- Publisher: Activision
- Developer: Treyarch
- ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
- Genre: Shooter
- Pros: Tons of content; decent presentation; awesome sound effects; solid campaign; genre-leading multiplayer
- Cons: Feeling awfully familiar these days; Zombies is only so-so
Black Ops II's campaign features a surprising amount of new ideas and twists for the franchise. The story switches back and forth between 1980's Cold War era that focuses on Black Ops 1 characters Frank Woods and Alex Mason, and the future in 2025 that focuses on Mason's son. Tying the two periods together is a new villain, Raul Menendez, who survived an attack in the '80's and eventually becomes a powerful warlord in 2025. The story is actually pretty interesting and the way the game embraces crazy technology in the near-future setting is neat. You get a mix of "Modern Warfare - 80's Style" along with "Modern Warfare - Sci-Fi style". Nothing too wild, mind you, but fresh and interesting.
The campaign is filled with all of the epic set pieces and frantic moments the series is known for. New this time around are less linear pathways full of enemies and more large and open areas that feel more like actual battles and less like shooting galleries. The level designs as a whole are a definite improvement over past games. Also interesting is that the game introduces a number of choices throughout the campaign that actually affect the story's multiple endings. They aren't all black and white, kill or let go-type choices, either. Sometimes little things you don't even notice your first time through a level will prove to actually be a branching point in the story, which is awesome. You have to actually pay attention and engage in the story this time around.
The campaign is also made more interesting because now you get to choose your loadout before each mission. Depending on your play style, this can have a huge impact and make the game more enjoyable. Of course, the default loadout works just fine as well. Another new campaign feature are optional Strike Force missions where you can control multiple units in an overhead tactical commander role as well as jump into a soldier to take control in first-person.
The game also features an extensive multiplayer mode, of course. The new loadout system is fantastic because you basically have ten slots for any weapons, items, or perks you want. This lets you spawn with stuff you'll actually want to use. The new upgrade system gives you upgrades and new unlocks for each weapon based on your kills that weapon. This way you unlock upgrades for the weapons and abilities you really use, rather than having to level up through a bunch of garbage you don't want. By getting out of the way and letting you set things up the way you want to play, the game is a lot more fun.
With 14 maps (plus the preorder Nuketown 2025 map) and plenty of game types (deathmatch, CTF, demolition, etc.) there is a lot to do here. A new twist on multiplayer is the league mode where everything is unlocked from the start, so players should all be on an even playing field since you don't have to play for hours to unlock the best stuff, and players are placed into "divisions" based on their skill level. You play against opponents in your same division / skill level, and every once in a while there will be promotion / relegation for players to rise or fall to a different division more suited to their skills. It is a fascinating system that works well for people more interested in jumping in and having fun with similar minded players than the super serious play that the traditional MP modes offer.
You can also, thankfully, play all of the multiplayer maps and modes offline against bots complete with unlocks and loadouts and all of the same stuff as Xbox Live MP offers. We love offline MP with bots. Thank you Treyarch.
Instead of just being a multiplayer sub-mode, the popular Zombies game type gets a whole mode to itself in BOII. The mode is still a horde-type game mode where you have to fight off waves of attacking zombies, board up entrance ways, and find new weapons to use. There are lots of maps to play on and some nifty new features like a competing team of other survivor players (you can't hurt each other, just annoy each other and make it harder for the other team to survive). Tranzit mode has you traveling between the different maps on a bus, and in each area you only have a limited amount of time to find items that you can put together to open up new areas. Zombies as a whole is kind of neat, but the thrill is wearing off at this point. Horde modes have been done a lot better in other games, and these zombies are just sort of boring to shoot compared to how bombastic and epic the campaign is and multiplayer matches can be.
The core COD gameplay is very much intact here, which is mostly a good thing. It is still an auto-aim heavy, snap to enemy and kill them sort of fast paced affair. The controls are perfectly fine. The gameplay is rock solid. We have to admit, though, that we're kind of getting bored by it. The campaign does a lot of new things to try to hold your interest, but we've seen this formula of frantic, overwhelming, Michael Bay-style, setpiece-heavy action so many times now that the thrill isn't there anymore. We still had fun with it, don't misunderstand, but it is more of a grind here than it was in COD4 or Modern Warfare 2. It isn't really the fault of BOII, we've just done it so many times now. Think about it, this is the 8th COD game this generation. Crazy.
Graphics & Sound
The presentation in Black Ops II is nice overall. The character models look decent and the levels are full of detail and just plain look good. Special effects and explosions are on the mark as well. The sound is very well done with good voice acting in the story and gunfire and explosion sound effects that are the absolute best in the business.