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Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Score: 96%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 12
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online


Graphics & Sound:

Call of Duty is, without question, a mature series. Yes, it is rated Mature by the ESRB and Call of Duty: Black Ops II is quite easily the most violent Call of Duty game so far, with graphic visuals such as a little boy sitting next to his recently killed father, a little girl opening a door and getting horribly burned up by the backdraft, and a soldier being burned alive inside of a overturned vehicle that, apparently, has bullet-proof glass. However, it's also a mature series in that there have been quite a few previous installments. While this helps to define expectations, it also presents the risk of stagnation. As they say, "If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward." Call of Duty: Black Ops II tries new things, adding some depth and flourish to the existing gameplay and introducing a new mission type: Strike Force Missions.

The presentation is top notch, with great visuals and sound. Whether playing in Campaign Mode, Multiplayer or Zombies, you are treated to rich, detailed environments, ranging from the past to near future and from deserts and plains to post-apocalyptic urban scenarios and zombie-infested farms. You'll see lush jungles, mountain ranges and flooded streets... and, even when the setting is dirty and gritty, it looks convincingly good. The voice work is nicely done, overall, with James C. Burns reprising the role of the ornery Frank Woods, Michael Keaton taking on the role of Hudson, Michael Rooker (Merle on The Walking Dead) as Harper and Tony Todd as Admiral Briggs. The new Strike Force Missions feature the voices of Clancy Brown and Michelle Rodriguez, while Nolan North voices the eerie robotic bus driver in the Zombies Mode. There are also lots of funny one-liners in Zombies when playing Tranzit Mode.

While I'm happy to report that I don't live in an urban war zone, to my admittedly untrained ear, the reports of the guns, the electrical sparks and the various other sound effects sound very convincing in the game, providing an aural environment that reinforces the visuals to help put you "in the game." (Yes, it's cliché, but the soundscaping is well defined, especially if you use the supported 5.1 surround sound.)

The music in Call of Duty: Black Ops II is varied, from different well-known artists, with the music fitting the different parts of the game nicely. Trent Reznor and Jack Wall contributed the main theme and the musical score, respectively. There are also songs by Skrillex and Avenged Sevenfold. Evidently, the near future is dominated by Dubstep. (Who knew?)

I especially enjoyed the usage of historical, political and pop-culture figures, including Manuel Noriega and Lt. Col. Oliver North and even Avenged Sevenfold and Jimmy Kimmel as characters represented in the game. The music video at the end of the game is worth the time of playing through the Campaign. Just sayin'.


Gameplay:

If you're familiar with recent Call of Duty games, the "defined expectations" I mentioned above give you a pretty good idea of what to expect for most of the Campaign Mode. If not, let me bring you up to speed; as a story-based FPS, you'll kill a lot of enemies, move to a new checkpoint and then kill some more. There are certain parts that require you use some stealth and there's always some plot point that gives you your motivation for moving forward and taking the next area, but if you can kill enemies without getting killed, yourself, you've got a good head-start on the Campaign Mode. However, there are some new experiences that have been added in to avoid stagnation.

The most notable change? There is a new type of mission that has been added to the Campaign Mode. "Strike Force Missions" start in a tactical squad-based overhead view that has an RTS feel. From there, you can select different units (or squads of units) and direct them to move to critical areas, then you can switch into direct control of different units (including soldiers, robotic units and turrets). The idea of a Call of Duty-themed RTS has potential, but the execution fell short, causing this new mode to be almost universally panned at the Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review Event, based on the people I spoke with and/or overheard at the event. The main shortcoming of this mode was the lackluster A.I. of your forces. Commanding them to an area doesn't cut it; in order to make it through a Strike Force Mission successfully, I found I had to jump from one unit to the next, taking care of everything myself. If you look at the overhead view merely as a map that shows hot spots and helps you choose the nearest units to jump in and control, these missions are playable. If you hope that you can give commands from on high and make it through the level, you may want to just avoid Strike Force Missions as much as possible. One wise move on Treyarch's part, however, is the fact that you can do just that... in Campaign Mode, you are forced to start the first attempt at the first Strike Force Mission, but upon failure you can opt out and then simply avoid them. Do know, however, that the outcome of these Strike Force Missions does alter the path of the story, from whether certain characters are alive at the end of the game or whether certain countries are allied with the U.S. when everything goes sideways. The levels are also only available for a little while; 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.

