Reviews

Call of Duty: Black Ops II – Review

Box

Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes
PEGI: 18+

Treyarch are back with their latest and hopefully greatest entry in their world-dominating shooter franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops II. And let’s face it, the reviews for this game don’t really matter. The Call of Duty franchise is now so huge that you’ve already made up about your mind about this game you’ve either already bought it, or you’re carefully preparing yet another hate comment on Youtube about it. Like John Cena the Call of Duty name has become something that there seems to be no middle ground on and that everybody has an opinion about. But just hold on a second, because contrary to what every keyboard warrior on the Internet is saying, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 dares to try out a few new things. In fact, it’s even gone all Mass Effect on us. Seriously.

Yeah, you read that right. Mass Effect. That space trilogy which a lot of people complained about for not having a good enough ending. For the first time in the history of the series Treyarch have introduced a branching storyline where the things that you do and the choices you make effect how the story play out, culminating in one of the five different endings available in the game. It’s a pretty bold move on Treyarch’s behalf, and one that I personally never saw coming, although that could be because of the copious amounts of alcohol and a steadfast refusal to read previews. Sometimes it’s extremely obvious where and when the story can branch out, like being told to press one button to kill one guy and the other button to kill the other guy. At other times it’s less clear that your actions are effecting the story, but that mixture of obvious and more natural works pretty damn well. Now, make no mistake, despite the comparison to the epic sci-fi saga this is no Mass Effect, however, for an FPS the branching storyline proves to be surprisingly effective, with my actions actually feeling like they had a decent amount of impact on events. Should a certain character end up dying, for example, that will alter how  future scenes plays out by quite a bit. Now obviously Call of Duty is still a linear game, and so the changes are mostly just relegated to how the cut scenes play out, but frankly that’s not much of a problem, although in future titles I’d love to see Treyarch expand on it and have the branching story alter the gameplay and levels as well. Go on, you know you want to.  This whole branching storyline thing is easily the best new addition to the franchise in a long time and one that I hope they keep for the future titles, especially as it adds some incentive to actually replay the storyline missions.

This Harper. I quite like him.

This is Harper. I quite like him.

In fact, there’s considerable more emphasis on getting you to go back and play through the story missions this time around, which is for the best really as it’ll likely only take you 6-hours to blast through the games singleplayer campaign, and not much longer than that even if you ramp up the difficulty because Veteran  has been toned down considerably from past titles so that its a breeze to get through. To encourage you to go back and play through each level, and thereby decreasing the world’s population by a considerable amount, there’s now a scoreboard presented to you at the end of every single mission, clearly displaying how well you did against both friends and the world in general, gently mocking you for the fact that an enraged chimp could probably have done better. Alongside that Treyarch have introduced Challenges for every mission, which when completed unlock new perks, weapons and general stuff for you to use when creating your loadout before each mission. Yeah, that’s right, we can finally create a custom loadout for every mission, choosing the guns, grenades, perks and other goodies we want to take along from the vast armory of toys the game offers up – it’s about damn time. These challenges are sometimes a little nuts, but they’re usually pretty fun to attempt, and I did find myself going back a couple of times to try to complete some of them for fun and to unlock some new weapon attachments and goodies. Unfortunately Treyarch made two mistakes: the first is not clearly presenting challenges just before you embark on a mission, instead burying it away in a sub-menu, and the other is leaving the player unable to check out challenges mid-level, leaving you to try to remember what the hell you’re supposed to be doing as inconsiderate angry people try to shoot you. Of course the emphasis on replaying levels is a little at odds with the linear nature of Call of Duty games – I was more than happy to play a level a second time, or sometimes even a third to get a better score or complete some challenges, especially since the aforementioned levels are fairly bite-sized, but after that it becomes tiresome because you’re always wandering along the same path doing the exact same thing every time. Call of Duty does linear shooting better than anyone, but again I find myself thinking that the branching storyline and extra emphasis on replaying levels lends itself to more freedom in the missions than we actually get. However, for the sake of this review I’m not counting linearity as a flaw, because that would be unfair: the game is a linear shooter, after all, and it’s not trying to be anything else. It’d be like complaining that F1 2012 has cars.

