- November 16, 2012 (PC)
- November 17/21, 2012 (PS3/Xbox 360)
- November 21, 2012 (PC)
- January 26/30, 2012 (PS3/Xbox 360)
- February 19, 2013 (PS3/Xbox 360)
- February 20, 2013 (PC)
- March 12, 2013 (PS3/Xbox 360)
- April 10, 2013 (PS3/Xbox 360)
- April 30, 2013 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Legendary actor and martial artist Bruce Lee once said, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”
It would seem that Treyarch has been watching some Kung Fu movies as of late.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is the culmination of years of reiteration and fine tuning. For the first time in a long while, it feels like we are dealing with a Call of Duty title that has truly learned from past experiences and has improved upon almost every aspect while doing away with or completely re-building others, for the better. Similarly, this is the first time in a long while that it feels like developers have actually listened to their community and have delivered.
Personally, when not dealing with those “WTF” moments caused by some bothersome network issues, this is the most fun and highest level of satisfaction I’ve had with a Call of Duty title since the original Modern Warfare.
Pick-10, Scorestreaks, Gameplay and Balance
Now, Black Ops 2 is still nothing revolutionary, in terms of gameplay. It’s still Call of Duty, the fast-paced, high-action, 60 FPS twitch shooter we’ve all come to know and love. Treyarch has simply trimmed the fat and put on some more muscle, making this one of the most content-filled yet polished experiences yet.
Like Modern Warfare 3, Black Ops 2 is fast. Much faster than it’s true predecessor, Black Ops. However, unlike Modern Warfare 3, it plays much closer to previous titles in terms of map design and flow, which we’ll get into further on. But what really makes Call of Duty Call of Duty, so to speak, are two things; Class creation and Scorestreaks. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at what Treyarch brought to the table this time around. “Out with the old and in with the new,” as they say.
Many would argue that the battle is won in the loadout screen when playing a highly customizable shooter like Call of Duty. That’s why it’s important for developers to get it right, inject a high level of fun-factor and ensure that balance is top priority. So far, I believe Treyarch has done a commendable job in this regard and has conspired the most creative, yet balanced Create-a-Class system yet. Originally conceived as a board game, Treyarch welcomes you to Pick-10. You’ll be spending a lot of time here.
The idea is simple. You have 10 points and you can do whatever you want with them – put them anywhere you want. Don’t want to use a primary weapon? No problem. Take it off and spend that point on a second piece of equipment or Wildcard. Wildcards are rule breakers. They allow you to acquire additional perks or attachments, to name a few benefits. The end result is a highly-addicting Create-a-Class experience that allows you to actually tailor your play style very specifically. (I know what you’re thinking. They’ve said this before, but this time, it’s real.) The best part about Pick-10 is that it’s balanced, at least at this point in the game, despite the amount of creativity given to you. Wildcards mean that two points need to be spent, in total, in order to slap on an additional attachment or perk, for example. Thinking of stocking up on six perks? In that case, you’ll be stuck item left, be it a weapon or a piece of equipment (you’ll always have your knife). Of course, weapons can be picked up on the battlefield, which needs to be considered as well. So far, I’ve had a lot of fun trying to find the perfect class set-up.
Speaking of unlocks, Black Ops 2 follows a much more traditional pattern than the Original Black Ops’ CoD Points system did, though tokens are required to actually use an unlocked weapon. Additionally, in order to unlock every single thing at one time, you’ll need to have Prestiged all the way to Prestige Master (max rank) in order to acquire enough unlock tokens for every item. Additional incentives to Prestige include the ability to carry items over into your next prestige, the ability to keep weapon attachments you’ve already earned and the ability to throw on some extra camoflauge patterns and emblems on your weapon, which can also be Prestiged now.
My favorite point that Treyarch has made here, and probably one of the most important points with the new Pick-10 system, is that Perks now only affect you as a player and do not affect your weapon in any way. That’s what attachments are for. Due to this, choosing the right attachments becomes a much trickier job. That, and trying to balance it out with Perk usage. You’ll also find that a much greater number of weapon attachments are now available, including my favorites, the laser sight (the new Steady Aim), the fast mag (the new Slight-of-Hand) and the Ballistics CPU (reduces scope sway). Another nice touch is the ability unlock and add camoflauge patters to both your secondary weapons and your knife.