Campaign Mode dances back and forth between the past (in playable flashbacks), and the near future, allowing for some recent-history warfare as well as near-future high-tech weaponry that you might read about in Popular Science, such as GalvaKnuckles (the nasty offspring of brass knuckles and a taser), Quad-copter drones, invisibility stealth body armor, and BigDog-like quadruped robotic fighters. Let's just say there are lots of hidden gadgets to be unlocked with an Access kit when playing Campaign Mode. (hint, hint)

Another innovation was the addition of some variation in gameplay. In Afghanistan, for example, you will find yourself on horseback at times, which is a novel gameplay element and worked out pretty well. There are also some story-advancing "quick time events," where the game will tell you what to push/hold to accomplish a goal and give you a time limit to accomplish this action. This adds some interactivity to events that would have otherwise been purely FMV story, but I found some of these annoying - especially when they took place at the end of a longer cut-scene that I had to relive over and over until I got it right. This was doubly an issue for me on the PC, as I had remapped some of my controls to buttons I wouldn't press and then mapped those buttons, in turn, to programmable buttons on my Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mouse... When playing other modes, I could easily use the mouse button to throw grenades, but the quick time event in Campaign Mode just says the button combination to press and hold, not "act like you're throwing a grenade," so the prompt said, "Hold Alt and '.' or the Left Mouse Button." and I stared at my keyboard for a moment and my character died. This happened a few times, until I was able to immediately press the key combination at the prompt.

If there's a multiplayer mode you want to play, it's most likely here. There's old favorites such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, Kill Confirmed, Gun Game and Domination, but there are also some interesting new modes, such as Multi-Team, which groups players into three small squads out to get the other two. Multi-Team finds a nice place between Free-For-All and Team games, helping to level the playing field a bit; even if one team has more advanced players on it, it's still two teams against one.

The new modes aren't the only thing new in multiplayer, either. There's a new Create-A-Class feature that lets you build custom loadouts, complete with your choice of weapons, gear and perks. The customization is quite wild. If you don't like any secondary weapons, you can earn, unlock and use a perk that lets you substitute a second primary weapon into your secondary weapon slot. Prefer secondary weapons? A different perk lets you use two of those instead of a primary weapon. There are perks to help you run faster, run longer, not be picked up by radar, sustain more damage... you can adjust your character quite a bit. However, every enhancement has its cost and when you reach the limit, you'll have to ditch something to pick up that new part of your dream loadout. Do you go stealthy… and not so fast, very fast… and not so lethal, or very lethal… and not the least bit stealthy? Choose wisely - or just keep changing things and find out what works for you.

The Zombies are back, this time in a more fully developed way. It could almost be it's own game. Zombies now has its own Campaign Mode, of sorts, called "Tranzit," which strings together periods of time at the different locations with stints of survival in an old bus, as zombies try to break their way in. Additionally, this mode features hidden parts that can be combined to form useful gadgets that can open doors for you (without the cost), for example. Each area has a Survival Mode, which is straight up zombie-killing action, alone or with friends. There is also a new, "Grief" Mode, however, that pits two teams of players against zombies. You can choose to attack each other or fight together to eliminate the zombies, but you can't help members on the other team and the win goes to the last team standing, so don't expect peaceful cooperation to last too long.


Difficulty:

There are the four difficulty levels in the Campaign Mode of Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Recruit, Regular, Hardened and Veteran. Recruit is an easy mode that is really only needed by those either new to FPS games or not the least bit skilled in them. I am not very good (especially if judged based on my multiplayer performance), but I found Regular to be a good difficuly level to play the Campaign Mode and avoid too much frustration. Hardened puts you and your enemies on a more level playing field; you will take fewer shots to die, the enemies will take more shots to die and they'll actually come looking for you, rather than waiting for you to stumble upon them. Veteran is for advanced players or people who just like to watch Mason die. A lot.

Multiplayer pits players against players, so gameplay experience will vary based on your opponents. However, once you play a game, the same group will stay together (for the most part) in the same lobby, allowing you a chance to get a feel for how some of the other players play, much like you can learn how A.I. enemies play. If you don't like the skill level, play style or even just attitudes of the players in your lobby, you can leave and join a different match. I found that the matchmaking system provided reasonable matches, even though the difference in rank can be quite wide. Another option is to try out League Play. League Play will mix up the groups you're playing against based on your score, pitting you against others with similar scores. This will keep you playing against different players until your scoring stabilizes a bit, but it also puts you up against evenly matched players, so that can make for better matches.

