“Symptomatic of big budget shooters this generation, BLOPS 2 tries hard to be clever by spinning a lot of narrative plates, but ends up with a fragmented mess on the floor.”
In 2010 Treyarch surprised a fair few people, delivering the gaming equivalent to a ‘good’ odd numbered Star Trek movie. There were a few mechanic gripes, like infinite respawning enemies, AI silliness and the messy story, but on the whole Treyarch were on their way to dethroning Infinity Ward. On top of that, the multiplayer was excellent and is still widely played today even though there has been a Modern Warfare 3 and two years since its release.
2012 and we are back to the future, Black Ops 2 has come out swinging – there are some inventive new ideas packaged amongst the usual blood spattered fare and while a few miss the mark, there is promise. However on the back of another record breaking retail release both the makers and the players seem to be generally happy regardless of any innovation.
The narrative is once again a sprawl, leaping from the past to the near future we track the original BLOPS protagonists Cross and Woods, touching upon the previous story and filling in some black spots. Then the leap forward adds a sci-fi bent, futuristic weapons and equipment, all well and good, but it is disjointed. The writing veers from a painful listen to mass confusion cutscene to cutscene, and ultimately it offers no real investment for the viewer, there is no hook to drag you in. It just plays out predictably and the skip button soon becomes your friend.
Gameplay wise the levels stack up as typical Call of Duty campaign offerings, objectives come and go and cinematic moments burst onto the scene with regularity. From the opening scenes there is no doubt this is the annual visit to CoD land, however Treyarch appear to be off the pace here. Perhaps it is the lack of appreciation for the characters they are pushing or the disjointed timeline, maybe something else, but when the bi-annual release is developed by Infinity Ward the campaign has more moments, more thrills and more immersion. Black Ops campaign feels too much like a ‘me too’ effort and its two dimensional characters offer little satisfaction, unlike the gruff tones of Captain Price that stick with you long after Modern Warfare has been clocked on Veteran.
At times the innovation on offer is brave, but adding a tower defence real time strategy hybrid into some levels just increases to the messiness. They pop up as an aside to the campaign, but are too much of a leap from the core of the CoD experience. There are also objective based decisions that can affect the outcome of the campaign, all well and good, but you would have to be a purist to want to experience the story more than twice, especially given that CoD obsessives are all about the multiplayer.
In 2010 Black Ops offered a decent alternative to the Modern Warfare online system, taking the core of it and adding some Treyarch twists the game was fun and engaging. The maps were varied and offered the right mix of playstyles, levelling characters and unlocking equipment was enjoyable – it was just a solid all-round experience. This time the core of the game is the same, they have adding some interesting functionality, the ability to stream to youtube and limiting the amount of equipment you can customise with will offer up some interesting builds. Killstreaks are now score related, so players that die more than they kill can still make use of their abilities for completing objectives. This is all good stuff and a nice shake up, the issue I see now we are two weeks in is that the map roster is fairly limited, maps are mostly claustrophobia inducing and to be frank quite dull. Being picked off time again rounding a corner into a player with a better connection starts to take its toll and unless the upcoming downloadable content offers a big upheaval in the environments I for one will start looking elsewhere. One aspect I enjoyed with the original was the level of customisation that could be applied to weapons, designing a badge that could be seen by eliminated enemy players was a nice touch, it is there now, but you have to turn Prestige to get to it.
Black Ops multiplayer is a great option for a quick fix, finding lobbies and getting into matches is easy and it is often the case that a quick hour turns into two or three. However, while the format appeals to the masses greater enjoyment can be gleaned from games with bigger environments and more satisfying strategies.
Overall another sabre rattling, record breaking outing for Activision, but maybe next year the focus should be on quality not quantity.