Despite the number 2 at the end of the name, Call of Duty: Black Ops II doesn’t actually feel much like a sequel in terms of its storyline. The whole brilliant brain-washing plotline from the first game, which to me was easily the  finest story Call of Duty has ever told, has almost entirely faded away, leaving in its place a tale in which we jump back and forth in time between the end of the Cold War where we play as Alex Mason and 2025 where we play as David Mason, son of Alex Mason, in case you hadn’t already worked that out. The only thing that makes this feel like an actual sequel is the returning characters of Mason, Hudson and Woods, and because of that I almost got the sensation that no sequel was ever planned for Black Ops 2, because the plot felt so far removed from the original’s. This problem aside, though, Black Ops 2 tells a surprisingly strong and enjoyable story, the outline of which goes a bit like this: in the year 2025 a man by the name of Raul Menendez, leader of a massive revolutionary movement called Cordis Die that is fed up of the rich people ruling, is planning on launching a cyber-attack to take over America’s drone army, and David Mason needs to stop him by shooting a shed-load of people in the face, because obviously a lunatic in charge of all those drones is ever-s0-slightly worse than the thought of America in charge of all those drones.   Now obviously there’s a bit more to it all than that, but that’s the general outline without spoiling anything. The jump backs in time to Alex Mason serve to explain who Menendez is and why he’s doing what he’s doing, and all credit to Treyarch here as they’ve created a genuinely good villain for Black Ops 2, easily overshadowing the pretty boring bad guys from previous games. You see, Menendez has genuine motivations that drive him that are easy to understand, namely his hatred for America and the worlds capitalist attitude, as well as the death of  his beloved sister who was horribly disfigured in a fire earlier in her life. This and numerous other tragedies and events grounds the character emotionally in a way we can understand: he’s after both personal revenge and the fall of America because it stands for the capitalist attitude he hates so much. Although admittedly all this stuff makes him come off more like a Bond villain. But hey, Bond villains are awesome, so that’s quite alright.

Strangely there's not many screenshots from the singleplayer. So here's a robot.

Strangely there’s not many screenshots from the singleplayer. So here’s a robot.

I’m going to digress here for a second to have a small little rant: it’s actually pretty damn easy to end up sort of rooting for Raul Menendez. Yes, he  kills a lot of people, and yes he does shoot some poor dudes kneecaps off, but both he and his revolution, which has the support of insane amounts of people, desire to rid the world of 1% capitalist countries. They’re fed up of the rich people, in other words, who are living in comfort while the rest of the world burns around them. And let’s be honest, that’s an easy thing to get onboard with considering the currently bloody mess the world is in. It doesn’t help that you play as the guy defending this attitude that rich people should be allowed to whatever they want and to hell with everybody else, a fact which is at its most apparent when you find yourself having to save the worlds richest  city, which is actually a huge, floating ship, from an attack. I took a look at the city and almost wanted to blow the place up myself. The game pretty much assumes that by slapping Menendez with the label of “terrorist” it’ll activate some instinctive reflex in us to hate the guy. I didn’t hate him, because he had damn good reasons for his actions, even if I didn’t agree with many of his methods. Anyway, rant over, back to the game review.

