Developed by:Treyarch Published by:Activision Genre(s):
  • FPS
  • Platform:
  • Microsoft
  • Nintendo
  • PC
  • Sony
  • Cost:$59.99 ESRB Rating:MATURE Players:1 (2-18 Online) Release date:November 13, 2013 Reviewed on:XBox 360

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

    When the first Black Ops was released, I was surprised at how good of a game it was. While it was not perfect, it came in a close second to my favorite Call of Duty title, COD4. Featuring a cohesive campaign, new multiplayer modes, and interesting tweaks to the franchises staples, it’s easy to see why Black Ops was considered a success. After spending a lengthy amount of time in Black Ops 2, I’m pleased to announce that Treyarch has again outdone themselves!

    After receiving my review copy from Activision, the first thing I did was jump into the campaign. Like I said before, the first Black Ops had a good story and I wanted to see if this held true for the sequel. The narrative is split between Alex Mason (the protagonist from the last game) in 1986 and his son David, living in the year 2025. After being retired for some time, Alex is recruited by CIA agent Jason Hudson on a dangerous mission to save Mason’s old friend Frank Woods; both of whom were in the last game. Woods was being held hostage by a terrorist by the name of Raul Menendez. To make a long story short, their dealings with Menendez didn’t go as planned and an innocent girl is killed in the process. This sends Menendez on a crazy revenge mission to hurt Mason, Woods, and well…the entire United States. Years later, David becomes the leader of a Special Forces unit tasked to take down Menendez once and for all. Again, just like his father, things don’t go as planned.

    I love the way Treyarch handles the story telling in Black Ops 2. David is in need of answers; he doesn’t know Menendez that well. So, he seeks out Woods in hopes of getting some information that could help him take down this dangerous individual. Old man Woods tells David stories of his past war efforts in which the game allows gamers to see firsthand. Going back and forth between the past and present, playing as both David and his father, is a cool way of experiencing the campaign. At times it feels like two games in one. Playing as Alex, gamers get to fight enemies using post-Cold War munitions. David on the other hand, utilizes futuristic high tech weaponry and gadgets. You’ll go from using normal rifles and grenades to flying drones and cloaking devices. Adding to this feeling of “two for the price of one” is in the locations of each conflict. The past would feature something like the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan while the present would showcase a glamorous city floating in the Cayman Islands.

    One would think that the jumping back and forth between characters would lead to a confusing narrative; something that the COD franchise is known for. Again, just like in the first Black Ops, this is not the case. While the game does feature two time periods, everything on screen flows into one cohesive story. I never was lost in all of the drama despite there being two different casts of characters. Now having a well mapped duel storyline is great but, the impressive part about Black Ops 2 is that the campaign elements are influenced by your choices; for the first time in COD history, gamers will be able to decide the story’s outcome.

    Let me clarify, I don’t mean the “to kill or not to kill”, pick-this-route-over-that-one type of choices that usually pop up in current games. While those types of events are present, there are other elements that have a lasting impact on the story. For example, there is a part in the game where my partner and I had to flee from enemy troops. This chase scene ends with a “bang”, covering much of the escape route with fire. Driving too close to the fire could cause my partner serious harm, which would then be depicted on his face for the rest of the campaign. Even though that wasn’t a life or death situation, the events of that encounter directly affected latter parts of the story.

    Adding to the appeal of a branching storyline are the new Strike Force Missions. These optional levels  feature both sandbox and RTS gameplay elements simultaneously; you can play as a commander in overwatch and as a unit on the battlefield. In Overwatch, you’re able to see all of your troops (soldiers, drones, turrets, etc.) using an aerial map view. Here you can set waypoints and issue commands like in most RTS games. At any time, you can jump into a unit and try to complete the objectives from their point of view. At the start of the campaign you are given three Strike Force teams to be used on these missions. If you’re successful at them, you’ll get more teams to use on later missions. An unsuccessful attempt gives you the option of continuing the story as is or replaying that particular Strike Force mission (using another team). It’s an interesting change of pace that helps to give the campaign some much needed variety.

