Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the most comprehensive and impressive game in the series, offering more than before in almost every department. Treyarch took the trusted formula and refined it in parts and built upon it in other parts – it is still Call of Duty, but the most evolved version. Players can compete in various modes online or offline, alone or with other players. Offline is brilliant, while matchmaking plagues the online modes.
Distributor: Megarom Interactive
For fans of: War games, zombie slaying
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: Playstation 3, PC, Wii U (upcoming)
If we had to give it a numerical score: 7/10
What I loved
- The weapons
- The gadgets
- The online game modes
- ZOMBIES mode!
- Production quality
- The plethora of customisation options
Not so much
Gameplay and Features
I will start by giving credit where it is due – Treyarch seem to really have paid attention to the community. It’s evident that the developers at least tried to implement what have been the more celebrated bits of previous titles in the series, and left out what was not. The stellar gameplay seems fairly unchanged, but why would you fix something that isn’t broken. The mechanics are instantly recognisable as a Call of Duty game, and if anything, the gameplay has been refined a little more. The gunplay feels the same as do the core mechanics, and I love that the ability to dive was included. You use the B button as you would to kneel and then lie down, but do dive (from a run) you hold in the B while running. This looks and feels fantastic, and adds a different dimension to your gameplay (online mostly). So if you are taking fire while running, or just rushing to the next spot, you can dive to cover.
Black Ops 2 is the most comprehensive of war shooters – there’s so many modes that are all engaging and worthy of your attention, nothing feels like an after-thought. There’s the much loved Zombies Mode which can also be played in co-operative; there’s the system-link mode for offline LANs and there’s even split screen or singleplayer offline modes, which serves as a brilliant training ground. In this Local Mode, everything is unlocked – the weapons, the perks etc. – so you can test everything out, and if anything you can plan your unlocks for the competitive mode.
The campaign is fairly polished bar some inconsistency’s here and there, and as interesting a campaign as you will find. The narrative makes references to real-world war regions and even real-world African war monger. The campaign delves into a soldier’s emotions, and I loved the dark mood of the narrative. The story is wonderfully intertwined with the past and future, driven by exceptional set-pieces. The campaign has a somewhat unique feel thank to the pre-load options at the beginning of the levels. You can choose your guns, ammo and ammo and perks for the particular stage, although the optimum equipment is suggested. The levels differ in ambiance, with regards to the weather, day or night and settings and so different equipment suits different levels. If anything it does set this one apart from the crowd, even if it’s not by much. The real stand-out in the campaign, and what carries across the modes, is the absolutely superb futuristic weapons. Not only the weapons themselves, but the unusual gadgets and attachments help make the campaign an absolute pleasure to play through.
Black Ops 2 is also easily my favourite design in the shooter genre. The masses of futuristic weapons, the clever perks, the modes, the progression system – everything equates to a deeply satisfying design. The war gadgets surprise and absolutely delight. I will never forget the few nights after release, in a tense online match, I see a little RC vehicle buzzing its way to me – then “boom” as it arrived at my feet. Never before had I thought “oh f…. yeah,” after getting killed. There is so much to work for, to unlock and to customise.
The trademark Zombies Mode again delights. Slaying hordes of zombies never gets old. You can do so online, via a system link or split-screen local with other players or go at it alone. Careful thought clearly went into the map design here, which helps amplify the tense mood of this mode. This mode serves as almost an entirely new game, and I have no doubt that it will again enjoy a fanatical following.
The bulk of the online modes actually work, again leading me to believe the developers know what we want and enjoy. There are the more standard modes which I am sure will prevail over time, be it the standard Team Death Match or the multi-team Team Death Matches consisting of 4 teams of 3. You can also play in multi-teams in the Kill Confirmed Mode or play as normal. There’s the staple ‘invading or protecting areas’ type of modes like Domination. There’s a Free-For-All mode which has already captured a massive following, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to do so. Hardpoint Mode is a re-skinned ‘King-of-the-Hill’ type of mode, a mode type that has found favour in many names across the shooter genre.
