A Different Future

Call of Duty has become the ‘love or hate’ title in our gaming community. I felt like I’m stuck in between this Thin Red Line, with both sides firing. You’ll get the side that will cherish it no matter what and the others who absolutely hate it regardless if they’ve played it or not. This is set to change as Treyarch, the ‘off-side’ studio of the franchise returning with the boldest attempt at a Call of Duty ever with Black Ops 2.

Black Ops 2  is the first time the series has gone past the Modern Warfare timeline giving plenty of breathing space to innovate. Don’t expect lasers however as the series doesn’t drift away from reality, giving a ‘what if’ scenario from past and present situations.

The campaign will follow two connected storylines. Alex Mason, the protagonist from the original will return for the Cold War section that spans from the 70s to 80s while the other follows his son, David Mason during the new Cold War set in 2025. Despite the jump in the time frame, each one is focused around the new villain – Raul Menendez. During the Cold War campaign, you’ll experience how and why Raul Menendez became the world’s most wanted, through the eyes of Alex Mason, while the future shows the outcome of his plans.

While the whole premise of ‘villain attempting for world domination’ sounds familiar, Black Ops 2 takes a new step in the right direction with it’s branching storyline. This adds something new to it’s heavily criticised on-rails story. Black Ops 2 will force you to make decisions, some very hard and some very obvious but they all have consequences. Not only do you have to watch your choices, the story plays on your performance as a player as well. Arrived late to the party or took the wrong turn? – the story will twist accordingly. All this paints a future for you – some not so great like mine.

Jumping from the past to future, you’ll experience the different style of warfare each era has to offer. Back in the original Cold War, you’ll be accustomed to weapons and warfare familiar in most games. You’ll also visit situations that happened during the Cold War like the Afghanistan conflict against the Soviet Russians and the Invasion of Panama, but all with a secret hidden agenda because this is what Black Ops is. When the game shifts into the future, this is where things start to become interesting. While the standard cover and shoot mechanics remain, Black Ops 2 future campaign offers wrist mounted grenades, flying drones, electric dust knuckles plus many more in which it creates something more interesting to the mix. It’s always fun playing with technology we may see in the not so distant future.

Since Call of Duty has always been a corridor-style shooter, Black Ops 2 offers more ground to play with and you’ll get to experiment how you approach it. While not as dynamic as you would think, it does open up in some areas allowing you to find alternate ways to a situation. Little dragonfly drones giving you a headache? Why not take control of them. Vehicular on-rails missions still make a return as well, but offers nothing more than what you’ve seen before.

There’s many good points to note about the Black Ops 2 campaign and Treyarch has taken risks to innovate it but sometimes one of those doesn’t go to plan. One of those things was StrikeForce.

Strikeforce Missions are a new addition to the campaign which acts as a side story that follows the new Cold War between USA and China. These missions are presented in a RTS/FPS style format where, for the first time in this franchise, players are able to take control of ground units in order to complete the mission. At first, I was surprised to see something like this included in a Call of Duty game because it wasn’t quite expected however the outcome was quite horrendous. The missions are linear and too easy – while it does reflect the branching storyline of the main campaign, I found little to no motivation in playing them as it was that bland. It was just easy to flood all your squad to the objective. The greatest point of Strike Force, the ability to skip them as they’re optional. Thank you.

Now let’s continue with the biggest selling points of Black Ops 2 and that’s Multiplayer and Zombies. Multiplayer returns again with the usual modes we’re accustomed to from previous titles, as well as the ‘rebadged’ ones from other FPS games. It’s hard to change this area of the title when many are happy with what level it has reached but Treyarch has improved on those by adding a few notable features and tweaks.

The Pick 10 System is a new addition to the multiplayer replacing the usual Create-a-Class feature. This is a radical change where players are given up to 10 points to spend when making their class. It may sound overpowered giving players freedom to choose what they want but the limit of 10 points keeps that under wraps. There’s also WildCards that can be activated which allows you to choose more in categories where a maximum of one was allowed. Want more perks? Use a wildcard. Wildcards also take up a point each, so using them will mean you have to sacrifice on something else. You have more choices here than ever before to make a unique class to your playing style.

We all know ‘objective’ play is something of a non-existence with Call of Duty, so Treyarch has flipped the tables and changed the ‘Killstreaks’ to ‘Scorestreaks’. Now in modes that require more teamwork or from just helping your team-mate out – you’ll get rewarded giving more incentives to play as a team. Other things Treyarch has included in the online component is live-casting which heavily promotes the eSports category of Call of Duty. Not many other games look after eSports and it’s great to see the company look after all aspects of this franchise.

While the features are welcoming, the map designs are the worst ever in the series. Gone are the days where the maps offered some impressive gun fights – the maps in Black Ops 2 are too cluttered and offers way too many line of sights. Where enemies may attack you from 2-3 points in previous games, some in Black Ops 2 are just plain ludicrous forcing you to peep at every window and door present at one time. There’ll always be campers and the structure of the maps does not help eliminate that. It feels like they poured too much into the design of it, they forgot how it plays out.

It’s not a Black Ops game without Zombies and in Black Ops 2 it returns even bigger with the new Tranzit map. It offers more space and freedom than previous maps, allowing players to travel between areas on a bus that drives you around. There’s also a new mode that pits you against another AI team to see who lasts the longest against the horde of the undead – which helps determine which team is the better survivalist. Zombie mode is always a great side game to play with others online, bringing back memories of the loved Left for Dead titles and it’s great Treyarch took it even further for the fans.

We have to give kudos to Treyarch for their attempt with Black Ops 2, it surprisingly offers more than what I expected for a series that has flogged the dead horse countless times. It’s no revolution but it does take steps in the right direction with Treyarch taking the lead. Definitely worth a play if you had doubts about it before, I know I did but it’s more than just your neighbourhood friendly shooter.