One of the year’s most obvious gaming choices just so happens to end up one of its biggest surprises.
This Call of Duty is the shit, kids.
Why a surprise? Hey, despite witnessing one of the most impressive demos at E3 last June, I never thought Call of Duty: Black Ops II would be better than Halo 4, Borderlands 2, or, hell, even Assassin’s Creed III. But it is. COD: BO2 is a lot like a star-vehicle for George Clooney.
Sure, the man is sure to fine-tune his acting chops every year (see: Good Night, and Good Luck to Syriana to Michael Clayton to Up in the Air), but doesn’t it tend to be predictable? Hell, that obviousness of classic core gameplay is consistently what makes Call of Duty the best-selling on the market. Gamers just tend to have a soft spot for Call of Duty that they just don’t have with other games. Every year, without fail, thousands upon thousands of gamers invest in the new Call of Duty game to play against each other online, with many even using online tools such as Aiming.Pro to make their aiming skills better for when they come up against other players in virtual battle.
And we still all love Clooney, don’t we?
But imagine if George finally went all Taxi Driver/Road to Perdition/Gangs of New York on that ass. BO2 is that game. It’s dark, fast, furious, gritty, gory…and actually makes a lot of sense in its story (David S. Goyer, The Dark Knight), music (Trent Reznor) and voice-acting (Sam Worthington, Avatar; Michael “Merle” Rooker, “The Walking Dead”). Most of those elements in past COD’s didn’t matter, honestly, since you knew you were going to run through hordes of nameless Russian, German, Vietnamese or Middle Eastern foes for the better of America. Thankfully — despite an intriguing plot that interweaves missions involving father and son marines — Black Ops II makes its antagonist the star and is all the better for it.
Raul Menendez doesn’t just appear out of anywhere either. We follow this cataclysmic character’s origin through some initial drug-running exploits and involvement with a legendary political figure. You actually get to play as characters on his side, as well. The game does a great job of mixing up gameplay theatrics (i.e. futuristic tactics/vehicles/weapons used in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines) without being overtly redundant or predictable. One level, you’re in a hot mid-1980s summer of Somalia trading bullets in huts and rain-forests, and, next, you’re paragliding your way through Beijing.
The single-player campaign itself is your usual 10-hour Call of Duty time frame, but this reviewer swears it to be at least an hour longer than Modern Warfare 3. Or, more than likely I just enjoyed the heck out of this one more and remember every damn mission. That’s with the shock of the mission sequence, too. To my surprise, the game is hardly based on the destruction of Tinseltown. Sure, the exclusive E3 demo gave fans (and locals) a reason to think the majority of the game would take place in a war torn Los Angeles, when in fact only one level shows the shop-and-eat area surrounding the Staples Center — LA Live — blown to ashes.
Still cool and frightening as all hell.
The only time campaign continuity stalls, shit frustrates you, and momentum is lost is through Strike Force. No, not your daddy’s high-flying duo of Rick Martel and Tito Santana, but more like missions that require a vicious juggle of tactical strikes that don’t always go as planned. While it’s cool to “switch it up” from the usual running-and-gunning, I didn’t buy Black Ops to play XCOM. While players still have the ability to control their own patriots on the ground, the rest of those runners controlled by the AI just can’t help but get mowed down. Controlling all of the units while ensuring yourself a legitimate force inside those units is insanely tough, but possible.
But highly unnecessary. Then again, these disparate missions make the campaign lengthier, and more black ops is more Black Ops.
Another nice thing about the sequel is the gun and armor customization. Much like the aforementioned Borderlands 2 and Halo 4, the weapons have improved (like the RPG’s/millimeter cloak-scanners). More importantly, the loadout menu in BO2 is super clean and allows for a far easier way to get equipped than past COD’s. There’s a wide range assortment of new scanners, grenades, and clips that won’t make your head hurt, either. The reason people enjoy playing Call of Duty games are because they are simply easy to pick up and play. Of course, Treyarch doesn’t bother to try and reinvent the wheel; they just try to get your head spinning from all the explosive sequencing. There’s S.E.A.L. scubaing, paratrooper landing, drone patrolling, aircraft diving/skyscraper dodging, and even ending-changing.
Yup. That’s right. Fail to make the “right” decision ala Mass Effect 3 and shit can go awry real fast. You’ll have about 4 or 5 chances to alter the stakes and end game with your actions, something no Call of Duty game has done before. And, hey, at least unlike Halo 4, you don’t press only one button during the final boss QTE sequence.
You press two.