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Call of Duty: Black Ops II PS3 Review

Call of Duty has become something of a seasonal affair these days. People expect a new iteration to roll around in much of the same fashion as an Apple addict might await the new iPhone. In even more parallels, each new flavor of CoD usually comes with a handful of new features and a beloved avalanche of sameness. This year, Treyarch has decided to do more than reinvent the wheel, and it’s more refreshing and stimulating than you’d expect.

I guess we can start out with coverage on the campaign (even though that’s not what you’re here for). I’m going to be quite blunt with my readers: It’s always been difficult for me to analyze and form an opinion on a first-person shooter campaign. I generally have a dislike for the convoluted and oftentimes unnecessary story structure with plentiful, clichéd twists. The plot usually disinterests me without fail, to the point where I ignore it entirely and jump right into the multiplayer. That being said, Call of Duty: Black Ops II has made a visible evolution in both the quality and structure of plot development within the Campaign mode, while still maintaining the structural integrity that was so acclaimed in both World at War and Black Ops.

Without delving too much into plot-related details, I can say that Black Ops II attempts to offer a heightened sense of emotion and character dimension this time around, and quite honestly, it kinda falls flat. Characters live, characters die, and some characters’ lives even hang in the balance of choices you make, thanks to the newly-implemented branching storyline in which your decisions have a number of consequences, both positive and negative. But any sense of emotion I may have felt towards the cast was simply washed away when thrown into my next ballistic firefight.

An extremely prevalent topic of conversation surrounding Black Ops II‘s development was the time period and how futuristic technologies would be implemented into the Campaign as well as the Multiplayer. While advanced tech is present (for example, in one mission you’ll be tasked to use EMP grenades to disable enemy personal cloaking devices), it is used considerably less than you can imagine. This doesn’t necessarily detract from the integrity of the experience, however, as this stops the “futuristic technology” angle from being too gimmicky or distracting.

Visually, I have to applaud Treyarch. The original Black Ops looked like hot garbage. Hot, stinking garbage. Black Ops II remedies the graphical travesties that plagued the original so thoroughly, and it does so in spades. Nearly everything you can imagine has gotten graphically improved. Textures are cleaner, colors are vibrant and more abundant, lighting is actually done decently, and character models look appropriately detailed. In one peculiar glitch I encountered during the first mission, a dead soldier stood frozen in mid-air. As I circled him, I noticed just how much work had been put into models this time around. Sweat glistened on his nose while a wrinkled brow denoted that the shot fired to kill him was obviously very painful. The textures used for his camo were up to par, not succumbing to blockiness and blur as I moved closer and closer. Everything in this game simply looks better.

That’s about all I’ve got in me for the Campaign experience. I’m simply not a Campaign kind of person. A progressively better story and series of plot elements (with obligatory plot twists) are accompanied by fantastically-upgraded visuals and interesting new gadgets.

Moving on, let’s talk Multiplayer.

Black Ops II‘s multiplayer feels largely familiar to that of its predecessor, save for a few core changes. First of all, players now operate on a Pick Ten system. This new system enables you to choose 10 amenities (be it guns, Perks, or the like) in the order of your choosing. Want two Tier 1 Perks? With the new system, the choice is yours.

Sadly, the core combat within multiplayer matches seems like more of the same hit-and-miss to me. Whereas modern shooting predecessors (such as Battlefield 3) lent a true sense of depth and scale to maps within their multiplayer modes, Black Ops II seems to carry on the traditional bite-sized firefight combat that the original was known for. Even as a shooting veteran, deaths came randomly in close-quarters maps due to awkward spawn points, stray grenades, and other anomalies. The constant cycle of “kill two, die once” essentially resulted in an unpleasantly stuttering experience that threw me out of the core action more often than not.

Replacing the killstreak system are scorestreaks. Players are now awarded with items such as care packages and EMP systems based on the score (read: number of points) earned in one life. Whereas in prior iterations of the franchise one had to kill a certain amount of enemies to receive a team reward, benefits such as airstrikes are now earned based on your cumulative individual score. Kill assists, captures, and aircraft kills all go towards your Scorestreak counter.

Zombies is packaged in as you might expect. The traditional mode, featuring four separate locales, is present. Additionally, a new, branching “Tranzit” mode is available. In Tranzit, a bus will arrive to take you from locale to locale. It is (presumably) your team’s choice to stay in one area and continuously fortify it, or venture out into new areas. I say presumably because I had to play this mode alone due to connectivity issues (which is strange because multiplayer matches connected just fine). While Zombies still isn’t in the league of dedicated survival-horrors like Left 4 Dead, it succeeds because it isn’t trying to be. Zombies is working exactly as intended – a diversion from the main meat of the game. My only qualm is that the mode simply doesn’t have enough locations. Numbering in at 4, I would assume this is barely enough to keep even the most diehard interested in Tranzit mode. With more maps, I could see the masses becoming hooked.

At its core, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is definitely a good game. Improvements were made across the board, from the graphics engine to the mission variety and scale. A few things still need work, such as bizarre spawn points, nuanced glitches, and connectivity issues. But anyone who has played the original Black Ops or even World at War cannot deny that Black Ops II is a much-needed point of refinement and refreshment for Treyarch. Multiplayer is still true to frenzied form while encouraging variety via the Pick Ten system, and Zombies lovers will essentially feel at home (that is, if they can connect to the internet). All in all, this is what a sequel should have been: a combination of the good from the old with a number of tweaks from the new.

7 out of 10