inFocus

“There’s a soldier in all of us

Game Info
Publisher: Activison
Developer: Treyarch
Genre: FPS
Release Date: 11/27/2012
Meta Score


Here we are again. Call of Duty. The Madden of first person shooters. This game is likely as close as I’ll ever get to a severe drug addiction, because every year I quit and shout “I’ll never play this terrible franchise again!” before throwing my controller across the room (gently, and aimed at a pillow), and storming out. Yet, every November my arms to start to itch, and the only way to scratch it is by diving back into the newest Call of Duty entry..

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I haven’t liked Call of Duty in a long time. Though I consider CoD4 to be one of the best games this console generation, and a revolutionary game in the shooter genre, I found World at War to be bland, Modern Warfare 2 to be nonsensical with a broken online experience, and Modern Warfare 3 to be, perhaps, the most pointless game I’ve ever played. It barely expanded the story in any way, and got by basically by shouting “WE BLEW UP NEW YORK, LOOK AT THE EIFFEL TOWER CRASH, GO PLAY ONLINE”. The only entry in the series I found to be remotely worth it with an alright story and a few refreshing new online additions was Black Ops.

With Black Ops 2 moving to the future in 2025, I was worried that this was going to be another tired entry into the series that did nothing more than satisfy a yearly multiplayer itch. That’s probably the reason I was completely floored when Black Ops II turned out to not only be a good entry into the franchise, but a good game in general, with a well told story to boot.

Story: Black Ops the first seemed to tie up the stories of Woods and Mason pretty well. It left Woods presumed dead and Mason assassinating JFK… or whatever it was they were trying to say he did. Black Ops II sheds a lot of the dead weight from the past game, getting most of the plot holes out of the way with a few lines and a cameo from a character in the first game, leaving it wide open to tell pretty much an entirely new narrative, separate from the binds of the first game.

The story takes place in two times: in 2025 where we follow the story of David Mason, Alex Mason’s son, as he tries to take down cyber terrorist Raul Menendez, and then in the past, where you learn how Woods and Mason helped build Menendez into the monster he is today. The game’s theme of past vs. future and how choices between them affect the next generation is very well presented, and feels even more critical when the game starts throwing choices at you that affect how the story plays out. When I first encountered one of these choices, I didn’t really see how it would change anything (and it felt like the game was even forcing my hand a little), but by the end of the game when all of the threads started unfolding, I was cheering along to see that some of the things I did really changed how the events unfolded.

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Black Ops II has its flaws in the story telling department, with some things not making much sense, and there still being a bit of the CoD-trademark put-you-in-a-ridiculous-situation-because-SPLOSIONS, but it also marks a real rise in the story telling for the franchise. Menendez is a well-designed character, and it’s great to see how he went from being a run of the mill drug lord to all around evil villain. The Black Ops games are generally the less serious side of the Call of Duty franchise, and Menendez really embodies that with his larger than life Bond-villain attitude, but that does not stop him from being one scary dude. He’s one of the best written characters I’ve seen in a game in quite a while.

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Part of what makes the characters and the story so memorable is that much of the game was motion captured, and the voice actors also put in huge performances. Kamar de los Reyes deserves endless amounts of credit for really bringing Menendez to life on the screen, but there are plenty of other stellar performances, like the breathy and exasperated James C Burns as Frank Woods, of the grizzly Michael Rooker as Harper.

And for those worrying that this Call of Duty tuned down the Michael Bay pole-vault-over-the-top action, do not fret. It’s still here, this is a CoD game after all. But what Black Ops II does that separates it from the rest of the series is that it understands escalation. By the time you are to the point of giant city destroying battles happening, there have been so many little fight in tiny facility type missions that you can accept things getting bigger. There’s a sense of tension building up throughout, and it works far better than Modern Warfare III’s kick-down-the-door-and-shout-in-your-face method of storytelling.

Graphics/Presentation: Black Ops II looks far better than any Call of Duty game to date, but that isn’t saying much. The new motion capture and facial recognition software used in designing the game leads to much better looking character models, but the whole game still has that somewhat comicbooky, animated feel. The colors are still vibrant, and everything still runs at 60 fps.

On a more aesthetic side, when things start really revving up in the main story, the destruction is designed really well. Seeing the 405 collapse as you race past it, of watching an aircraft carrier get ripped to shreds has always been something impressive to watch happen in a CoD game, but they the effects really seem to be much more impressive here since the rest of the game keeps it so dialed back.

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Gameplay/Controls: Call of Duty is the type of game that is easier to quantify by what has changed rather than what hasn’t. Most everything from last year and the year before is still here. The guns feel a bit in between the lead heaviness of Black Ops I and the plastic lightness in MW3, and it’s a perfect sweet spot that makes blowing a man back with a shotgun feel satisfying.

On the story side, you still go through the game mission by mission (though the story happens in the game now rather than the loading screens. Fancy that.) and you are now given the chance to customize your loadout before you start so you can begin with a gun you like. There is also the inclusion of “strike force” mission, in which you are given control of a bunch of SEALs and drones and have to complete an objective like you’d find in multiplayer. These missions are great fun and can be pretty tough, but you only get to play about four of them in a playthrough, and they aren’t randomized, so they lose their charm pretty quick. On top of that, they rarely force you to jump from character to character, the staple trick of the strike force missions.

