Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U
Version tested: Xbox 360
Like it or loathe it, another Call of Duty game rears its head just in time for the holiday season, but haters and lapsed fans alike shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss Black Ops II. Right from the initial trailer, with its lashings of futuristic sci-fi action, Treyarch has signalled their intent to mix things up for the arguably stale CoD series.
Despite receiving an annual earbashing from certain subsections of the gaming community, the Call of Duty franchise remains phenomenally popular, invariably breaking all kinds of silly sales records year-on-year. If the queues at the Eurogamer Expo in London last week were anything to go by, Black Ops II is going to outsell The Bible.
BLOPS2‘s booth had about 70 Xboxes set up for some serious head-to-head LAN multiplayer, and we were lucky enough to put the game through its paces. We had about 20 minutes with the game, split up into two matches – a simple Team Deathmatch in Aftermath and a deadly round of Kill Confirmed in Yemen. The third map on show was Turbine – a sort of aeroplane graveyard set in rocky terrain with a good mix of low and high ground, some steep inclines, a few buildings and a bridge running through the middle. It felt rather similar to Cliffside from World at War.
Possibly the biggest change Treyarch have made to multiplayer is the way the Create a Class system works. Without wanting to sound like Activision’s Head of PR, classes are now completely customisable. You have ten ‘slots’ and can use them pretty much however you want; want two attachments on your primary weapon? Go for it. Want to swap one of your tactical grenades for an extra perk? Be my guest.
Presumably, those ten slots can be upgraded to 11 and beyond through the completion of Prestige mode. It sounds like a small change, but it may help level the playing field for those who couldn’t quite find a setup for their style of play in previous games. Besides, choice is good.
The teams were split up into four teams of three, giving more of a Team Tactical vibe rather than anything chaotic like Ground War. Despite the small teams, the action was still as fast paced and as hectic as you’ll have come to expect from the series. When it comes to online shooters, the crux of my enjoyment lies largely on the maps, and recent efforts have left me less than impressed. Fortunately, Black Ops II seems to deliver on this front with arenas offering a good mix of high and low ground, narrow passages and wide expanses. The maps on show were some of the biggest and busiest in recent memory, and reps were referring to them as ‘mid-size’. Promising stuff, indeed.
Aesthetically, despite running on the ageing IW4.0 engine, Black Ops II managed to impress; a noticeable step up from what we saw with the original Black Ops. The mix of modern and futuristic vibes wasn’t as jarring as some might have expected. This isn’t some sort of utopian, hyper-modern vision of the future as in Halo; remember, the futuristic sections of Black Ops 2 are set in 2025, so no laser rifles or plasma grenades here. The changes to the art style are subtle, and the technological advancements believable. The only thing keeping it from maintaining a coherent aesthetic was the rather boorish heads-up display that looked to be ripped straight from an 80s movie.
Interestingly, BLOPS2 was one of the few games at the expo where developers thought it necessary to supply us with headphones, and we’re pleased to report that the audio mix also seems to have been given a kick in the behind, with weapons sounding much deeper and meatier than MW3‘s rat-a-tat-tat plastic peanut popguns, making gunplay that bit more enjoyable. Whilst still not on par with DICE‘s Battlefield, the sound design in Black Ops II still manages to convey the chaotic nature of a raging battlefield with booming, ubiquitous explosions and screeching aircraft.
Long story short, the game is a lot of fun. It feels more balanced than any CoD since Modern Warfare, it looks and sounds better than any before it, and, if Yemen and Aftermath are any indication, the maps are bigger, more varied, more interesting, and, most importantly, more fun than any map since CoD4‘s Overgrown. Plus we didn’t scream once at broken respawns.
I played Call of Duty 4, World at War and Modern Warfare 2 almost religiously, but somewhere between the releases of Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3, I sort of lost interest in the franchise. After the personally disappointing Battlefield 3, it was down to Treyarch to woo me. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m back on board.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II launches November 13th for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Wii U version launches alongside the console on November 18th in the US, and November 30th in Europe.