Side note: Flak Jacket is your friend. More than in previous titles, I’m finding a high-percentage of my deaths come from explosives. I’m not sure if its an increase in splash range or damage, or if I’m just that unlucky. Plus, a Flack Jacket is the only thing that will save you from the commonly used Hunter Killer Scorestreak.
Weapon balance is a hard to judge at this stage of the game. Even in a months time, it wouldn’t be fair to say what is what. As of right now, I don’t believe anyone has found the “Famas” of Black Ops 2 or the “MP-40″ of World at War. However, I’ve found (and heard from others) that assault rifles lack the kind of power it feels like they should have. If I were to take some guesses, I would say that some of the SMGs, the R870 MCS shotgun and the dual B23R hand guns are ones to watch out for. On a more personal note, my favorite class set-up so far involves the TAC-45 hand gun as its only weapon, which should go to show that handguns can really hold their own in Black Ops 2. I also love the DSR-50 bolt-action sniper rifle. It just looks and sounds bad ass.
As with previous titles, Call of Duty has a large meta-game and will play differently three months down the road and then yet again six months later.
If you manage to make it out of Pick-10 as a sane person, it’s time to put your classes to use. Again, the gameplay is what you expect. What’s different this time is the way Scorestreaks are built. As the name implies, you earn rewards through score, which includes both kills and completing objectives. What’s great is that they are purposely designed to build up slowly if you are only concerning yourself with kills. However, concern yourself with kills while defending the Hardpoint or Domination Flag and, oh man, now we’re talkin’. You might be asking, “well, if Scorestreaks can build up so quickly, how am I supposed to enjoy a game of Black Ops 2 with attack dogs and drone swarms constantly dominating the battlefield. What you need to remember is that, yes, Scorestreaks build up very quickly when playing the objective, but playing the objective is very dangerous and gets you killed often. As a result, high-level Scorestreaks are rarely seen, at least at in my experience so far. One issue I have, however, is that mid-level Scorestreaks can be extremely powerful and could use some toning down. Nevertheless, in the end, Black Ops 2 offers true gun-on-gun gameplay without an over-reliance on Scorestreaks.
Now, all of this is fine and dandy, but what’s the point when none of these perks, attachments or Scorestreaks reduce shoddy network connections. As of now, the singular source of frustration I am having with Black Ops 2 comes from network lag and hit notification. Now, I’m no expert in the field of network code and whatnot, but I know when I’m being robbed of a kill after clearly smoking a guy in the head with a DSR-50. What’s worse? Think you’re safe after quickly taking cover from a gunfight you know you can’t win? Think again. You might clearly be in cover, according to what you see, but not to the enemy. Upon viewing the Killcam after your desk-flip-inducing death, you’ll notice that you were in plain sight the entire time. Now, considering Black Ops 2 even runs with the amount of people playing it at one time, I can forgive and forget. But, I found this to be a major issue in the original Black Ops and was hoping I would no longer have to deal with it in Black Ops 2. It’s not deal breaking, but with a game this fast, it’s certainly noticeable and can undo the tightness of the gun-on-gun gameplay.
I also feel like the game isn’t always doing a good job of telling me when I’m being hit. A lot of the times, I feel as if I’m just dropping dead without explanation. I also don’t necessarily mean in terms of connection either, but more in terms of actual notification. I feel like it could be more pronounced. I could be nit-picking, however, and I could also just be used to games like Medal of Honor: Warfighter that really make you feel like a bullet has entered your body with unstoppable force when hit.
At least, connection issues are currently the only troubles I am having with Black Ops 2 which can vary in severity depending on location and/or time of day. Also, the ability to customize search options is a nice addition, though I’ve yet to be able to determine whether it’s actually effective or not.
Despite this, matchmaking itself is very fast and fluid. So far, I haven’t run into any serious trouble joining games while in a party. However, I haven’t played in any parties bigger than three, as of yet. Still, finding matches seems to be a smooth experience.
Side note: Unfortunately, the PlayStation 3 version of Black Ops 2 has, so far, run into some serious matchmaking issues with many reporting errors when searching for sessions. More than likely, this is a launch problem that will be resolved quickly.
Maps and Modes
As I stated earlier, maps in Black Ops 2 feel much more traditional, some which even remind me of maps found in the orignal Modern Warfare or World at War. This also marks the first time a large map has become one of my all-time favorites. Otherwise, many tend to favor Call of Duty’s smaller to mid-sized maps.