So yeah, Black Ops II tells a surprisingly good tale relative to the franchise itself, although it does come off as needlessly convoluted at the beginning with all of its time hopping before finally calming down, but make no mistake, this is very much a Call of Duty plot and so it’s still just a summer blockbuster style tale that serves as an excuse for the plentiful supply of huge moments and set-pieces that we’ve come to expect. This many games long in the series we know that we’re never going to get bad gameplay in the singleplayer campaign and Black Ops II doesn’t disappoint, boasting the slick FPS gameplay that we’ve come to expect an a level of intensity that few other shooters seem able to match. If it ain’t exploding yet then it will be in about five seconds. Nobody really does the  rollercoaster FPS gameplay as well as the Call of Duty franchise – the guns feel nice, the enemies die in their droves, the set pieces are epic, every battle feels intense and you feel like a god damn action hero! Or at least until you turn off the game and remember you’ve got to take out the washing. Nothing ruins the illusion quicker than that.  The 2025 setting also gives Treyarch some extra room to play around, letting them chuck in some fun moments like scaling cliffs with awesome high-tech gloves, battling enemies that can turn nearly invisible and skimming the cliff tops while wearing a wingsuit in a section that completely messes with the laws of physics, leaving every science nerd scratching their head in that 5-second gap before something else blows up and all gravity-defying nonsense is forgiven. This gives me hopes that future games might retain this setting as it allows for some interesting stuff. The pacing is also as good as usual, although a few slower missions and stealth based antics would have been welcome to break up the action a little more, especially since you’ll get to play around with invisibility early in the game. As good as the singleplayer campaign is, though, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s very familiar. There’s a tiny little more room to maneuver in some of the levels this time around which is most welcome, but the pacing is now incredibly predictable so you always know what sort of mission you’re up for next, and the gameplay, as slick as it is, hasn’t made any steps forward in a while now – we just get more awesome set-piece moments, instead, except that you know when they’re coming as well. It all comes down to whether you still enjoy the gameplay or not. If you’ve grown tired of it, the, this won’t change your mind, and if you’re not tired of it then you’ve probably already bought it.

Nope, it's not an ODST. Honestly.

Nope, it’s not an ODST. Honestly.

Speaking of massive set-pieces, while there was definitely some cool moments in Black Ops II’s singleplayer there actually was less truly memorable moments. Thinking back to previous games there’s usually quite a few sections that I can bring to forefront of my mind with ease, like the nuclear strike in the original Modern Warfare or the awesome boat ride in Black Ops. Yeah, that one. Thinking about Black Ops II’s singleplayer, though, there’s not many moments that spring instantly to mind, despite having literally just played through it twice.

The singleplayer campaign also offers up another new feature in the form of  Strike Force missions in which you control several groups of units from an over-head view of a large map that usually has a couple of objectives active at the same time. If it sort of sounds like an RTS-lite, that’s because it pretty much is, but with the added benefit of being able to take direct control of any soldier, drone, sentry turret or stomping CLAW unit on the battlefield and go nuts on the enemy like you’ve drunk all the Lucozade in the area and are riding the high like there’s going to be no tomorrow. On paper it’s a pretty cool concept, with the ability to take direct control of your troops grounding the Strike Force missions firmly within the FPS territory that Call of Duty inhabits while still introducing something brand new to the franchise, however in actual execution these missions are, simply said, a bit crap as the friendly AI is so terrible that you’re forced to take control of a soldier and play the mission like any other level, carving through the enemy troops yourself while tapping the order button to constantly command your troops forwards, which they’ll rarely do because they have a problem with taking orders. Your own troops seem incapable of either defending positions or attacking the enemy, and so any tactical maneuver that have flashed into your brain usually turn out to be useless. For example, you might order your troops to engage the enemy head on while another group flanks them, but the first group is so incompetent that they’ll be demolished within seconds, leaving your flanking move absolutely useless as the enemy march forward. Still, Treyarch have left these Strike Force missions almost entirely optional, although whether or not you meet with success while playing them also effects how the storyline plays out as they feature a sub-plot that runs alongside the main plot. In short, rebuild the AI from the ground up and Strike Force missions could be fun. Right now, they’re not.

Jumping straight onto the multiplayer there’s two changes we need to talk about and get out of the way first, because apart from that not much has really changed. The first is that the class system has been rebuilt and in its place stands the new Pick 10 system, which lets you pick, well, ten things. Let me explain, noob: every attachment, weapon, perk and grenade is given a point value of one, and when building your class you’re allowed to spend up to ten of these points. The new Wildcards, of which you can equip three, allow you to do things like take extra perks, attachments, weapons and more, but also cost a point each to use, as does the extra perk or whatever. In short, this is a far more flexible system than before, giving you free rein on exactly how you want to build your class. You could, for example, forgo perks in favor of taking two primary weapons and as many attachments for them as you can, or you could go for the opposite and take just one basic weapon with a ton of perks. Speaking of which perks have been toned down a little here so their effects aren’t quite as powerful as before, however during my playtime with the game I actually found most of the perks to be bloody useless, resulting in me rarely feeling an urge to change them from the more useful Lightweght and others.  It should also be said that at the moment SMGs and shotguns are far too powerful, with both being lethal even at fairly long ranges, a fact made considerably worse by tight map designs and the ability to aim with incredibly accuracy while firing from the hip.

