It’s not just the single-player game that has been shaken up. Black Ops 2 doesn’t add an awful lot to the competitive multiplayer element in terms of modes or the basic look and feel, but there are some fundamental changes that affect the experience for the better. Newbies or base incompetents will like the more relaxed Combat Training playlists, where you can fight with a mix of novices and bots while you gain some XP and move up a few levels, and those Killstreak rewards have now been replaced by Scorestreaks, where the game’s deadly toys are now earned by earning points, not simply killing, helping players who actually care about objectives in objective-based modes.
Playing multiplayer Black Ops 2 is still a hectic, fast-moving and often brutally unforgiving experience, but it’s surprisingly rewarding for all that. The new maps cover the range between compact, fast-flowing bloodbaths and larger, more open zones with sniper points and choke points, and the quality is generally very high. If you don’t like online Call of Duty then this won’t change your mind, but if you do, then you won’t be disappointed.
Finally, Treyarch has got serious about Zombies mode. Once a throwaway extra, this has now evolved into the third pillar of Black Ops 2, with a new, more complex campaign, Tranzit, that sees players hop on board a bus to move from one last-stand situation to the next. Like Strike Force, Tranzit feels like a great idea that hasn’t been quite so well executed. There’s little explanation of how it works, and at first it’s a bewildering experience that might send many players going back to the more straightforward and more immediately entertaining survival options. Again, though, it leaves you feeling that this might be the start of better things to come, and that there’s room for a Call of Duty/Left 4 Dead hybrid in this world. We would hope, however, that Activision can fix some of the issues we’ve experienced on PS3. Dropped connections and frozen consoles shouldn’t be appearing on a game this big.
Graphics and Sound
As far as presentation goes, Black Ops 2 is a slightly odd beast. On the one hand, it’s not hard to see where money has been lavished on the visuals, the music, the sound design and the voice talent, with Hollywood names like Sam Worthington and Michael Rooker on board. There are some impressive lighting, water and weather effects, and you could never say that the game looks rough. All the same, the engine is beginning to show its age, particularly in comparison to Crysis 2, Halo 4 and Uncharted 3. At times, it’s all a bit too grainy, a bit plain, or just a little lacking in detail.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 takes more risks than you might expect from such a blockbuster series, and while these don’t always come off, enough do to make it the most interesting and unpredictable Call of Duty since Modern Warfare. A degree of inconsistency means that the single-player campaign isn’t quite up there with the series’ best, but it’s still a big improvement on Modern Warfare 3, and the multiplayer and Zombies modes are good enough to stand up against the competition from Battlefield 3 and Halo 4. Black Ops 2 isn’t going to convert lapsed fans or haters, but it gives us all some hope that there might still be a truly great Call of Duty in the future.