Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 review for Xbox 360, PS3

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

I?m not sure if there?s a yearly release for consoles that tends to be more divisive among its fan base than a new entry in Activision?s blockbuster Call of Duty franchise. Ever since Infinity Ward revitalized the series with the original Modern Warfare, message boards, social media, and water cooler conversations have all revolved around what make this year?s entry either the worst, or best, in the series. And I imagine that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is going to be the same, if launch week word of mouth and impressions from various players are any indication. And I get that, especially considering much of the core components since Modern Warfare haven?t been drastically changed. The multiplayer has seen a couple coats of paint, the campaigns have varied in quality, but overall, Call of Duty remains Call of Duty, with all the good and bad connotations attached to that year after year.

And really, Black Ops 2 isn?t that different. The core combat found in Call of Duty, wherein you aim down iron sights and shoot anything and everything that moves, is largely the same. The action is still bombastic, loud, and full of intense moments that do their best to mimic modern day, blockbuster action films. This series remains theMichaelBayversion of video games, with all the perks and flaws contained within. And I kind of love it for that, if nothing else, it?s been radically consistent for years, and if you?re at all into this kind of thing, you?re almost guaranteed a fun ride for however long it lasts. Black Ops 2 doesn?t disappoint in that regard, and the campaign offers up a number of escalating, oh my god moments that leave some sort of impression on the player.

As far as story goes, it does tie directly into events from the previous Black Ops, making it clear that Treyarch is aiming to slice out their own niche of the Call of Duty pie here. Showcasing series frontrunner Alex Mason, this game serves to pass the torch to a more modern setting and character, which does feel a bit odd considering the other mainline CoD games are also set in a pseudo-future arena. Whether these two worlds would ever collide is anyone?s guess, but I never noticed any reference here to Modern Warfare, and I imagine the aim is to keep those two universes separate, at least for now.

But regardless, the campaign remains a fun diversion to the other side of the game that players seem to care the most about, that side being the multiplayer portion of Black Ops 2. And compared to the slight changes in the campaign, which see branching paths develop, along with small alternate endings, the multiplayer side of Black Ops 2 has certainly put forth more effort into evoking some sort of change for the series.

Again, the core idea is still the same. You?ll be able to play through a variety of modes, from standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, to hardcore variation modes devoid of maps, and even a handful of party modes that offer up unique rules, like instant, one hit kills with single bullet loadouts, and the return of Nuketown via a 2025 map that gets its own playlist. Team size varies from mode to mode, with the majority consisting of 16 players, 8 on each side. Standard deathmatch and team deathmatch requires a point goal to be hit, which advances with every registered kill. Players still earn experience per kill and by winning matches, which in turn levels up your character and provides you with access to more weapons, perks, attachments, and grenades. Other, less substantial items like dog tag/player card backgrounds can be unlocked for display, and you also have the ability to create custom tags and artwork for those cards.

So what?s new? For one, some of the things introduced to the series in an effort to make the multiplayer new player friendly are no longer present. You?ll no longer earn special perks activated after a number of deaths in a row. I can see some players might be upset about their removal, but I think taking them out of the equation is actually a good idea. Sure, it can make the initial experience a little frustrating, the but the rewards given were pretty minor, and doling out any reward for substandard play wasn?t exactly fair to those that are actually skilled at the game.

One major change comes in the way loadouts are handled. In prior games loadouts usually consisted of a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, attachments, a grenade type, and three perks. These might not have been all accessible from the start, but for the most part this archetype went unchanged. In Black Ops 2 you have a lot more flexibility with the way you create your classes. Instead of a set layout, you?re given ten points, and for every piece of equipment or perk you equip, you?ll eat up one of those points. But there?s no real limit placed on where those points go, and the introduction of wildcards, which allow you to equip multiple perks across three different slots, can really change the way you?ll play the game in comparison to earlier CoD titles. It?s a great change to the class system, and I still find myself toying around with loadouts, experimenting with a lot of different combinations.

Also worth noting, is that this entry seems to look a lot better than I remember Modern Warfare 3 did. Character models are definitely improved, enough so that I can pinpoint the actors used to voice and provide face models for their respective roles. But the environments have also seen an upgrade or two, with improved lighting and texture work that puts to shame the previous games in the series. And it retains that great, 60 frames per second that?s become a trademark for the console entries, which really helps the series from feeling dated this late in the console cycle.

I?m not going to go so far as to say that this it the best Call of Duty yet, but I certainly find myself more compelled to spend a lot more time with this than I did Modern Warfare 3. Both the campaign and multiplayer portions of the game feel like a step above the previous entry, and if early sales and online player base are any indication, this is going to be the game your friends will playing for months to come. So if you?re on the fence, I?d definitely suggest picking this up, it delivers enough changes to keep the series relevant and fun, while retaining everything that makes Call of Duty what you?ve come to expect.

Grade: A-