Review by ItIsAPsyBorg
"An exceptional experience marred by a single flaw"
BLACK OPS 2: AN EXCEPTIONAL EXPERIENCE MARRED BY A SINGLE FLAW
Black Ops 2 sought to represent positive change in the Call of Duty series, as anyone who even remotely kept tabs on the title knows. Campaign wise, acclaimed Batman movie trilogy writer David S. Goyer was to bring the series' story into the future, which the Call of Duty series had not yet covered, and was also to allow for multiple endings based on player actions. Zombie mode wise, a highly expansive mini-campaign map called TranZit, as well as three regular survival maps, were to culminate the mode. Multiplayer wise, a skill-based and highly replayable experience was to be begotten via a new class creation system and a fundamentally diverse yet balanced weapon set.
In short, Black Ops 2 does precisely what it aims to do. Unfortunately, a key implicit promise for the multiplayer mode has not been delivered on, and it regards an aspect of the game so critical that its failure to be properly attended to renders an otherwise fantastic multiplayer setup into a horribly disfigured parody of what fans have requested. If you have no desire to touch this game's multiplayer, then you should have absolutely no reservations about purchasing this game. However, if you are in the majority of buyers who endeavor to dominate their peers, you will be horribly disappointed by yet another reminder of what could be.
AESTHETICS : 9.8/10
I want to begin this review with a full-fledged approval of the aesthetic work that went into this game. It almost goes without saying that this game is dressed to impress in every facet imaginable.
Graphically speaking, this game seamlessly combines the colorful and intricate work of the Treyarch iterations of this series with the gritty and modern feel of the Infinity Ward iterations, all while adding a futuristic feel to the mix. Typical of the Call of Duty series, lovable doodads and slick environmental designs appear everywhere you go. Adding to this experience are well executed shading mechanisms and some of the most appealing gun designs seen in this series.
Multiplayer-wise, whatever degree of choice that has gone down in the reflex sight customization department (in comparison to BO1) has been more than made up for in the new emblem editor. You can use tons of well-selected shapes and basic images and combine them into almost anything imaginable using the upgraded 32 layer limit, all while having multiple slots to save your emblems in. The sheer amount of creativity that the new emblem editor allows is almost beyond verbal description.
While I am no expert at audio, I can tell you this much about the aural experience of this game: it is clear, realistic (i.e. guns don't sound fake), and perfectly in accordance with what physically happens in-game from the player's point of view. The harshest criticism that I can provide for the game's audio is that while the multiplayer announcers are in-character for sure, they aren't particularly motivated like they were in World at War; even the well-immersed Mercs announcer seems a bit too laid back about what he's paid to do.
Of one final note is that color blind assistance is available in this game and that it works quite well, having talked extensively to someone who uses it.
CAMPAIGN AND STORYLINE: 8.5/10
My rating of 8.5/10 for this game's campaign is not exactly a criticism. Actually, the unexceptional simplicity of Call of Duty campaigns in general considered, it's a true expression of praise.
Why do I give praise to this game's campaign? Firstly, the plotline is thicker than that of any other COD game. The storyline focuses heavily on main villain Raul Menendez, a man who, while clearly evil, has a backstory that one can truly empathize with and is by no means a caricature. Menendez' rise to villainy is surveyed not only through the eyes of his tormentors in both the Vietnam era and the future, but via his own perspective on occasion. His outcome is determined by the player's actions in the storyline, providing real replay value to a game mode that many would have just given one playthrough in the past. Additionally, the fates of characters from Black Ops 1 are explored and are given new significance when they take specific actions in the fight against Menendez.
Secondly, I rate the campaign positively because the actual campaign gameplay is obviously the best this series has yet to offer. Featuring extensive pre-mission weapon customization options, as well as both the Black Ops 2 weapon set and some of the Black Ops 1 weapon set, the player can finally play to their tactical preference in any given mission. The usual vehicle-oriented portions of the campaign are well designed, especially the fighter jet part near the game's end. And, of course, the player is encouraged to take part in optional "Strike Force" missions that (imperfectly and simply, but entertainingly) combine real time strategy with FPS action to allow the player to change the course of the storyline.
The core of campaign is the same: shoot a few guys, capture an objective or two, and gradually advance to the final fight. The issues of repetitiveness and the Veteran difficulty setting's basis in luck have also not changed at all. However, Black Ops 2's campaign offers much-needed positive change in the series' single player mode and is in fact a major draw for the game.