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The other change is that the Killstreaks, which rewarded you with insane things like your very own VTOL or attack dogs, have been replaced with Scorestreaks, which reward you with insane things like your very own VTOL or attack dogs. In other words rather than gaining access to these powerful abilities by just getting kills, thereby encouraging people to ignore objectives, you now get them by scoring points done by killing people, assisting people and completing the objectives in an attempt to encourage people playing something like Capture the Flag to actually go and capture the god damn flag. Killing somebody nets you 100 points, but capturing the piece of material attached to a flag nets you 200! It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but unfortunately your Scorestreak rewards are just as ludicrously overpowered as before, although nowhere near as bad as Modern Warfare 3’s. Both the original Modern Warfare and the original Black Ops got the balance on these almost dead on, and yet for some reason we’re once again back at infuriating Scorestreak rewards like a VTOL hovering around mowing everyone down. These things can rack up the kills like there’s no tomorrow, leaving you to hide inside until they damn well go away. UAVs, Sentry Turrets and Dragonfire Drones and the like are all fine , but the top-level stuff needs to be either needs to be nerfed big time or removed altogether. Also, the Lighting Strike, which is a middle of the range Scorestreak reward, is way too powerful at the moment, striking  too quickly with little warning and doing massive  damage, especially in objective modes where players have to cluster together like they’re considering an orgy as a legitimate battle tactic.

Theres the usual selection of modes to pick from here, including the likes of Gun Game, with a couple of new ones joining the mix to create a pretty impressive roster of fun, and of course you can still create custom games by twiddling with the rules, but powering it all is the same familiar core multiplayer gameplay that Call of Duty is known for – it’s still a fast-paced arcade shooter where skill takes a back seat to pure reflex and an intense desire to suicidally charge toward the enemy. And that’s perfectly fine, because we all know that’s what Call of Duty’s multiplayer is all about and its pretty fun. What does change with each iteration is the map design, and I’m probably going to get some serious Call of Duty fanboy flak for saying this, but in Black Ops II it’s largely meh. There’s definitely some great ones in there, but many of the came off as over-designed in terms of every room featuring usually at least three points of entry, far too many lines of sight and pathways and that they all feel really tight and restrictive. Wait, I already mentioned that when I was rambling about overpowered SMGs. Ah well, it’s worth mentioning twice. This style of map design is obviously an attempt to get rid of campers, which is a daft move by itself, but in the process most of the maps encourage run and gunning over anything else far more than ever before and feel like they’re penalizing players with a slower and more patient playstyle (relative to the game) that comes from some of the earlier games. Toss in the new “random” spawning system (another attempt to get rid of camping) which has a nasty habit of dropping you right in front or near enemies and you’ve got a multiplayer offering where the last vestiges of skill have faded away. With some many lines of sight and entry points the vast majority of kills you get are from behind or the side of your opponents, or because they spawned right in front of you. Playing multiplayer, I took little satisfaction from getting a lot of kills because most of the time my opponent never stood a chance. However, for the run and gun fans, which is most players on Call of Duty, I acknowledge and respect that they’ll probably appreciate the map designs far more than myself who played previous CoD titles with a slower style. Map design aside, though, there’s no denying that this is still a better multiplayer offering than Modern Warfare 3’s. Mind you, so was going into the woods and playing a round of paintball against a ravenous bear. Regardless of my complaining, then, there’s still fun to be had here.

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Worth mentioning is that Combat Training from Black Ops has made a welcome return, albeit it in a very different style. You can still create a multiplayer game with Bots only, which is very much appreciated, but it’s no longer under the Combat Training label, instead you simply set up a custom game and then add in bots. Also, bots can now take part in several different game modes rather than just the standard deathmatch that they were limited to in Black Ops It’s  a small but very welcome change. And if you are playing against bots then everything will be unlocked for you to play around with. Meanwhile the actual Combat Training is a new online mode for players just getting into the game where you can play on maps with a mixture of real players and AI controlled bots to allow you to get into the flow of the gameplay, which is great because Black Ops 2 continues the series trend of having a pretty steep learning curve for newcomers to the online side of things.

