Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

“The same core gameplay returns to once again bring players a taste of fast-paced and exciting online content spread across a host of well-structured maps."

Are you bored with Call of Duty yet? The iconic modern shooter returns once again but has enough changed to keep things feeling fresh and exciting? In short, the answer is yes and no. On the one hand new depth in campaign mode ensures you are put through your paces in an exhilarating and challenging set of scenarios that force you to make consequential decisions that really play with your emotions. On the other hand Black Ops II persists with an almost identical iteration of the online formula that we all know. Make no mistake about it, if you were looking for the same experience then there are enough subtle tweaks to make this worth playing, but there’s nothing particularly new here for those of you looking for change.

The campaign mode in Black Ops II has been significantly shortened, but the lack of length is made up for with tightly woven content and exciting set piece moments throughout. Leading characters from the previous Black Ops make a return and while there are references made to prior events, a clear storyline is formed and followed throughout. The events follow the evil protagonist Raul Menendez in a parallel storytelling that shows you his uprising and then your attempts to foil his plans. Clever narrative and dialogue ensure that this is by far one of the most entertaining albeit short campaigns the series has had yet. 

Those of you who like to blast through the campaign to see the story then jump straight into multiplayer will potentially have a little bit more work to do. Black Ops II’s campaign is ripe full of moments that potentially lead to replay value. Throughout key sections in the story you will be forced to make heart-pounding decisions that could potentially change the way events unfold. This alongside side-objectives in missions makes it worthwhile to stick with the campaign just to see all the different potential ways things can pan out.

Depending on what side of the fence you sit, you can argue that either Call of Duty’s online multiplayer is so great, some people don’t even bother going near the campaign. Or you could argue the campaign is just not that good. Whatever the case it’s undeniable that the online variant is a whole load of fun. Some changes have been implemented here too, most notably in how you loud yourself before jumping into the action. Now players have to choose to disperse 10 available tokens across equipment you want to use in battle (with the primary weapon, side arm, each attachment, each perk and each type of lethal and tactical equipment all taking up a point. This gives players some room for creativity – for example if you find you don’t use a side arm or any tactical grenades, you can swap them out for another wild card that might offer another perk slot for example. Players now have the ability to shake up their custom loudouts to suit their style of play more than ever before with this system. 

Of course you will spend the majority of your time earning exp and leveling up across the various game modes present. Now players earn tokens that can be used to unlock various killstreaks and this token system gives you the freedom to unlock them in order of preference, which is nice. The very same experience with the same adrenaline pumping action spread across a variety of well-developed maps is at the heart of Black Ops II, with the exception of one new game mode that perhaps offers something a little bit different, League Play.

When you first enter into League Play, you will be required to play a few rounds so the game can judge your skill level. After this you placed into a league with players of a similar skill level. From here it’s up to you to win and progress up the ladder or fall below your level of expectation. This new system attempts to make matched games a lot fairer with players going up against equal opposition and for the most part, it does really well. This is especially apparent with League Play immediately opening up the entire game’s arsenal to its participants without the need to unlock anything beforehand. This really evens out the playing field and gives everything an equal advantage. Another wonderful tweak provided by League Play is the removal of experience points in this mode – players concentrate solely on the action in front of them and need not worry about playing in particular ways or doing set requirements to meet particular goals. While this is an interesting turn for the series, it goes against the psychological principles of Call of Duty, so it will be interesting to see how this takes off. What I mean by this is the series is based off a simple click and reward system – you shoot someone, you get EXP – it’s simple genius. Without the EXP the game could drastically change and I relish at seeing how the community takes to League Play and if grows in popularity.

Black Ops II also welcomes back Zombies. Now running through a third game, the cooperative survival hit has perhaps lost its charm somewhat. New maps, new content and new humour keeps things entertaining at the beginning but the never-ending nightmare gets dull quite quickly. I commend the effort to add more content to the mode but I believe the formula itself is a little dull now.

From a technical perspective Black Ops II doesn’t really impress. The campaign boasts some beautiful environments and larger-than-life robots, but it’s not the most impressive visual spectacle we’ve seen and in comparison to games like Halo 4, it’s hard to believe a game with such high production value isn’t at the front of its class in the visual department. I played online through the Sony PlayStation 3 and was having continuous connection issues but when games did load they were absolutely perfect, it was just a matter of finding them first. Aside from that it’s still a fast paced and devastatingly addictive shooter and form a controlling standpoint, is a joy to play.

Ultimately Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 provides what fans of the series want – more lively online action. The notable addition of League Play has the potential to change the entire dynamics of how COD is played online, but whether it will take off is a whole other matter. The campaign mode provides some quick thrills and it’s nice to see that effort was put into this mode. Zombies on the other hand just doesn’t have the same spark it had before, which is a shame because in its prime it was a whole load of fun. Overall it’s an engaging and entertaining game but in much need of reinvention, or does it?

8.5 | Gameplay |
Call of Duty: Black Ops II provides exciting gameplay both online and off. A well-developed campaign is intertwined with the same core online gameplay mechanics that make this series so popular. If you’ve loved Call of Duty before, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy this iteration. It’s a shame however that Zombies feels stagnant and dull this time round.

7.0 | Presentation |
A game that boasts such high production value should be visually more impressive. The dialogue and narrative in the campaign is fantastic however. The new way loudouts are presented initially the new 10 token system is a little confusing.

10.0 | Replay Value |
Is there a modern game series with higher replay value? The simple click and reward system brings millions of players back for more. The new League Play system could have you coming back for a different reason, the honour of playing in high leagues with better and more skilled players. Wherever you choose to use your skills you’ll find it difficult to stop because this game is designed around the principle of addiction.

8.5 | Final Thoughts |
This isn’t a big step forward for the series but Call of Duty: Black Ops II does enough to warrant a positive reception from its fans. There’s enough high quality content here to keep gamers engaged for another year. This time round it’s absolutely worthwhile checking out the campaign and then engrossing yourself in a highly addictive and highly entertaining online experience.

I recommend similar games: Halo 4 & Battlefield 3. 

Igor Kharin.

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