Hijacked will quickly become a favorite thanks to it’s small, symmetrical design and it’s similarity to Call of Duty 4′s Wet Work. Carrier is another instant classic that will immediately remind Call of Duty 4 vets of Countdown. Standoff has a very World at War feel to it while Turbine, my aforementioned favorite big map, and Express both look and feel like Modern Warfare 2′s Afghan and Terminal. There is something about Turbine that strikes me as almost perfect. Not only is it the best looking map, but it’s layout rewards all styles of gameplay and makes for some extremely intense games of Capture-the-Flag, thanks to its large size and the many intricate pathways. It can be a nail-biting experience. Then, of course, there’s Nuketown 2025, a futurized version of the original, for those who received first-print copies of Black Ops 2. (Hint: Pre-’slode vehicles and wear Flak Jacket, for the love of god.) What impresses me the most is that this is the first time an a while that more than 50% of a Call of Duty’s selection of launch maps have become my favorites. Rarely do I find myself leaving a lobby due to a map I dislike.
Spawning on smaller maps can be rather shaky at times. When it comes to Nuketown 2025, it’s almost impossible to get something like that right, but that’s expected and it’s almost become part of the gameplay. Sadly, the game mode that seems to suffer the most from spawning issues is Hardpoint, my personal favorite.
Many of your favorite game modes return in Black Ops 2 with only a few additions. Fans of Kill Confirmed, introduced in last year’s Modern Warfare 3, will be happy to see it’s return. A concept that hasn’t been seen in a Call of Duty title yet is the idea of multi-teams, now available for three different game modes. Both Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed are available as multi-team games, as is Hardpoint, Treyarch’s spin on the traditional King-of-the-Hill mode. Hand’s down, Hardpoint has become my favorite new mode. Despite having to put up with an abnormal amount of explosives, it really focuses the action and gives you the chance to build up your Scorestreaks quickly.
Combat Training and Wager Matches, now Called Party Games, return from the original Black Ops but now allow you to rank up, unlike before. Combat Training won’t give you full experience for obvious reasons, but Party Games allow you to play your favorite modes like Gun Game, Sticks and Stones, One in the Chamber and Sharpshooter all while gaining experience and ranking up.
League Play is Treyarch’s answer to the demands of the competitive Call of Duty crowd. Here, players are matched with those who are equally skilled. As you improve your game (measured by your win/loss ratio) you’ll enter into higher league tiers, ensuring that you’ll always have a fun yet challenging experience. The main differences in these playlists, in terms of gameplay, are the settings used. Moshpit features a mix of TDM and objective game modes with standard rules, solo rank, no split-screen and is 6v6. The Champions Series features only mixed objective modes with competitive rules, similar to Moshpit but with team and solo rank, no care packages, no tactical insertions and is a much more intimate 4v4. In both modes, all weapons, attachments, Perks, equipment and Scorstreaks are unlocked for use right away.
It should be noted that game modes like Domination are now treated like Demolition in that they are now round-based. This is to ensure fairness and is something the competitive crowd has been asking about for a while.
Immersion (Sound and Visuals)
Black Ops 2 seems to have taking a turn towards the immersive, this time around. Thanks to the noticeably improved visuals and sound design, battles feel all the more real. The overhauled sound design, in particular, is probably my favorite improvement the Call of Duty series has seen in recent years. More so than anything, the improvements to sound just make Black Ops 2 all the more mature. Explosions now have that “boom,” knifing just sounds brutal, some Scorestreaks sound real scary (oh my, dat Warthog) while weapons now sound like they’ve got some real kick. Additionally, shooting in different areas will have different effects, depending on the size of the room and whether you are indoors or outdoors. Also, soldier call-outs are not only informative, but very convincing. Nothing is more satisfying than hearing the “crack” of a headshot to then hear your soldier yell, “dropped him!”
What some might see as a step backwards, however, is that due to softer footsteps sounds and a louder battlefield in general, it can be much more difficult to hear enemy footsteps than it was in previous titles. They’re still there, of course, but you’ll need to pay attention. The music of Black Ops 2 is also superb, thanks to composer Jack Wall, who you may remember from the Mass Effect series. I highly recommend giving the soundtrack a listen, if you haven’t already.
