Call of Duty Black Ops 2 is here and its selling in the millions already. Every year sees a new Call of Duty game and every game carries the burden of potential series stagnation. Treyarch promised change and fortunately they brought it. Black Ops 2 is unlike any Call of Duty before it with an engaging story with multiple endings, elements of player choice, tweaked zombies and multiplayer modes and an amazing soundtrack courtesy of the one and only Trent Reznor.
The story of Black Ops 2 is the games ace card. The story follows Woods and Mason in the 80s and David Mason, Mason's son, in 2025 as they try to bring down Raul Menendez. Menendez is the villain of the story but his story is truly tragic and there is an element of sympathy towards him that really makes you think about your actions during the game. You can understand and relate to him and this makes him by far the best villain the series has yet seen. On top of this there are multiple endings available to you that differ depending on your actions in the awesome new Strikeforce missions and the campaign. The story is well paced with the split between missions in the past and future balanced perfectly. There are plenty of twists and turns as well, some expected, others less so. Deep, emotional and thought provoking, the story to Black Ops 2 is the best story that Call of Duty has ever had and its one of the best stories in military FPS history.
The gameplay fairs equally well, though it is not changed as drastically as the story has there are some welcome refinements and additions. Before each mission you can customise your load out as you would in the game's online mode, you can swap guns, add attachments, camouflages, grenades etc etc. This may seem like a small thing but being able to choose what you go into a mission with is great and can affect quite drastically the way in which you approach that missions which, when added to the multiple endings, gives the campaign a lot of replay value. On top of this you also get the aforementioned Strikeforce missions. These missions pop up during the campaign and you have several campaign missions to do them in, you can play them all or ignore them, or you can do some but not necessarily all of them. How well you do in them and whether or not you actually bother impacts the outcome of the story as it impacts the standing of certain world powers.
The Stirkeforce missions themselves are great fun. They range from defending a group of objectives, to attacking and capturing points to escorting a convoy through the desert. You are given a group of units, troops, drones, turrets etc. and these can all be killed. If you live long enough reinforcements are sent to you but if you die too soon then that's it, mission failed, no retry. You can either take control of one of the units or use an overhead tactical view. Either way switching between units is quick and easy, as is ordering individual units or your entire force. The control system here is intuitive and effective and the AI of your team never causes problems. The tension in these missions caused by the genuine possibility of failure makes them incredibly fun and they can be quite challenging, especially on the harder difficulties so you really need to be careful. Overall these missions are a fantastic addition to Call of Duty and are pretty much the biggest add on to the gameplay since Modern Warfare came out. They really are that big!
The multiplayer sadly has not been changed quite so drastically but, although it would have been exciting to see what they could with big changes it is still a solid offering and the changes that Treyarch have made are very welcome ones. Call of Duty's multiplayer has always been an isolated experience, players usually play for themselves, racking up kills and ranking up. Treyarch have, at least for the most part, managed to eradicate this attitude with one simple move. Kill streaks are now score streaks and you get more points for completing objectives than you do for killing people so for once people actually work as a team. This makes Black Ops 2's multiplayer more akin to Battlefield whilst still retaining its undoubtedly Call of Duty identity. This is a very good thing. The other important change to the multiplayer comes in the create a class system. Instead of having slots now you have a limited number of points to use to gear yourself up. These can be allocated to just about anything. Want two primary weapons? Do it. Want two pistols? Do that. Want more perks? Have them. Just bear in mind the limit to your points. This is a small change but really adds a lot more depth to the system and means you can truly create a class that matches your play style.
Zombies is the mode that is improved least of all. They have added a mode called Tranzit which attempts to add some sort of story to the mode but it doesn't have much impact. It's not a bad thing it just doesn't do much. There is also Grief mode where you can choose to aid the other team of players or not. again this is cool but does little to really improve the mode. The core mechanics still dominate but choosing your level involves picking an area on the world and does it give more of a campaign type feel. The mode is fun as always but there is very little to say here about improvement. It's a blast, especially with others, but the changes are negligible so you know what you're getting when you boot it up.
Graphics wise the game is good but not great. Character models are usually good and facial detailing is excellent but there are moments when characters, particularly Menendez's sister, look they are from a PS2 game, the environments are good though with decent weather effects and a good draw distance. The levels are varied and range from the Afghan desert to a futuristic, floating billionaire populated city. Treyarch got a lot of flack for using the same engine but they've totally revamped it and it looks really good. No this isn't breaking boundaries and yes at times certain things look awful but on the whole the game looks really good and it always maintains that awesome frame rate that the series is known for.
Sound wise this game is the best in the series. The guns sound amazing, the voice acting and script is superb, Trent Reznor's theme for the game is amazing and the general soundtrack is really solid. The guns and effects are never as good as those in a game like Battlefield 3 but they are still seriously good. And Trent Reznor!!!
All in all what Treyarch have achieved here is phenomenal, they've taken the biggest shooter in the world and they have made the most significant changes that have been made to it in years whilst keeping it familiar enough to guarantee success. This is the perfect mix of business needs meeting innovation. This year has had numerous AAA games fall short of their promises (Mass Effect 3, Dishonered, Assassins's Creed 3 etc.) but Black Ops 2 actually excels and does far more than I expected it to. I'd be reluctant to name a military FPS my game of the year but this is certainly in with a chance. It's that good.