Breaking down the four different games in Call of Duty: Black Ops II (review)

What you’ll like

It’s not the same old Call of Duty
Treyarch threw me for a loop with the fresh take on the aging franchise, pushing the story from the 1960s to the near-future. The drone war over Los Angeles is somewhat plausible, and we haven’t seen this version of the apocalypse in movie after movie and game after game. The same goes for rare earth metals being used as a chokepoint to achieve certain aims.

Taking the franchise into the future gave the designers more freedom to create their own battlefields, weapons, and other cool technology. It also brew a new evil that threatens the world. The story also traverses the past, allowing for even more variety in the terrain and combat missions. I had a lot of fun blasting my way through a giant casino in the Cayman Islands. Traveling to these new places is part of the creative and innovative gaming experience.

I feared that futuristic weapons would change the nature of the gameplay, making each player far too powerful. While some of that is true, each weapon also has its drawbacks. If you want to shoot through walls, you have to charge up your gun before you can fire. It has a rock-paper-scissors balance. So it turns out that fighting with future weapons is a lot of fun, but it still feels like a gritty modern combat game. This ain’t no lousy Battlefield 2042.

Breathtaking action and visuals
Call of Duty games have always been cinematic. The designers choreograph the action to make you jump out of your seat. It has some stunning set pieces. The landscape of downtown Los Angeles amid a giant drone attack is chaotic. When you’re talking to the president of the United States and your convoy comes under attack, you have to act fast and clear a path.

You don’t simply rappel down a cliff to get to the enemy’s hideout. Now you jump off a cliff and fly there in a wing suit. It’s a thrilling, if not very believable, experience. And Black Ops II is full of these moments.

Add to that plenty of new 3D graphics effects that bring the experience to life. It has rain, flood waters, explosions galore, and interesting effects such as the warping that happens when you use a high-powered microwave turret to defend a spot. This game definitely looks better than the original Black Ops.

Cool weapons of 2025
Black Ops II introduces some crazy weapons, but they could plausibly exist by 2025, given an infinite defense budget. The coolest are some that you can control, particularly in Strike Force. One is a small sentry drone, the Autonomous Ground Robot (AGR), which has a handy pair of chain guns. You can also get into a huge Cognitive Land Assault Weapon (CLAW), which has considerable armor and a Gatling gun.

You’ve also got some cool attachments that can help you take down an army of bad guys. New, useful feature include the Laser Sight, which helps you pinpoint enemies. The Target Finder identifies whether a target is a friend or a foe. If it’s a foe, a big orange box appears around the target. The Millimeter Wave Scanner shows stationary targets that are hiding behind surfaces, such as walls. The Dual Band Scope shows any object that generates heat, enabling more precision in long-range shooting. The shock charge is a nonlethal thrown device that electrocutes and stuns enemies. And the Assault Shield provides portable cover.

My favorite tech experience was when controlled a small mechanical spider, crawling through ventilation shafts as part of an infiltration mission. If you really like some of these weapons, you can customize your loadout to include them, even in the single-player campaign.

The frightening Zombie bus
Zombies has nothing to do with the core story, but this mode is a ton of fun. The cooperative version of Black Ops II takes you on a bus tour of a destroyed 1950s world. Four players can hop on the Tranzit bus and escape the zombies in one area, only to arrive at a new locale teeming with the undead.

You have to take your turns shooting zombies, reloading, and gathering ammo amid the ruins. You can upgrade your guns and find clues about why you’re there and what else you must do to survive. The bus stops regularly at each location, so if one of your crew is left behind, they can rejoin you later. (The zombies ride for free). As you shoot more zombies, you gain experience points that you can spend on weapons or use to unlock doors.

And you really do have to cooperate. One person can build a motor while the other fends off the zombies. If you don’t go into it with “go, team” attitude, you’ll just watch each other die. The bus itself leads to many cliffhanger moments. Will you make it to the bus in time before it leaves? Will your cohorts make it? Can you keep the zombies off the bus? In the dark, in a world lit only by fire (and weak generators), it’s scary.

Multiplayer is even better than before
This aspect of Call of Duty wasn’t broken, but Treyarch has outdone itself with the changes its made here. The new “pick-10″ is a fresh way to allocate resources so that you can customize your loadout exactly how you want it. You get 10 points and can spend them on any items, so long as you don’t exceed your limit. That means you can get to your favorite loadout a lot sooner. You don’t have to wait to level up. And if you never use your sidearm, you shouldn’t be forced to carry one. That’s just one example of the great flexibility that comes with Black Ops II’s multiplayer combat.

As you progress through the level tree, you can choose a path, such as focusing on gaining everything that grants you more speed. I certainly needed that help as a 40-something player trying to compete against younger kids with much faster reactions. The variety of weapons is so great that you’ll be tempted to switch just to see how far you can go with a certain kind of arsenal. I enjoyed the multiplayer immensely even with the different weapons. I just can’t wait until I level up and get the good stuff.

Multiplayer is the reason that I can stay engaged with Call of Duty on an almost year-round basis. As new maps come out, you can slowly master them and the tactics that work best. I’ve invested so much time in the game over the years that playing it has become second nature, even with the new weapons. As a veteran, I find it easy to play, and I love to jump in for 30 minutes at a time. From what I’ve seen in the first 11 levels, I expect that I’ll enjoy the Black Ops II multiplayer even more.

Added value
The extras are great this year. Activision has decided to make Call of Duty Elite, the gamer social network for Call of Duty fans, free to all players. Elite was previously subscription-based, but now the extra content that you pay for is limited to downloadable content (DLC), such as multiplayer map packs. Built into the game are features such as “COD TV,” which you makes your own videos inside the game. You can browse and rate community-created films, screenshots, emblems, and custom games.

You can now more easily create your own films, customize them, and share them directly on sites such as YouTube. You can “shoutcast” a game by adding your own narrative voice over, and you can also livestream a game to your friends. You can also watch a match as a spectator, with many different sorts of views.  All of the features are meant to increase the engagement that players have with Call of Duty, so they put more hours into it.

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