A few of the old recurring problems are still present as well, which is highly disappointing, such as some seriously dodgy hit detection and an utterly crap matchmaking system which likes to pit new level 1 players against other games who have already spent hundreds of hours playing. The netcode also still needs considerable improvement with a large majority of the matches that I tested out suffering from mild to moderate lag, although of course some of that can also be attributed to poor connections. Seriously, Activision, Treyarch, you own the highest grossing game franchise on the planet, where the hell are the dedicated servers? Or at least the option to rent servers. Battlefield is doing this, and so should you, especially given that in such a quick paced game even the tiniest amount of lag affects the gameplay massively. Other old problems include that strange one where on your screen an enemy soldiers appears to be behind something and therefore unable to shoot you, but five seconds later while you’re watching the Killcam it turns out that his or her screen was showing them standing just out of cover allowing them to shoot you. Huh. You’ll also see another form of this where the barrels of sniper rifles and the like are apparently capable of phasing through window frames, a fact that players are all too eager to take advantage of.

Treyarch have also made some considerable effort to create an even stronger Call of Duty community and leap on to the eSports bandwagon with the addition of Leagues. Join one of these bad boys and you’ll have to duke it out with other League players for the highest spot you can by the end of the season, so you can then go and brag about how freaking awesome you are! Hurrah. These Leagues can also help a little with the poor matchmaking as extra emphasis is placed on matching you up with other gamers that are actually the same skill level as yourself, rather than matching you up with somebody who has devoted their life to playing Call of Duty and are now capable of God-like destruction that is seemingly primarily directed at you and you alone. Best of all, though, is that in League play every weapon, attachment and perk is unlocked for you to mess around with, happily letting you tinker with your loadout until you’re satisfied that no matter what sort of vicious, ravenous fanboy you might encounter you’ll be ready for ‘em.  In short I approve of Leagues.

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They’ve also tossed in a raft of video features to jump onto the eSports bandwagon that I mentioned earlier.You can happily watch recorded games from the returning Theatre mode, but now it boasts the ability to cut out,  edit and clip together bits of footage using the simple but handy video editing tools. And then you can upload the finished product to COD TV for the rest of the shooting community to probably laugh at. Speaking of which, you can also render videos and post them straight to your Youtube account,  the popular video site that is dominated by funny cat videos and now Call of Duty: Black Ops II gameplay videos. I can’t actually comment on how well the Youtube uploading works, but I did have a good play around with all the video editing malarkey, so let’s chat about that. Using the simple video editor really is as easy as selecting a film and then watching the footage, happily picking out the bits you want to keep and using them to form a video which doesn’t show all those times you failed miserably to duck the incredibly annoying Betties, little mines that activate when you wander past and leap into the air before blowing up in your face. If that all sounds a bit to tricky you can jump into the Highlight Reel mode which is designed for those among that feel we’re incapable of handling even the simplest of video-based tasks. This feature  handily goes through the footage itself and picks out the best moments before putting them together into a nice little video package which you can then also upload to Youtube before claiming that you stitched it altogether by yourself, and not the Highlight reel. Honest. There’s a number of ways to tweak the Highlight Reel’s settings as well, such as choosing whether it just picks clips of you or whether it includes everyone in the game, what sort of awesome moments should be included and the style of transitions used in between clips. You can even ask it to only add clips of a certain star rating or above, a rating which the game itself actually assigns based on a number of factors. Let’s be honest, though, every clip you’re in is immediately five-star worthy in your head. And then you can still add in your own clips into the mix as well, should you feel that the game missed some important stuff. All of your created videos, as well as custom games and emblems, for that matter, are then uploaded to CODTV, which is essentially the games social hub in which you can watch videos created by other games and rate their stuff.

