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Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Score: 97%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 12
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Jaw-dropping Ė that is the best way to describe Treyarchís latest offering, Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Whether you are running across the desert vistas of Angola, blood-glistened machete in hand, flying through the air in the mountain ranges of Myanmar, racing across the dust-covered plains of Afghanistan on your stallion, or making your way through the dangerously flooded streets of Pakistan, you will be visually wowed at every turn. Between motion capture and brilliant rendering, Treyarch goes all-out to immerse the player into the world of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Your missions will flip between the 1980ís and the year 2025 and you can expect to see some familiar faces, both actual figures in history, like Manuel Noriega and Lt. Col. Oliver North, and characters weíve come to love from Black Ops, like Alex Mason and Frank Woods. Youíll even see the perfect rendition of a mo-capped Tony Todd as he takes on the role of Admiral Briggs.

Voicework is stellar, with Sam Worthington and James C. Burns reprising their roles as Mason and Woods. I mentioned Tony Todd (Chuck) earlier, but thereís also Michael Rooker (Merle on The Walking Dead) as Harper, and Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice) gives voice to Jason Hudson this go round. Clancy Brown, Michelle Rodriguez and even Nolan North also lend their voices to Strike Force Mission characters and the creepy automated bus driver in Zombies, respectively. Depending on how you play things, you might even see Jimmy Kimmel make an appearance, but more on alternate pathways in Gameplay. Trent Reznor and Jack Wall respectively pen the incredible main theme and musical score that twist and turn their way into your brain from the moment you boot up the game, but you'll also hear music from Skrillex and Avenged Sevenfold, along with a really cool and funny music video from the band featuring game characters, once you've completed the Single Player Campaign.


Call of Duty: Black Ops IIís Single Player Campaign opens up in 1986 with Alex Mason embarking on a rescue mission in Angola to retrieve one Frank Woods, who may or may not be alive, but is believed to be held in a storage container by a dangerous Nicaraguan gunrunner. From there on, youíll bounce between that time period and the year 2025, where a crippled and aged Frank Woods is talking to David Mason, Alexís son, now a legendary military badass in his own right, and Harper, his partner. They are trying to gain information about a new political figure who has arisen named Raul Menendez, who runs a revolutionary organization known as Cordis Die. Youíll go between timelines to see how Menendez came about, what fuels his vicious streak of revenge, and how the Mason men and Woods factor into all of this. The long and short of it is that Menendez seeks to turn our technologically-advanced weapons against us and itís up to Mason and Harper to stop him. The story can get a bit confusing along the way, but just roll with it, because itís entertaining as hell and keeps the plot moving along.

Your travels will begin in Angola circa 1986, then bounce between locations like Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti and the Caymans in the year 2025, while interspersing locations like Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Panama in the late 1980ís to backfill storyline. For the most part, gameplay is what youíd expect from a Call of Duty game Ė you shoot people to clear an area, move forward, and do it again. However, you have many new toys to play with this go round. For starters, as you make your way through the levels, you might see places where you can hack or pick locks to access areas that hold goodies. You donít have to open these up, but if you do, youíll be treated to all sorts of treasures like bear traps that you can load with mortars, electrified brass knuckles or a machete for exciting melee action, mortars to toss and nightingales to distract soldiers and send them off in a different direction. You can pick up flak jackets for added protection and even activate automated robots to help you clear an area. Like I said, itís not required, but you will be rewarded if you take the time to do these.

