Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review
It's no secret that the Call of Duty franchise has been accused of taking the easy way out on multiple occasions. Yearly release schedules have resulted in a once proud franchise being seen as a shooter that just changes very little from year to year and watches the cash come in with little effort involved.
But what if it didn't?
With Black Ops 2 -- Treyarch and Activision have produced a Call of Duty experience that's distinctively anti Call of Duty. It takes chances, it makes you think -- it sticks with you. Of course, at its core, it's still the same formula, but damn does it feel refreshing. This may not be the series changing reboot that we've all been waiting for, but Black Ops 2 is easily the best Call of Duty in years, and the most ambitious in even longer.
"...the game starts to lose its hold on you long before it should."
Black Ops 2 is essentially the story of two generations, throughout two stories. Alex Mason, the protagonist from the original Black Ops returns in a sections that spans the 70s in the Cold War. Mason's been charged with the mission of taking out taking out Nicaraguan terrorist Raul Mendez. The other section of the game takes the series into the near future year of 2025 where the player takes control of Mason's son David as the United States has entered a second cold war with China. Each section is distinctively different, but sadly the game starts to lose its hold on you long before it should.
Spoilers aside, the game does a fantastic job in actually making you think -- at least at first. Mendez starts the game off a surprisingly three dimensional villain; he believes he's right and his vendetta against the United States and their allies is fueled by personal tragedy. He's written so well that in the beginning half of the game, you'll actually almost feel for the character and his plights. Sadly, this doesn't happen throughout the length of the game, and Mendez quickly turns into your typical first-person-shooter bad guy who just wants to cause trouble because he's apparently crazy. It's a bit of a shame too, as the story is most enjoyable when you believe that the villain is willing to do anything for what in his mind -- is justified, and not just because he's bored.
Where most people are going to find the most fun in Black Ops 2 is in the futuristic setting, as this is where the game truly begins to create its own identity. The setting apparently allowed the developers carte blanche to take the Call of Duty experience and go completely balls to the walls crazy. It's incredibly fun to use the game's future tech, like unmanned drones and huge walking robots to take out the enemy -- and it's done so in remarkable fashion. There's a section where you're battling on an L.A. freeway that will be hard to top as one of my favorite moments of the year, it was unpredictable and it was thrilling -- completely different from what I expected from the Call of Duty experience.
"...the core mechanics are still stellar."
Of course -- this is still Call of Duty, and as much as anyone wants to deny it -- the core mechanics are still stellar. The weapons, both in the cold war era and the future feel remarkably weighty in your hands and satisfying to fire, even if ninety percent of the time you're firing at the same old targets. The story is filled with typical Call of Duty military and political swerves, but the inclusion of real (and quasi-real, you're not fooling anyone with that female president) political figures makes for a more hard hitting experience.
Treyarch and Call of Duty know not to mess with a good thing, and the massively popular and competitive multiplayer suite has made a full-fledged return. Save for a few tweaks and new additions like in-game Youtube streaming for league play, the suite remains the same and is as addicting as ever -- just be prepared to lose to ten year olds all the time. Zombies also make their return, but this time in a much bigger way, as along with the traditional survival mode, BLOPS 2 introduces Tranzit -- which finds players teaming up against zombies while scavenging for new parts to create new weapons and tools. It's a fun mode that introduces a ton of new mechanics, but at times it feels like it's needs more direction, and fails to tell the player just what to do.
There's a rumor going around that Activision will return to the Modern Warfare universe for next year's Call of Duty title -- one can only hope that they don't as it could only be seen as a step backwards for the series. Black Ops 2 takes chances, which is huge for a series that's known for playing it safe. It's the best Call of Duty in years, and the most ambitious in even longer. Black Ops 2 may not change what people think of the franchise, but it also may surprise them.
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