As always with multiplayer gaming, it's better to get some practice in the Campaign or other Single Player Modes, first, to hone your skills. There is also a Boot Camp option in Multiplayer that has mixtures of bots and other players and has a reduced rate of experience gain, which can be a nice place to practice. As for learning a map, the best practice is the Practice Mode, which lets you set up some bots and select a map to play on. If you simply want to learn the map, you can actually go into this mode with no bots and just casually stroll around the map planning tactics for upcoming matches.

My best advice for players who find themselves getting beat down in Multiplayer is to try their hand at various game modes. These changes in rules can have quite an effect on gameplay. Cautious players who don't die often, but also don't make a lot of kills might find that One in the Chamber or a game mode with no respawns gives them an advantage. To more easily facilitate the sampling of the different game types, there are some Playlists. Jump in one and play a few games of each game type to see what you like the most.


Game Mechanics:

I don't know what they did, but Call of Duty: Black Ops II's controls feel a bit tighter than its predecessor's. The controls feel right and miss the slight sluggishness that I had experienced previously. You may want to tweak your DPI settings when you try Call of Duty: Black Ops II, to optimize your experience. In fact, it truly feels that Black Ops II improves on every aspect over the previous version. Treyarch has definitely found a mix that adds replay value to the Campaign Mode, with a storyline that reflects the actions of the player and the added ability to jump in at an earlier point and start, from that point, playing to the end again in hopes of changing outcomes and affecting the endgame for a different ending. There's also intel scattered about the levels, for those completist bastards who always have to collect every coin, banana or relic that exists in a game.

Multiplayer brings all the old familiar faces, and mixes things up, to boot. The new Create-A-Class feature gives an amazing amount of adjustability to your multiplayer character, while keeping any specific build from being so powerful that it "breaks" the gameplay. Tweakers will be able to customize their tags endlessly and completists can strive to unlock all of the enhancements and challenges for all of the weapons. There's simply a lot to do, if you have the mind to.

The addition of certain quick-time events seemed a bit annoying to me, at least in places. I understand that the developers wanted to keep things interactive, rather than simply showing a lot of video, but interaction-for-the-sake-of-interaction can be really frustrating if you have a problem getting past it - especially if you have to wait for a video sequence to play to get you back to the point you messed up.

Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops II has everything you have come to expect from Black Ops... and then some. Strike Force needs some work, granted, but for the most part, you can avoid these missions. There's a lot of fun to be had in Black Ops II and a lot of replay value in the various modes.

If you're a fan of Call of Duty, you should definitely check out Black Ops II. If you're not... well, this is as good a time as any to jump in.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows Vista SP2 or Windows 7 (WinXP is not supported), Intel Core2 Duo E8200 2.66 GHz or AMD Phenom X3 8750 2.4 GHz, 2 GB RAM for 32-bit OS or 4 GB RAM for 64-bit OS, Nvidia GeForce 8800GT 512 MB or ATI Radeon HD 3870 512 MB or better Graphics Card, DirectX 9.0c (included), 16 GB Free Hard Drive Space, DirectX 11.0c compatible Sound Card, Broadband connection required for activation and multiplayer gameplay.

(For more information, see link below)

 

Test System:



AMD Athlon(tm) II X2 220 Processor 2.80 GHz, 4 GB dual-channel DDR3, ASUS Mainboard, CoolerMaster 850watt power supply, Dual boot: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit / Windows XP Home Edition (played in Windows 7), Graphics: ATI Radeon 3000 (on motherboard) / XFX ATI Radeon HD 5750 1GB graphics card, Dual Monitors (Gateway HD2201 21" HDMI / Sony SDM-HS73), 1.5 TB Western Digital Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive, 750 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 SATA 3Gb/s Hard Drive, Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mouse, Logitech G710+ Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, Logitech Z313 2.1-CH PC multimedia speaker system, A30 Gaming Headset/Ear Force Sierra: Call of Duty: Black Ops II Limited Edition/Skullcandy SLYR Gaming Headset, Cable Modem, 8GB Einstein Mimobot USB Flash Drive running as dedicated ReadyBoost Cache

Related Links:



Sony PlayStation 3 Call of Duty: Black Ops II Hardened Edition Windows Chaos on Deponia

 
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