Treyarch and Infinity Ward have tussled over the moniker of ‘best CoD developer’ since the former started work on the franchise with Call of Duty 3. Since then, the two have shared responsibility for the continued success of the brand, alternating development duties each year. For the first time though, Treyarch might have displaced Infinity Ward from their throne of having the highest revenue for a tech company.
Black Ops II is an incredible feat; Treyarch have managed to take the fatigued Call of Duty model and completely revamp it, without disturbing the core mechanics. What’s left is a game that feels both familiar and refreshingly new to intrigue all but the most stubborn of fanboys.
You play as David Mason, a special forces operative in 2025 and son of the Alex Mason from the original Black Ops. David and his team have tracked down an old wheelchair-bound Woods – Alex’s partner – who they believe can assist them in tracking down terrorist Raul Menendez.
Like the 2010 game, you are constantly flashing back to ‘already happened’ events, though this time around you’re actively pursuing two separate timelines. There are the missions that occur as Woods reveals what happened between himself and Menendez, set during the 1980s. Alongside those, you have the present tense missions, where the Menendez threat has been realised. It’s a very binding story that teases a far bigger picture than even the whole game chronology can reveal.
And that is Black Ops II’s biggest strength; for the first time ever, you’re going to have a different story to your friends. Whilst it’s nowhere near as significant as optimists might hope, there are plenty of occurrences in the game when you can make decisions on whether to kill or capture targets, or whether you follow orders or stick to your own hunches and each will alter particular missions and cut scenes to give you a custom campaign. It’s hard to describe without offering spoilers, but the differences are enough that I was shocked when viewing the alternative endings.
As usual, there are plenty of over-the-top scenes, though fewer that let you get involved. More often than not, you’ll be watching from the backseat as the awesome moments unfold, though you can’t fault its cinematic prowess. As well though, there are plenty of little additions that make up for it in the general campaign gameplay. The setting being what it is allows for whole new weapon technology to exist. Guns that can see through walls, mechanized bots that can be controlled and quadrotor drones are just some of the future tech that will assist you in protecting the world from this Menendez character. The addition of a mission-briefing screen that allows you to customise your load out ahead of each mission gives you the chance to approach in your own tactical design with these weapons and prepare you better than ever for the upcoming threats.
The strike force missions are enjoyable additions that break up the campaign, giving you a little refreshment from CoD’s very exhausting nonstop action. With different styles – some asking you to control multiple soldiers and drones and defend a location, others you’re taking your squad and assaulting a compound – there’s little repetition and the change lets you kick back and not have to worry too much about dying. After all, the strike force missions don’t have to be completed, but the results – success or failure – will change the plot.
The Zombies game mode is back, with a very different look. TranZit is the main feature, boasting many new mechanics that should offer new ways to play. Travelling around different locations on a bus, there are different items to craft (including shields and power turbines) and new weapons to mow the hordes down with. As well, there’s an unsightly fog that you shouldn’t enter – unless you’re a brave soul.
Sadly, whilst you can play each of the TranZit locations separately in the traditional ‘survival’ mode, it seems that the main event, TranZit, has strayed too far into the realm of gimmick, instead of retaining the fun of the previous games. It feels almost too big, especially as it takes a while for the bus to make a full circle and arrive back at a location, meaning you’re left in a single rather small location to fight off the hordes. It adds a challenge, but fans of the old school Shi No Numa or Der Riese will miss a large yet contained environment that allows for much more enjoyable and hectic gameplay. If you’re not too keen on TranZit, there’s really not too much in Zombies to enjoy, aside from the excellent Grief mode.
Grief pits two teams of four against one another in the zombie world. Unlike most games, you won’t be attacking one another, but rather trying to out-survive the other team. It’s a fun and refreshing change to the formula and makes for great hilarity as you lead the hordes to the enemy and watch them struggle to repel the waves.
As per usual, multiplayer is where the masses will accumulate, and for good reason. The whole system has been revamped. Whilst party games like Gun Game and Sticks and Stones have returned (now letting you earn XP), the Create-A-Class mechanic is new, with a ten point system. Each weapon, attachment, item and perk is now a point, and you can customise as you please up to a total of ten. So, if you don’t use grenades, you can remove them and give yourself an extra primary weapon attachment. Don’t like any of the third perks? Add another first tier perk. It allows for a lot more customization of classes, and should see a variety of gameplay tactics enforced, rather than being predictable what people will use. Do check out firewallers too.
Score streaks replace kill streaks, meaning you can get closer to earning rewards no matter what your style of play is. Sadly, unlike Modern Warfare 3′s score streaks – which carried on after a death – Black Ops II’s resets after a death, meaning no matter how many flags you capture, or headquarters you defend, you’re only going to get to try out drones and death machines if you keep yourself alive; something that objective players will realise isn’t in line with your play style. And so again, people are incentivised to hiding in corners and not getting overly stuck in, provided they want to opt for the more powerful rewards.
But on the whole, Call of Duty: Black Ops II has taken a huge risk in revamping the tried, tested and much criticized formula that has seen numerous multi-billion dollar games emerge, and treaded new ground for the series. Whilst it’s not perfect, it’s respectable how much success the change has had without alienating those who love the franchise. Even with its few issues, you won’t find many games that will offer as much fun and entertainment as Black Ops II.
Summary: Call of Duty is back on track after a wobbly couple of games, and really does push the boat out. The Black Ops brand is becoming just as strong as the Modern Warfare series, and Treyarch can take full praise for injecting some life into the fatigued franchise.