Call of Duty: Black Ops II - Review



Aaaaand yet again: Another year, another Call of Duty. 
Just how does this franchise repeatedly surpass its predecessors' earnings every year? Anyway...
This time, things are looking quite differently than usual...no really.
Since the franchise's radical jump into modern warfare with Call of Duty 4 there really hasn't been that much innovation for the popular series. Year after year, the franchise has played it safely and basically threw every new installment onto the "modern age bandwagon".
With Black Ops 2, the franchise for the first time sets its story into future.
Involving weapons and other warfare technology that is supposedly based on today's real military tech prototypes, Treyarch has to be thanked for at least having the courage of trying something new with the setting. But is that enough? 



Story
 

Black Ops 2 continues the story of Woods, Mason and Hudson, members of a Black Ops special force.

1986: After an operation to capture drug lord Raul Menendez that went horribly wrong and that killed Menendez' sister Josefina, the criminal swears revenge on the US and especially Frank Woods and the rest of his Black Ops team.
2025: Alex Mason (son of David Mason) and his new Black Ops team visit the now old Frank Woods in a retirement center. With the help of Woods they try to piece together various clues to prevent Menendez' plan to attack the the world's biggest nations with their own high-tech weapon defense systems. The hunt for Menendez takes the team across the entire globe and through various missions...


2025: Do they have self-lacing Nikes yet?

The original Black Ops had probably the best COD story to date. Involving historic events in an own unique "supposedly erased never told" story was a great concept. Add in a cool twist ending and it all results in a not phenomal but very compelling action game story.
Typcally for Black Ops games, the story of BO2 constantly shifts between the future and the past as well.  
Yet still, BO2 tells its story quite differently than how COD games are used to.
Instead of Briefing-Room-like screens, we now get actual cutscenes showing the characters interact with one another. While with most games this method works. Here it feels out of place and only underlines the games sloppy dialogue and B-movie feel.

The story's main theme revolves around Mernendez' quest for revenge. Mernendez is probably the first antagonist in the COD franchise with whom you in a strange way are able to relate.
His motives for revenge are mostly understandable and make you sometimes question your own actions. With the only direct link between BO1 and BO2 being the imprisonment of Frank Woods right at the start of the game, BO2 is not as direct a sequel as it should but you definitely see the connections.
While the basic narrative structure of the story is filled with revenge-plot clichees, very basic to bad dialogue and a strong B-movie feel, the story has quite some meat to work with.
The premise of a futuristic world, in which virtual networks are utilized basically everwhere (especially the military) doesn't seem too far off and shows us a believable future.
Hacking the military therefore really does seem like a true dystopian horror vision, kind of like the Terminator Apocalypse.
Summed up, BO2's campaign would have hold up way better if its simple but okay action-movie story wouldn't have been told so badly through boring repetetive missions like it unfortunately is.

At least Treyarch tried to expand the story through branching narratives that give you a total of 6 different endings.


This sure doesn't feel like usual COD anymore.

Gameplay
 

You all know how COD games are played. There's no need to tell you what you already know. So let's look at what's different:

Probably the biggest change in the campaign mode is the branching narrative structure. At several points throughout the main missions you are given "choice A or B"-kind of choices. After finishing the story, the combination of your choices will lead to one of the 6 different endings. 
While this narrative structure indeed is something new and refreshing, often you don't even know that you are given a choice.
If for example my objective screen says "shoot that person" i think that i absolutely have to shoot the person to progress. It's only later that i found out that i could easily just have let the person live and still not failed the mission. It all would've been clearer if the choices are more explicitely displayed or told.

Another factor in influencing the story's ending is the ability of doing side-missions called Strike Force Missions that are only available at certain spots of the main campaign for a specific amount of time.
Those side-missions can be selected during the mission-briefing-menu and are tackled with special ops teams. During the course of the main missions you earn special ops teams that practically just equal the amount of times you can retry each side-mission if you fail. But be careful! You only have a limited amount of teams to spend on the side-missions.

Sadly, the Strike Force Missions themselves are anything but fun. While the objectives indeed change with every mission. They constantly give you the feel of having to do unnecessary busy-work.
Implenting strategy-game style maneuvering of your team members across the battlefield may be something new but that doesn't automatically equal fun. 
It all tries to mimic Ghost Recon which managed to handle this type of gameplay way better than BO2.
Luckily there are only 5 different side-missions that one has to clear to add in to a good ending.

"GHOST RECON FUT...no..wait...what the f..!"

Speaking of the mission-briefing-menu, before tackling each mission you are given the choice of customizing your weapons-loadout that you want for the mission.
This welcome addition gives the gameplay much more flexibility without overwhelming the player by also giving you a standard loadout for each mission.

COD is known for Michael-Bayish spectacle and little substance underneath all the explosions. 
While i don't consider myself a big COD-fan, i admit that i find guilty pleasure in every COD game...except this one.

With the original Black Ops from 2010, Treyarch proved that great stories can indeed be told in a COD game, while also including great bombastic missions with memorable levels.