Black Ops 2 has also seen some serious improvements in terms of visuals. Comparing it to the original Black Ops, one of the biggest improvements you’ll notice right away is the colourful art style. Maps like Yemen, Turbine and the re-imagined Nuketown 2025 are especially vibrant. The brand new lighting creates some very realistic atmospheres and is sure to impress. Character models look great, as do the highly detail weapon models. As they say, your weapon is the star of the show and they shine brightly in Black Ops 2 thanks to the improved lighting.
Under the Hood
There is a lot of stuff to do in Black Ops 2, and I’m just talking about the multiplayer. There is a ton of additional content and revamped features like the emblem editor, theater mode, custom games and the newly introduced CoD TV.
Custom games are back with a boat-load of options like bot set-up, health values, health regeneration, 3rd-person spectating, dynamic map elements and extremely detailed custom class options, like selection allowances and detailed restrictions.
Career Overview is quick and easy to access. You can easily view the career of a friend or player in your lobby by tapping right twice on the selected player. Additionally, calling cards are neatly organized and presented clearly. Your Combat Record is as detailed as ever and checking challenges is a breeze.
The revamped emblem editor allows much more control and flexibility than before. You can now save more than one emblem which is a huge plus, especially if you often play between different clans or groups of people that sport symbols. Brand new social features have also been added that allow players to ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ emblems. You can also note how many times your emblem has been viewed.
Theater Mode has seen some major improvements, especially in terms of organization. You can now view recent victories, bookmarked films, edited films, etc. Also, it is now super easy to create a quick highlight reel with the simple press of a button which can be edited afterwards. You can also choose to CoDCast any game, a quick and easy way to set up a commentary for your gameplay.
That brings us to CoDCasting and Live Streaming, two brand new features seamlessly integrated into Black Ops 2 that Treyarch has added as a way to boost Call of Duty’s eSports presence. While there are only a few requirements for Live Streaming, anyone with a YouTube channel and a valid Call of Duty ELITE registration (to view) can broadcast their gameplay to the world directly from their console. Personally, I haven’t had much experience with either, but both features should be on the radar of anyone interested in sharing their gameplay and commentary with others in a simple fashion.
Another new addition, CoD TV allows you to view official Black Ops 2 trailers, community videos including staff picks, most popular, trending and recently shared, as well as friend’s feeds and your own channel. As with emblems, you can ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ videos, making it easy to view the most popular videos in an instant. Oddly enough, barely any videos on CoD TV seem to have any views whatsoever. I would think that this is most likely due to the fact that, in order to view the video, you need to load up Theater Mode, at which point many lose interest and probably don’t even bother. Perhaps we’ll see the feature pick up in the future.
In the end, It’s hard to find many faults with Black Ops 2, other than some frustrating network issues and perhaps some over-effective Scorestreaks or under-effective assault rifles. If there are faults to be had, chances are these are faults inherit in the foundation of Call of Duty’s gameplay. As far as Call of Duty goes, Black Ops 2 is one of the best. There is just so much stuff here and to think the’ve got 90% of it right is pretty darn good. After all, they’ve had a couple years (since World at War) to get it straight.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a package (a gift, even) given to fans, letting them know that Treyarch has been listening. The proof? How about no Last/Final Stand, no Deathstreaks, a revamped Ghost perk that unlocks at rank 55, no complicated perk or Scorestreak systems, round-based game modes like Domination, a fully customizable Create-a-Class, an absurdly customizable Custom Games and, lastly, League Play for the competitive folk? Though we’ll most likely see another effort in 2013, Black Ops 2 would be a proper close to this console generation of Call of Duty games.
Heck, if none of that floats your boat, there’s also the robust-as-ever Zombies mode and the action-packed single player campaign. As a full package, this is definitely a $60 you won’t soon regret parting ways with.
I give Black Ops 2 a very solid four out of five stars. What stops it from getting full marks? Though the gameplay has been polished to a shine, network issues can easily undo the hard work put into it. Additionally, though this may be the best Call of Duty multiplayer experience in a long while, it’s still, fundamentally, the same Call of duty we’ve been playing since 2007. But, again, I commend Treyarch for listening to their fans and taking the time to trim some fat and add some muscle in the form of some really great features.
So, that’s just what I think. What about you? Is Black Ops 2 the ultimate Call of Duty? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Hardened Edition, courtesy of Activision.