Black Ops 2
The Call of Duty series of First Person Shooters (FPS) has more or less dominated the genre over the past 5 years or so. Activision has succeeded in providing alternate flavours of the game every other year in the guise of Modern Warfare and World at War/Black Ops through the respective developers Infinity Ward and Treyarch.
Up to this point the Modern Warfare series has been seen as the more serious title while the Treyarch titles were somewhat demoted to mere filler games that were released in the off year. But recent years have seen a more polished approach to the Treyarch series and the original Black Ops game started to hint that maybe the biggest rival to the Modern Warfare dominance was from within.
Due to the success of Black Ops and the somewhat mixed reaction to Modern Warfare 3, this year's offering from Treyarch is probably the most hyped yet and the one where the a more critical eye might be cast.
From a campaign perspective Black Ops 2 really delivers. The game has taken some bold moves and tried to separate itself from the style of the Modern Warfare series somewhat gambling with a proven and very successful model.
The game feels less scripted and forced as many of the levels have multiple routes and a more open feel to them. The campaign now enjoys the multiplayer loadout mechanism that allows you select equipment rather than make do with whatever the game has suggested. This all results in a much more fluid and free experience compared to recent COD games.
The plot also deviates away from the normal COD storyline. Gone are the predictable Islamic villains that have become cliché and boring and instead we get a more old school bad guy akin to the cold war or secret agent movies. The action does however take place in usual hotspots around the globe but the gameplay does feel a little less like a news feature and more like real action.
The campaign has a series of alternative endings that play out depending on your actions throughout the game. These are pretty much well highlighted at various points in the game but they do play out pretty seamless next to the regular action. Also, it does add to the replay value of the campaign.
There is a new type of mission introduced in the single player campaign that allows you to control multiple units from a top down level. This is more a strategic affair as you guide and tactically assign orders to units as you battle it out. There is also an option to then take the place of individual units and play out the mission in FPS.
Some of the old COD issues are still present. We still have the imaginary line past which no more enemies will spawn and the enemy AI is less than impressive. The game engine is starting to look a tad dated but in places the imagery is nothing short of stunning.
The multiplayer gameplay is mostly untouched except for some more subtle changes. A new load out mechanism called Pick 10 allows you to abandon the class structure and gives you the freedom to select any 10 items in a mix and match approach. It is up to you to select the combination that works best for your style of play.
As you progress through the game your successes with different types of weapons unlock new upgrades for that weapon. It's a great levelling system that allows players to progress down their own custom class type.
Killstreaks have been removed in favour of a more team based Scrorestreaks. Now players who are more tactically or objectively focused can obtain the weapon upgrades alongside those who perform the most kills. This provides more balance and allows the Pick 10 system more weight within the game.
A Combat Training mode exists outside the Core and Hardcore modes to enable new players exist in a more controlled environment without the presence of the more experienced player. This mode exists for players up to Colonel rank.
All the multiplayer maps are well designed and provide multiple options for strategy in both attack and defensive mode. The Zombie mini-game returns with a new transit mode that allows you to travel between maps in a fortified bus.
Black Ops 2 provides a welcome change of direction for the Call of Duty series without straying too far away from its magic formula. The changes succeed in providing new life into a series that could have easily become stale and stagnant. Now the bar has been raised considerably for the Modern Warfare series that comes out next year.