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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
Price: $60
Platform: Reviewed for the PC
Multiplayer: Yes

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.

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  1. You’re about 7 months late on that review there… I never finished the campaign, just played Xbox live 99.9% of the time, its got good multiplayer.

    • Yeah, it finally went on sale on Steam and I was so mad at myself for actually buying it that I needed a cathartic article writing session to convey my displeasure.

      • Have you seen the COD BOPS2 inspired paintjobs/dips that DPMS has come out with yet? Just stopped by my LGS and saw an entire row of garishly decorated rifles, 100 dollar bills, polygons, cadpat, marpat, acu, multicam, hunter orange camo, pinks greens, it was almost ridiculous if it weren’t so awesome! LOL, J/k, I have too much dignity to show up at the local range with one of those, even if I wish I could…

      • yea, its about only worth buying on steam sale. COD4 still is the best one, and you can continue to play it on PC. COD games have pretty much always used the Radiant Engine which is an in house engine developed by Activision.

        • GtkRadiant is a level design program from id Software, not an Activision game engine. The CoD franchise started off using the id Tech 3 engine from Quake 3 Arena. They modified that engine for CoD2 into the IW 2.0 engine. The 2.0 engine was upgraded to 3.0, then 4.0, and now it seems they just name the engine whatever the game is with Treyarch using modified versions of the 3.0 engine and IW using modified versions of the 4.0 engine.

    • Yes, definitely late on this review, but it’s still appreciated.

      Like Bill says, multiplayer is really where it’s at for this game. Sadly, I’m fully prestiged in multiplayer (translation: I play too much), but I can totally empathize with people who say the game is trash. I’m constantly playing “behind” everyone else because of some type of lag compensation. It forces me to really hone my reaction times though, so I’ve found a way to cope.

  2. I’ve been playing more RPG’s than anything lately, to escape all the crappy shooters coming out lately. I’ve been playing Dragon’s Dogma and Skyrim, as well as Don’t Starve. Each one of those games have more thought put in its controls than COD has in the entire game.

    Truly one of the hardest things to do is to mask my disappointment when getting a COD game for my birthday or Christmas because a family member thinks that it’s good based on its popularity.

  3. Great review. I am now convinced that I do not want to get a video game console anymore. I became bored with videogames as soon as I realized they are all directed towards online play now. I mean the Fallout series is great because it lacks that all together but the second to last Medal Of Honnor I beat (offline/campaign) in about 8 hours. Online gameplay is fun but I refuse to pay high prices for a readily available product (highspeed internet, cable, phone, etc). Once my neighbor finaly password blocked their internet I got bored and sold my playstation. But it was worth it, I grew real tired of hear about the exploits of my mother.

  4. First of all; timely review. Second, attempting to call any Call of Duty game “the worst video-game ever” is such a hipster cliche at this point that it is getting sad. Finally, because I could write one of those posts that goes on way too long and no one reads, if you had trouble with the Strike Force controls; either get a better controller for your PC; or maybe it is time to hang up the gaming boots.

    • I’ve beaten every CoD game on veteran difficulty and I can tell you that the controls for the tower defense levels and the levels themselves were garbage. The reason it’s a cliche to call CoD terrible is because it is largely terrible at this point. The only game that can get away with being re-released every single year is Madden, and CoD is not that. I’d say Nick is spot on here in saying the series hasn’t evolved since MW2.

      • Personally, I thought the controls for Strike Force were fine, they weren’t hard to pick up and it worked. Calling something terrible would usually require that they do not function correctly or cause “cheap deaths” due to the controls; the Strike Force controls do not do that. But, to each their own. I am no CoD fanboy, and I think the game should have been rated somewhere in the 7ish range out of 10; hardly the worst game ever. Anyway; I stand by my point, if Call of Duty Black Ops II had been released by someone other than Activision under a different name people would be heralding it as the greatest FPS since Modern Warfare, but as it is CoD; people come out of the woodwork to bash it. Is it the best game out there? No; but again the hyperbole surrounding it is ridiculous. Also, I would question why you have played through every game on veteran if they are so terrible?

