Review by rubicon14
"A Disappointing Sequel"
Review of Black Ops 2: A Disappointing Sequel
Graphics/Audio/Video: COD:BO2 looks and sounds great. The campaign is beautifully rendered with lush jungle environments and urban areas that are convincingly under siege. The multiplayer maps look gorgeous, even though the overall layout and design leave much to be desired. Zombies are similar to Black Ops 1, and fog is used very well to limit visibility and add tension.
Story: The story in campaign mode is better than the average FPS, and the villian is excellent, but ultimately the story is inferior to those of the modern warfare games and the first black ops. It's not bad, it's just not quite as engaging. But if you don't really care about plot in your FPS games, then you won't be bothered by this.
Gameplay: COD:BO2 is really three games in one, with the campaign, zombies, and multiplayer modes each serving as stand-alone entries.
Campaign is fun but short - I beat the campaign in less than 8 hours on hardened difficulty, but there is replay value added by including mission challenges and even different outcomes in each mission that depend on your skill level and what actions you take. You can choose whether to save certain characters, search for intel, etc, which effect the outcome of the mission and also guide the plot. This makes the game more engaging than the average run-and-gun FPS. A new component of campaign is the "Strike Force" missions, which play like a RTS/FPS hybrid, but not very well designed. On hardened difficulty, I found the pace of these missions to be too quick to really strategize effectively, and more units become available seemingly at random throughout the mission, making it difficult to truly feel like a field commander. In each mission, I found it easier to take command of an infantryman and just run-and-gun like the regular missions, commanding my army to follow me as I went. When played this way, the Strike Force missions are too similar to the regular game, which detracts from the originality of these missions. With more polish, they could have been more fun and less frustrating. Enemy AI is the same as every COD game I've played, so the same boring approach of each soldier acting individually and mostly not from behind cover, popping up for seconds at a time.
Zombies is similar to Black Ops 1, but the Tranzit mode is more objective oriented. Unfortunately, the objectives are not well explained, and if you join a public match, strangers probably wont know what to do. There are several parts of Tranzit which are all connected by a bus, but any teammate can just take the bus and drive off, resulting in stranded teammates and frustration. You can also play a more traditional Survivial mode in maps like Town and Farm, which are a lot of fun but also frustrating. Early levels are very slow and very easy, while the difficulty quickly ramps up as you progress. The result is a boring start followed by, in too many public matches, a quick death, if your teammates suck. Every so often you get a good game, and those are a blast - with friends or strangers, getting good weapons and making it to level 20 or beyond gets insane and a ton of fun, but it just doesnt happen often enough. A better difficulty balance would lead to more fun games that would end quicker if your team sucks but last longer if you have a good team. The only major change is that there are no more zombie dogs, but there are pits of fire (lava?) that do cause zombies to catch fire and explode when killed. I prefer the new zombies, and find it more fun, but I think this is a matter of personal preference.
Multiplayer, the core of the COD franchise, is disappointing. The new custom class system is very frustrating - you are limited to 10 customizations, with your primary, secondary, perks, grenades, and attachments each counting against that total. So you can forego a grenade or secondary to take more perks or add primary weapon attachments, but it is difficult to make truly balanced classes, so you will always feel lacking something when you take a custom class into battle. I did not have this problem in MW3 or Black Ops1, so this step backwards was unexpected. Killstreak rewards are very tough to achieve, and there is no Support or Specialist option, as in MW3, so if you are like me and actively hunt for kills, you will find it very tough to earn killstreak rewards. This encourages camping. Level design also encourages camping, as it is often much better to sit in a corner spot and snipe or use an LMG than to hunt with an SMG. Previous games made it easy for skilled players to rack up kills whether they chose to play as infantrymen, grenadiers, snipers, ninjas, etc. Not COD:BO2. There is a clear built-in preference for sniping, camping, and long-range gunning. Players who prefer that approach may be happy - players like me who prefer to be more flexible will likely be disappointed and frustrated. I also find myself calling "bulls**t" when I die WAY more often than I did in previous games. A combination of camping, lag, and shooting that doesnt feel as smooth as in other games create a multiplayer mode that is often more frustrating than fun. Other than the attractive look of the maps, this is a step down from Black Ops1 and MW3 in every conceivable way. There is just not enough new material here to justify playing Black Ops2 if you already own MW3 and have purchased Elite or additional map packs. There aren't that many maps either - I thought with Elite I would have more of them available automatically, as in MW3, but no. MW3 has better weapons, customizations, level design, and variety among maps. I also find headshots frustratingly difficult to get - in previous games if you use an accurate weapon with a sight enhancement you can easily get headshots if you aim properly, but I simply cannot do that as often in Black Ops2. This means I am firing more bullets, less accurately, and if you play aggressively as I do you will die more often. Simply put, this game is not bad, it's just not as fun as it's predecessors.
Rent or Buy?: You should rent Black Ops2 before buying. I wish I had rented instead of buying outright. I expect to go back to MW3 for my FPS fix, and with glowing reviews for Halo 4, I just don't see myself playing very much Black Ops 2. There are better options for multiplayer out there (and if you are a COD or Halo fan you probably own them already), and the campaign is too short to justify purchase. Zombies is a lot of fun, I admit, but not that much has changed from Black Ops1. It is definitely worth a rental, but you might find, as I did, that there are many other games that are much more deserving of my time and money than Black Ops 2.
Overall Score: 6 out of 10.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/21/12
Game Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops II (US, 11/13/12)
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