'Call of Duty: Black Ops 2': This time, duty called for change

jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 29, 2012 

In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, single players are given choices at key points in the game.

PHOTO COURTESY GAMES PRESS

  • VIDEO GAME REVIEW

    'Call of Duty: Black Ops 2'

    About: The latest game in the series continues the story started in Black Ops in 2010. The game tells the tale of the rise of a global terrorist through the 1970s and 80s, culminating in a new cold war in the 2020s.

    Pros: The game introduces new mechanics, weapons, settings and game modes, as well as a player-choice system that affects how the story plays out. Competitive multi-player and cooperative zombie modes return with a few positive changes.

    Cons: Multi-player hasn't changed as drastically as the single-player campaign. Online modes lag sporadically on PS3, and the graphics engine is starting to show its age. Lastly, in this day and age, why can't PS3 owners download the game instead of buying a boxed copy?

    Availability and price: $59.99 on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and WiiU. 'Hardened' and 'Care Package' collectors editions, which give you extra content and collectible goodies, cost more.

    ESRB Rating: M

    Manifesto's rating: 8.5/10 (PS3)

    Metacritic rating: 8.8/10 (PS3)

There are two camps of video gamers: the group who thinks Call of Duty needs to try something new, and the group who would get flaming mad if it did.

If you, like me, think the Call of Duty formula has gotten kind of stale, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is at least worth discussing.

The overall feel of the game admittedly hasn't changed drastically from previous entries, thanks to the familiar controls, aging graphics engine and a storyline that sees you playing as multiple characters in various historical eras.

However, Black Ops 2 is the first game in a long time to make subtle changes to the classic Call of Duty formula. Treyarch, developer of the Black Ops series, has added three things to the single-player campaign that make Black Ops 2 the newest-feeling title since Modern Warfare brought the series from World War II to the modern day.

The first and most significant alteration is players are now given choices during major plot points, and the game features multiple endings. The choices you make and your performance on certain missions alter how the story plays out.

The second is a new mode that plays like a real-time strategy game. Strike Force Missions, as they are called, place you in control of entire squads of soldiers and unmanned weapons to complete objectives.

The third is the setting. Many of the single-player missions in Black Ops 2 take place in 2025, which means you will be fighting with futuristic weapons and gizmos.

Those three additions make Black Ops 2 the go-to game for those who like Call of Duty but who have gotten a little bored with the cut-and-paste formula of the last few games.

Sometimes the new formula falters. Strike Force Missions, for example, show incredible promise but are hampered a bit by controls that don't give you the level of precision you need and action that is too hectic for deep strategizing.

Other times, the formula is brilliant. The futuristic weapons and settings are awesome to experience, and they usually feel believable. Most of the weapons and items could really exist in a decade or two, aside from a few things like a gun that can target enemies behind barriers like trucks and walls.

The best new part of Black Ops 2's single-player is the player-choice system, which brings it more in line with games like Mass Effect. Who to kill, who to capture; those kind of hard decisions are pockmarked throughout the campaign. This is the first Call of Duty in history that lets you make your experience your own, even letting you select what weapons to take with you at the start of each mission. (Feel like taking a bazooka and a crossbow into a warzone? Go for it.)

And, ah, the multi-player. Can't forget that.

Unlike the single-player mode, multi-player doesn't do much to change the status quo. Largely, the competitive multi-player is the same addictive, hectic arcade experience you have come to expect.

It certainly is the most polished of all the games that came before it. Selecting from an entirely new suite of weapons with unprecedented levels of customizing is great, but it feels like more of a paid update than a revolution.

There are some new game modes, such as kill confirmed, in which you have to grab the dog tags off fallen enemies to score points. Classic game modes, such as team deathmatch, capture the flag and domination return intact and as fun as ever.

The most significant overhaul to the multi-player experience is that kill streaks have been altered. You now earn powerful perks, such as attack helicopters and packs of ravenous dogs, based on your total score rather than the number of enemies you kill.

I have some minor quibbles that aren't related directly to the game. My biggest is that if you want to own Black Ops 2, you have to drive to the store and buy a packaged version. Black Ops 2 continues the trend of not being available for download right away. The collector's edition that Activision sent us to try is cool and all, but I prefer games to take up space on a hard drive rather than on a shelf.

Another problem is the online infrastructure of the PlayStation 3 version. For a couple days after the game launched, players reported widespread lagging and disconnecting when trying to play online. A patch has been released that has fixed most of the problems, but be prepared for intermittent connection delays on PS3.

Also, customers of Windstream's slowest DSL package, be warned that the game will not run smoothly if someone in your house is using Netflix or another bandwidth-heavy application.

In all, Black Ops 2 is a lot of the same thing but a little different. The game proves little differences can go a long way.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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