A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get a chance at a playthrough of the Xbox 360 version of Black Ops 2 while in Carlsbad, California. At the time, I was impressed with how Treyarch managed to introduce some alternate endings influenced by player choice to the single player experience. The addition of the Strike Force missions, the enhanced Zombie mode and a stellar online experience left me with one recommendation: for the masses to grab a copy of Black Ops 2 on 360 immediately. Over the past few days I’ve had a chance to put the PS3 version through its paces and it should come as no surprise that they are exactly the same game with very little in the way of differences. Yet if I had to choose between the two, I would go with the Xbox 360 version.
In terms of the Black Ops 2 single player campaign, the campaign features two story lines that are intertwined with one another. One part of the campaign is set in the 1980’s while the other is set in 2025, which features future warfare technology. Alex Mason from the first Black Ops game returns as the main protagonist. The game starts out when Mason comes out of retirement in the 1980’s in order to rescue his old friend Sgt. Frank Woods. After rescuing him from a shipping container, barely alive, Woods and Mason embark on a journey to round up Menendez, who was responsible for Woods kidnapping. The game then switches gears and fast forwards to 2025 where Mason’s son (now an adult) leads an elite counter force in the hunt for guess who – Menendez. Menendez is a ruthless leader, and due to tragic events experienced along the way, he stops at nothing to seek revenge and will mercilessly submit others to the same pain he experienced. Granted, there is far more to this story than mentioned and I recognize I am not touching on big chunks of the plot line; however, if I tell you more I would be giving too much away.
Black Ops 2’s storyline is something you need to experience for yourself. It is a wonderfully told story and dives deeper into the mind and raw emotion of the games characters (especially the games main enemy – Menendez) in away I’ve never seen before. Granted, I found the game could have benefited from some kind of recap of the first game as I was having difficulty figuring out what was going on in the first missions. That being said, everything comes together nicely as the game winds down. Let’s just say there were some moments that will stick in my mind for quite some time. There is nothing like seeing a guy getting his knee caps blown off by a shotgun at point blank range to leave you with some lasting memories. It is not just the story that makes the single player experience so good, but rather the choices you make along the way that impact the outcome of the game. At about the halfway to three-quarter mark you will be faced with some difficult decisions, and as the game wraps up you will be faced with even more difficult choices. The single player experience will take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to complete depending on your skill level and your difficulty setting. This is indeed a little on the short side, but when you take into account the replay value of the campaign experience featuring the various different endings, the Black Ops 2 single player experience is likely something you will come back to on more than one occasion.
The single player experience will have you spending the bulk of your time shooting down enemies as you run from cover to cover pushing forward. This being said, the campaign does manage to spice things up a bit with some varied gameplay. You will be doing things like firing a RPG rocket on horseback and driving a military truck like a maniac through downtown LA. You will fly a fighter jet through cities, skydive at mach speeds, equip futuristic nano gloves to scale mountain sides, control devices like ‘Ziggy’, a slick little spider shaped robotic spy gadget, and others like land and air drones. I could really go on and on but regardless I was impressed with the variety. Granted, some of the sequences didn’t work as well as they should have. For instance, guiding the Valkyrie missile towards the enemy helicopter from the gunboat was simply problematic, and I never felt I was in control of the fighter jet in one of the final missions; it felt like the jet was on rails. Nevertheless, I still give full marks to the development team for mixing up the gameplay and keeping us guessing from one mission to the next.
The single player storyline driven by player choice, the amount of variety in the game and the replay value all make for a fantastic single player experience but the “game changer” this year is easily the Strike Force missions. There are five missions in all and they are all included in the single player campaign. Your ability to successfully complete the missions also directly influence the outcome of the campaign. The Strike Force missions allow you to control a number of different soldiers, air drones, land drones, turrets, and other war assets in strategy based missions. In one instance, I had to protect three areas from enemy insurgents. When the mission launched, I took an aerial view of the map so that I could strategically place my soldiers and my lumbering land claw in the best defensive positions. Whenever an area became a little chaotic, I would just jump out of the aerial view and simply take control of one my soldiers, a turret or even a drone. To say that I found this mission challenging would be an understatement. They are tough and if I have any word of advice for you it’s that you need to pay attention during the tutorial, and make sure you have a firm understanding of the controls before you tackle the first mission. In any event, the Strike Force missions were a nice touch and I certainly found it rewarding when I successfully completed one.
Now that I have exhausted the single player experience I will shift my attention to the multiplayer experience. The adversarial multiplayer is deeper than ever in that it is rich in terms of the things you can do before you even jump into a game. It is simply overwhelming the amount of attachments you can pick up for your gun or the amount of perks you can access. The multiplayer maps in Black Ops 2 seem smaller as there is more close quarter combat than ever before. You will be fighting aboard a luxurious yacht and a battered military carrier. There is a map that takes place in a LA Bullet Train Station and another map that takes place on a floating resort. Bottom line, the maps seem to have a little more personality this year, they appear balanced and I simply had a blast playing them all.
In terms of the new multiplayer features, there are many so I am not going to bore you to death by recapping them all. You will just have to play the game; however, I will go over some of the more significant ones. For starters, there is an all new create a class where you are introduced to the new “pick-10” allocation system. While this does allow you to have several combinations of create-a-class content, I did find it somewhat limiting. It is amazing how quickly you can rack up 10 items when you factor in weapon attachments, lethal grenades, non-lethal grenades and perks that are essential for your survival in the online realm. That said, “pick-10” does balance the playing field out a little bit as gone are the days when someone is armed up to the point they are almost unstoppable online.
