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REVIEW: Call of Duty: Black Ops II

The yearly addition to the Call of Duty franchise is always a landmark in the gaming calendar as retailers up and down the country throw open their doors at midnight and play host to the swarms of people looking to get their hands on a copy as soon as the clock strikes twelve.

The only time you could catch me at a midnight launch would have been when I worked for GAME/Gamestation as I would have been one of the people forgoing sleep to sell you a copy, you die hard fans you.

My history with Call of Duty has been limited to everything after Modern Warfare but not including World at War, pretty much when the series took a jump in popularity really.  The only time I’ve felt compelled to actually spend money on the title was for the launch of Modern Warfare 2 but swiftly traded it all back in to recoup my money, opting to play future titles in marathon sessions of six hours on a Sunday in the stock room on an old dusty 15″ CRT.

Times have changed now though.  Borrowing a copy, pumping it through the DPX21 and sitting as close as possible to my 32″ Samsung without burning a hole in my retina, I marathon-ed Black Ops II last night to bring you this review today.

Black Ops II primarily follows the adventures of David Mason, the son of Black Ops main, Alex Mason, who was last seen suffering from a mild case of split personality for approximately the whole of the first game.  Retracing his father’s past missions, Mason, or “Seciton” as he is nicknamed, hopes to thwart the terror-tastic efforts of Raul Menendez who is hell bent on making America, Mason and other series Veterans pay for the death of his Sister by systematically removing everyone’s knees with a shotgun. Fact.

This whole family feud revenge mechanic is played out back and forth throughout the six hour campaign, often switching you between the main cast to give you a more well rounded understanding of the story and often replaying a segment from a different perspective.  Missions are varied and offer more then just your stereotypical brown on brown soldier killing a corridor of spawning enemies seen in previous entries and often leave room for you to take somewhat alternate routes through areas.  The initial opening mission will have you in a field mowing down wave upon wave of advancing soldiers, hanging off the side of a truck and finally laying waste from the skies above minigun/missile combo style.  It would of been easy enough to churn out a mediocre campaign as Call of Duty primarily focuses on co-op and multiplayer content for its longevity and replay value but straight away it was apparent to me that some considerable time and polish had been applied to the campaign as well.

It wasn’t until I found myself one shot-ing tanks with a rocket launcher from horse back that the “Awesome” factor of Black Ops kicked in.  There is such a thing as too much awesome, for example the climax of Gear of War 2.  That was so much awesome it caved in on itself and before you knew it there were the credits and you were left wondering where that last boss went.  Throughout the entire duration of the campaign, Black Ops II remains on the cusp of everything caving in on itself, but it never does.  The action is evenly paced, the set pieces are perfectly timed, albeit in some places a little schizophrenic and the constant variety of weapons, locations and characters keeps everything fresh.  Completing challenges in missions will reward you with additional weapons, sights and attachments for your ever expanding arsenal.  For the first time in Call of Duty history you can completely customise your load-outs before campaign missions, having up to a maximum of three attachments per weapon to help you with the ever increasing body count.  What I liked about this relatively minor feature is that the game didn’t always select the best weapons and attachments for you, thus, creating that placebo effect making you think what you’re actually picking will make a difference.  I mean, why wouldn’t you ever have a a reflex sight, laser sight and fast mag?  These 3 things got me through the entire game and were never automatically picked.

Graphically and most noticeably, the game’s environments, main characters and objects you interact with have been given sharper textures then that of say the next dead man but then this is to be expected.  Hide the corner cutting out of sight and ram muzzle flashes, flames and sweaty men into our eye sockets so that we may never see them.  I ended up seeing a few and had a some instances where I ran past an enemy spawn point.  Funnily enough they reacted by running away from me and got shot in the back because of it, but then again, I went right out on a limb to find that.  An accidental limb I might add because I really am terrible at these games.

At certain intervals throughout the campaign you’ll be able to break up the first person action with some RTS squad based combat.  Although the significance of these missions are relatively minor, no doubt you will be rewarded in someway for their completion.  I couldn’t help feeling as though these missions had been somewhat tacked on in a similar fashion to the tower defense mini-game in Assassins Creed Revelations we all loved so much and actively sought to avoid them because quite frankly they were terrible.  The computer AI enemy seemed to be of superior intelligence to your squads and the easiest way to complete these missions, I found, was to select a squad that was engaged in combat, take control of one character and kill everything yourself.  Much more efficient.

Late on in the campaign you’ll be given some key plot choices, whether to let people live or die mainly as the majority of the story is on rails.  These branching story arcs are literally just that.  Branches.  Off-shoots even.  There’s no complexity to the decision making process unlike in say, Mass Effect, and you can usually achieve the ending you want as each choice has a predictable outcome.  To say that this is the first time Call of Duty has done this would be true, but to say that it has been done to the extent other titles have pushed the envelope is laughable as this point was exacerbated in the 30-odd awesome things about Black Ops II trailer.  I’d argue that you could condense that trailer into about 10 but that’s for another day.

So, credits rolling I decide to reward my seven hour slog with a cup of tea and tell my housemate of my achievement on route back to my room.  Pop the Turtle Beach back on and see the scene shift to back stage with Woods and Menedez…and then this happened

SPOILING THE GAME WARNING.

Seriously.  What the fuck is that.  How am I supposed to react to that?  What I did was cringe.  I sat there in utter disbelief that Treyarch saw fit to undermine and belittle their greatest achievement to date.

You want to do something quirky at the end?  Sure.  I’d of much preferred an out-takes real.  Characters messing up their lines that kind of thing, not an Avenged Sevenfold song.  Seriously Treyarch what were you thinking.  I take it back.  That was the point where awesome caved in on itself, however, the only reason I can forgive it is because it had nothing to do with the game.

So.  Is Call of Duty Black Ops II worth the £43 price tag…dun da da dun da da dun da da dun da da dunnnnn……Not if you’re just playing it for the campaign.

I have no interest in zombies or the multiplayer even though these are major components in most games now.  While the campaign is superior to previous Call of Duty entries, if that’s all you’re going to play, then to be fair, you’ve gotten roughly 6 hours for your £43 quid and that’s not very good.

I won’t be buying it, but I’m not going to be dissuading people away from it either.  It’s hard to see how you can achieve a greater single player experience out of Call of Duty as anything longer then a 6 hour campaign will start to drag.  Who knows.  Maybe. one day we’ll see the campaign and multiplayer aspects sold separately as the latter is undoubtedly going to expand for years to come.

Call of Duty Black Ops II.  It’s good

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