Chances are you already know if you are a fan of the Call of Duty formula. The Modern Warfare and Black Ops series value their ‘feel’ above almost anything else, and Black Ops 2 certainly delivers on that part.
The single-player campaigns of the Call of Duty series are far from the main draw but Treyarch‘s latest efforts are, if not the most enjoyable, definitely the most interesting installation yet.
The story follows two separate storylines: the first is set in the 1980’s where you play as Alex Mason – once again voiced by Sam Worthington, who only barely manages to suppress his Australian accent – the main character from the first Black Ops. It is this storyline is where you are introduced to Raul Menendez, an evil Nicaraguan drug lord with one eyeball and a thirst for vengeance! Or something.
The second storyline is told from the point of view of Alex Mason’s son, David, who sports the pretty excellent codename ‘Section’. This part of the campaign is set in 2025 and is largely dominated by futuristic weapons, robots, and even the occasional laser beam or two. It was actually really satisfying to be running around in the jungle with a crappy AK-47 in one mission, and then in the next be wearing an active camouflage suit with an assault rifle scope that can see through walls.
Perhaps the main hook of the single-player campaign, and the thing that compelled me to go back and play through missions a second or third time, were the various branching story lines. Player choice seems to be a major theme in games released this year and Black Ops 2 takes a crack at it with great success.
There are the examples you would expect: the ‘press A to kill this guy, press B to spare him’ moments but there are also some very subtle decision points, some of which I didn’t even realise I was making. I can’t get too deep into these without getting into pretty serious spoiler territory, but there was a point where I thought the scene was playing out fairly ‘on rails’, and when I tried to change the outcome it just sort of worked out the same way anyway. I kept playing through the game, and it wasn’t until the end that I saw my slight variation on what was supposed to happen dramatically changed the final moments of the story. I was genuinely surprised, and I haven’t felt like that about a video game in a very long time.
Many people come to Call of Duty every year for the multiplayer game. Each year the developer promises new and improved systems, revolutionising the way multiplayer feels and plays. Ultimately, it’s always more or less the same and this year’s instalment is no different.
The new feature for this year is the “Pick 10” system, where you have ten points that are used to select your loadout. Your primary weapon, attachments, perks, lethal grenades, and tactical grenades all take up one point each so, using the ten points as expected, you would end up with a pretty standard Call of Duty loadout. The game changer here is the “Wildcard” system. By spending one of your ten points you can get an extra perk, carry two primary weapons, get a third attachment and a variety of other interesting options. This boils down to giving you complete customisability over the loadout you bring into battle. You can carry a full six perks, but only bring a combat knife with you, or you can bring just your trusty combat axe and a handful of frag grenades. The system is interesting to play around with but I personally end up forgoing the Wildcards and bringing in the standard loadout almost every time.
Black Ops 2 also brings with it the lackluster return of unlock tokens. Every time you gain a level you gain access to a weapon or two and you also gain an unlock token. To use a weapon or perk, you must first spend an unlock token in order to equip it. This places a hard limit on the number of options you have when choosing your loadout, which seems to go against the grain of the highly customisable “Pick 10” system and I don’t really understand it. I would much prefer having access to all the guns and being able to pick and choose the one I liked best.
The other change to the multiplayer system is the new “killstreak” system. In previous games getting several kills in a row without dying allowed you to call in air support to help your team, order yourself a minigun, or drop a nuke on the battlefield. Black Ops 2 changes the “killstreak” concept to “pointstreaks”, where you get considerably less credit for a kill, and considerably more for capturing flags, securing hardpoints, or otherwise completing team objectives. I understand what they were trying to do but I can’t help feeling unsatisfied when I manage to kill five enemies in a row and still be some way off calling in an attack helicopter to tear up the enemy team.
As I mentioned before, Call of Duty is a franchise that values it’s “feel” extremely highly and Black Ops 2 is no exception. The polar opposite of the slower, vehicle-based combat of games like Battlefield 3 or Planetside 2, Black Ops 2 succeeds with fast-paced, hectic combat that rewards skill and reflexes more than the size of your tank. When I first started, as a “noob” if you will, I couldn’t help but feel like being good at Call of Duty boiled down to who spots who first. Flanking and getting the jump on your enemy is key to victory but being able to tactically hold down choke points and survive mismatched gunfights is supremely satisfying and ultimately is what keeps me coming back for more.
Black Ops 2 is not the best game in the franchise, but it’s trying to do new things; successfully in the single player, less so in the multiplayer, but well worth looking into if you haven’t already.