In all frankness, I am not the least bit fanatical about zombie modes. However, I can assure you that this game's version of the survival mode is probably the best. Most people that I have talked to fervently approve of the effort that Treyarch has put into the zombie experience this time around.
Prominently featured is, aside from the three base zombie maps, the "TranZit" experience. Essentially, this sub-mode combines five zombie maps (including portions of the classic Nacht der Untoten) to form one giant zombie map, complete with all of the features of earlier zombie modes alongside new "buildables" that the player can create by finding hidden items in the map. While the mode is a bit alienating to newcomers and isn't too well explained, it easily represents the peak of the Call of Duty zombie experience. There is much strategizing to be done and skill to proven if this part of Black Ops 2 is what you're seeking.
Yes, you read that correctly. The multiplayer portion of this game, which is the core attraction of this series, is a failure. Though the main issue of BO2 resides in this aspect of the game, I do feel a need to emphasize that most of it was done properly.
Firstly, this game marks a return to the requirement of aiming and tech skill. This is no surprise for Treyarch fans, although the manner in which this was executed is a bit different this time around. Although earlier Treyarch games used low rates of fire and low to moderate gun damage to this end, Black Ops 2 uses very low damage with higher-than-average recoil and rates of fire to make it harder to kill someone. The new and popular Toughness perk also reduces the role of flinch in the game, decreasing the series' emphasis on the first shot landed. Also, it is worth noting that YY and knife cancels have been reinstated since the abysmally performing Modern Warfare 3, aiding series veterans once more in their quest for theoretical perfection.
Secondly, gun balance is, while of course imperfect, strong. The lightly recoiling M27, in example, has major tradeoffs in hip fire ability and damage (5 shot kill with a moderate fire rate beyond close range is a lot more frustrating than it sounds, believe me). The well-rounded MTAR is painfully average at short and long distance (even if it is relatively high tier in this game's weapon set), and the "spammable" semi-automatic SVU-AS sniper (Dragunov) is only a one shot kill to the head. After two weeks, no consensus on the strongest gun in the game has yet emerged, and if it does, nerfs will probably solve any real issues at hand.
Additionally, the gun set of the game is also diverse in character and explores new concepts that the series had not yet tested. While the AN-94 has the same base rate of fire as the SCAR-H and has less effectiveness at distance, its first two bullets come out much more quickly than other bullets and this effect can be rhythmically spammed for optimal effect at all ranges. The KSG shotgun shoots a single shot (slug) that makes the gun pinpoint accurate when sight-aimed and effective even beyond medium distance; this makes the gun quite possibly the most fun and skillful gun to use in the game. There are also the four round burst M8A1, a three round burst SMG known as the Chicom CQB, the gradually ROF-decreasing HAMR, and the deployable Assault Shield available to spice up the game.
It also goes without saying that the Pick 10 system is spectacularly amazing. As a veteran of this series, I am consistently surprised by the amount of times I have been led to believe that I was composing a perfect class only to notice upon its completion that it was 11 points. Every class that can be created has at least one major weakness that you will have to work around in your gameplay. Want several attachments and perks? You'll have to bid farewell to your stun grenades. Want a regular grenade? Sure, go ahead and forfeit Extreme Conditioning or your Type 25's Quickdraw Handle in the process. The sheer balance incurred by Pick 10's class restrictions is beyond words, and it is seen in full glory in a game that has many desirable attachments, perks, and equipment choices.
At this point, I appear to have portrayed Black Ops 2 as a multiplayer aficionado's dream come true. In all of the aforementioned aspects, I sincerely insist that it is exactly as I describe. However, what excellence has been shown in those parts of Black Ops 2 has been horribly offset by the critical failure that I have previously resisted describing. So that you may see why the multiplayer portion of this game is an abysmal travesty, I now will unreservedly tell you what is wrong with this game.
Simply put, the default maps of this game are linearly designed with no real flank routes, are small in size, contain "headglitch" areas on each "line", and feature no secret vantage points. For those who do not understand why this is horrible and how it decreases both the skill and entertainment aspects of this game's multiplayer experience, I will explain as summarily as possible.
Linear map design was the core failure of the despised Modern Warfare 3, and even within a company such as Treyarch which has had a history of strong map design (see World at War), this was somehow perpetuated in Black Ops 2. Linearity ensures that every fight is predictable and that someone can turn a corner aiming down their sights in advance in the knowledge that you will almost certainly be there (all without reconnaissance killstreaks). It makes every game horribly unstrategic and makes the map too easy to cover; resultantly, this utterly prevents the run and gun gameplay that Call of Duty is supposed to promote, at least when an opposing team isn't utterly horrible skill-wise. With only three "lines" to cover and no alternative pathways provided to reach key parts of the map safely, it is very frequent to see three players camp the three "lines" of the stage while the other three players become fodder for the opposing campers out of boredom (or, if opposing campers are outskilled, force a spawn switch that screws their team's campers over).