And if that’s not all quite your cup of metaphorical tea then there’s always the new CODcast feature, which is pretty much an enhanced Theatre mode which would make Theatre mode pretty much redundant if it wasn’t for the fact that you can’t record clips in CODcast mode like you can in that aforementioned Theatre mode. Got that? No? Tough. Oh, and in CODcast you can only watch full matches, rather than Theatre which lots you watch full matches and edited films. Alright, so it doesn’t make Theatre Mode redundant.  CODcast is actually a tool designed for those gamers that like to create gameplay videos with commentary, as is the current trend. Load up a replay of a match in CODcast mode and you’ll be presented with a tonne of extra information designed to keep those aforementioned commentators dead happy: adorning the top of the screen is a scoreboard clearly displaying the map name, game mode and…score. obviously; a tap of the M button brings up the entire map so that you can clearly see where the action is before quickly swapping over to that specific players, and finally a tap of the F key brings up a load the player list and scoreboard which tells you who is on the highest killstreak and even who is holding the flag in a game of Capture the Flag. It also gives you a load of options which allow you to tweak how much information is shown on-screen for both you and anyone watching your video. Want to know the perks each player is running with? Done. Want to check their Scorestreaks? Done. You get the idea. In short CODcast is the perfect tool for those that want to create lovely gameplay videos with commentary!

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Or at least it would be had Treyarch not completely missed a golden opportunity by failing to provide any method with which to actually record your voice, so to  create a gameplay video with commentary you’re still going to require  a capture device. Damn. Come on, Treyarch, you could have created a tool for all of those people who want to become Youtube celebrities but don’t have the cash to splash on a capture device! Wasted opportunity aside, CODcasting is a great new feature that provides plenty of useful stuff for those looking to make some great videos. And then there’s that Livestreaming thing which got a lot of people excited. And rightly so because now you can stream your League games (and only League games) straight onto Youtube. Again, I can’t comment on exactly how well the Livestreaming feature works because I didn’t have the time to use it, but provided it does exactly what it says on the tin you’ll be sorted. Keep in mind, though, that you need a HD TV to Livestream and an Internet connection that can handle it all. You’ll also need a minimum of ten-people waiting for your Livestream to be allowed to activated it, to help ensure that the game isn’t flooded with streams that nobody is watching.

And then there are zombies, the shuffling undead that were introduced in World at War in the form of Nazis and that have gained quite the cult following ever since, despite the fact that the whole Nazi thing has sadly faded into distant memory. For the traditionalists the standard Survival mode is still perfectly intact, demanding that you and up to three other people fend off waves of the shambling bastards on maps that contain so much fog that every level looks incredibly bland. And you do all of that for…uh, no reason. Well, that’s not true, you do it for a laugh. And it is still a laugh, because most things are when you’re all running around like nutters screaming down the microphone at each other, but mostly because shooting zombies is just fun. But the big news here is Treyarch have expanded on their Zombie slaying concept by intoducing two new modes into the mix: Grief and Tranzit. Tranzit is easily the most interesting of the two, claiming to be an actual campaign and introducing the concept of a bus driven by an AI controlled robot that transports (I mean Transportz) you from one of the four areas on the map to the next. If you and your chums don’t get on the bus it simply leaves without you, forcing you to either defend the location you’re at or make the long trek along the demon-infested road to the next area in some vain attempt to catch up to the bus. It’s a neat concept, at least, especially when it comes to those desperate moments where half your team make it back to the bus but the other half doesn’t leaving you with the tough choice of whether to leave ‘em or to jump out the bus and stick together. Let’s face it, you’re going to leave them. Along the way there’s supposed to be a story of some sort to reveal and you can build  gadgets using a crafting system that involves you picking up parts scattered around the place so that you can unlock new areas of the map, but the problem is that Treyarch chose to explain absolutely none of this, leaving many gamers to probably just assume that this is the standard Survival mode with a bus. Frankly, they’re right, because trying to grab parts while the game throws zombies at you is irritating as is trying to figure out everything else you’re supposed to be doing while undead try to eat your face, so there’s a good chance you won’t even bother. In short, needs a tutorial. Fix it, Treyarch. Still, if you do figure out what’s going on it’s quite fun.

