|System: Xbox 360*, PS3*, PC, Wii U*|
|Release: November 13, 2012|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs|
by Josh Engen
By now, even if you're reading this at midnight on launch day, you've probably already managed to get your hands on a copy of Black Ops 2. If so, anything that I say in the following paragraphs will have very little influence on how much of your paycheck Activision is going to get their hands on. But if you're one of the few people waiting until the review scores come in, it's probably safe for you to go and pick up a copy. Trust me.
Now, I know that what I'm about to say will probably make me sound like a mindless Call of Duty fanboy, but Activision's latest outing is quintessentially different from anything they've ever done in the past. Sure, Black Ops 2 has that unmistakable CoD flavor, but it's also a bit angrier, and it has more depth and more surprises than any of the previous incarnations.
The single-player campaign, for instance, is arguably the most impressive in the Call of Duty franchise. Obviously, there will be those who argue in favor of MW1's superiority, but the replay value in Black Ops 2 is what edges the competition.
The story itself was written by David S. Goyer, who also wrote the previous Black Ops script and penned a couple of small, indie movies called Batman Begins,The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. The story arc builds heavily on Black Ops 1, but where the first BO's storyline was incoherent at points, BO2 manages to stay focused without becoming monotonous.
The timeline in Black Ops 2 is split between the recent future (2025, to be exact), and the recent past (the 1970s and 80s). This time the narrative follows David Mason, who is the son of Alex Mason. You might remember Alex as the guy who spent most of Black Ops 1 being tortured and interrogated.
The thing that makes BO2's single-player campaign genuinely unique within the CoD franchise is Treyarch's decision to add branching plot lines. Throughout the campaign, you're going to make some difficult decisions about which characters live and which ones die. These choices will change the way the narrative progresses and can drastically affect the end game outcome. A few weeks ago, I got that chance to sit down with Mark Lamia, Studio Head at Treyarch, and he mentioned that the game has roughly six primary endings. However, the way that the Black Ops 2 plotlines interweave with one another will have a surprising effect on the overall outcome.
I ran through the campaign twice, making completely different decisions both times, and was genuinely surprised by the aftermath (literally, in some cases). Also, the fact that Black Ops 2 also allows you to customize your single-player loadout (to a certain extent) makes playing throughout the campaign a second time almost as interesting as the first.
Another one of BO2's defining elements is probably going to be its most controversial feature: Strike Force Missions.
Treyarch created these missions in order to insert a level of sandbox-style RTS gameplay into an otherwise FPS experience. Players control squads of soldiers and equipment from a top-down “Overwatch" viewpoint. But, at any time, you're able to select a unit and take over first-person control.
The Strike Force Missions are non-linear, meaning that you can choose not to play them if they're not your thing. However, given the branching story lines, avoiding them could have certain consequences within your campaign.
Now, as much as I wanted to love these missions, I couldn't bring myself to overlook their flaws. If you've had any past experience with real-time strategy games, these missions are going to be incredibly frustrating. The A.I. of your friendly units makes them uncontrollable. If you don't tell your squads, with incredible specificity, where to go and who to kill, they will be dead within seconds of finding an enemy. Eventually, I would simply just horde them all into a corner take control of them individually in order to complete the mission.
In fact, if I'm being honest, there's a good chance that I would have given Black Ops 2 a higher rating if Treyarch had removed the Strike Force missions altogether.
However, whatever frustration I had during the single-player campaign was quickly forgotten when I loaded up the multiplayer. Treyarch has really done an amazing job taking the CoD franchise and carving out unique title within the overall framework.
They've axed the standard perks/attachment loadout system in favor of what they're calling a "Pick 10" system. This allows players much more control over the individuality of their loadout.
For instance, if you're the type of person who prefers gunplay to perks, the Pick 10 system would allow you to add a third attachment to your gun in favor of a third perk. Or, if you'd rather have 2 extra perks, you have the option of removing your weapon attachments altogether.
Now, hardcore CoD players are going to love the customizability that the Pick 10 system offers, but I think there's a good chance that it will eventually cause some unforeseen balance issues when people start to get the hang of it. Hopefully Treyarch will keep an eye on the way certain types of unbalanced loadouts affect the overall gameplay, because CoD players love exploits.
Fans of the previous Treyarch titles will be happy to know that the mechanics and gunplay feel familiar. Explosives may be toned down a bit, but that's probably a good thing. Actually, I know for a fact that it's a good thing. Screw everyone who likes that grenade attachment.
Treyarch has also taken it upon themselves to create a new league-play system from the ground up. Players who want to participate simply need to create a team and log onto the matchmaking system. After a few qualifying matches, your team will be added to a ladder where you'll be continuously matched up against teams of your specific skill level.