        • Because I like to play terrible games and I like the challenge. One of my favorite games of all time is Earth Defense Force 2017. Pretty much every CoD game after 4 has been the same game, though. MW2 is more similar to Black Ops 2 than CoD 4.

    • What rock have you been living under? Every game in that series since 2008’s World at War has been the same recycled and repackaged garbage. Activision now has a religiously loyal fan base of spoiled 10-16 year old kids who will buy the game and all its worthless accoutrements (a la “Call of Duty: Elite”) every single year. The developers and marketing guys know this, they’re not morons. They don’t even have to try to break boundaries anymore if they know they’ll be raking in tens of millions off a bunch of spoiled children who just want to look cool by buying the game.

      • Very few games “break boundaries,” especially sequels. I love the Fallout Series, but in so many ways Fallout III was just an updated version of Oblivion, and New Vegas, one of my favorite games of all time, was just a relatively minor refinement of the engine put forth in Fallout III. The same with Far Cry 3; it is largely the same as Far Cry 2; the only major additions are the stealth kill options. I would agree that there aren’t many changes from one CoD game to the next, but Black Ops II did actually change many aspects of the formula; i.e branching storyline, Strike Force. Pretending that for a game to not be considered terrible, or possibly “the worst game ever” it has to be insanely groundbreaking is inane and an example of extreme hyperbole. I’d close with saying the multiplayer in CoD is generally fun, and obviously it is doing something right as it is copied by almost every major competitor. Again, not a CoD fanboy, I usually don’t get it until it is on sale, but this hate for it is getting ridiculous.

        • All right maybe I was a bit harsh. However, I am biased because I grew up on the SNES and N64 in a time when games had to be sculpted and polished to near perfection because there was no turning back come street date; if you produced a shit game, you paid for it dearly.

          I think the internet is awesome, but developers today are far too easily tempted into going the “we’ll patch it later” route as a cop out for shoddy work in the studio. Plus there’s the unprecedented marketing blitzkrieg today. I remember when EB Games and Funcoland were just two guys behind a counter in a quiet show room. Now it’s posters and televisions galore. The rampant and cheesy commercialization bugs me sometimes.

          On a more positive note, I loved Fallout III and worshiped New Vegas for the level of realism in upgrading guns and reloading ammo. My friends would constantly ask me what “+P” meant or why there were large and small primers. Those were good times.

        • As nostalgic for the past that I am as well, you can’t pretend there weren’t huge numbers of crappy games that came out for the SNES, N64, NES, or Genesis. At least now we have the internet to know what games are buggy before you buy them; I can’t imagine the pain of a poor kid who dropped $74.99 on Superman 64.

        • (Second part of my comment got cut off for some reason)

          I think patching is great in some respects, but it is used too often as a crutch. It’d be insanely difficult to find all the bugs in a game like FNV, FC3, GTA, RDR, or SR without a ten year development cycle. At least now with the internet you can get better information prior to purchasing something; I remember when Nintendo Power pretty much rated games on a scale of “Good” to “Great.”

  5. “It’s like the game was designed for 14-year-olds with borderline ADD.”

    Uh….it was. The last CoD i enjoyed was World at War. It was technically great and the guns were pretty much spot on. So the same developer has made both the best, and the worst games of the series.

    • yup, the multiplayer keeps getting worse as they shrink the map sizes and limit the number of players more and more with each release. They’ve managed to turn a game that used to be the perfect balance between realism and arcade action into a hyper twitch-fest never-stop-running rage-a-thon.

      United Offensive expansion pack was the pinnacle of multiplayer gameplay, it’s only gotten dumber since, and the worst part is we can’t mod it or make our own maps anymore to pull it back from the trash can.

      I help run a custom ARMA2 / DayZ server now, so nice to have the ability to customize the experience again.

  6. #1 it is a video game
    #2 if you want something realistic, go to the range (if you can afford ammo)

    Looks fine to me, then again I’m not a professional video gamer….