    Now while these Strike Missions are optional, they can also directly affect the story in both positive and negative ways. Choosing to complete a mission and doing so successfully provides an opportunity to enhance the story. You might gain better Intel on what’s going on or support from foreign allies. Failing these missions also presents a consequence. For instance, not being able to extract a hostage in a story mission meant that I lost a vital resource in my pursuit of Menendez. However, after the level was over a Strike Force Mission was offered where I’d have a chance of rescuing the person of interest. Failing here means I won’t gain any insight from this individual. Furthermore, failing SF missions may cause you to expend all of your available teams resulting in lost opportunities to successfully complete missions in the first place.  This whole concept adds some tension to the gameplay; doing poorly, or not choosing to do any missions at all may increase the overall campaign difficulty.

    For the most part, I’m very pleased with the addition of the Strike Force missions. I liked that they were so different from what COD has offered in the past and I had a blast playing certain ones. Unfortunately, as a whole, the Strike Force missions aren’t as polished as I’d hoped they would be when I first heard about them. The AI could have been a bit more intuitive. Initially when playing a mission in overwatch, I would tell a unit to defend an area only to see them all get slaughtered seconds later. Wondering what was going on, I jumped into the one of the units to see my men standing in the open, taking fire as if they were infantry men from Civil War times. For some reason they just wouldn’t take cover. Having bad AI meant that trying to complete objectives from overwatch was a complete waste of time. I literally had to spend time as “everyone” on the field to operate effectively. Between the sandbox style gameplay with objectives placed all over the map and the difficult nature of these missions, winning seemed super hard at times. As you can imagine, failing due to bad AI and not because of poor planning was very frustrating!

    That said, as the game went on, I found that the AI was getting smarter. The last few Strike Force Missions required more strategic handling, which meant I had to use overwatch. On these missions, my troops would hide behind objects, return fire appropriately, and use the right weapons on the right enemies (using a rocket launcher on a tank instead of a pistol). I wasn’t sure if this was because the game needed to balance my units to the overall difficulty of these last levels or if the AI just randomly got smarter. Either way, the challenge of dealing with bad AI early on could have led to me having very few Strike Teams for the later levels. Or, as a worst case scenario, kept me from wanting to even try these extra missions in the first place.

    Looking back on my time spent completing the campaign, I feel that Treyarch did a splendid job of making it worth my time. They added new elements (to the shock of most I assume), delivered a good story, and peppered it with fun and exciting gameplay. They even did away with the annoying “on rails” shooting segments that seems to be all the rage in FPS these days. Outside of an over use of gore (do we really need to see someone’s throat cut in slow-mo?) and some issues with the Strike Force missions, you’d be hard pressed to find a better military based FPS campaign. Of course, most of you reading this are here for one thing and one thing only; the multiplayer!

    Let’s get this out of the way now, Black Ops 2 offers a lot of what the previous games had. All of the staples are here. Team Deathmatch? Check. Kill Streaks? Check. Clan tags, perks, unlockable weapons? Check, check, and check! If you didn’t like playing online in the COD titles leading up to this, then it’s likely that Black Ops 2 won’t suddenly convince you that it’s any fun. Ok…now that that’s out of the way; Black Ops 2 multiplayer options are quite awesome. The first thing you’ll notice is that a lot of work has gone into making the online experience better than ever. Matchmaking has been improved so that gamers are challenged instead of being overwhelmed by players who are ranked much higher than them. The developers also introduced League Play this year. Basically, gamers will enter League Play, play a game that determines their ranking based on individual statistics (kill to death ratio, completion of objectives, etc.). Once the player’s skill level is determined, they can be placed in bracket with similarly ranked players for tournament style games. If players improve their skill level, they can be moved into a higher ranked division. This allows for seasonal/tournament play based around a gamer’s particular level as opposed to a one size fits all ladder that usually excludes newcomers.

    When it comes to selecting weapons for online matches, Treyarch has addressed some of the issues found in past COD games. There is a new Pick 10 system that allows gamers to better outfit their customizable classes. Before, you had to level up (by gaining experience) to unlock better equipment. While you still have to do that, Black Ops allowed you to shop around, purchasing what you wanted from the list of unlocked items. Block Ops 2 goes a step further by allowing you to pick any combination of weapons, attachments, perks and more based on a 10 item limit. The game doesn’t force you to reach a high level before amassing a decent arsenal. At the same time, it doesn’t allow for the crazy builds we’ve seen in other COD’s; adding more than one perk of the same category requires gamers to sacrifice something else due to the imposed limit. The combinations are now closer to being completely dependent on individual play styles as opposed to a race for the best kits!