Practically all of this is missing in BO2. I can't think of one mission that truely stuck in my mind except maybe the last two showdown missions. Every mission somehow feels liveless and slapped together with the only intention of putting in as many enemies and explosions as possible. Setpiece moments are also fairly rare in BO2 and only truely show up at the final showdown mission when everyhting goes haywire.
Even the widely hated MW3 (even from fans) did a better job in giving us mission variety than BO2.
When an FPS game whose biggest strength is spectacle gives you the monotone feel of playing the same mission over and over again ala Medal of Honor, then you really got a problem.

And while the setting of the missions in various years is quite fun, the missions themselves heavily lack any kind of real effort or motivation. Setting the mission in the future and another one in the past isn't enough to make your game great or fun.

BO2's missions are the best example of what haters are talking about when bashing on COD.

F those annyoing drones! Both in SP and MP!

Multiplayer

Once again, multiplayer is what basically makes up for almost every misstep any COD game takes.


This is the part in which you'll see where all of Treyarch's effort went.

While there are a good number of improvements in multiplayer, the basic COD MP structure of leveling up with perks and classes is still present as we are used to. Why fix what aint broken?

The original Black Ops showed that Treyarch does pay great attention to giving the player much freedom in customizing while also keeping a big value on balancing.
This tradition is continued in BO2, where each weapon-loadout gets a max point level of 10. You are now able to put in various weapons and stuff into your loadout that all have a specific point value. As long as the total addition of your points isn't higher than 10, your loadout is greenlit and good to go.
It makes levelling somewhat different and easier, while still attaining the basic structure of COD MP.
Expectedly, along with a bunch of new maps, you get a new wide variety of weapons and gadgets to fool around with.
Some new game modes provide great focus on the gadget and robot-warfare aspect of BO2 but mostly new modes are rare in MP.

Zombie Survival Mode is another one of Treyarch's household MP modes that since World at War became a tradition.
This mode has practically been perfected now.

Not only does the Zombie MP now include several great new game modes, but it also lets you play with your team against other teams trying to "out-survive" the opponent's team. You can even sabotage your enemy-team by placing meat at their location and therefore guiding the zombies to them.

Another great mode is the Bus Depot Survival Mode in which you travel from one location to the next and try to survive waves of zombies at new maps with the same team while on vehicles.

Zombie MP is all about the modes. And it shows that this is where Treyarch puts most of its love into.  


Zombies save the day once more.

Graphics
 

In 2007 Call of Duty 4's graphics blew everyone away......that was 2007. A whole lot of stuff happened during the past 5 years in video game graphics! 
It is very admirable that COD made 60FPS a tradition. Sadly, COD hasn't had any great innovations graphically since COD4.
Sure, the competition like Battlefield 3 runs at 30FPS but at least they try to evolve the franchise both gameplay-wise AND graphically.
What happended COD?!
It's a prime example of a game, whose great fame and fandom made it lazy and forget about evolving its engine. Offically it might sound like the developers changed a few things here and there. But for 90% this is the exact same engine that COD4 ran on...and that was 2007.
It all comes down to BO2 being a big graphical disappointment: Muddy textures, weird ragdoll effects and unimpressive explosions and models.
BO2's graphics are simply below today's standard. It doesn't matter if your game runs extremely smooth if what runs smoothly is just not appealing to look at.
COD is in serious need for a new engine.

Sound
 

When i heard that Trent Reznor is going to make the soundtrack for BO2 i was pretty excited. Later i realized he only made the main theme song.
The rest of the soundtrack has been composed by Jack Wall.
The soundtrack has the typical Hans Zimmerish modern warfare OST feel, but during the future levels it's mixed with unfitting techno-electro-music tracks. I know that it's in the future, but it further enhances the feel that i am not playing COD but Syndicate or Vanquish.

Just as with the graphics, gun sounds somehow sound very weak in BO2. They lack the depth and punch that the Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor utilize so well.
It's your basic standard military shooter fare but this is just another category where the competition qualitywise has the upper hand.


Trust me, the graphics only look good because the image is tiny.


The Verdict
 

Treyarch's courage to give an annualized franchise like COD the drastic change of setting it into the future of 2025 is to be respected. Yet still changing a setting is far from enough to make a game memorable and stand out as one of the better examples of a franchise running low on quality.
Storywise Black Ops 2 manages to put together a fairly satisfying action-movie story that just gets immensely crippled by horribly boring mission design that captures basically everything bad that COD has been known for now. With no memorable highlights or any missions that are just fun to play through, BO2's campaign derives into annoying busy-work itself, with the only bright spot being the new branching narrative structure. Additionally, technical issues drag it down even more.

As always, Multiplayer is the feature that saves COD from entering disaster territory.
Aside from the expected new weapons, toys and maps there's not that much that changes. Only a handful of new modes that partly focus on "robot-based-warfare" provide new material to work with.
Zombie Mode is the star of BO2. The simple but incredibly fun household-mode of Treyarch has been perfected or at least greatly expanded through new modes that are equally as simple as they are fun to experience with friends.

Black Ops 2 is by far the most disappointing COD i've played so far and my personal pick for the franchise's lowpoint. Change is good but changing one single aspect like the setting and calling it groundbreakingly inventive is just false advertising and plain BULLS***! 
COD will continue to make money soly on its title and fans, but qualitywise it's by far no threat anymore for other competitors on the FPS market.  



Final Verdict: 7 out of 10

Status: Disappointing!

 

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