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Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 16 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Due to the low adoption rate and iffy online service of Nintendo's Wii U, this version of Call of Duty: Black Ops II may not be the one to get if you have either a PlayStation 3, an Xbox 360, or a high-end gaming PC. That being said, this Wii U version is no slouch; far from it, in fact. This version can hold itself up alongside its current-generation brethren quite well, from its excellent presentation to its tried and true gameplay. As far as the series goes, Black Ops II is the best it's been in a while, due to the fact that it takes more chances than we are used to seeing from a series that has flirted with stagnation for years.

So Nintendo has finally been dragged kicking and screaming into the age of high definition. As a result, you probably won't hear people saying that the Wii U version is the least visually impressive of the versions -- at least not until the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One arrive. Call of Duty: Black Ops II looks great on Wii U, whether you're looking at the television or the Wii U GamePad. Of course, I don't recommend you use the GamePad as a first option unless you consider yourself a browbeaten spouse or sibling. But if you must, it's not the end of the world. This is still the same slick, gruesome game. Its vision of the near-future is interesting and not entirely outlandish. Animation work is great as always. Whether it's the way people die or the way a horse's mane flutters in the wind, this game is a nice helping of eye candy.

Sound wise, Black Ops II is classic Call of Duty. Silence is as common as the Yeti in this game. 70% of the sound design is made up of Michael Bay-esque auditory rape; explosions and gunfire drown out nearly everything else, and you may feel physically tired after a session. Voice acting is hit-and-miss. Sam Worthington's reduced role in this game is for the best; his hilarious inability to conceal his Australian accent wrecked his performance as Alex Mason in the original Black Ops. James Burns, on the other hand, is still the shining light of the cast. His Frank Woods has gone from a sneering, cynical grunt to a bitter old fart, and his performance is exceptionally aware of that fact. The soundtrack is par for the course; it isn't memorable, but neither is it disappointing.


Gameplay:

Narcos are pretty much the worst people in the Western Hemisphere. Their drug wars result in the loss of countless innocent lives yearly, and they never seem to stop. Call of Duty: Black Ops II manages to humanize one of these monsters while still allowing you to hate his guts. Raul Menendez is the Nicaraguan leader of Cordis Die, a network claiming to represent the 99%. He's got a serious chip on his shoulder and an incredible hatred for Frank Woods. Lucky for him, he has a cadre full of useful idiots willing to fight and die for him. As you cull the herd and draw closer to your quarry, you learn a great deal about the man. It's an uncommonly interesting story for a Call of Duty game -- one that you will want to see to its end.

There isn't too much to say about Call of Duty: Black Ops II's Campaign that hasn't already been said countless times over the last six years. You take on a series of linear missions, in which you invariably run forward and kill everything that isn't obviously friendly. The manner in which you do so is perhaps the only variable in the equation. But what makes Black Ops II's Campaign special is in its surprising approach to player choice. You have the opportunity to influence the story, and the beauty of it is that the game never tells you when these moments happen.

Strike Force Missions are optional tactical battles that also influence the way you progress through the story. These battles could have been the showstopper, but the execution is so heavily flawed that we'll have to wait and see if the developers can make it into something viable. In these missions, you are given command over a series of units. You can either tell them where to go, or literally take control of a single one to participate in the action. Unfortunately, friendly artificial intelligence is moronic. Unless you choose to play an active role in the fight, you will lose every single one. Your units are that stupid.

Of course, this is a Treyarch Call of Duty, so Zombies is back. It is indeed improved over Black Ops and World at War, but as far as I'm concerned, it's the electronic equivalent of Ambien. While I like the whole idea of fortifying bases and holding down the fort, zombies just bore me. It's got some good ideas, such as Grief, where the enemy team must actively impede your best efforts at survival.

Want to play online? Everything you know and love (or maybe hate) is here for you. Whether you like the linear progression of Gun Game, the tactical maneuvering of Kill Confirmed, the more deliberate pacing of Search and Destroy, or the ubiquitous Team Deathmatch, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is likely to have something you enjoy.


Difficulty:

Recruit, Regular, Hardened, Veteran. What was, is now, and ever shall be. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a balanced shooting experience. Whatever setting you choose, the experience will match the description. This isn't the Call of Duty that allows you to plunk your ass down behind cover and take potshots forever, or until you attempt to advance. Once you kill enemies, they stay dead and are not replaced. That being said, enemies aren't idiots. They know how to use cover and flush you into the open. You must adjust on the fly and maintain situational awareness, lest you find yourself on the ground reading a classic quotation.

Online play is as challenging and demanding as it's ever been. The Wii U Black Ops II community has its share of skilled players, as well as its share of fools. It's nowhere near as punishing as the PC community, but it doesn't really feel like the kiddie pool, either.


Game Mechanics:

You run, you jump, you aim, you shoot, you stab, you throw, you punch, you vault, you crouch, and you go prone. You don't fix what isn't broken, and the Call of Duty control scheme isn't broken. Just be sure to set your default controls to Classic, as the default scheme is unintuitive for the GamePad. It requires much more thumb movement than normal, which is more than normal to begin with. That being said, it's more intuitive than anything the Wii Remote would have delivered.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II introduces the Scorestreak, which delivers a series of special abilities as you earn score. It works just like the Killstreak, only it works with something a bit easier to earn. Naturally, you'll need to earn a good deal of points if you want some of the higher end Scorestreaks. I've never been a fan of the streak system; even with the introduction of the Deathstreak, it remains incredibly unbalanced. Don't get me wrong: I despise the blue shell principle (allow the unskilled to close the gap), but the opposite of the blue shell system is even worse.

All told, the Wii U version of Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a worthy one. The presentation is solid, the gameplay is great, and there's a lot of content to dig into.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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