Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review
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Enough Testosterone To Kill A House Pet
Well, it’s here with the inevitability of a flood of money, engulfing everything in its way with the sweet, sweet smell of profit. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the apotheosis of a Critic Proof Game. No matter what anyone says, it’s already broken sales records and will keep Activision in safely, distantly in the black for another year. The franchise has become the epitome of gaming success in the industry, and the embodiment of near fatal levels of machismo for the 21st century male. If you’re a Real Man, you play, nay, you LIVE Call of Duty, calling in sick, yelling at your TV screen, and degenerating into a racist, sexist, religiously intolerant homophobe online, screaming at 13 year old kids that have no right to be playing this game with you.
With that kind of momentum behind it, it’s almost irrelevant that this year’s release is a safe, if bloated, attempt that doesn’t take a whole of chances.
With WWII so thoroughly documented that every adolescent on the planet has now stormed the beach at Normandy, and contemporary, military shooters just one more beating away from being a dead horse, where is there left to go? Halo has the far future of combat all sewn up, so it looks like Treyarch tore a page from Ubisoft’s playbook, and taken their JSOC gang of hooligans into the near future. The characters of World at War and the original Black Ops are now part of a generational tale that bleeds into the year 2025. Mason and Woods of the first game have parts to play in this flashback laden tale that now takes players into an obviously Rambo-inspired trip through the 80s, while Mason’s son, David goes head to head with a new Nicaraguan megalomaniac named Raul Menendez. Expected military hysteria follows as BLOPS 2 throws in one pointless historical cameo after another; Ollie North will be completely lost on the young un’s, while Petraeus’ appearance—and voice!—as a future secretary of defense is comically ill-timed. Throw in some reads of MSNBC financial reports with mentions of China, rare earth elements, a dash of Wired Magazine articles on cyber-attacks by groups like Anonymous and shake well with a helping of quantum physics and you’ve got a ludicrous plot that takes our characters anywhere on the planet that needs serious blowing up. There’s also an admiral who can’t let a single appearance on screen go by without uttering the phrase “cocksucker” which puts him in a dead heat finish with Rico of Killzone fame for the most tiresome potty mouth in gaming. I think he’s supposed to add “gravitas” to the proceedings, but I also think whoever decided the game needed more gravitas kept snickering at the way gravitas has “ass” at the end, and thus Admiral Briggs was born.
This is not a particularly well told tale, though certain emotional arcs do carry the finger prints of David S. Goyer—who penned the Batman movies—with some nice moments that are drowned out in the non-stop parade of explosions. Ultimately it’s a pure adolescent power fantasy that suffers the adolescent lack of proper pacing. The story of BLOPS 2 has the same problem as that of a teenage boy having sex for the first time; there’s a completely misinformed notion that the way to go is to climax every two minutes and maintain that pace at least 12 times for the night. It’s a story that tries too much and ultimately derails itself but then, the campaign isn’t really why people buy this game.
When we move onto the graphics… well, it ain’t no Halo 4, but it’s still one of the smoothest engines on the market. Once again, a COD game manages to maintain a nice, high framerate that rarely stutters. The lack of an Unreal engine under the hood also means the delayed sharpening of textures that plague most FPS games these days is thankfully absent here. That performance comes at the cost of some bells and whistles, at least compared to the very latest shooters, but that doesn’t mean it’s a technical mess. The art department however, is trapped in the military look that has become a stupefying cliché for this genre. Greys and browns rule everything, and the adherence to weapons and locations of the past and near future ensure that an unwelcome familiarity settles in very quickly. This is a game that’s not going to surprise anyone with exotic locales or firearms, with even the futuristic air and land combat drones bearing similarities to Ubisoft’s own Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Hopefully Treyarch and what’s left of Infinity Ward are already at work on the next generation version of the COD franchise because it’s going to be difficult to impress anyone with this level of visuals next year; I suspect they’ve pushed their engine as far as it’ll go.
The sound, as to be expected by now, will shake walls and bring the house down if wired into the appropriate gear. First person shooters have always showed off surround speaker systems to great effect, and the COD series has reliably been a demo-worthy example of the genre. The gunfire, explosions, and booming orchestration will all give any speaker a serious workout, and the subwoofer will get ample time to show what it can do. The quality of the voice acting is up to snuff, even if the dialog itself isn’t, although it shows far more character in the multiplayer Zombie mode. The music itself, like the subject matter, is fragmented, with a mix of classic, onerously orchestral composition and some bizarrely synth-laden tunes worthy of a night club. Trent Reznor and Avenged Sevenfold also lend a hand to the proceedings and, as you might expect, they let ‘er rip. Like everything else about the game, the audio elements are loud, unsubtle and in your face all the time, but that’s the signature of this series.
