zombies mode more in the first Black Ops, but I'm sure it will grow on me. It's still a lot of fun with four people, or even by yourself; it's just more unforgiving than before, even early on. The addition of fire damage is completely obnoxious and unnecessary. The downloadable maps were some of my favorite in the game however, and Nuketown Zombies will be out in December, which should be a good time. From what I've seen, this map plays out more like classic zombies maps and is devoid of any fire elements, so I'm looking forward to it.
A mix of old and new, Black Ops II is a great gaming experience. Between the campaign, multiplayer, and Zombies modes, there's a ton of playability here. The game also looks beautiful and sounds fantastic no matter which mode you choose to play. I'd highly recommend this to any Call of Duty fans, or fans of first-person shooters in general.
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