I know what you’re thinking. “It’s the same as before – it hasn’t changed since Call Of Duty 4!”. But come back! I know that Call of Duty hasn’t necessarily been the most innovative title in the last 5 or so years, but Black Ops II is different. You can just tell that Treyarch were really trying to create something that feels fresh and brings something new to the series while still staying true to the near-faultless core gameplay that makes Call of Duty such a reliably good game here. Also, something I am very pleased to report is that this game plays extremely well on the Wii U, and contains some small additions that the other versions lack that possibly make it the superior version.
Black Ops II is set in 2025, though during the campaign you regularly go back to the Cold War setting of the first game. In the future, the world is on the eve of a massive cyber attack, and the game actually spends most of its time explaining the origins of the attack – do not worry, this is much more exciting than it sounds. The levels in 2025 let you utilise some new futuristic weaponry, and it is enjoyable to experiment with these new tools – though there is not enough innovation as I would like here. The missions set in the past are actually much more enjoyable to play, as the chemistry between the three characters of Mason, Woods and Hudson that appeared in the first Black Ops game works brilliantly and their relationship is starting to gel as well as the chemistry between Captain Price, Soap, and Gaz from Call of Duty 4. The catalyst that brings these characters, as well as their counterparts in the future (David “Section” Mason – Mason’s son, Harper and several others), together is the main enemy – Menendez. The whole game is basically a story of the relationship between the main characters and Menendez, and the story contains some unexpected twists and properly striking moments that will make you care about the characters in ways you rarely do in recent Call of Duty games. At moments, you will emphasize with Menendez – but he is suitably evil to be a valid enemy.
There are some other thing Treyarch has done to try and shake the campaign up a bit, and they vary in success. Being able to choose the items you take into battle before each mission is a definite plus, and makes you feel more involved in the game. Also, one of the best additions to the campaign is varying endings – depending on your actions in the game, you will get different endings. Unfortunately, these are quite limited, and something more in-depth, a la Mass Effect, would be welcome. But this is a good start, and can be built on in the future.
Unfortunately, the highly-advertised Strike Force missions are disappointing. The theory behind it is good – having a strike force of troops and weaponry to direct around the battlefield to achieve your objective – but in practice, it falls apart a bit. Your team members seem to die quickly, and usually you end up taking the role of a soldier and doing it al yourself. It would be very difficult to do everything by just commanding your strike force around with the Tactical View. The story is weakly linked to these missions, and you end up not really caring about the missions – you just try to get them done with to get a better campaign result. Granted, they can be exciting in places, for example when I had to push my way through the enemy forces to complete the objective with seconds to go, but these are rare. The whole mode feels a bit like a light distraction to the main story, rather than an integral part. The biggest disappointment, though, has to be that the GamePad isn’t utilised in this mode. As in other versions of this game, you use the buttons to operate your strike force – but the GamePad would make this mode much more streamlined and perhaps fix many of the issues I have pointed out. You could have the tactical view on the GamePad to order your strike force around, while operating your chosen unit on the big screen (or vice versa). While I respect that there was little time to get Black Ops II onto Wii U, it is still a massive shame as the GamePad feels like a natural fit for the strike force missions.
Of course, Call of Duty is most famous for it’s multiplayer, and on Wii U it is better than other versions of the games for some reasons, and worse for others. The Wii U version plays very smoothly, and I have encountered virtually no lag (despite my pretty average connection at the moment). The host migration is also very quick, and the GamePad is useful for seeing the whole map, changing classes on the fly, selecting Scorestreaks, managing your friends, and changing your settings. Being able to alter vital settings like sensitivity is very useful, and the GamePad is, overall, a very effective controller for Call of Duty multiplayer. The one downside is that the wider controller can take getting used to, and I have generally performed better when using the Pro controller. I am sure that, over time, I will get accustomed to the GamePad, but at the moment the Pro controller is my first choice. An upside to this is that I can use the Pro controller to play while putting the GamePad next to my TV so that I can take a quick look at the whole map or change my settings, for example, while I am playing. There is, as mentioned before, a downside though. This isn’t something that affects the quality of the game itself, but don’t expect to be able to play some of the more obscure game types, such as Demolition or Capture the Flag, for a while. The Wii U community is still building up, and it will take some time to get the servers filling up significantly. At the moment, about 1000 players are usually online at one point on multiplayer, and around 100 for zombies. With Christmas looming, and the Wii U only being released very recently, these numbers will build – but at the moment, the only reliable game types are Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All and Domination. While I am on the subject of the Wii U community, I do need to say this – you won’t get people shouting abuse down the microphone or complaining that you are cheating because you killed them. Yes, I know that this isn’t always the case on the other consoles, but it does happen. On the Wii U, the community seems much more pleasant and laid-back, and you can easily discuss the game intelligently on Miiverse – but do bear in mind that you can only access the Home Menu, and subsequently Miiverse, from the campaign part of the game.
