“The more that things change, the more they stay the same.”
Well, another year, another Call of Duty game. Now before you ask, no it will not change your mind if you were resistant to Activision’s cash cow before (Actually, I’m sure it is a full blown money farm at this point). For the rest of you, there is still plenty of COD goodness that fans love –and haters hate- that will be enough to cut your teeth on. And while the game does suffer some of the signature COD failings, Black Ops 2 still has the pedigree to make it a game of the year contender.
I must say this; Black Ops was one of my favorite story-driven games in the COD franchise. Despite its slightly bug nutty premise and the conclusion that could only be described as batshit crazy, it was a tale that ultimately for me, was compelling. Black Ops 2 does the same in terms of keeping the storyline interesting, but also ratchets up the emotional ties that the game invites the player to hold on to. Debates will no doubt go on between Black ops fans and Modern Warfare fans vis a vis the quality of their respective stories. What may be lost on some however, are the two different lenses that the two games see though. Modern Warfare sees the forest, Black Ops 2 sees the trees. Unlike Modern Warfare’s take on telling a modern military shooter, where there is always an overall story that looks at the big picture, Black Ops 2 in a small way eschews the overall conflict that is taking place in the world at large, in favor of focusing on the men who ultimately are on the move to complete the very simple task of saving the world.
The game takes place over the course of two time periods, 2025 and 1985 and ’86. The game starts off with Alex Mason’s son, David visiting a wheelchair-bound Frank Woods with a Special Forces team in tow. Woods gives them the lowdown on a man by the name of Raul Menendez, a former drug-lord turned worldwide populist figure with over a billion people at the ready to bring down the two largest super powers in the world in the form of the U.S. and China. There is a personal side of the story that involves Woods, and both Alex and David Mason. I will refrain from giving anything away, but I will mention one feeling I had experienced when learning about Woods, the two Masons, and more importantly Menendez, empathy.
One of the ways that Black Ops 2 spins its narrative ball of yarn is in the form of choices that one will be making along the way. Some of these choices will consist of hit this button to kill this guy, or hit this button to spare his life. What is more exciting however, is the real-time agency that you hold in your hands regarding the more subtle choices. For example, there is a mission where near the end, you will have a man on the run that you need to take down. Now in almost all shooters, there is always this scenario where no matter how hard you try, the bad guy always gets away as that is what that particular game is scripted for. In Black Ops 2, there are consequences for catching (or not catching) the target. You will do well in this game if you go in with the mentality that time is always of the essence. This gives a real sense of urgency in key spots, and goes a long way to giving the COD series at large a shot in the arm and actually delivers you a story that many will actually care about.
For those of you asking, Black Ops 2 still plays like a modern military first person shooter. The game handles well enough, and a lot of the futuristic toys you get to fun around with are pretty neat, especially when you get to see them implemented in the campaign. The game also avoids the mistake of always having you in the position of power as you will have to contend with your enemy also sporting very similar gear, although admittedly, there are still scenes here and there of that exact scenario. Your mark on the world events are not only confined to the main story as you will come across “Strike Force” missions. These optional missions almost have a Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter feel about them, albeit more simplified. On each mission you will have to either capture, or defend your objective and at your disposal, you will have units ranging from SEAL teams, to satellite strikes, in an effort to help you fend off your foes. You can have take control of any unit, or switch to the tactical view where you have an eagle-eye view of the action, and order troops accordingly. These side missions will be crucial in their own right as it affects the main campaign, which is a pretty cool idea, and I do hope is expanded upon in later COD games. Do expect to be frustrated however, as the AI is downright stupid when it comes to following orders, and more often than not, you will find your men getting cut down due to the sheer ineptitude of following orders and not clueing in on the enemy THAT IS SHOOTING YOUR MEN IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD TURNAROUNDYOUIDIOTDAMMNITHE’SDEAD!!!
Multiplayer has seen a bit of a revamp in the loadouts that you choose to go to battle with. You no longer are constrained by presets in terms of what you decide to take with you out in the field. You still pick your perks and weapons and such, but now you must balance your weaponry. This is accomplished by the 10 slot system. You have 10 slots, and you can fill them in however you please. This system is nice as it allows players to play exactly how they want, but does not run the risk of being unstoppable and unfair. Someone may have a killer setup with a light machine gun, but it may come to bite them in the ass if it meant sacrificing grenades or a secondary weapon. This loadout setup is also available for single player which is very nice, as I always find my favorite gun and it always bothers me if I am forced to use a weapon I am not particularly fond of. Type-25 with a red dot sight and extended mag in case anyone was asking. Then, there are “Wildcards” which will allow you to select another perk from the same class, attach a 2nd attachment for you secondary weapon, or even go with two primary weapons at once. Other than the changes, Black ops 2 does well on delivering that classic online experience and if you have played COD online before, you will feel right at home with Black Ops 2, listening to 14 year old pricks doing their best KKK impersonation. One last good thing to mention, Zombies, ’nuff said.
So after 5 years of pulling left triggers to aim and following up with pulling the right trigger to shoot dudes in the face, what does COD as a whole have left to offer this current generation of consoles? It is conceivable that Activision has something in the works at the moment for both Sony and Microsoft that is handling the console transition for the near future, but considering both series have dealt with the past, present, and future, is Black Ops 2 the last game in an entire franchise that is in sorely needing of a bit of shore leave? As good as Black ops 2 is, the answer is a definite yes, you can only handle so many over the top military shooters in any given period of time where it seems that the object of tearing through all of them in an effort to pick out who cribbed what feature from what game. This engine, for its entire amazing works, is starting to show its age and one has to wonder, where else can this series go, both on the technical level and the narrative level? Putting those questions aside for a moment, the bottom line is that this is a really well made game, even with its flaws. As far as I am concerned, if this is indeed the swansong of this generation, if this is the denouement to the most revered military shooters ever, Black Ops 2 is certainly worthy of being considered up there in terms of the best and one that shall keep players busy (until whatever COD becomes in the near future) for a long time.