When I began Call of Duty Black Ops 2’s campaign I was expecting the same old 5-hour-quick-time-fuelled adrenaline-soaked-mess that was Modern Warfare 3. I had completely forgotten that the first Black Ops had a great story full of twists and surprises. I had forgotten that Treyarch was making this campaign.
Treyarch have been very clever with keeping a continuous narrative through World at War, Black Ops and Black Ops 2. Even though the game is set in 2025, the player still interacts (and sometimes plays as) Alex Mason, Frank Woods and Jason Hudson through flashback missions. It gives the game an anchor point that players can cling to when they are flooded with the new futuristic weaponry and enemies. At first, the future missions are bewildering: flying drones, robots, invisible men, x-ray scopes and wrist mounted grenade launchers assault the senses and take some time to get used to. It’s not often I feel vulnerable in games, but the Black Ops 2 future missions kept me second guessing every enemy and forcing me to look out for enemy encounters I had never experienced before. I began to crave the simpler times when all I was up against were men and tanks and I knew every weapon and it’s capabilities. The missions in the past become beacons of safety, where everything feels right in the world and you can comfortably mow down enemies with an AK47 or an M16.
But this does not mean in any way that the future missions are inferior to the past missions. In fact, once you understand the future missions, they become some of the best in the game (a battle in L.A and an artificial island being particular highlights). Once you become accustomed to the new weaponry, they are a blast to play with. Rapid-fire shotguns, electric knuckle-dusters and sniper rifles that can piece any wall are all incredibly satisfying to use and don’t just feel like another version of gun X or gun Y.
…the campaign subtly bends the narrative to your choices…
An incredible amount of attention has been paid to this campaign and while the narrative isn’t as spectacular as the original Black Ops, it makes up for it in player choice. Major characters will die in the campaign and you get to choose who bites the dust and who carries on kicking ass. But the characters who die won’t be replaced by some nobody, their position will just no longer be there: the campaign subtly bends the narrative to your choices. In some cases the attention to detail in player choice beats that of a sprawling choice laden game such as Mass Effect. For example, one mission see’s you driving a car in a flooded city, dodging toxic waste pouring out from the sides of buildings, if you accidentally drive under the toxic waste your AI partner will have his face badly burnt and scarred for the rest of the game. It’s a small touch but one that shows Treyarch want to create more than a just a standard fire and forget Call of Duty game.
This also comes across through the Strike Force missions, even if they are hideously difficult. Throughout the campaign the player will have the option to partake in Strike Force missions, which turn the game into a tactical real time strategy game. I applaud Treyarch for trying something new, but the missions are by far the most frustrating parts of the campaign. Your AI soldiers drop like flies, and while you have the option to step into the boots of any soldier and play first person, the sheer number of enemies the levels throw at you means you will often be teleporting frantically from soldier to soldier getting butchered. Luckily, the missions are a small part of the campaign and entirely optional.
…maps are great fun and well designed…
The multiplayer is the same incredibly polished experience as ever, with only minor innovations. The game centres around score-streaks now instead of kill-streaks, which encourages teamwork and may hopefully put off a few lone wolves. The multiplayer has you playing with most of the futuristic weaponry found in the campaign, except for a few game changing super weapons. The maps are great fun and well designed, with my particular favourite being an expensive villa in Beverley Hills that has it’s own pool, super-car garage and basketball court. Finally, Black Ops’ party games are back, with One in the Chamber, Gun Game, Sharpshooter and Sticks and Stones making triumphant returns.
While Black Ops multiplayer feels largely the same, the Zombies mode has been radically updated. Zombies now has matchmaking servers, a ranking system and most importantly: a huge map that players have to traverse with a bus. Tranzit (as the game-mode is called) is a huge map that links all the other Black Ops 2 zombie levels together into one bus route. Players can upgrade the bus along the way, create a variety of equipment (such as auto-turrets) at each stop and build a wonder weapon from parts strewn across the map. Not only that, but there are loads of other cool things (that I won’t spoil here) players can do to boost their score and access secret parts of the map. The game-mode has already built a great community that are still trying to look for easter-eggs and secret passages as we speak.
…a fantastic campaign…
In conclusion, Black Ops 2 has the whole package: a fantastic campaign, satisfying multiplayer and a great zombies mode. A few minor missteps in the campaign are tedious, but Treyarch are taking risks and trying new things to move the franchise into a much better, more interesting place.