    My only issue here is that there seems to be a heavy reliance on small automatic weapons. To be blunt, they are too powerful. They easily outdo most weapons in the game and gamers are sticking to them for this reason; hurting the balance Treyarch was trying to achieve with the Pick 10 system. This could easily be fixed by adding recoil; as it stands you can squeeze off a full clip without worrying about your shots missing. Other weapons, like rifles, are powerful but rattle when the trigger is held down. As long as the person using the small gun is in range they’ll beat the person using the stronger weapon. Of course this advantage is heavily dependent on the skill of the player; a “superior” weapon in the hands of an inexperienced player is not all that superior. That doesn’t change the fact that my kill/death ratio went way up after I starting using the MP7 exclusively (which is a starting weapon).

    For all the would-be youtube stars out there, Treyarch has upgraded Theater mode. Much more than a way to show your skills to the COD community, the new options allow for better competitive play. CODcasting allows players to provide commentary for previously-recorded games. Do well enough and you might be able to cast for live matches via the featured live streaming options. The streamed gameplay is pulled from consoles and sent directly to the web. League Play sounds even more intriguing when you add in CODcasting and live streaming. The last thing Treyarch did was to make Call of Duty Elite free for all Black Ops 2 players. Elite allows tracking of your personal mp stats across the console and the web, exclusive COD clan competitions, leaderboards, tips and strategy videos made by the community and more. There isn’t much more (if anything) I could ask for when it comes to competitive gaming on a console.

    So far, I’ve covered a lot. Last but not least is the infamous Zombies mode. Again, Treyarch has tried something new here; two newplay options. The first is Tranzit. Most of the gameplay is based off of the survival aspect (you still have to fight waves of zombies), but it also features a story and a few other little differences that make it stand out. One of these is the introduction of multiple interconnected maps and a bus that transports players between each location in real time (no map selection screens here). The other is the scattering of parts that can be used to upgrade the bus’s defenses or to build items to be used in the environment. Gamers will need to use the items they find and or build as clues to uncover information to progress the story; i.e. collecting parts to assemble a device that randomly connects you to a mysterious informant. The tension is thick even in the early waves of Tranzit; everything from the grim atmosphere to the idea of being left behind by the bus adds to the uneasiness of fighting the undead.

    The other new zombie mode is called Grief. Here, two teams of four try to survive endless waves of zombies. If one team dies, the surviving team has to complete the wave to be considered the winners. If the zombies overwhelm them, then that wave restarts, giving both teams another chance. Whichever team outlives the other, wins the match. Grief is an interesting concept that is really fun at times but very frustrating at others. It’s fun to try and hinder the other team so they fall prey to zombie bites, and ultimately their death. The frustration comes in when no team is able to survive a wave to end the match. This usually happens in the later waves when the difficulty increases. With stronger zombies, more powerful weapons are required to effectively eliminate them. Stronger weapons are more expensive, but because you aren’t gaining money from completed waves, your funds begin to steadily dwindle. Imagine starting a difficult wave for the tenth time but now you can only buy pistols and Molotov cocktails instead of bazookas and grenades. It’s no surprise that this is usually when people start quitting in protest. An easy fix would be to allow a team to win based on stats (zombie kills, available funds, etc.) or implementing a limited number of retries. Either way, something should be done!

    There is so much to talk about when it comes to Black Ops 2. In a nut shell Treyarch did what most people thought was impossible…again. Their title can stand as its own game and not another “same old COD” title. That alone is worth noting; add on the fact that they’ve built upon the successful elements from the first Black Ops and you’ve got one heck of a game here!



    Black Ops 2 is extremely fun to play. A few missteps with new modes and some balancing issues are the only blemishes I see!



    Almost every COD has been great graphically. The characters’ eyes are hit or miss though; sometime realistic, sometimes creepy.



    No arguments here.

    What's New:


    Treyarch added a lot to the series…again!

    Replay Value:


    From playing the campaign with multiple endings to the extensive multiplayer options, there is a lot to do (and redo) here!

    Final Score:


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