Call of Duty isn't done their tour yet, as we see yet another variant in the best-selling series back on store shelves. This time Treyarch is playing general, with a followup to the time-splitting “Black Ops”.

In “Call of Duty: Black Ops II”, Treyarch continues their juxtaposed shooting drama that made the original “Black Ops” such a hit. Unsurprisingly enough, you will be hunting down more diabolic personalities, although, unlike previous interpretations, “Black Ops II” gives a broader perspective to the horror of war. Incorporating multiple time periods, “Black Ops II” has you spilling blood from the 1970's onward in what feels like two games merged into one. The narrative is even more gritty than before, and the action, well, it's more of the same. However, Treyarch just didn't copy-and-paste their past efforts, some thought has gone into advancing the formula, and it shows.

The first notable change to the franchise is the partnership of future warfare. Yes, for a first, “Call of Duty” is going way ahead of the loop by running a prose in the year 2025. Bouncing between the past (1970-1980), you also split your time with the present 2025. What this really means is more gadgets and some sweet-ass weaponry, and by this I mean, futuristic wing-suits, and “David Bowie” inspired “Spiders from Mars”. The other locals are just as interesting, although some try a little too hard. Desert horseback battles, even a visit from “Black Ops” original protagonist Alex Mason all make a showing. Bucket-list of locals, check. Not to mention a new cutthroat villain, Raul Menendez, who pieces it all together and becomes a highlighted character in the series. Jumping among the years can be chaotic, if you are not familiar with the "Black Ops" formula. From Nicaraguan terrorism to the cyberwarfare of the future, even the clutter doesn't change the basic premise, which is to shoot the bad guys. The narrative is told through flashback sequences from an aged agent, "Frank Woods" and the present via Special Forces squad leader David Mason (the son of Alex Mason). Both sections offer up the trademark, high-action sequences we've come to expect out of the “Call of Duty” series, and while it's a bit more interesting when you're “warped” back in time, the futuristic warfare certainly has its own charm.


"Black Ops II" is also the first time "Call of Duty" has tried a branching storyline idea with multiple endings, that change depending on your in-game performance and choices. This immediately stops all the naysayers from blogging about this being “just another” run-of-the-mill experience. While in the purist sense, it kind of is, Treyarch still deserves credit for advancing the series into a new direction. These choices partially take place during cut-scenes where you have to make hurried decisions, or at least press a single button really quickly. The other branch comes from Strike Force missions, which is a new tactical game type that really shakes things up. Here the stakes are also high with large ramifications if you fail or complete each mission, so hopefully unlike me, you really get into this new mission type. Either way, "Black Ops II" is encouraging you to replay the game for something more than achievements, which is a big leap in the right direction.

Shaking the foundation, the new “Strike Force” missions are one half real-time strategy and the other, FPS. Basically you will be thrown into a situation where you have to control multiple characters, or war-assets, to complete an objective like defending or assaulting a stronghold. Based in 2025, you can jump between each unit in first-person mode, or stay above the action in an orbital view-point acting as an overseer general. The action is very fast paced and different from your normal “run-and-gun” gameplay. I found the inclusion of this format to be ambitiously strong, however, the execution feels like a bunch of thrown together multiplayer modes tossed around a loose narrative. Another issue is the poor AI, which makes you act as babysitter, often skipping between units to dispatch the assailants yourself.

Bringing in a touch of the undead is a refurbished take on the "Zombie" mode that birthed during “World at War”. This time we have a full out zombie co-op campaign-like survival mode with the same frenzied gameplay it's known for. The new formula (which includes an annoying bus ride) doesn't do much to shake things up, which ends up making the “Zombie” mode feel as undead as the creatures you're killing. Secondly, the Zombie section highlights the flaws in the shooting gameplay more than the campaign. Here it seems like "Black Ops II " is half the game it is. Sadly, the innovation and excitement has been peeled away here. Although, die-hard zombie-fans will likely get the same rush as before. After all, a headshot to a zombie is delightful even if you are bored.


The last section to the "Black Ops II" experience is competitive multiplayer. We don't have to tell you how popular “Call of Duty” is online, so seeing changes made in this edition is a nice surprise. Points have been abandoned for a new token scheme that lets you do some unlocking. The loadout system has also been overhauled to allow more customization to fit your style of play. While this won't bother the non-serious players, the real competitive crew will like maxing out on areas of expertise. This goes for the new “League Play”, which calculates your skill level and places you in a suitable division. Young in its showing, League Play has a real “major league” feel to it. Additionally, it's an even playing ground because everything is unlocked. I know, I know, a risky decision that will likely please some, and irate others. The rewards of League Play is in it's simplicity of each match-up. Beyond the new “tweaks” and some socialization features, the core element of fast shooting, lots of dying and doing your time all exist and excel when matched up with the right people.

The production on “Black Ops 2” shows the ageing limitations of Infinity Wards' engine. Still, parts look great and the lighting aspects are top notch, although other parts tilt towards below average. Truly its a mixture of good and bad, even when it comes to elements like the mo-cap and texture work. Gambling, you can sense which “levels” had more work put into them. While it might be unfair to penalize an engine that runs at such a rock-steady framerate, it's not up to our expectations for the series. On the other end, the audio is pretty good, although the mud from the eye seems to splash mud in the ears, which hurts the overall perception of perfection.


“Call of Duty: Black Ops II” gambles with some news innovations, while remaining true to its fast-and-furious gunplay. Some changes like the branching storyline, refined multiplayer and league play slide into the positive, while others like the “Strike Force” and “Zombie” modes' fail to live up to the standards set by the campaign. All around “Black Ops II” doesn't shine as bright as previous editions, but it still has enough to fight the good fight one more time.

  • Treyarch adds some new elements to the traditional COD gameplay.
  • Take it or leave it, Strike Force offers up a new way to play.
  • Interesting duality between the two eras, both in gameplay and it story.
  • New competitive online tweaks keep this A class multiplayer destination.
  • Branching storyline auntie up the intensity while adding replay value.
  • For the most part, the “mature” graphic content is unnecessary.
  • Below expectations, the graphics engine is starting to show its age.
  • Strike Force is an acquired taste that some will likely love or hate.
  • Unbalanced missions and content, some are way better than others.
  • Zombie mode feels as undead as the creatures you're killing.
Quote: "Black Ops II doesn't shine as bright as previous editions, but it still has enough to fight the good fight one more time."
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 11.18.12 | Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360

Similar Games: COD: Modern Warfare 3 (8.0) | COD: Black Ops (8.5) | COD: Modern Warfare 2 (9.0) | COD: World at War (9.4)


Call of Duty
Black Ops II




US Release
November '12


X360, PS3

Players 1-4
Co-Op 2-4
Sys Link 2-18
Online MP 2-8
5.1 Surround
HD 720-1080p
D/L Content
Spectator Mode
3D Support