Back in 2010 a spokesperson for Activision said that Call of Duty is “the closest thing this generation has to a Star Wars”. After scratching our heads for two years, we’ve finally found a way in which Activision’s annual shooter can be compared to George Lucas’ sci-fi saga. In the past it has always been Infinite Ward’s Call of Duty games that have pushed the bar, but this time round Treyarch has managed to outdo them. The apprentice has become the master. In indirect comparison that may be, but it’s a comparison all the same.
You may want to sit down for this next sentence – this year’s Call of Duty has received a significant overhaul. The campaign’s storyline flicks between missions set during the late ‘80s and 2025, involving Alex Mason and his son from the future tracking down Raul Menendez – a scheming terrorist who plans to turn the world’s robotic defence systems against mankind. These AI drones are placed under your control on a few occasions and also appear in the multi-player mode. Other futuristic gizmos at your disposal include wingsuits and camouflage outfits. During one of the ‘80s missions there’s also the chance to defend an ally base on horseback. This mission in particular is surprisingly non-linear.
Weapon load-outs can now be chosen before the start of a mission and when playing on the harder difficulty setting having the right tools for the job can make life a whole lot easier. It’s also possible to use futuristic guns for the ‘80s missions once they’ve been completed, which is a neat if slightly nonsensical touch. The challenges add significant replay value further – each mission has a long list of things to try and accomplish, such as killing a certain amount of enemies with a certain weapon type.
About halfway through the single-player mode a handful of ‘strike force’ missions become available. These missions are optional and are RTS-like in design. The tutorial is well handled, explaining how to swap between and control units both from a bird’s eye view and first person perspective. Units respawn when killed but you only get so many at your disposal to meet your mission objectives. Most of these entail planting beacons on the open-ended maps. It’s great to see Treyarch trying something new with Call of Duty and the fast pace and franticness of these missions makes them welcome additions.
Other highlights for the single-player mode include a mission set on a luxury holiday island, which involves a stand-off in a busy nightclub, and a jaunt through a flooded shanty town at night in which it’s essential to stay out of the spotlight cast by enemy AI drones. The final mission is a belter that doesn’t disappoint although, as per most of the other missions, it’s very gun-ho and heavily scripted.
In comparison, multi-player has only had a minor shake-up rather than an overhaul. For the first time in years the menus have been given a makeover, plus there’s the chance to create your own emblems using a basic but sufficient art package. There are new playlists and the map design is tighter than ever. There’s now an achievement for reaching prestige too – something we’ve always said the series should feature.
After spending a few hours online it did appear to us that one upgrade does seem to spoil the balancing of online battles somewhat – the target finder scope. It’s a funny old inclusion that’s for sure; it saved our life from snipers on more than a few occasions but it also gives your position away to the enemy if they’re using it. Regardless, multi-player remains incredibly addictive – it’s one of those games that makes hours fly past like minutes.
Out of all three modes, it’s the Zombies mode that has seen the biggest update. It’s a total re-invention with a focus on objectives that makes it feel rather like Left 4 Dead. The original Zombies mode took place in small multi-player-style maps but now there’s a whole town to explore, complete with a bus station, farm, power station and town centre. Secrets are in abundance – it’s one of those games where every time you play, you learn something new. There’s even a backstory to discover if you head off the beaten path. An automated bus joins the locations together – miss it and you’ll be left behind until next time it stops. Making a mad dash just as it departs is often exhilarating.
Treyarch has undoubtedly taken some risks with Black Ops II and for most part those risks have paid off. For those late to the Call of Duty bandwagon, there has never been a better time to leap aboard.