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Perhaps the biggest change comes in the addition of future tech. CoD games have never shied away from letting you play with the biggest military toys, but Black Ops II takes it to a whole new level, showing you some crazy future device or another in practically every level, and throwing them passively at you in each mission. By the end of the game you won’t think much of a gun that shows you where every enemy in your line of sight it, or a scope that works like an x-ray, or remotely taking over a drone to fly through a house and turret people to death with, but they all add up to create a bit different of an experience from the Modern Warfare games. It might be hard to go back.

Overall, the gameplay isn’t too much different from the past entries into the series, but that isn’t a bad thing. What I can tell you is that Black Ops II feels good to play, and everything works pretty much how it should. There isn’t much lag online, and the weapons are all fun to shoot. You can’t ask for much more than that.

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Sound: Black Ops II nailed its music. Whether it’s the tense violin orchestrations that make you feel like snapping, of the insane dubstep meets orchestra of Trent Reznor’s Black Ops II theme, there is rarely a time when the music for Black Ops II wasn’t spectacular. The sound track is certainly worth investing in.

The voice acting is also top notch. Burns, Rooker, and Reyes are really the stars of the show aurally, but Rich McDonald as David Mason hangs in there with the rest of them, even if he does sound a bit like Nolan North (who also did a few voices in this game). Michael Keaton puts in a good effort as CIA Spook Hudson, and even Sam Worthington manages to be more believable as Alex Mason this time around (though, he’s still pretty much the least impressive voice actor in the game).

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One audio problem that has always been a sore spot for Call of Duty games is the weapon sounds. Sad to say, they aren’t too much better here. They’re serviceable, but guns often sound over the top and explosive. With games like Battlefield and even Medal of Honor getting highly realistic sounding weaponry and ever elevating the skill they bring to weapon audio, it’s sad to see how arcade like the weaponry for Black Ops II still sounds. I will give credit to the future weapons though, they walk a fine line between sound alien and simply highly advanced. Especially the Storm rifle, which sounds fantastic as times.

Replay: The story isn’t terribly long, but running about eight hours, it’s certainly longer than the last few Call of Duty games were, and, in what I’ve found to be a first since CoD4, the story actually has great replay value. Each mission offers you 10 challenges to complete, and there are still your traditional four difficulties to beat the game on. But that’s all aside from the fact that it’s simply fun to play over to see how your choices change things in the story. In my first playthrough, I didn’t even play all of the possible missions in the game, missing about three of them that I had to replay to get it.

Once you’ve gotten over the story, which could take you quite a while to do, there’s also the return of the Zombie mode. There are three maps to play on in this game, and one of them, TranzIt, is more of a story Zombie mode than any of the past games had. Zombies is still hard, and still fun, and if you liked it in the past games, there’s plenty here to keep you playing until the sun comes up, and then goes down again.

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And as if that weren’t enough for you, there’s also the vast multiplayer that keeps people online all year. The amount of maps shipped is plenty, and there’s a huge number of modes, including the return of Party Games (though you can’t bet on them any more). Modes like Sticks and Stones or Gun Game find that perfect balance between addictive competitiveness and relaxing enjoyment without all of the frustration that comes with being destroyed in other game modes, but if that isn’t your speed, there’s also ladder matches where you can play competitively over the course of gaming seasons. With what feels like three whole and separate games crammed into one disk, it’s safe to say that this game probably has the highest replayability of any game shipped this year.

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Pefromance: Call of Duty: Black Ops II performed rather good on the Wii U , by maintaining an average 50 FPS throughout. Although, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions average frame rates had the slight advantage, the Wii U SKU came with ZERO screen tearing.  Below are the screen tearing percentages and frame rate averages we captured. Make sure to check out our Heads Up on Call of Duty: Black Ops II for Wii U/PS3/Xbox 360 analysis comparison.

Wii U Frame Analysis
Clip 1 info:
Length of clip: 4240 frames
Average FPS of clip: 45.56
Percent of torn frames: 0.0
Clip 2 info:
Length of clip: 4477 frames
Average FPS of clip: 53.69
Percent of torn frames: 0.0
Clip 3 info:
Length of clip: 2637 frames
Average FPS of clip: 43.92
Percent of torn frames: 0.0
Global percent of torn frames: 0.0
Global average FPS: 48.39

 

Wii U Analysis Video Below.

PlayStation 3 Footage Shown Below.

Overall, : Call of Duty: Black Ops II did something special. It made me believe in Call of Duty again. Not only is this game fantastic in its own right, it manages to be better pretty much any other game in the franchise. The only is unbelievably addicting, the story is incredibly well told, and there is so much content included that I’m surprised they didn’t lob off the zombies part and sell it as a separate game. If you consider yourself even a casual fan of the franchise, you do not want to miss this entry into the series.

Written By: D.R. Maddock