(Wii U)

Game Review

Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Always outnumbered, never outgunned

Black Ops was a remarkable achievement for Treyarch. By finally carving out their own vision of the franchise, one steeped in Cold War history and with narrative focus, the studio broke out from under Infinity Ward's imposing shadow and pulled off one of the most compelling games in the series. It was a breath of fresh air, not afraid to tinker with the formula and inject some much-needed flavour.

Following it up was never going to be easy. While Black Ops II continues to rock the formula boat in good ways, the sequel dials it up in weird places - and down where it maybe shouldn't - and overall feels less like the bold move forward it hopes to be.

Splitting its time between the late 1980's and the year 2025, Black Ops II's campaign tries to tell a more personal story centered around vengeance amidst the chaos, or, one might argue, chaos as vengeance. The common thread running through both eras is Raul Menendez, a man from Alex Mason's and Frank Woods' past whose master plan Alex's son David has to put a stop to in the future.

Black Ops II introduces an element of player choice and consequence, allowing actions in one mission to influence later stages. Some actions are as simple as recovering evidence before it's destroyed, while others come with more weight; as a result, this yields the first Call of Duty game with multiple endings. As actions won't influence events too drastically these forks ultimately feel minor, but they do add a little life back into a campaign structure where the rails were becoming increasingly apparent with each game and adds replay value beyond higher difficulties. Players may also customize loadouts before heading into a mission, choosing primary and secondary weapons, attachments as well as up to three perks. The default setup for each mission is more than adequate, but it's nevertheless nice to tweak equipment to your preferred play style.

Between its minor branching paths and the personal tilt of the story, one certainly can't say that Treyarch's offering lacks narrative ambition, even though that ambition may not always pan out. The story's concept is intriguing but unfolds all over the place, tenuously linking its beats and never quite managing a clear plot line. Attempts at emotional weight largely fall flat, and without it the stakes don't feel any more high than cartoonish moments of wartime bro-rage; Black Ops II's story builds itself up so seriously that it nearly loops back into parody.

So too do the signature "Call of Duty moments" of the campaign, situations so over the top that the top looks like an ant from up there. Where can a series go after blowing up the Eiffel Tower? In one odd Cold War moment, the desert, galloping about on horseback firing rocket launchers at tanks, apparently. It feels as though Treyarch has tapped out what that era can offer at times, made up by the future and its droves of drones.

Future tech is by far the most interesting part of Black Ops II, finally pushing the franchise into new territory. Weapons that can shoot through walls are cool and all, but drone warfare is really where things get mixed up. Beside new enemy types and friendly combatants, drones allow for the new Strike Force mission type where players can jump in and out of control of soldiers and drones to attack, defend and capture objectives. Completing Strike Force missions plays into the story but we found them to be overly complicated and not all that fun — controlling drones is a cumbersome affair with little benefit, and the mechanics of switching between characters and directing squadmates is overly complicated and confusing. In practice it's far easier to just stick with a soldier and run around, which isn't all that fun in this mode to begin with. With some ironing of kinks Strike Force could be a really fun mode, and we hope that the idea returns improved next time out.

Undoubtedly improved is the franchise's immensely popular multiplayer suite, no longer the half-step to which Nintendo players have gotten accustomed: the bolstered 16-player count allows the maps to fill with their intended numbers and not feel so empty, kill cams and customized emblems are in, as are all of the playlists and easier voice chat (you can buy specialized headsets but really any with a mic will do, including Apple buds). However, feature-parity isn't quite there: Call of Duty Elite is not supported on Wii U.

Treyarch has made some smart tweaks to equipment unlocks and loadouts. CoD Points and the generally great Wagers are out, replaced with more streamlined unlock tokens awarded as you level up. These can be cashed in for new guns, attachments, perks and all that jazz. More significant is how loadouts are constructed: they are now unit-based constructs that allow greater freedom instead of having to fill one of each predetermined slot. Each item is worth a certain number of units, and up to 10 can go into battle. Want to start with six perks, a single grenade and a combat knife? Go for it. Hate secondary weapons? Add another primary attachment instead. This is one of the more significant tweaks that loadouts has seen, and it's a good one.

There's lots to tinker with and unlock, but sadly player population is anemic at the the time of writing: you'll find around 1,000 players during peak hours and on weekends, which is enough to ensure that finding a game isn't difficult so long as your game is Team Deathmatch or one of the other more popular modes. The less popular game types will typically have a game or two going, but enter Party Mode niche territory and the takers are few and far between. Black Ops II's Miiverse community is filled with players seeking challengers in other playlists but is inaccessible when connected to the game's servers, so getting a round of Gun Game going will take some legwork. League Play, the game's attempt at ranked eSports-like competition, is virtually dead in the water.

Zombies is back and sees growth of its own. At its core, players still need to work together to take out never-ending waves of the undead, rebuilding barricades and generally shooting a lot of things to earn points with which to buy weapons and shoot more things. Tranzit mode directs survivors across multiple areas, and Grief pits two teams against each other — unable to just shoot it out, the team who outlasts the other wins.