The developers at Treyarch added in a new type of level with Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Iíve got to admit that I absolutely hate it. These missions are called Strike Force Missions and I can only imagine that they came about after the levels in Call of Duty: Black Ops where you played the eye in the sky were so well received. However, in Strike Force Missions, youíll start the tactical squad-based level in a very RTS style where you have an above view and can direct your various troop types to accomplish certain goals. Then, once youíve got everyone set up where you want them to be, or at least headed that way, you can then jump into any soldier, robot, or turret you want and play from that vantage point, skipping around as you see fit. The problem here is that the A.I. doesnít work well and personally, despite understanding which controls did what, I could never jump into exactly who I wanted. I might get close, but close doesnít cut it. There are four Strike Force Missions available and you are only required to successfully get through one of these, however they can greatly change the outcome of your game. The levels are also only available for a little while; once you get past a certain portion in the standard missions, you canít access these anymore, mainly due to their effect on the storyline. While I applaud Treyarch for trying something new and some people might love this type of gameplay, your typical COD player isnít looking for RTS action. I can tell you that the disgruntled feeling with these levels was pretty widespread with the other reviewers that I talked to at the review event.

But enough of the bad, since thatís the only detracting factor in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. On to the awesome Ė multiple branching paths in the storyline. I am not talking about a couple of different possible endings here. I am talking about a freaking which-way book experience. There are many different events that take place and the choices you make and the successes or failures that you have will change the outcome of the game, as well as those events that will lead up to it. You can tell that your accomplishments are being tallied, because at the end of every level, youíll see a running total of your successes and failures in each level and the game so far. But it wasnít until I started discussing my choices and how my game ended with other reviewers that I realized the full scope and depth of what was going on; you might have a Quick Time Event where you must fight the urge to kill someone you are interrogating and the result may seem inconsequential, especially since someone else may kill him moments later, if you donít. But later on in the game, when it seems like there are no right choices and you are faced with committing a murder or being killed yourself, your choice will greatly effect everything from there on out. It may mean the deaths of pivotal characters, or not. It was amazing to compare notes with other reviewers and see just who completed the game with what characters still alive Ė and I was amazed as the broad-reaching possibilities. All of you folks out there who breeze through Single Player only to jump right into Multiplayer, you just might surprise yourself. The Single Player Campaign offers so many different pathways that you might find yourself going back numerous times to see what changes. Using a feature called Rewind, you can pick a level to redo and change your outcome. I can see beating the game, then picking later levels and making different choices, only to go back to levels right before that and work my way backwards, just to see how things play out differently. Thereís a lot here to play around with and you could easily be busy for hours and hours, just with Single Player alone.

Aside from branching pathways, youíll also be treated to an arsenal of high tech goodies in this near future universe. Youíll use nano gloves to scale mountains, a wing suit to glide across the sky like a flying squirrel, remote control robots called CLAWs to do your bidding, sky drones to clear paths for you, spider drones armed with a camera to scout out locations, intelligence-gathering equipment to determine someoneís identity, then record their conversations for later use, and even guns that can detect and shoot people through buildings. On the flip side, the enemies youíll be battling come armed with their own high tech gadgets like cloaking devices to render them invisible and protective suits that glow red. Youíll find that an EMP will come in handy quite often. Naturally, youíll also have a ridiculously huge complement of guns at your disposal. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is truly Treyarchís most ambitious undertaking yet and overall, the gamble pays off.

Zombies are back and better than ever in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. There are three ways to play the game. Tranzit is essentially the story mode where you and a handful of others (either real players or bots) begin the game in a strange little town that looks like something straight out of Fallout, complete with a 50ís feel to everything. Youíll have to work your way through diners, bars and more looking for weapons and parts to keep the bus going, while making sure to get back on the bus when it honks or youíll be left to be devoured. Once on the bus, you and your fellow zombie-battlers will have to stay alert to keep the zombies from taking over the bus. In Survival Mode, itís you (and up to three others, if you want) battling zombies in a particular area of Tranzitís map. You have a small group of buildings that you can use to hold up in, so it makes sense to explore a bit until you find the right fit for you. Grief is the final mode and this is just like Survival, except itís last man standing rules. There are two separate groups of human survivors and you can work together or against each other, but in the end, the winning team is the one that lasts the longest.

