Review by horror_spooky

"Return to dominance"

What I'm about to say is something I wouldn't say lightly. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the best game in the series since Call of Duty 4. Call of Duty 4 revolutionized the FPS genre as well as online multiplayer in general with its innovative design and incredible gameplay, but since then, the franchise has had difficulty reaching those same heights. Treyarch taking over the reigns of the franchise worried some, but after playing Black Ops II, I'm sure everyone's worries will be put at ease. Black Ops II is one of the greatest Call of Duty experiences yet.

Taking place after the events of the original Black Ops, players are once again thrust into a globe-trotting adventure full of explosions and ridiculous set pieces. That much is still true, but Black Ops II focuses a lot more on character development and story, which can't be said for most of its predecessors, even the golden cow CoD 4. Players take control of multiple characters throughout the course of the campaign, with part of the game taking place as flashbacks set in the 80s and part of the game taking place in 2025. The Masons are mainly controlled throughout the game, with David Mason, the son of the protagonist in the original game, being the star of the 2025 segments.

This provides a unique, nonlinear story that is new to the franchise. Actually, the entire campaign provides a lot of new content and ideas, which is why I enjoyed it so much. Character choice is a big deal in Black Ops II, with major events changing based on what players do, or fail to do, throughout the course of the game. This ups the replayability significantly, which makes replaying levels much more fun than ever before. The implementation is a bit clumsy, but the groundwork has been laid for something great.

The campaign is also much less linear in terms of gameplay. Yes, there are still lame "Follow Me" segments forced in there, but even those aren't as linear, with the battlefields in the campaign being much more open and free to interpretation. Objectives are not repetitive, and while there are segments recycled from previous games in the series, and FPS military shooters in general, they are executed with the grace and polish that only the Call of Duty series can pull off.

Also new to the campaign are Strike Force missions. These missions have a minute impact over the campaign's story, and are very different in gameplay from the rest of the campaign. They can be played like a strategy title, ordering troops around the battlefield to the objective from a tactical map, or each individual unit can be taken control of directly for a more Call of Duty-esque experience. I enjoyed the Strike Force missions, but as a part of the campaign, they felt out of place. I think Strike Force would've been better served as its own mode separate from the campaign.

Of course, the meat and potatoes of any Call of Duty title is the multiplayer functionality. Multiplayer is what at least 70% of the people that purchase the game purchases it for, and I'm happy to report that Black Ops II has the best multiplayer the series has offered yet. All of the favorite modes in the past are accounted for, and the maps are excellent. Each map is brimming with personality,a and they are all designed very well to prevent people from camping or doing other annoying things online.

Split-screen is fun as well. Combat Training returns and can be played offline finally, and there is even matchmaking for Combat Training now, too. Wager Matches thankfully make a comeback too, but this time they are called Party Games. The Wager Matches now give XP and allow you to level up instead of wagering the COD points like in the original Black Ops. Customization is more open than ever, with the emblem customization system in multiplayer being especially impressive.

All the new futuristic weapons add a lot to the game. I can't think of a single new gun that I disliked, and old favorites are available as well. Not all of the weapons in the campaign make it to multiplayer, which is disappointing, but multiplayer is still awesome nonetheless. Zombies is where the new weapons truly shine through, specifically a pistol that can be found on the roof of the bus that is a three-burst weapon that is perfect for zombie slaying.

Zombies has been completely retooled for Black Ops II to feature more modes and ways to play. Custom games can be created, adjusting the difficulty for those that are looking for a more accessible way to play the mode, and allowing people to disable features they may find annoying. The main gameplay mode in Zombies is called TranZit, and it completely changes the way that Zombies in Call of Duty is played.

TranZit was billed as a campaign for Zombies, but I wouldn't go that far. It's very enjoyable, but all it does is link together the three different maps with areas to explore in between. New mechanics have been added to Zombies, such as the ability to build objects to solve puzzles. To travel safely between the maps, players have to get on a bus that must be defended and fortified. Items can be found throughout the area that can be added to the bus to greatly improve its use, such as a ladder to get on the top of it.

The story of Zombies continues where "Moon" left us off in the original Black Ops. Hardcore fans of the mode will find a lot to love about this, even if there are entirely new characters in the roles once belonging to the famous quartet of zombie slayers from Black Ops and World at War. There is one thing that is incredibly annoying about Zombies, unfortunately, and it happens when trying to travel on foot between the maps. These little green creatures jump on your head and impair your vision, forcing you to constantly knife to get them off. They can be killed before jumping on your head, but this is an incredible waste of ammo that can end up screwing you over in the end. I wouldn't mind them if they weren't a constant annoyance, but every three seconds they are jumping on your head, which makes exploring the environments not fun, not challenging, but an extreme hassle and pointless annoyance.

Survival mode is the regular Zombies from the past, and is good for those trying to dominate the leaderboards. There is a new mode called Grief that is also a lot of fun. In Grief, there are two teams of four. Their goal is to get the zombies to take out the other team. The result is a very competitive and thrilling twist on the Zombies gameplay. it supports up to eight players online, with two that can join through split-screen, and four player split-screen.

And perhaps that is the best part of Zombies in Black Ops II. Not only does it entertaining and straight-up cool, but it also allows up to four players to play the game in split-screen. Say what you will about the Call of Duty franchise, but at least it makes an effort to make both online and local multiplayer relevant, which is a balance that most games fail at achieving. Four player split-screen Zombies is the best thing that could've happened to the mode, and I applaud Treyarch for implementing it in their game.

Black Ops II is graphically impressive, though the games seem to have hit their limit using this engine. Really cool scenes and animation shows off the improved production value in the campaign. Voice acting is fantastic as well, but dialogue can feel a bit forced and hammy at times. The soundtrack is awesome for the most part, but there is one aspect of the game involving the band Avenged Sevenfold that was just stupid and left a bad taste in my mouth (and my ears, for that matter).

Each gameplay mode Black Ops II brings to the table is bigger and better than ever. There are still kinks to work out here and there, such as those annoying critters in the Zombies mode, Strike Force missions need to be their own separate game mode, and I miss Spec Ops. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the best Call of Duty game since Call of Duty 4.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/27/12

Game Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops II (US, 11/13/12)

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