Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Wii U) Review:

Like Baldric’s poem, it ends in boom.

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Magic robots flying high, magic robots in the sky!

It is pretty safe to assume that the majority of people who play videogames have played Call of Duty at least once. Call of Duty: Black Ops II however, is the first set in the future (Modern Warfare doesn’t really count) and developers Treyarch clearly had fun while coming up with some of the (playable) robots – vehicles – in the game.

Black Ops II follows (from what I have been told) directly on from the first game released a few years ago. With alternating missions from the tail-end of the Cold War to a second Cold War during the year 2025 Black Ops II has an interesting story telling mechanic in order for the player to fully understand what “Cordis Die” is all about. In the past sections you play (primarily) as Alex Mason and see what exactly happened to make Raul Menendez (main antagonist) the mad, evil man you see in the sections based in 2025. In these future sections you play (again, primarily) as David Mason, Alex Mason’s son with partner Harper in their efforts to stop Menendez and end the Second Cold War (that is not very cold at all).

The campaign’s plot is decent, but not great with everything ending in ridiculous shoot-outs and set-pieces. It is still the fairly short affair we have come to expect with Call of Duty by now but the developers have introduced something of a series’ first – branching story arcs. The odd thing you do will change the ending you receive, but I think ultimately all endings will play out with similar enough outcomes.

The alternating between past and future of the plot actually works quite well and it is interesting to see the circumstances from which the second Cold War started. However, this alternating style does show how different settings unfortunately do not really change the way you play. While Treyarch did throw some cool ideas into the future sections (invisibility cloaks, a few neat gun enhancements, a whole section where you control a kind of spider-camera and the odd gliding section), there is an air of missed opportunity to the proceedings. Both past and future missions essentially play out as, go there, shoot them and so on in that fashion until the endgame, if more thought was put into it, the future sections could have been really diverse and very, very cool; as mentioned above, there is the occasional glimmer of nifty future ideas but sadly there is not enough in the main campaign.

However, there is something else new found in this iteration of the game: Strike Force missions. These are found entirely in the future sections of the game and are entirely optional – although if you do not do them, the ending of the game will be affected for the worse. These missions see you taking control, you can choose whatever unit you play as (or not), including the game’s fantastic wealth of controllable robots, or if you want to take a more strategic viewpoint, you can: through the top down viewpoint of the battlefield, which sees you pinpointing accurately where you want every unit to go. The depth of these Strike Force missions is actually quite surprising, and they really add to the run-time of the game in a fun but frustrating way. These missions can be very difficult, but you do get multiple tries for each.

The Wii U version of the game utilises two things for the gamepad during the campaign: simply telling you your mission with a quick glance at the second screen and the ability to play the game entirely on the gamepad with off-TV play. While they could have done more with the touchscreen for the single-player what is there works very well. In fact, you can choose to play the game using either the Wii U gamepad, Pro controller or the Wii-mote and Nunchuck, a massive advantage for this version of the game.

Perhaps the major downfall of the campaign is character. Not one of the characters is likeable – despite the decent voice work and Menendez making a serviceable villain. This severely cripples the enjoyment one may get from the campaign and it is something Call of Duty developers need to get their head around as the game is full of one-note characters, far too serious for their own good. It’s a shame; it ruins an otherwise decent plot with the occasional interesting section of gameplay that really play with the futuristic setting. Despite this, the campaign is fun; it looks great and plays smoothly (albeit with the occasional frame-rate drop, particularly in the first level of the game) and the Strike Force missions add a layer of depth previously unseen in a Call of Duty game.

Multi-player then has to be good in order to save the game from its slightly disappointing campaign, and it is: it is a riotous blast of fun however you choose to play. Call of Duty is a series (since the fourth game) that seems to focus more on its multiplayer than its single-player, and while this is a dubious practice of game design at least you know the level of quality you get when playing online or off.

Every iteration of this series slightly updates the formula online and of course has different maps, guns and kill-streak rewards. The biggest change this time round is the introduction of very customisable emblems. The scope and range of these emblems is incredible, adding a level of creativity and individualism that was never there in previous games. Indeed, this is the most customisable and individual Call of Duty online experience to date, the sheer volume and wealth of options online is actually a tad overwhelming at times, but you will want to unlock everything the game has to offer.

There is a missed opportunity of five-player split-screen with the Wii U version, as one player could use the gamepad screen with four on the TV, we are left with the same experience as on any other console of choice, it just could have been more.

On the topic of the gamepad, online is where it shines. Again, you can take the game online without the TV, but if you use the TV you get some neat touchscreen features. You can press the screen for kill-streak rewards, to choose your next class or to edit the controls in-game without the need to pause, it is amazing. What is odd however is that you cannot choose your fifth custom class on the touchscreen, an odd omission to be sure. What is perhaps the Wii U version’s trump card (other than in-built community, Miiverse) is the ability for one player to use the Wii U gamepad and the other use the TV instead of split-screen, as far as I’m concerned this concept should sell the Wii U alone as it is incredible.

There is a warning when it comes to the online mode on the Wii U; there are not many players. While it is not a fault of the game itself, it is worth mentioning as it essentially renders the only mode playable at any time Team Death-match. This is a shame as there are a wealth of modes to play around with (including the fantastically simple Gun Game), hopefully as the user base of the Wii U grows, so too will the numbers of players online.

COD: TV is another new element of this game; it plays out much like Halo’s Theatre mode and is good fun to make movies of match highlights to show to the community and screenshots to post on Miiverse.

As Treyarch developed the game, the eponymous Zombies mode is back. It is very good fun and is actually super atmospheric. However, it is a shame that you cannot play this mode four player co-op locally, just two-player. You can play four player online co-op, but local co-op is really the only way to go.

Summary:

Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a great game with a fantastic sense of community and brilliant online multi-player that plays smoothly and looks great. The sheer wealth of things to do in the game is impressive, and the campaign is something of a mixed bag. Dampened by bad characters is a single player campaign with ambition and a decent plot with the occasional glimmer of variation in both its gameplay and storytelling.

Black Ops II plays well and hosts one of the best online experiences I have ever seen in videogames.

85/100.

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