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Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the latest game in the juggernaut that is the Call of Duty franchise. A franchise that has seen little change since the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. The series has certainly played things safe in recent years. Black Ops II is no exception to this, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t completely stray away from the Call of Duty formula, but it’s the freshest game in the series since Call of Duty 4. Black Ops II fixes a lot of the problems that previous entries in the series faced while creating a few new problems of its own.

A Fresh Feeling

Call of Duty: Black Ops II isn’t a complete reinvention of the Call of Duty franchise, but it does enough new things to feel like a new experience. From a gameplay perspective the campaign in Black Ops II is probably the best campaign in the series. The campaign features a lot of traditional gameplay, but it also features a lot of new types of gameplay. The best new aspect of the gameplay is easily the decisions that players have to make. These decisions have a direct effect on the game’s story. These decisions are similar to the decisions that occur in games like Mass Effect or Infamous. They aren’t always black and white. Sometimes the best decision to make is not clear at all. The Strike Force Missions also do a good job of making the campaign feel fresh. These missions focus on strategy, not strength to complete objectives. Although they’re filled with problems (we’ll get to those later), the Strike Force Missions really mix the gameplay up. With the Strike Force Missions, the campaign isn’t just mindless shooting (although most of it still is). They also have a direct impact on the story. Whether you succeed or fail a Strike Force Mission will determine some of the game’s crucial moments.

The multiplayer has also had some major changes. Black Ops II uses the “Pick 10″ system. With the Pick 10, players can create truly unique loadouts. The Pick 10 system allows players to choose ten items for their loadout. These items include guns, attachments, perks, and Wild Cards. Wild Cards allow players to have extra perks or attachments. The Killstreaks system has also been completely changed. Killstreaks have been replaced by “Scorestreaks.” Players can add to their Scorestreak chain by getting kills or by completing objectives. This new system rewards players who play the game’s objective instead of simply camping in a corner trying to shoot opposing players who are unaware of their presence. New modes have also been added that are tailored specifically to competitive gaming.

The hugely popular zombies mode has also received some great new features and game modes. Although the zombies mode is still not as fleshed-out [Editor's Note: Heavily hoping that pun was intentional] as the campaign or multiplayer, there is enough new content to please even the most picky zombie fan.

Overall, Black Ops II feels fresh compared to previous Call of Duty games. The campaign, multiplayer, and zombies mode have all received enough new features and tweaks to make the game feel like a new experience.

Hollywood Feel

In many ways Black Ops II feels like a summer movie blockbuster. For starters, the graphics look great. Excellent facial animations really bring the characters to life. Explosions and everything else you’d expect to see in a Call of Duty game look just as good as they always have. The voice acting is also excellent. The voice acting is complimented by a surprisingly good score. There are some legitimately good songs used in the campaign. The music especially makes the game feel like a summer movie blockbuster. Unfortunately, Black Ops II shares far more similarities with a Michael Bay film than it does a Steven Spielberg one, but that’s alright. No one expected Black Ops II to change the way we view video games or anything monumental like that. Black Ops II is merely meant to entertain, and it does a very good job at that.

Something For Everyone

In many ways, Black Ops II is three games squeezed into one big package. The campaign, multiplayer, and zombies mode each have more than enough content to be its own game (a downloadable game, at least). Black Ops II has something for everyone. There is a fun campaign for players who want to see a lot of explosions and epic setpieces. There is some excellent multiplayer for anyone who wants a robust, online multiplayer shooter. There’s even the zombies mode for  horror junkies and co-op fanatics. While many games claim to cater to all kinds of players, Black Ops II actually does.

Plot Problems 

It would be a severe understatement to say that the story in Black Ops II had a few problems. There are a ridiculous amount of plot holes in the story. The decisions, the same thing that makes the campaign feel like a breath of fresh air, are the cause of a lot of these. Depending on which options you choose, you’ll get different plot holes. If you make a specific combination of decisions, you get nothing more than a jumbled mess of a story. During my playthrough of the campaign, I got this mess. I won’t spoil anything, but the plot holes that I ran into are honestly some of the worst I’ve seen in any game. It’s obvious that Treyarch worked really hard to make Black Ops II the best game it could be. You can really see the results of this hard work in the gameplay, yet it seems like the developer just tried to gloss over the story with explosions.

The primary antagonist of the game, Raul Menendez, is a fascinating individual, but not much is done with his character. Menendez is driven by a longing to get revenge for his sister’s death. His sister was killed by American soldiers, and event which causes Menendez to want to destroy America. He could have been a wonderfully sympathetic villain, but he just isn’t. There is a lot of opportunity for him to become the kind of villain that you hate for what he does, yet feel sorry for because of what’s happened to him. Instead, he’s yet another bland psychopath in a Call of Duty campaign.

Black Ops II’s story has some well-written twists and turns, but the characters in the game aren’t strong enough to pull any of it off. None of the characters in the game are particularly memorable. The game doesn’t give these characters time to develop. Instead, the characters just rush off to war without players having any emotional connection to them.

The Call of Duty franchise isn’t known for its stories, and Black Ops II is no exception. What could have been a unique and interesting story is nothing but a forgettable, explosion-filled mess.

Struggling Strike Force Missions

As I mentioned earlier, the Strike Force missions give the campaign a nice batch of variety. The only problem is that these missions are oozing with untapped potential. They suffer from poor controls. Even though they’re all about strategically commanding your men to accomplish an objective, it can be quite challenging to actually get your men to do what they’re supposed to do. The Strike Force Missions are supposed to be focused on thoughtful play, but as soon as a player realizes how poorly the missions control, that player will probably resort to simply running and gunning.

What makes the failure of the Strike Force Missions especially awful is the fact that they play an integral part of the story. As I said earlier, whether or not you complete or fail a Strike Force Mission has a major impact on the game’s story. Luckily, the Strike Force Missions are optional, although the story is seriously hurt if the missions are not completed.

The Strike Force Missions could have been one of Black Ops II’s major selling points, but they end up being nothing more than a poorly controlled mess.

 

All in all, Black Ops II does enough new things to make it one of the best shooters of the year. The gameplay has been tweaked enough to make it feel noticeably different from previous games in the series. Black Ops II boasts tons of great content. Even if some aspects of the game are underwhelming, the total package makes it all worth it. Black Ops II is the franchise’s first true attempt at tweaking the formula, and it is definitely a success.

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Review Platform: PlayStation 3

Review Copy provided by: Activision