There’s no doubt that the Call of Duty series has just about peaked in terms of actual gameplay. I point to the first Modern Warfare title as the moment when the game finally hit that glass ceiling, and everything since has simply been the same tired old mechanics and increasingly uninteresting plotlines. From there, everything else has been a regression toward the mean. Case in point: Black Ops II . . .
Let me get this out of the way first: the guns are pretty cool. There are a couple that you’ll recognize, and then the game designers appeared to have gone on an LSD trip and come up with some interesting designs of their own for some futuristic firearms. I’m actually a fan of the PDW that appears to use PS-90 magazines in a side-loading mechanism.
As for FNH USA’s guns, they’re everywhere. The FNX-45 is a frequently seen handgun, and the SCAR-H one of the most prominently used “assault rifles.” You can probably guess which rifle I went with for the majority of the game. Maybe it’s just a case of my noticing their guns more since I’m with the team for the year, though.
In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s the exact same “long hallway” design that we’ve seen since the Call of Duty series started. There are one or two sections where you get an option of how to shoot through the hallway, or whether you stay as a sniper or move in for close quarters fighting. But the hallway is still there. There’s no room for strategy — you just bust in and shoot everything that moves.
As if the long hallway clichés weren’t bad enough, the game just keeps throwing them at you. Rail shooter section? Check. Driving section? Check. Avoid the sentry stealth section? Check. The only really different feature was a section where you fly an airplane. And that was so poorly thought out that I’d be happy to never do it again. Then there are the optional “tower defense” style missions, trying to shoehorn some Starcraft real-time strategy into a fast-paced shooter. That actually might have been OK if the controls didn’t completely suck.
It’s like the game was designed for 14-year-olds with borderline ADD. As a 25-year-old with ADD, though, the repetitive nature is getting a bit annoying.
So if the gameplay sucks, the storyline must be good, right? Well, you’ll be let down there too. Firs there’s the fact that that the audio in this game is so screwed up that I needed to crank my speakers all the way up to hear the dialogue, then instantly turn them back down to avoid blowing out my eardrums when the action started (playing the PC version here). If you can actually hear the audio, though, the storyline tries to be all convoluted and cool. The thing is, it does it in a way that makes you think they took a class from Ronald D. Moore. Mr. Moore, by the way, was in charge of the newer Battlestar Galactica series and admitted that they simply went episode by episode doing stuff that they thought was cool, with no real idea of how to tie it all together in the end.
As a network security professional, the storyline had me hanging my head in shame that I was listening to so much technobabble. As someone who recently spent some time in a drone testing lab talking to the guys that break them, all the talk about autonomous drones was laughably over-played. Worst of all, where did all of these bad guys come from? According to the game, the main bad guy is a drug lord, but how does that make him suddenly able to raise and control a massive army for the pitched battles all across the world?
Just as with the other games in the series, the storyline is like the bread in a bacon cheeseburger. All it really does is convey the real meat of the game (those long hallways). It doesn’t actually provide any real substance in and of itself.
So the gameplay sucks. The story sucks. Do the graphics at least look good? Um, no.
Let me put this into perspective: Crysis came out in 2007 and was one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. That was SIX YEARS ago. Far Cry 3 came out last year, and was similarly dazzling. Instead of using one of those engines for Black Ops II, they came out with their own. And it looks worse than anything I’ve seen in the last three years.
Every once in a while you’ll catch yourself thinking, “hey, that guy’s head looks pretty good.” But then you’re thrown back into a mediocre landscape that could have been rendered just as easily on the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare engine that came out in the olden days of 2008. Nothing has changed.
And then there are the cutscenes. These are essentially pre-rendered movies that don’t require any processing for a high-resolution version — and they looked even WORSE than the game itself. Usually it’s the other way around. Then again, the main game was so glitchy that I wasn’t sure if my character was on drugs and simply hallucinating the whole thing.
If I moved a certain way, the image of my gun disappeared from the screen. And my buddies kept walking straight through solid objects. And as always, the artificial intelligence LOVES to walk straight in front of my gun when I’m shooting something, which makes me automatically fail the mission because of “friendly fire.”
Oh, and seriously, “clips?” For a game that tries to be all technical and cool, referring to magazines as “clips” is one of those telltale things that lets you know you’re playing a crappy game.
The multiplayer was similarly boring, and had a much different “feel” than, say, Battlefield 3 (which is, by far, my favorite multiplayer shooter at the moment). The best way to describe it is to say that where BF3’s arenas are made using the small Lego bricks (high-resolution, attention to detail, places to hide in the shadows if you know what you’re doing), CoD:BO2’s multiplayer feels like it was made using the rather chunky Duplo bricks (low resolution, not a lot of detail). The scenery looks and feels more toy-like, and not realistic in the least. There really isn’t anything new about the gameplay mechanics in multiplayer that would justify spending more money if you’re happy with your existing shooter.
Far Cry 3 was an amazing game. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas were brilliant. Heck, Borderlands 2 might be among my favorite games of all time. But playing Black Ops II, I found myself praying that every level to be the last one so I could bail and get back to Train Simulator 2013. Yes, Train Simulator beats this all to hell.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Platform: Reviewed for the PC
Overall Rating: *
I bought this on sale at Steam for about $40. I think I would have had more enjoyment lighting 40 $1 bills on fire and watching them burn.