Making linear map design's disadvantages worse in Black Ops 2 is the tiny map sizes of each of the game's maps. Influenced by the highly overrated BO1 map Nuketown (which is actually remade for this game as a pre-order bonus and spiritually present in the slightly-deviating map Hijacked), every map in BO2 is not only linear, but ridiculously small as well. This means that the quality reactions and player movements demanded by previous COD games mean very little in this game: anyone can always be sure that someone is either near them or approaching them. This makes death extremely frequent even amongst the skilled veterans of this series, as there is no real way to be out of the enemy team's range (especially once you reveal yourself by firing, which allows others to immediately start firing as they turn a nearby corner to have the advantage on you). Spawns are also quite possibly the worst they have ever been because of what could best be described as the suffocating linearity of this game, as there is quite literally nowhere that a player can spawn that is not a major focal point of action, and a spawn-zone breach initiated by moving outside of one's spawn and the center of the map frequently leads to insanely swift spawn-based flank-from-behinds for the team committing it.
Topping off the putridity of small map size and linear map design is the proliferation of "headglitch" areas in the neo-Treyarch map design. On each of the three "lines" in the game's maps, there usually exist obstacles from where someone can fire from high-end cover and expose only their head as they shoot soldiers out in the open (COD players actually shoot from their heads, physics wise). While cover zones are essential to any good COD, the fact that strong cover with fantastic sightlines is continually coupled with linear map design and small maps makes it all too easy to camp with automatic weapons and have a major advantage on almost anyone by default. This is (even if subconsciously) so obvious to anyone who plays the game that it is all too common to either continually aim down sights at the "headglitch" area as one moves about and / or be extremely conservative in movement so as to slightly minimize whatever advantage the cover will grant to its user.
Adding further to this is the almost total lack of secret vantage points. In the past, it was possible for intelligent and / or experienced players to discover parts of the map that were not so obvious to the average gamer and use them as unexpected leverage against the other team (i.e. a small crack in a wall). Even the original Nuketown had areas like these: namely, a bush that let you look over a fence and get a good in-cover view of the right side of the map and the tiny area under the various buses that let you shoot people's feet while prone. Black Ops 2 further adds to the predictability factor by deliberately eliminating almost all of these from the game; in fact, Nuketown 2025 removes both of the aforementioned vantage points that its predecessor had. It almost seems as if Treyarch wanted to do away with the idea of map knowledge as a fundamental gameplay facet in BO2, which is surprising given how World at War did the exact opposite and thereby created some of the COD series' most memorable and skill-based maps.
I really cannot overemphasize how atrocious map design has ruined an otherwise fantastic game. Death is so consistently imminent and playstyles are required to be so conservative that the game ends up feeling like a parody of Call of Duty (not even in the sense that MW3 was). Almost every skilled COD player I have partied up with in previous COD titles has poorer statistics (K/D, W/L, etc.) in BO2, even in comparison with their MW3 statistics. Even with tech skill, aiming skill, and respectable class creation being emphasized in-game, the pathetic map design featured in this game forces me to strongly recommend against this game's multiplayer for both series veterans and newer players alike.
(As a side note, also detracting from the multiplayer is the atrocious party system of this game, which has, optimally speaking, party-join speeds of 8-12 seconds, an inability to terminate joining a session in progress that obviously cannot be accessed, and the unfixed occasional tendency to allow for 7v5s in game modes that are supposed to be 6v6.)
As you consider buying or playing this game, you need to ask yourself what your motivation is in doing so, even given the fact that COD at its core is a good game. Do you want a fantastic single player and / or Zombie experience? If that is true, then I wholeheartedly encourage your purchase of this game. If you are dying for good COD multiplayer, then I can only recommend two options for you: go back to Black Ops 1 once more, or risk playing COD4 and World at War with hackers. It is truly embittering to see a series with so much potential becoming a failure for the majority of its players once more, but you're going to have to deal with it in accordance with your preferences.
(Note: I may alter my review if the DLC packs offer stages unlike this game's default maps.)
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/27/12
Game Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops II (US, 11/13/12)
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