Black Ops 2 even caters for proper competitive Clan competition with a mode that was created specifically for this. Players are matched up against similarly skilled players and so as you improve, you progress into higher league tiers. Teams will play against other team of 6 players or 4 versus 4. To ensure everyone is on equal footing, everything is available from the get go – the weapons, attachments, perks and streaks.
The maps are also easily my favourite offerings in an online-shooter. There really is a great abundance in map types, offering great diversity and diversity which forces players to take a different approach with the various maps. I am blown away by the diversity and the amount of maps on offer from launch. The maps also vary according to the modes you choose and are suitably designed for the modes. The Team Death Match maps for example, Treyarch seem to get the size absolutely spot-on. I mean there are smaller and larger maps, but for the most part the maps sit somewhere in the middle, making for great searching and running around while still providing plenty of hiding spots. The multi-level designs of the maps also stand out for me – there’s always plenty of higher ground and lower ground to take to. As far as maps go, I cannot think of a better shooter. Sadly the spawning system on smaller maps is a bit troublesome, dropping you into spots that are less than ideal.
Black Ops 2 shines in almost every department, but unfortunately it frustrates in the most important department. The very reason that this game will sell a stupendous amount of copy’s, is not for its campaign or impressive production values. People will snag this one up like the world is ending for its online offerings, and unfortunately it is here is where Black Ops 2 stumbles. My first few nights were relatively pain free, but this week has been painful. The online-code uses a peer-to-peer system, and so when you do manage to get into a lobby, then the game will just jump to the strongest host. When you are in a lobby, and not experiencing any lag issues, then the game is as good as it gets. The problem is that the matchmaking is absolutely frustrating at this point in time. I have heard of people not struggling too much, and the numbers online show that this it is working for some, but if your friends list is not filled with Call of Duty players, you will struggle to get into lobbies. I cannot even get into friends lobbies at times, even when space is available or when following an invite.
It would be easy to blame this on the internet infrastructure in our part of the world, or on my modest ADSL line. But if that were the only reasoning behind the issues, then I would also struggle with Halo 4, which also users a peer-to-peer system. In Halo 4 I do experience latency issues, but it is on rare occasions, and this usually sorted by the switching of hosts. I also cannot remember waiting longer that a minute or two looking for entry into a lobby. So as I say, if it were just because of mine and my country’s internet infrastructure, then I would struggle with every title… and I don’t.
Sound and visuals
By now everyone and their aunt must have at some stage played a Call of Duty game, and so you should know what you are in for with the production quality, which is of the highest quality. There are very little visual flaws and the sound quality is brilliant. The campaign will engage you visually and aurally, really selling the drama of the wars it portrays. The campaign is filled with cinematic sequences, driving the narrative on. The visual effects are like something straight out of a grand Hollywood production. The narratives of the previous titles in the series were always interesting as was the dialogue and voice-acting. Black Ops 2 continues with this strong tradition, making for as interesting a shooter as will find. If you are looking for an outstanding war-shooter campaign, then you will be hard-pressed to find better than Black Ops 2.
The presentation surprised me the most with the aesthetics – the presentation has always been great in the series, but Black Ops 2’s presentation is easily the most inviting and attractive in the series. There are so much customisation options too in the multiplayer presentation, and so you can expect unique player emblems.
I think I have made it pretty clear that when Black Ops 2 works, it is amongst my very favourite war-shooters, if not my favourite. Every last component seems to have been carefully designed and constructed, keeping true to the series’ strengths while building upon almost all components. The design is exquisite and the production quality is of the highest quality in almost every department.
With that said, I cannot score this one too high as it drops the ball in the most important aspect – the online aspect. I will be more than thrilled to re-visit my score should Treyarch fix the matchmaking and general online code, but for now it frustrates me to no end to report that the matchmaking and LAG issues are heavily detracting from the experience for me at this time. I do love the Zombies mode, the campaign is actually pretty exciting, and I will desperately seek out LAN tournaments. The mode that sells the series is fantastic when it works, but for now those moments are too few and far apart. This is a huge pity as this is easily not only the most competent game in the series, but the most exciting by a country mile.
Read about our ratings here.