Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 provides players with three games in one: multiplayer, a single player campaign and an entire set of games revolving around zombies. Some players will eagerly tear through all three; others will just do one part of the game like the multiplayer.
Me? I’m in the minority. I played the single-player and that’s it. With a story written by David S. Goyer from the Dark Knight franchise, I was ready for something amazing.
(Note: it’s a tough review season for video game writers but we’ll do everything we can to review the other parts of Black Ops 2 later next month on Starpulse.)
To say developer Treyarch wasn’t aiming for something unique and different with Black Ops 2 would be denying them well-deserved praise; at the same time, there’s still just more of the same in the follow-up to the insanely popular Black Ops, a game which I felt had one of the strongest narrative stories in any Call of Duty game before or even since.
Unfortunately, an ongoing mystery akin to the “numbers” from the first Black Ops isn’t present in the sequel. While I figured out the ultimate mystery in Black Ops before the main character did, at least there was an attempt to have a storyline pay-off.
The pay-off, instead, is in what ending you will get at the end of Black Ops 2 based on decisions you made earlier in the game.
The issue is, you might not always know when you’re making decisions. Sure, you probably should know right away that skipping or failing the Strike Force missions – which I abhorred every moment of – will result in a “bad” ending. But some decisions come down to you not moving fast enough through the battlefield. Fail—and the “decision” has been made and the story continues.
You can’t undo a mistake you make during the heat of battle. Fail to catch a bad guy in one mission as I did? Tough. There’s no checkpoint. Annoying? Sure. But impactful? Heck yes.
Oddly enough, you’ll even be given the choice to play as the bad guy of the game, Raul Menendez, and sure enough, decisions you make as him will impact the ending. Wait… what? Why would the bad guy make the “good” decision? It’s a bit off-putting, and while it helps see his perspective, it didn’t appear to belong with the rest of the story.
But at least Treyarch is attempting something different. While the characters that return from the previous Black Ops feel shoe-horned in – the numbers are barely mentioned in this game and the allusion to Mason killing JFK in the previous game is all but forgotten – the performances are quite strong. In particular, I enjoyed the camaraderie between the younger Mason and his best friend in the game, who’s given a fun, unique personality and gruffness by voice actor Michael Rooker.
And there’s a lot of incentive for replays—something I’ve never felt before in a Call of Duty game.
(Of course… this all makes me wonder how they could do a Black Ops 3 given the vast differences in the endings you could wind up with.)
As I mentioned, I did hate the so-called Strike Force missions where it’s more like a sandbox-style RPG and you play as soldier, robot or Overwatch—commanding the battlefield from the sky and issuing squad commands. The AI is so incredibly terrible, I usually went in as soldier to make sure the bad guys were killed or the mission objectives were accomplished. If I could have skipped these sections without impacting the ending, I probably would have.
Overall, the pacing is also a bit off with Black Ops 2. It starts with a very exciting mission, but then turns into quite a slow burn. However, the final three missions are incredibly epic, something that gets harder and harder to say the longer in the tooth that Call of Duty seems to get.
It’s a fairly long campaign—about eight or nine hours on normal. The story isn’t as strong as it was in Black Ops, but I’d still say it was easier to follow than either Modern Warfare 2 or Modern Warfare 3.
Whether or not future Call of Duty games will implement the idea of branching storylines is unclear. But hopefully, the next few developers will continue to push the envelope as Treyarch did—even if they don’t succeed with every new innovation.
* Disclosure: An XBOX 360 copy of the game was provided by publisher Activision for the purposes of this review. *