As always, Call of Duty: Black Ops II comes armed to the teeth with multiplayer modes. All of your favorites are back, including Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill variants aplenty. My new favorite mode is called Hardpoint and this is where a team must capture a "hardpoint" and defend it for a set time amount to gain control over that area. During this time, the other team can contest this hold and take it over for their own. Once that timer runs down, the a new hardpoint location is selected elsewhere on the map. Itís a fun, fresh version of King of the Hill and one that a player like myself, who doesnít typically enjoy multiplayer, can really enjoy. You can help hold the hardpoint and defend your corner, even if you typically get killed a lot.

Party games are back and include Sticks and Stones, Gun Game, One in the Chamber and Sharpshooter. Geck0 really found his own with One in the Chamber, since he is a camper and having only one bullet at a time suited him just fine. Itís great that COD is evolving to try to reach as many different play styles as possible so everyone can have a great time.

The addition of new weaponry, equipment and perks makes the Create-A-Class option loads of fun for tweakers. You can tweak to your heartís content, building a class that fits you perfectly. No more having to take on a weapon that you donít like simply because itís class contains a few that you want. Canít find a secondary weapon that agrees with you? Unlock and use the perk that lets you select a second primary weapon instead of a secondary weapon. There are also perks that let you run faster, endure more damage or simply not show up on enemy radar. Afraid this will lead to unbalanced gameplay? Donít be; all classes have the same set number of enhancement slots and once you fill them up, you canít add a new one without dropping one youíve already got selected. So, you can be very stealthyÖ and not so fast, or very fastÖ and not so lethal, or very lethalÖ and not the least bit stealthy, or you could be mediocre in all things. The choice is up to you, but every enhancement or selection has its cost, so choose wisely as you find the perfect loadout for the way you play.

Theater once again returns as well, for those who like to show off their skills and possibly even teach others who want to improve. Also, Call of Duty: Black Ops II features the ability to stream live gameplay to Youtube. Want to hold a LAN party or competition and let friends across the country (or beyond) root for their favorite players? Not a problem.


There are the four standard difficulty levels in Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Recruit, Regular, Hardened and Veteran. Recruit is pretty easy as far as shooters go, but will still provide a decent challenge for the uninitiated. I played through the entire game on Regular and found it to be just about perfect for getting through the Single Player Experience at a decent clip. The Strike Force Missions still kicked my ass and I found them miserable, but the rest of the game was just about right. I felt challenged, but not abused. I then tried Hardened and actually found it to be a great deal of fun. The difficulty is definitely ramped up because it will take fewer hits to kill you and conversely, the enemies take more hits to fell. Further, they will seek you out. I was on a particular level testing out the differences and I found that on Recruit and Regular, you can hang out in an alcove and wait out the enemies, picking them off one by one, if need be. If you are playing on Hardened, they will bring the party to you so you had better be on your toes. Veteran is just ridiculous and is for the top-notch expert player or the masochist. Prepare to be killed a lot.

Of course, as far as multiplayer goes, your experience will depend on who you are playing with, but the gameís matchmaking tries to set up multiplayer matches such that things are evenly matched across a group of players. It didnít always necessarily work out great, given the small number of people playing at the review event, but when throngs of people are playing the game after launch, it should be pretty easy to get evenly matched games. Time will tell.

Multiplayer COD fanatics can simply jump into it and tear it up; they wonít need any advice. However, if youíre not typically the multiplayer sort of gamer, or if youíre new to Call of Duty, I strongly advise that you play the Campaign Mode first, then be sure to try different multiplayer games before deciding which one is your favorite. Players who arenít team-centric may enjoy Free-For-All, since you donít have to worry about team members. If youíre trying to learn to play in more team-oriented games, but youíre afraid that your inexperience is giving your team a disadvantage, try Multi-Team, where there are three teams. This means that every team has to watch out for two other teams, but you still have the team-aspect of coordinating with other players. The Party Modes offer a "Playlist" of game modes, so you can experience a variety of game modes without having to actively switch into and out of them, making these great for new players trying to get a feel for the different game modes. As mentioned above, One In The Chamber turns the tables a bit, favoring players who are more thrifty with their ammo (or experts with their combat knives, I suppose), favoring snipers and well, actual campers, I suppose. Gun Game helps to even the playing field if youíre playing against gamers who have specialized in given weapons, since at regular intervals throughout the match, the one weapon that everyone is using changes to something new.

