Black Ops 2 Multiplayer: The Good, The Bad, and the “Are You Serious?”

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At the tail end of Modern Warfare 3’s life cycle I wrote the end-all-be-all review of the game – more of a look back at what could have been than a buyer’s guide. That review attempted to cover in-depth MW3’s many issues and shortcomings and it received a warm reaction from you, the MP1st community.  While this article is limited to Black Ops II’s short existence, I feel an obligation to do my best to give you an objective analysis of the MP experience as it stands today.  Should patches be released that address major issues or modify the game in any substantive way, I will cover those changes in future articles.

Here, we, go.

POSITIVES

01 NO FINAL STAND, FINALLY!!!!!!

I still remember watching Robert Bowling get up on a stage at Call of Duty XP in front of hundreds of players and press and say “fuck last stand” and then getting the word that *Final Stand* was in MW3.  So I was hesitant to accept that BOII was going to be the saving grace of the COD franchise with David Vonderhaar’s claims of “getting back to the basics” with BOII’s MP design.  Granted, removing something that should never have been in the game in the first place isn’t a reason to get excited, but it’s about damn time and I’m glad Treyarch finally found the courage to use their own common sense.  Overall, BOII feels like all the BS noob-centric aids have been either removed or made totally useless (sensor grenades).  Yeah, there’s the Target Finder, but MW3 had Marksmen Pro, which was way more effective and useful. The Target Finder restricts your field of view and has a cluttered reticle system, MMpro gave you the entire screen and your choice of optical attachments on all guns, including snipers.  Just imagine the DSR-50 with a Target Finder, that was what MMpro did.

02 Balance

There are a lot of arguments going around about how the SMGs in BOII are the dominant weapons, and to a certain extent, I agree.  But that’s only true on small maps or in the hands of players with the knowledge and skill to navigate a map to avoid long lines of sight.  With most of the SMGs taking 4-6 shots to drop someone beyond 15m, I’d argue that while SMGs are typically going to win against most other weapons in CQ gunfights, they are at a disadvantage in almost all other situations.  If the maps in BOII had more breathing room and were a little more linear, the SMGs wouldn’t feel nearly as powerful.  Overall, I have almost no complaints whatsoever regarding the balance of BOII.  Could some minor adjustments be considered? Of course.  But I really can’t think of anything in the game that’s truly “OP.”

03 Graphics

BOII is probably the first COD that almost impressed me from a graphics perspective.  Of course, by COD standards, BOII is a major step up from previous games, but compare it most other FPS titles being built on modern engines and you can see a substantial difference.  Overall, I think everything from the model animations, the lighting, atmospheric effects, and textures are great looking for a game running at 60FPS albeit in upscaled HD on consoles.

NEGATIVES

01 Sound Design

As much as I enjoy BOII’s many welcomed improvements to the COD sound engine (room effects, better tonality, more dynamic range, depth, clarity, and accuracy to name a few), the one glaring issue that needs to be fixed immediately is footstep audibility.  World at War was probably the last COD to feature useful sound information when it came to using footsteps as a tool.  While Modern Warfare 2 had the better sound engine with more pronounced and accurate footstep sounds, they were almost constantly drowned out by the profuse load of killstreak spam going on in matches.  BOII has actually found quite a nice balance between scorestreak audio and all the other in-game audio, but I’ll be damned if my character isn’t legally-deaf to enemy footsteps.  While I’m busy clomping around like a horse, everyone on the enemy team seems to be wearing slippers made of duckling feathers.  Add to that perks like Awareness doing basically nothing to increase the audibility of footsteps (it increases clarity and location accuracy, but barely increase the actual volume of footsteps at all), and it’s obvious that the duckling feather slippers need to go.

In this age of a market saturated to the brim with inexpensive/high-quality gaming headsets capable of 5.1 Dolby surround sound simulation, it’s an atrocity that footstep sounds, which are so critical to your awareness in a twitch-shooter like COD, are totally useless.  Treyarch, if you’re reading this, turn the volume of enemy footsteps up, way up.  As it stands now, there would hardly be any negative impact of totally removing enemy footstep sounds at all.

02 Map Design

Why is it that everyone seems to think maps in which you need a pair of eyes in the back of your head to be prepared for a gunfight are good maps?  Maybe it’s because I’m old and have enough patience to stop moving every once in a while, but come on…  Can you honestly say that Hijacked is an example of good map design?  I get it, maybe Standoff and Raid aren’t small enough for you crazy nutjobs that enjoy getting shot in the back every 15 seconds.  But if you ask any serious competitive COD player, they’ll tell you that maps like Hijacked are designed solely for people with no attention span and who have no interest in learning maps layouts.  Maps like Hijacked are designed to put you in a gunfight whether you want to be in one or not.  And yes, I get that that kind of map design makes the game feel fast paced, but if everyone was playing the objective and not camping in their spawn waiting for their loss, even maps like Carrier would play like fast-paced high-action maps.

Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of Hijacked’s in BOII, but map size isn’t the only design choice that I have an issue with in BOII’s maps.  Why is it that every room, line of sight, ledge, or window in BOII seems to have either 8 counters or 3 ways to navigate through it?  Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice knowing that I have options when it comes to dealing with people camping in buildings, but at the same time, how many ways are there to get onto the shipping containers on Cargo?  Do we really need 4 ways to get to every surface in the game?  There’s a lot to be said for simplistic design.  But it feels like most of BOII’s core maps are designed more to be eye candy or “detailed” than as gems of brilliant simplistic design like Firing Range and Shipment.  What made those two maps so great wasn’t how many colors, textures, counters, and barrels they had or where they were placed, it was that they were simple and well balanced.  The power-points were strong while still counter-able, the crates and barrels provided just enough cover to navigate the map safely without making hiding behind them a viable strategy, and there wasn’t 20 ways to get to every spot on the map.

Yeah, maybe I’m simply too slow to defend myself with paper-thin cover and from eight different entrances at once.  But perhaps the map design of BOII lends itself more to getting shot at then it does being able to use map knowledge to safely navigate the map without fear that you’re going to get shot at from a dozen directions at once.  Hopefully, the BOII DLC maps are a little less eye-candy and a little more Firing Range, but I won’t be able to tell you as I won’t be buying any BOII DLC until the next issue is fixed, not patched, not addressed, I mean fixed.

03 Connection/Lag related issues

At this point, it should be a given than COD games run flawlessly when played online.  That is after all exactly why 75-80% of COD players buy these game.  Unfortunately, ever since MW2, it seems as though COD’s connection and lag issues have done nothing but get steadily worse.  Now I’m no expert when it comes to networking on COD’s scale, but if I know one thing it’s that I die a lot in BOII due to lag.  To back up that claim, I submit this very well made video detailing exactly the kind of lag we’re dealing with.

Additionally, I’ve been playing COD since WAW (arguably the worst COD as far as lag/hit-detection is concerned) was released and I have over 4 days logged on BOII already, so you can trust that I’m not just blaming every death I can remember on lag.  I know there are better players out there than me.  I know I lose gunfights because I was genuinely missing shots.  And I know not every gunfight is going to go my way even if I’m ready for it.  But the number of times and the consistency in which lag plays a factor in my deaths is absurd in BOII.  And no, it’s not my internet connection (trust me, I actually know what I’m talking about here and my connection is rock-solid).  The above video indicates to me that it’s not just the networking being done by BOII that’s to blame for the lag, it’s the engine running the game as well.  It’s almost as if the engine/hardware isn’t rendering the game in realtime.

The bottom line is that it’s inexcusable, especially for a franchise as big, long-running, and successful as COD, to have these kinds of issues. Period.  I don’t care how much stress Activision’s servers have to deal with.  I don’t care how outdated the hardware running these games is.  There is no excuse for connection/lag issues when the kingpin of your entire franchise is the online experience and you have the kinds of resources Activision can easily afford.  If Treyarch, Infinity Ward, and Activision can’t make these games run well on current-gen hardware, they’re doing something wrong.  Believe me, I know the Xbox 360 and PS3 are basically paperweights, but you don’t build a game designed to run on the paperweights of tomorrow and release it for the paperweights of today.  I would rather sacrifice superficial content like COD ELITE connectivity, improved graphics, and the myriad of eye-candy BS the developers of these games keep dumping in them if it meant these games would run the way they’re supposed to.  They’ve proven with MW2 that a smooth-running COD is totally possible, so why has every other COD aside from COD4 played so poorly in comparison?  Did West and Zampella take the magical code that makes COD run smoothly with them when they “left” IW?

Connectivity on COD’s scale is an amazing challenge and the fact that these games are even playable online is a miracle in itself, but that’s no excuse for something that’s advertised as a core feature being fundamentally flawed.  This is the gamebreaking flaw of BOII and it’s totally unacceptable.  I am tired of having to write articles like this about a franchise that makes billions of dollars a year when there are games barely breaking even on their development costs running without issues even remotely as bad as COD.  It’s ridiculous that Activsion thinks it’s okay to release a game on COD’s scale that plays the way BO2/MW3 do, and to a lesser extent Black Ops 1 did.

This single issue is what’s ruining BO2 for me.  If Treyarch puts out a patch tomorrow that fixes the lag in BO2, I will totally reverse my opinion of the game as lag is the only really major issue.

It doesn’t matter how well balanced the weapons are or how good an online shooter looks if you’re constantly losing gunfights that you should be winning.  I put up with it in BO1 and Mw3, but enough is enough.  Treyarch and Activision have billed BO2 as the best COD ever in more ways than any COD has ever been promoted, it’s about time their product lived up to its own description.

SUMMARY

If you enjoy BOII, that’s perfectly fine.  I don’t expect you to agree with me nor are you obligated to.  But as someone that has played enough COD to have a non-commercial pilots license (which means a lot), I feel obligated to say that BOII is broken in its current state and that I see it as the biggest letdown of the franchise.  Yes, “MW4” is going to be a massive success.  Yes, COD probably isn’t going to die unless a “better” game comes along and kills it.  But the COD I played in COD4 and MW2 has been long dead and I doubt we’ll ever see a return to form for the franchise.  For me, the time has come to find something else to play.  Hopefully you’re still able to enjoy the franchise that I have given up on despite the thousands of hours of entertainment it has given me.

How do you rate Black Ops 2’s multiplayer in its current state?

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