Control options are plentiful: keeping all options from the Wii games, players can jump in with the GamePad, Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Pro Controller, Classic Controller or even the Zapper if feeling masochistic, allowing anyone to find a comfortable solution. Opting for the GamePad isn't much different than a Pro Controller apart from size, as the second screen is fairly useless during the campaign — instead of de-cluttering HUD elements or anything, the screen just shows your mission objectives (which never need referencing anyway). In multiplayer you can tinker zoom in and move around the minimap or swap to a different custom class with a simple tap of the finger — a small change but immensely convenient. You can warp the whole game to the GamePad for off-screen play; when playing with two on the same console, one can play on the GamePad and the other on the television screen with a different control option. While we wish the GamePad was used with more sophistication in the campaign — the second screen certainly would have made Strike Force missions easier to strategize — Black Ops II sets the bar in a reasonable place for the series on Wii U.

Conclusion

While it's nice to finally have a "proper" Call of Duty game on a Nintendo console that makes convenient if simple use of the GamePad, it's a shame that Black Ops II isn't one of the series' best. The futuristic setting can't save the campaign's goofy narrative and increasingly arbitrary set pieces from leaving a dour taste, but the Zombies expansions breathe new life into the undead and the robust multiplayer suite is still top of its class — even if a currently struggling player count on Wii U hampers certain playlists. Black Ops II may not knock it out of the park, but it has it where it counts.

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User Comments (55)

Chrono_Cross

#2

Chrono_Cross said:

I found the campaign to be a breath of fresh air compared to its predecessor's. With multiple endings and more set pieces than I had intended, made for a surprisingly fun offline experience.

And I agree, Zombies was actually fun this time around. I had more laughs playing that than the actual multiplayer, which, is too balanced. Found it boring as it provides no real challenge for veteran players.

erv

#3

erv said:

Funny how a small population of gamers can be a problem. I'm sure that after launch, this sort of thing will become less of a problem. I'm getting it for the multiplayer, so this is all good for me. Nice review :)

chiptoon

#4

chiptoon said:

First CoD I've ever played. Thought that I'd give it a go, new console, new experiences; plus its finally controllable with a wiimote in HD.

I've been pretty disappointed so far.

MAB

#6

MAB said:

I never played the MW3 Wii campaign but thought the multiplayer was great... I haven't bothered with the BLOPS2 campaign and played multiplayer for a week and I got bored of it rather quickly TBH.

Grubdog

#7

Grubdog said:

Forget the campaign, it's offensively bad. Broken ideas, generic dialogue, boring lifeless characters, uninspired scenarios, no structure whatsoever and half the time you're not even playing it. It's the worst campaign I've ever seen in an FPS.

Thankfully, multiplayer is AMAZING and pretty much the only reason you should be playing this game, even alone with bots. Multiplayer even has better graphics than single player, it looks smoother and sharper somehow. Wii Remote aiming + 60 FPS + HD = GOOD TIMES. It really is as good as I hoped it would be, though it took a bit of tweaking. It's amazing how many options this game has and I don't think the review is fair focusing on the campaign that nobody will even play.

Suportedcofe

#8

Suportedcofe said:

I've always enjoyed the cod campaigns for what they are but they were never really that good to be honest except for the one in black ops.

Nintenjoe64

#9

Nintenjoe64 said:

I think 7 is a bit harsh. This is the best version available of an unnecessary sequel (except it's on a console which didnt have 5 other CoD games). The community will get bigger and although the campaign is still CoD1, it is a nice fancy way of showing noobs the controls.

I am still glad you haven't IGNed your score. They just seem to throw huge numbers at any game that sells well and give nothing for genuine attempts at originality.

Shiryu

#10

Shiryu said:

I was really surprised with he single player mode, it hit all the right spots for me. I love MP but I consider the original "Black Ops" better in the customization department. Zombies are a neat distraction from the main elements of the game. I could not put this down from day 1, but have now moved on to "Assassin's Creed III". So many games, so little time...

brandonbwii

#11

brandonbwii said:

There was a lot of swearing in this game. While typically that doesn't bother me, at this point it seems like the devs are doing it because they find it cool. Especially when actor Tony Todd's character enters the picture.

Oh well, I'm getting it anyway. :-)

Schprocket

#12

Schprocket said:

I think that if there is a problem for BLOPS 2 online community, it's having to share a currently fledgling market and that people may only know of Nintendo's prior online history and 3rd-party FPS support, that there are some really good system-exclusive release titles, that not many people may be cashed-up enough to afford more than a couple of games, or have too many games (as in my case because I flogged a lot of PS3 stuff) to have the time to spare.

I'll be online too - sometime - but damn it, Nintendo Land, NSMBU (as a Mario newbie), ZombiU, and Nano Assault just get in the way...

bunnyking

#13

bunnyking said:

i disagree, for me black ops was 9/10 and is the best game out for the wii u, the futuristic setting is awesome and the weaponry it adds is just what we needed to bring some fresh air into this genre.

bunnyking

#14

bunnyking said:

oh and the zombie content in this game is tons better than zombi u, so...

what you talkin' 'bout willis?

LegendaryQ

#15

LegendaryQ said:

7 is fair. Let's be honest: people who play CoD probably don't play it for the campaign.