The Scorestreaks have also seen a reboot of sorts with Black Ops 2. It is no longer all about the kills. This time around Scorestreaks reward you for helping your team win the game. Whether it be defending your teammate, getting an assist or capturing a flag, each action has a different value. Additionally, there are some new weapons added to the mix as well. You will see a high-powered microwave turret that emits an intense directed energy wave. There are now drones that can be deployed to attack the enemy. You can command a Hellstorm Missile or take control of a VTOL Warship. My favorite of the new weapons is the Shock Charge, which is a non-lethal thrown device that electrocutes and stuns enemies that come near it. When a player runs over it, they are absolutely crippled and you can move in for a quick kill. I could really go on and on but in the end there is certainly enough new features in the online multiplayer department to capture your attention and keep those online fans coming back for more.
All the online modes you have come to love are back. One of my favorites from MW3 returns in Kill Confirmed. I also spent a great deal of time with Hardpoint, which is a brand new mode. Hardpoint plays out very similar to a King of the Hill style mode, where you take control of an indicated area for a certain amount of time before it moves to another spot. There are also custom games and party games which are a hoot. “Sticks and Stones” was one of my favorites where everyone is equipped with a crossbow and the arrows explode after you hit the target. Much like previous years you can Prestige your character. There are 55 XP levels with 10 levels of Prestige. This year you do not completely start over when you prestige either. Instead, you continue with your player progression. The fact that your weapon XP and earned attachments are not reset certainly makes this online CoD fan very happy.
Overall, the online Call of Duty experience for the PS3 is as good as ever, but I have to admit the Xbox 360 online experience runs with far fewer issues. In a couple of instances my multiplayer game froze and in other instances the lag was so terrible I had to quit the game. These annoyances are something I did not encounter when playing on Xbox Live.
Zombies are back this year and this stands as the third time the mode has made its way into a Call of Duty game. Much like everything else in the game, Zombies have also seen some enhancements. In addition to your standard 4-player co-op, which was around in the previous Black Ops game, this time around it has its own sort of campaign. I say “sort of” because there really isn’t much of a storyline, its all about killing zombies, hopping on the bus driven by a mechanical zombie and getting out at the next destination. Much like the Zombies mode from the previous Treyarch entries, I certainly enjoyed it and those who loved previous zombie modes will enjoy this one too. There is a lot of exploring to be had and weapons to unlock once you have enough cash to unlock doors. My only concern is that some of the areas felt a tad tiny and it almost seemed like every map featured restricted visibility. I understand why the development team wanted to do this but in the end I would have preferred at least a couple of areas where I could clearly see in the distance. One final note with regards to the Zombies mode is the new mode called ‘Grief’. Here you can team up with your buddies to challenge another group of up to 4 people in a humans versus humans versus zombies type scenario. I know it sounds confusing, but this is a game that involves strategy as you play on the various griefing mechanics to sidetrack the zombies or slowdown the opposing side. If you are the team with the last human(s) standing, then your team wins.
From my perspective, the Call of Duty franchise has always raised the bar when it comes to visuals in a first person shooter. Black Ops 2 is really no different as once again I found the visuals simply fantastic. The most noticeable enhancement this time around comes with the characters animations. The facial animations are incredibly life like and look almost identical to the actor who is doing the voice work for the character. You will notice Micheal Rooker’s character looks very similar to him, but with more hair. Also, the lighting has improved a little more this time around, making for a game that appears much more colouful and vibrant than in years past. The reflections coming off Rooker’s character’s biceps for instance was pretty cool and again very life-like.
Compared to the Xbox 360 version of the game, Black Ops 2 for the PS3 does not seem as clean. There were a couple of instances where the textures appeared a little murky and I noticed quite a few times online the environments seemed a little blurry. Again, the game just seems more polished on the Xbox 360.
The sound in Black Ops 2 is an excellent compliment to the fantastic visuals. For starters, the soundtrack is terrific featuring that ever so popular ‘Dubstep’ style music and a fantastic theme song by Trent Reznor. You will be humming the theme for hours on end and well after you have put the game down. Once again during the frantic gameplay you will notice big sweeping Hollywood-esque orchestra tunes that match very well with the scenarios taking place on screen. The music sets the perfect mood. I found the soundtrack really enhanced the gameplay experience. Likewise, the weapons sounded great as well. They all seem to pack a punch and all have unique sound effects. The voice acting and battle chatter between you and your squad mates is bang-on. Once again, the voice talent is fantastic and believable. You can tell a lot of care and attention was given to the games storyline and that is reflected in the solid voice acting by all the actors involved. Granted it can sometimes sound a little over-the-top, but hey this is “Call of Duty”.
Black Ops 2 for the PS3 is an excellent game and stands as one the better installments in the franchise to date. Treyarch has managed to improve and enhance nearly every single area of the Call of Duty experience with Black Ops 2. The PS3 version of the game doesn’t seem as polished as it’s Xbox 360 counterpart, but at the end of the day, Black Ops 2 for the PS3 is easily one of the better shooters to arrive on the PS3 in 2012.