The Best Big Mac Of 2012
Everyone loves hamburgers. No matter how familiar the concept of a beef patty with fixings between two buns may become, it’s hard to say “no” to well a prepared burger. That’s what Call of Duty: Black Ops II is. It makes no pretensions to being a gourmet dish for connoisseurs, it’s a big, fat, greasy burger with little nutritional value and plenty of flavor. For people who love eating the same food all the time because of the comfort familiarity brings, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the burger of the year.
The single player component is almost not worth mentioning since no one buying this game does so for the campaign. But in a sentence, here it is; same old, same old, with explosive set pieces, following guys in mustaches, a flood of enemies with laughable AI and the usual aiming assists all in play. This is the same ludicrously action packed campaign players have been enjoying for years, only now it introduces some Bioshock-esque moments of decision here and there that can affect certain aspects of its disposable and largely incredulous plot. It’s about six to eight hours in length and can be finished in one sitting by a dedicated gamer, or two evenings for normal people with some kind of career and family life. In addition to the campaign, there’s a new set of extra missions called “Strike Force,” but this essentially amounts to “solo horde mode.” Players take on various objectives that involve an overall strategic map of the area where you can direct your forces, and then jump into the body of any of your assets to take control, similar to Eve in Parasite Eve The 3rd Birthday. You can spend a lot of time fussing with strategic options and failing a lot as you learn the intricacies of this awkwardly implemented system, or you can stick to the POV of one soldier, ignore the strategic element entirely and win each mission on your first try, which tells you something about how well conceived this strategic, playground mission mode really is. It’s supposed to be in here because, as an addition to the traditional campaign, it helps people justify the purchase of $60 for a multiplayer game, but it’s going to be ignored by most of those people anyway in favor of the multiplayer.
And multiplayer is really where this burger has most of its meat. There’s no getting around it, the two great multiplayer experiences of the console world are Halo and Call of Duty. This time around, both franchises have wisely borrowed from each other. Where Halo incorporated the perk system of COD, COD has lifted elements like the Theater as well as horde mode of Gears of War and of course, everyone’s favorite cannon fodder, zombies.
The traditional competitive multiplayer is by now the standard by which all other multiplayer modes are judged. Treyarch has done a nice job of providing a relatively “safe” environment for noobies to train, up until level 10. Kill streaks have now been replaced with Score streaks, meaning there are more ways to earn points and XP. There’s the ranked matches, now known as “League” competitions, and all the modes you’ve come to expect are there, with the perk system intact. Perks get a little bit more variety thanks to the near future setting, with unmanned drone combat adding a new wrinkle for making the enemy’s life difficult. What’s a little bit different about the multiplayer this time is the new “Create A Class” system that unlocks after level 4 (or 10-20 minutes of online playtime, if we’re being honest). This actually allows for a higher level of customization in weapon loadouts and even perk/skill selection, but any subtlety the system might afford is largely lost in the traditional corridor shoot outs and almost Buddhist death/respawn cycle that COD multiplayer has established as the norm. Some may find value in this, but the majority of people that play COD will find it complex and unnecessary, demanding too much thought from the game that normally asks you to do the opposite.
The Zombie mode continues the novelty of co-op multiplayer with options for four players online, by LAN, or even two players locally on split screen. It’s still about surviving waves of zombies, although now there are some variations made to the theme. The main game, now known as “Tranzit” involves traveling to different areas to find parts that can help in your quest for survival. The parts range from things like a cow catcher that attaches to the bus that ferries players from one area to the next, to components for restoring electrical power, thus making your life slightly easier, though it also opens the door for much more powerful electrical zombies to enter the fray. As with any co-op game about zombies, the mechanics here lend themselves well to frantic bouts of cooperation or betrayal. The new modes, like “Survival” can implement new conditions that players have to abide by, such as headshots being the only viable means of killing zombies, while “Grief” mode pits two teams against each other, by directing zombies to the enemy, since they can’t actually directly hurt each other.
In the end, it’s really the multiplayer that makes people come back to COD. This 2012 edition of the series is unbalanced, with its largely irrelevant campaign, awkward Strike Mission mode that is easier to play when you ignore its main conceit, and tried and true multiplayer that retains the frenetic, ADD pace of spastic shooting over considered strategy. This is the ultimate dorm room/frat house fixture and the definitive answer to the question, “Do gamers really want bold, innovative games that challenge them with new ideas and mechanics?” Call of Duty: Black Ops II says “No,” to this and crushes experimentation under its boot heel while making an extra $10 million in profit in the time it took you to read this review. If you are the sort of person that wants to do the same thing, all the time, taking pleasure in the constant repetition, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is your oxygen, you water and your mana all in one. There’s nothing new here, but it’s an absolutely polished, phenomenal Nothing New that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “innovate” because that’s too many syllables and makes its head hurt.