Hokori

#18

Hokori said:

If theirs was for a MW game I'd say 7's right, but BO is better IMO maybe a 9, but I'll just say 8 so I don't get back lash form fans of the series

Yogsoggoth

#19

Yogsoggoth said:

The campaign framerate is broken which is a worse offensie than it being bland and uninspired.

brandonbwii

#20

brandonbwii said:

I feel the new future setting gave it a nice current gen Perfect Dark feeling, which is still my favorite FPS game of all time, Glitches and all. :-)

mshope10

#21

mshope10 said:

I had all the other c.o.d.s on 360 and this is my favorite game in the series.and I like it on wii-u best.

and yes I've played it on 360.its the first HD c.o.d. I haven't owned on my 360.

Sir_Deadly

#22

Sir_Deadly said:

Hmm thats kinda disappointing review! I felt like ti was the best in the series on a campaign and multi player level! Oh well, 7/10 is still good in my book!

RudysaurusRex

#23

RudysaurusRex said:

This is my favorite Call of duty. I think Infinity Ward needs to stop developing CoD games, especially after the disappointment MW3 was . Activision should let Treyarch have the series.

EvilLucario

#29

EvilLucario said:

Though I don't have a Wii U, I've also heard some good things said about this port.

Bring on the third-parties.

armoredghor

#32

armoredghor said:

Wow, it sounds like they could've fixed the controls for the drones with a mapping on the controller or even added a minimap. They chose to disregard a new console's crowning achievement and build another half baked game. 3 was good but let it go

bonesy91

#34

bonesy91 said:

Actually had fun with multiplayer online at sisters house. But the zombie modes were just awful :p might pick it up if I can find it for cheap...

Undead_terror

#35

Undead_terror said:

I find zombies better then multiplayer, in multplayr you die quick and theres always campers, zombie mode might have a bug or two but theres nothing a patch can'r fix.

CoffeeWithGames

#37

CoffeeWithGames said:

I beat the campaign on the GamePad, while my wife was watching Netflix (using the Wii). Using the GamePad to play online multiplayer (and the single-player) works very well, and I really, really like that aspect of the game.

The single-player campaign I found odd, like, the storyline I was able to follow for the most part with the back-and-forth, but it was just odd......especially with the hilariously odd ending and credits. It just gets OFF-THE-WALL-CRAZY.

I haven't even played Zombies yet, but it's on my list to try.

The one thing I found interesting about the GamePad use, is that when playing via the GamePad, the full screen isn't used...just a portion of it. Not really sure why that is, but it still works well enough.

bonesy91

#39

bonesy91 said:

"water bends the zombies part into a nearby lake."

its not that it contains glitches or anything, it just feels like an expansion pack of the original zombies for black ops. Which in my eyes, I found very boring compared to other zombie type games. ;) (fall of cybertron has a great "zombie" mode)

but to each his own. :)

Undead_terror

#40

Undead_terror said:

But wait til mw4 comes out, this zombie mode will no doubt be coming on ios. (want to get ipod/ipad this christma so I ca get zombies on it.)

ruzzie

#41

ruzzie said:

Gone through 2 laser on the Wii playing Black Ops hope the Wii U laser is more CoD friendly

Metalwings

#43

Metalwings said:

My entire decision of whether to buy this or not lies on how good the game plays with the wii mote, can anyone help me here?

Azikira

#45

Azikira said:

I have this game, and the Zombies alone makes it a worthwhile purchase if you have friends to play with. The ability to play on the gamepad alone is pretty awesome too.

To those complaining that multiplayer is "too balanced", that's the point. No unfair edges. Deal. B1

GuyMan

#48

GuyMan said:

I'd say this deserves a lot more, like a 9. For one, it's the first complete Call of Duty game on a Nintendo console, it's a mature rated game on a Nintendo console which is helping with Nintendo's reputation (any playable or fun M rated game on a Nintendo console gets an 8 or above from me), it's the best console version, & the player base, while small, is fun to play with.

Drobotic

#50

Drobotic said:

Better than all the other versions.Being able to use the gamepad to call in scorestreaks and as a map is way beyond cool.Also,Zombies is finally back....IN BLACK!YEEEEEEEEEAAAHHHH!!!!!

Wii_Win

#51

Wii_Win said:

Honestly, I can't stand this first-person-shooter stuff these days. It was far better when actual gameplay mattered in the NES days rather than being able to ask the following question to determine the best of two games. "Which game has bloodier and gorier graphics of soldiers getting blown up by random guns?"

buddy1155

#52

buddy1155 said:

Wonderful game.. online has only about 3000 people so you can make clans and friends eaxier and see them more often. I think its more fun, also when I get team killed I can go chase them down on the servers and kill them eaxier :)

buddy1155

#53

buddy1155 said:

Zombies are cool too they are really fun. ADVICE get the right parts on tranzit and open up the the buildings on stop 2. Build the zombie sheild, its like an assault sheild and 1 bash kills zombies its basically a pack a punch but it doesnt give u points. Firts material needed is the car door. It really comes useful when ur the only one left on round 35.

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