Multiplayer in Black Ops II feels much more balanced and focused on player skill than the more recent Call of Duty games. Killstreaks are not as dominating as before, and these have even been changed to Scorestreaks – instead of earning kills to build up your streak, you earn points for different actions that increase your Scorestreak. This gives a bigger focus to objective and team orientated play, as you gain more points for, say, capturing a flag in Domination than you do for getting a kill in Domination. These Scorestreaks have origins in Modern Warfare 3, but Treyarch have developed them very well. You need to play the objective to get the big Scorestreaks, not just be a lone wolf and gather loads of kills.
The other big addition to the online multiplayer is the Pick Ten system. When using Create-A-Class, you no longer just choose one item out of a selection for each part of your class – you now have much more freedom. You can mix up your items, and choose ten items of your choice for your class. For example, you could have an extra attachment in place of a perk. This gets extreme when you add in the Wildcards – these take up one of your ten places, but allow you to create more extreme classes – an example of this is having three attachments for your gun at the cost of something else, such as all of your special grenades. This succeeds at innovating slightly, but it still seems a bit too tame – while the balancing would be horribly difficult to get right, if Treyarch could remove all the limits and give you complete control over what ten things you take, that would lead to a much bigger variety in what you can do – I would be experimenting with different setups for ages if this happens. Despite this, the Pick Ten system is still a positive step for Create-A-Class and multiplayer in general, and it is nice to see Treyarch innovating in all of the different modes – not just one.
In addition, one of the things Treyarch’s latest Call of Duty games have been famous for is the immensely fun Zombies mode. In Black Ops II, it makes its third appearance, and is better than ever – there are several new maps to get your teeth into, and a great new mode called TranZit, where you use a bus to travel between the maps (and some extra locations…), progressing the zombies story as you do so. This is definitely the most enjoyable part of this new game, and with all the other parts of the Zombies mode (such as Grief, where two teams of four battle to be the best, or get the other team killed) there is loads to explore in this edition of Zombies. The mode succeeds in refreshing itself, while also retaining those core concepts that made it so good in the first place.
Possibly the best use of the Wii U GamePad in Black Ops II is the improved splitscreen. An example of this is when I played Black Ops II last weekend. Before, when we played splitscreen on the Xbox 360, we each got half a screen. In both multiplayer and zombies, you need the whole screen to play to your maximum potential – with only half a screen, you cannot easily see all of your surroundings and pick out enemies and locations. With the Wii U GamePad, this all changes. When playing splitscreen, each player gets a whole TV screen – in this case, my friend used the Pro controller and had the whole TV screen, and I used the GamePad and had the whole GamePad screen. It seems like a small addition, but having a whole screen each really adds to the experience. It also goes a long way towards finally removing the age-old threat of screen-looking! My dad no longer has a an excuse for why he is so bad!
Furthermore, you would expect the graphical quality on Wii U to be high, given that it is on a next generation system – and in my time with the game, I have been impressed. The big moments of the game are epic in motion, and the detail still remains in the lower-key sections of the game. Sneaking through long grass in the first mission is one of my favourite moments – we are used to seeing grass look pretty low quality in many games, but here it looks exceptional as you stealthily move through it. While I cannot compare the Wii U version of the game to the other versions myself, as I have not played the other versions, what I can say is that the Wii U version of the game looks very good indeed. As in ZombiU, the lighting is amazing and dramatically adds to the tension of the some pieces of the game. Compared to the other Call of Duty games I have played on the Xbox 360, it is definitely superior, however. Everything looks a little bit sharper – though I do have one criticism. The latest Wii U update may have fixed this, but I did experience the game freezing twice during the campaign. This seems to happen on all Call of Duty games, but it does not make it acceptable. Overall, though, it should not affect you too much. Bear in mind that the game can also be played solely on the GamePad (while still looking very good), which is a nice touch – playing a main Call of Duty game in bed or even on the toilet is now possible!
The sound design is something I need to talk about before I end this review. In most Call of Duty games, you rarely think “this soundtrack is amazing!”. But in moments of Black Ops II, you sit back and admire it. The title screen’s minimalistic tune is beautiful and foreshadows the great tracks to come. The sound compliments the action excellently, and stirs up your emotions even more in the more dramatic parts of the game.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II isn’t just another Call of Duty game. It is a game worthy of the name “sequel”, and pushes the franchise into new territories. The futuristic look is not what does that, however. The bold new additions to the campaign, such as branching routes, new types of missions, increased customization, and a full-scale, absorbing story are what progress the franchise for me. The multiplayer and zombies modes have been given a polish and plenty of new features, but the campaign is what makes this game stand out for me. I would choose to play this campaign again, and I have not been able to say that about a Call of Duty game for a long time. Infinity Ward could learn a lot from this game, and I hope they start something new rather than rolling out another Modern Warfare game.
Of course, this is a review for the Wii U version of the game, so I cannot end this review without expressing my feelings on how Treyarch has utilised the new console. To me, this is one of the Wii U’s finest games at the moment, as it looks, sounds and plays fantastically well, and adds many new features that really make this the definitive version of Black Ops II. Not by much, but additions like dual screen splitscreen edge it ahead of its rival editions. Just remember, that online community is still building.