If you find that you often get lost in the various maps, try out the Practice Mode. You can add in a few bots and set their A.I. based on what you want to practice, or you can simply play without anyone else (even bots) in the level, allowing you to casually explore the vast maps, familiarizing yourself with their intimate details and finding the perfect camping spot, ambush location or sneaky path to get between two points quickly without attracting too much attention. Then, you can put these to use in real multiplayer matches.

Game Mechanics:

Call of Duty: Black Ops II's controls are pretty standard issue. Youíll move about with your Left Analog Stick and control the camera with the Right Analog Stick. (LB) and (RB) are used to launch grenades, flashbangs and shock grenades used to stun and electrify the enemy. Youíll target with the (LT) and shoot with the (RT) and in Single Player, tapping on the (LT) will snap to the nearest enemy and aid in targeting, if you have that option turned on. The D-pad will be used to swap weapons and utilize remote-controlled robots as the level dictates. Youíll also use the D-pad and the shoulder buttons for the Strike Force Missions, depending on whether you are selecting ground soldiers, turrets, robots, etc. The controls in the Strike Force Missions donít work all that well and I found them very frustrating. Treyarch, please donít put these missions in Black Ops III, and if you must, make them completely optional. Please.

Intel is still scattered around, but honestly, I quit looking for it after the first few levels. Thereís so much going on that it just didnít matter to me anymore, although Iím sure completists out there will beg to differ.

Aside from the standard controls weíve come to expect, youíll encounter tasks like rappelling down a mountain, but instead of using standard equipment like you did in the last game, this time youíll be using future tech. Your nano gloves will cling to surfaces, but youíll still have to launch yourself into the ether, relying on the rope you have around your waist. Youíll grip the mountainside and your partner will then do the same, as you both dangerously make your way across a mountain. But what if you need to get to the bottom of the mountain quickly? How about launching yourself off the mountain in your wing suit and then having to control your movements while in flight. This was one of my favorite areas of the game as it was exhilarating, but unfortunately only happened once or twice. Youíll often find yourself taking control of various characters at different times. Sure, youíve done this in games past, but I donít recall taking control of the villain. You will here, and then youíll get to undertake the same scenario in the shoes of the heroes to see how things play out. Itís great storytelling and compelling gameplay at work here. Youíll even get the opportunity to play as Raul Menendez during a murderous rampage and again, as you hold the lives of one of the good guys in your hands. Will you kill or maim? Itís all up to you.

Lastly, you can once again play the game using 3D glasses if you have a 3D setup. While I can't personally play 3D because it makes me ill, I was able to briefly check it out and it looks amazing. They didn't go for cheap jump scares here, but instead sought to really immerse the player in their surroundings.

I canít say enough good things about Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Itís the complete package and, were it not for those damned Strike Force Missions, it might just have received a perfect score. While I enjoyed the storyline for Black Ops a little more and felt more emotionally invested with those characters, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is just so chock full of cool stuff that its greatness canít be denied. If you buy one game this holiday season (and you are old enough to legally play it, mind you), make it Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Note: This review reflects the opinions of two Game Vortex reviewers (Psibabe and Geck0) who attended the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review Event in Carlsbad, California. Travel, accomodations and food for this event were arranged and funded by Activision. Additionally, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 licensed products were provided at the event. We have reviewed (or are in process of reviewing) these items and these reviews may be read on this website. For more information, check out our blog post (link below).

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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