Review: Call of Duty Black Ops II (Xbox 360)
There was a time when me and the Call of Duty series had something pretty special between us. I enjoyed the first Call of Duty game and then Call of Duty 2 showed up and we really hit it off. The romance hit a rocky patch with Call of Duty 3 but Modern Warfare came along and showed me there was still good times to be had. Then things started to go stale. It was like we weren’t on the same page any more. Black Ops looked to be just what the series needed, something a little different. In reality it was more of the same but I do give the developers top marks for Zombies mode, I had a lot of fun with that, and on the strength of that mode I was prepared to give Black Ops II a chance to impress.
Campaign modes in FPS games, with a few notable exceptions, don’t tend to have the best writing, but even by FPS standards the story here is really stupid. The very first mission sets the tone as far as how stupid the rest of the campaign is going to be. You’ve been sent to rescue a fellow soldier and you find him inside a large metal container surrounded by a bunch of dead bodies. According to your companion the bodies have been there a few weeks and yet the guy you’re looking for is found alive. This guy has somehow managed to survive, for a few weeks, trapped in a container, with a bunch of dead or dying people for company, with no food, and worst of all – no water. That’s incredible. No, wait, the word I’m looking for is IMPOSSIBLE. I find it hard to believe a single idea was rejected. I have this image in my head of people sitting round a table throwing out ideas and the person in charge embracing every suggestion with a demented grin on their face.
“Then a helicopter appears!” – “Brilliant!”
“Then a massive tree falls down!” – “That’s genius!”
“Then a giant slug appears and fucks everyone to death with its mad stretchy eyes!” – “This is gold! Solid fucking gold!”
Of course, “It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares about the campaign anyway.” is more likely. Well, call me old fashioned, but… I care about the campaign. Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had great campaigns. Ah, but those titles were from Infinity Ward, and everyone knows Treyarch have never been able to match that high standard, right? Well, that doesn’t quite cut it in this case. Infinity Ward have, at least in my opinion, been responsible for the best Call of Duty games, but Treyarch made the first Black Ops game and, although it didn’t stand up to Call of Duty 2 or the first Modern Warfare, the campaign was a hell of a lot better than this. The first Black Ops didn’t make me shout, on multiple occasions, “THIS IS FUCKING STUPID!” and stop playing.
In an effort to add variety there’s a stage which is meant to involve strategy but it doesn’t really, at least not the way I played it. You must defend a base from enemy forces using soldiers and machine gun turrets which can be placed in different areas of the small map. Soldiers can be individually controlled – allowing you to run around, fire your weapons, and control turrets – or you can give them a basic order to move to and defend a specific area. You can switch to a top down view to have a better look at the map and move your forces around. This all sounds pretty good, right? Well, it’s not. It’s a mess. The squad controls are clunky so I ditched it in favour of controlling one soldier. I rushed around, trying to kill as many enemies as possible, made good use of the machine gun turrets before the enemy eventually destroyed them, and in the end I somehow managed to claim victory. It wasn’t my idea of fun and when the game informed me that I could play more missions of that type, and most importantly – they were optional, I had no intention of taking up the offer.
The campaign does have one redeeming factor. Not many games let you run around with Henry from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer by your side but this one does. I haven’t been impressed with a Call of Duty multiplayer since the first Modern Warfare and Black Ops II did nothing to break that trend. Having said that, if you’ve enjoyed the multiplayer in recent Call of Duty games you’ll be happy to know that Black Ops II offers more of the same. Zombies mode, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether.
Zombies mode was the best thing about Black Ops and it’s the best thing about Black Ops II. I’m not interested in a Black Ops III but what I would like to see is a fleshed out (pun not intended, but I’ll take it) Call of Duty: Zombies game. It wouldn’t even need a particularly detailed story. Maybe all of the dead civilians from the many wars waged by the US of A could climb out of the ground and attack the troops currently occupying their nations. There you go, Treyarch, you can have that one for free. It’s a shame, in a review for Call of Duty: Black Ops II, that I’m writing about a game which will probably never be made, isn’t it? I agree. It’s a damn shame. Please send your complaints to Activision.
I really wanted to like this game. The graphics are nice, and the music and sound effects do a good job of immersing you in the heat of battle, but that’s what you’d expect from a Call of Duty game and I hoped for something more. I wanted to be able to tell people that I love Call of Duty again, that I cared about the characters in the campaign, and that the multiplayer was so much fun that I would lose hours to it without realising, but I can’t do that. Not that fans of the series have much to worry about. They’ll keep pumping out these games as long as millions of you keep buying them. I really hope, as someone who once counted down the days to the next Call of Duty release, that the next game will have me shouting from the rooftops about how wonderful it is. That would be nice.