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The other mode, Grief, attempts to add a competitive element to a game mode that’s supposed to be about co-operation for absolutely no sodding reason. Basically, in Grief you play a standard Survival zombies game where you fend off the hordes while repairing barriers and buying new weapons with your points, but at the same time there’s also another team of human players doing the same thing. Ah, but you can’t shoot or directly harm these players, oh no, what you’ve actually got to do is distract them in various ways, thus making it easier for the zombies to murder ‘em. Yeah, it’s not that fun and it definitely needs some work if they plan on bringing it back in future games. Still, kudos for trying new stuff.

And to round off this review we’ve got the game’s graphics. The Call of Duty franchise has gotten some considerable flak lately for not going out and getting itself a shiny new engine to play with, but let’s be honest this close to the next generation can anyone really blame the developers for not swapping to new technology until the next-gen is actually here?  As such Black Ops II is running on the same engine that we’ve had for a while now, but let’s be perfectly clear: it’s a solid-looking game. Call of Duty: Black Ops II can’t claim to be sitting atop the mountain of beautiful looking games to exist, and its case certainly isn’t helped with titles like Assassin’s Creed 3 and Hitman: Absolution being released at roughly the same time and looking stunning, but it still manages to look fine. As always there’s always a tonne of stuff going on on-screen, and so you’ll be hard pressed to notice all the rough edges and lacking textures amidst the carnage and bullets flying toward your face. Still, there’s no denying that the franchise is starting to show its graphical age, and so if the next-gen doesn’t hurry it’s arse up and get here then yes, a new engine or a major overhaul is definitely going to be needed if Call of Duty: Modern Ops 6 doesn’t want to get laughed out of the schoolyard for being a Triple A blockbuster title that boasts out of date visuals.

Right, so, Call of Duty Black Ops II, the verdict. There’s probably lot of people demanding that I write about how horrendous this game is because it’s yet another Call of Duty title and that nothing has changed or been added, but the truth is Black Ops II is a solid, fun game and things have actually changed and added. Treyarch have made some good steps forward for the future of the franchise here, and in doing so have crafted a good shooter. As it stands Black Ops II offers up a fun, rollercoaster ride of a singleplayer campaign and the same multiplayer which has captured the hearts of millions of gamers.  There’s that distinct feeling of deja-vu floating around because of the core gunplay being the same, but with Treyarch actually chucking some new stuff in there and changing other things there even the most jaded of haters can’t claim that Black Ops II is just more of the same. And that gives me, who was rather jaded after Modern Warfare, hope for the future of the franchise.

The Good:
+ Branching storyline.
+ Feel like an action hero.
+ It’s Call of Duty, which means the gunplay is slick and satisfying.

The Bad:
- It’s Call of Duty, so even with the changes it’s pretty familiar.
- Multiplayer feels like it has had the last vestiges of skill removed.
- Lots of old problems still exist.

The Score:

Graphics: 7.5
Black Ops II looks good. Even with an aging engine it manages to pack the screen with loads of stuff to keep you distracted from the rough edges. Of which there’s a lot. But never mind, because explosions.

Sound: 7.5
The voice acting is pretty damn good throughout, but some of the sound design is rough and the music is largely forgettable.

Story: 7
A few plot holes and shallow characters don’t stop you enjoying the manic, summer blockbuster style tale. And the villain is ace, even if he does sort of feel like he was ripped out of a Bond film at times.

Gameplay: 8.5
Yes it’s the same core gameplay, but that doesn’t stop it from being slick. The singleplayer is solid and if you’ve enjoyed the previous multiplayer offerings then you’ll be happy here. Toss in new features and all the video malarky and you’re sorted.

Lifespan: 7.5
The singleplayer still needs more content, coming it at about 6-hours, but it has more replay value than before and the multiplayer offers up plenty of mayhem to get lost in. Then there’s zombies! There’s always zombies.

The Verdict: 8
Another solid offering from the Call of Duty franchise that fans will love and haters will probably just keep on hating. Regardless of all that, there’s some great new features here and a few more that still need work, all combining to create a great blockbuster shooter.

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