Black Ops II review

Dan Mattei

For those well acquainted with the gaming scene, it’s no surprise that Activision continued their highly successful first person-shooter franchise with Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Released on November 13  for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Microsoft Windows, the game was met with perhaps unsurprising financial and critical success, following the trend that past versions of Call of Duty enjoyed and set as a precedent for the series. Within 24 hours of launch, $500 million dollars had been made, surpassing CoD: Modern Warfare 3’s launch in 2011 by roughly $100 million. As a first-person-shooter of unparalleled popularity, it even surpassed Halo 4 which had garnered only $220 million on its launch day. The campaign, in contrast to past Call of Duty’s, was praised for its attempt at incorporating ‘meaningful’, and permanent choices in its narrative, granting the player the power to sway the plot whichever way he or she may choose, with all the foreseen and unforeseen consequences it may provide.

Upon finishing the campaign, it’s hard to disagree with much of the praise surrounding the emphasis on player choice. A single action taken by the player can result in a completely different experience when compared to another player’s. Despite attempts to gain a positive, ‘happy’ ending, actions taken held fitting repercussions, as opposed to other games, where an action can be weightless, with no emotional or moral attachment to the player. This is good; it makes players care for the characters, feel loss and mournful when a beloved protagonist dies . Unfortunately, Black Ops II manages to fit many of these moments into its campaign, almost to the point where it feels superficial. After all, underlying these pivotal moments of plot progression is the typical style in which CoD campaigns present themselves: Fast-paced, movie-style action, in lieu of James Bond, although perhaps without the quite so likable persona that the secret agent has.

Sadly, while Black Ops II makes several strides aforementioned in creating a personal, significant narrative to the player, it doesn’t quite make the true leap to something quite different. It retains the notable stigma of Call of Duty through these fast-paced action moments. Similar to Modern Warfare 2, 3, or Black Ops I, these moments are still strung about in a manner that feels almost pointless. Is it really still ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’ to jump through a burning helicopter whilst being pursued by an enemy, when you just experienced a similar occurrence about a mission ago? These moments lose their impact and appeal when they’re forced onto the player merely for the sake of it. They become trite. For those who expect the campaign to be revolutionary by CoD standards, it is hard to imagine they would be fully satisfied with this.  Known for its accessible and streamlined gameplay mechanics in multiplayer, one student in JCHS, Joey Martinez, offered their opinion when prompted: “I personally find it to be the most interesting COD in the series. I am normally a Battlefield 3 type of person because I like my realism, but they really put some good work in the game. Multiplayer is extremely smooth. Would certainly recommend.”

The Multiplayer is indeed smooth; The engine used is reliable, responsive, and fairly bug- free, with the CoD formula refined to near perfection, with score-streaks, new score-streak rewards, a plethora of balanced weapons (although, naturally, still a few that seem to perform better than others), and a new feature: ‘Pick 10’. Instead of opting to conform to the class layout imposed upon players in past CoD’s, BLOPs II instead allows the player to pick any 10 weapons, perks, explosives, equipment, and/or ‘wildcards’, for use in a custom class slot. This allows for complete variances between players, and allows them to choose what they are most comfortable with using, as opposed to being forced to carry a sidearm or equipment that they will never use. This proves to be a strong, welcome new addition, with customizability now supreme, and few game balance quirks. Perks have been revised, removed, added, tweaked, and everything else in between. Familiar benefits, such as ghost, now reveal your presence only when standing still on the mini-map, Marathon is now ‘Extreme Conditioning’, Scavenger returns, along with several others, each better than ever.

Others claimed to have suffered from the multiplayer facet of the experience. An anonymous student: “I hate this new Call of Duty. The guns are terrible, everybody STILL runs around with a sniper, and it’s more irritating than ever with the unfair ‘score’ streaks. It was a real disappointment. I expected much more.” This is certainly fair, and it’s hard not to share a sentiment with it. While it’s difficult to pinpoint a single cause (multiplayer experiences naturally differ, depending on who is being played with, variances of player skill, etc.), this valid yet differing opinion demonstrates how assessments of a game can be polarized in the gaming community itself. Among gamers, not everyone shares a similar perspective or taste for games. That’s perfectly fine; videogames are an expanding medium of entertainment (some would say art), and demographics even within the gaming community is well established, with players who prefer RPG’s (role playing games) to the casual Wii Sports player.

Black Ops II was an interesting experience, to say the least, and while it made efforts to eradicate criticisms of past games, it couldn’t help but bear some hallmark, some defining feature, of its predecessors in both its campaign and its multiplayer. It’s the repetitive re-use of these tropes in their games, however, that keeps their fan base returning for more, even if it’s slack of a revolution of the first-person shooter genre, which, admittedly, is an unfair expectation considering the general quality of an average game. Still, it had accomplished much of what it had promised, and delivered a solidly-built, compelling campaign (although with some trite gameplay mechanics and recycled elements), and a revised multiplayer that’s better than ever. For those expecting this game to be a complete overhaul of what one would expect from the Call of Duty franchise, disappointment may await you. For those expecting more of the same, you’ll be happy for what’s in store, as this installment manages to deliver exactly that, with a twist. For those expecting a mixture of something in between, Black Ops II may just be exactly what you’re looking for.