Entire articles have been written about Activision, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and the Call of Duty series in general. I won’t cover too much of it except to say that in my opinion, Treyarch now makes the superior Call of Duty game. As the sort of man of the house at Activision now, it would be easy for them to phone it in, as has often been accused, but Treyarch has put some real work into improving the series with Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Though multiplayer is the main draw for millions of Call of Duty fans, this time the single player campaign is finally worth some mention.
No longer a throwaway, Call of Duty: Black Ops II’s single player campaign is the most robust offering of its kind in the series. The story does require some attention as it jumps back and forth between the two separate eras of the 1970s-1980s and 2025 in connected storylines. Alex Mason returns from the first Black Ops game to fill in the back story as his son David is the main character in the near-future story of the new Cold War between China and the United States. Veterans of the first Black Ops games will also be prepared for the historical cameos although, at this point, it’s pretty unlikely that ex-CIA head David Petraeus will be secretary of anything in government at any future point.
It is not so much the setting in Call of Duty: Black Ops II that’s notable as Ghost Recon: Future Soldier tackled the time period over the summer. What is surprising is that the series, which is often criticized for keeping campaign mode players on a tight leash, has actually allowed a bit of decision making this time around. While there is no Mass Effect type dialogue wheel, there are some obvious choices to be made and less obviously, your performance will also have an effect on the story. These aren’t huge gameplay branches as seen in The Witcher II but, they are arguably as significant as those made in Mass Effect 3 and the various endings are certainly more distinct.
Treyarch has done nothing to change the standard first-person shooter control scheme in Black Ops II, but they have introduced optional Strike Force missions. These are side missions that are offered up as Real Time Strategy gameplay but, decidedly fail in that regard. Each of these missions presents a sandbox, a set of objectives, and grants various unit types. The problem is that these units are about as smart as a defective turret in Portal 2. In the bird’s eye view, you can select units with the d-pad and send them to locations or the enemy units which are visible. Unfortunately, they just get mowed down unless you have a significantly larger force. It is usually much easier to select a unit and switch to first-person mode and accomplish the goal single-handedly, a tactic that works except for in an escort mission which will require switching back and forth.
What makes Call of Duty worth owning for at least the year until the next one comes out is the multiplayer. While the core of this mode is the same, there are some significant changes that will make your characters a better reflection of your gameplay style. Some may complain that these load out changes are unrealistic, but if realism is that important, you’d probably be playing Rainbow Six instead anyway. There are also some scoring changes that serve to level the playing a bit and a few tighter maps that will ratchet up the action. Most Call of Duty fans should have no problem accepting the adjustments along with the newly free Call of Duty: Elite. The Zombies mode also sports some new wrinkles and there are Easter eggs to be found with the new Tranzit.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II isn’t a perfect game, and some things still need fixing. The Strike Force missions are poorly implemented but they’re not a bad idea and adding some replay value certainly doesn’t hurt. Hopefully a little more focus is put on level design next time around and a cafeteria table or a chair isn’t an obstacle to soldiers that can face climb cliffs. A few technical and online issues did pop up on my playthrough but, they weren’t huge and will surely be patched quickly. I’m often a critic of the Call of Duty series but, I was pleasantly surprised with the effort Treyarch put into moving the franchise forward.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs. This game can also be found on: PC, Wii U, and Xbox 360.