  7. just thought I would put my two cents in here real quick. I have been playing the COD games since the first modern warfare and yes talking about the campaign and such it has gone way down in entertainment value but these types of games are made for multiplayer not campaign. So that being said they focus on keeping the multilayer playing over the campaigners seeing how it is a way better market plus to fix the voice problem you had you can turn voice and game effects up and down so I don’t know why you had a problem but I am on xbox not comp so idk it could be different.

  8. my buddies kept walking straight through solid objects

    My buddies occasionally did the same thing back in our college days.

  9. I’ve been with the CoD series since the originals, and I’ve been playing Battlefield since 1942 (seriously…lol). I’m kinda in agreement with you on CoDBO2, it’s stringing along a dead horse at this point. Yes, the game was designed for 14 year old bunny hopping run and gun players…it is what it is. BUT, they really could get off the current trail and try something different: WW1 hasn’t been done yet, CoD hasn’t tried Vietnam yet, and they could always take a page from BF and try a 2142 future shooter…

    • The kids hate history. The next one is going to be Call of Duty: Rebel Alliance. However, i would play the shit out of either a Vietnam or WWI game, if it was done reasonably well.

      • All the more reason to try again…and SUCEED! But yeah, the kiddies hate anything historical, so I doubt we’ll see another World at War. THAT was an awesome game for the most part…

  10. After Modern Warfare 3 (bought in March 2012, due to being deployed for the previous 6 mo), I swore off Call of Duty titles for good. As a dedicated PC gamer I feel you pain. Picked up Far Cry 3 for SP (still have yet to finish) and just kept playing MoH: Warfighter for my MP fix. Of course I’ve found myself hardly gaming these days… Now it’s just range time and airsoft if I feel a need to have my targets shoot back at me. Then at least I get to field my gear and see if it needs to be moved around. On a side note, I run gas blowback rifles and pistols, provides some good insight into some of my shortcomings.

  11. Loved FC3, FNV, and BF3.

    What got me most was the “clip” thing. If your “realistic game” refers to a magazine as a clip, then you can pretty much guess who the fan base and possibly the development team is. For example. A buddy of mine, MAJOR CoD player, recently told me the M16 (Vietnam Era) is a burst-fire ONLY rifle that uses 7.62…

    If reading that doesn’t make you want to bang your head off a wall, then your much more tolerant then me.

  12. Nick, check out “Spec Ops: The line” , it’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever played, I’ll add you, check out my review of it on profile.

  13. its cod. its not realistic, but it is fun. i can go the the range in the day, shoot real guns. play cod at night with quick scoping, and extended “clips” and have fun like that. play medal of honor warfighter if you dont want to hear “clip”

  14. The reason why the graphics suck is that they’re using the same game engine since the first modern warfare. I didn’t know you had steam. What’s your steam account?

  15. If it says ‘Call of Duty’ it will sell millions. I remember seeing the First CoD game and wanting it, now I shake my head in shame.

    My personal favorites remain Fallout 3/NV, Borderlands, and Rainbow Six.

    Although Skyrim and Alpha Protocol have been taking up the majority of my time~

    • Alpha Protocol is one of the best RPG *stories* out there. The folks at Bioware can only dream of implementing the story changes wrought from player choice in Mass Effect.

      Unfortunately, the action mechanics didn’t quite live up to them. And as a result there won’t be a sequel — which is too bad.

  16. Nick,

    Do you actually play CoD for the Single Player Campaign? Multiplayer (and, for some people, the Zombies mode,) is where all of the effort was put forth. I found the shelf life of entertainment value there to be around 3-4 months.

    None of the Modern Warfare or Black Ops games storylines were any good — most especially MW2’s farcical conception of how the CONUS could be invaded via airlift from Russia.

  17. What jkp said… I take it you only played mostly the Single-Player campaign of Black Ops 2, Nick? The funny thing is that in my opinion, Treyarch actually tried to do some different things with the campaign (Strikeforce missions, multiple endings) that have never been done in CoD before… the problem is with these “innovations” (a generous label) CoD:BO2 single player campaign still falls short when measured against the campaigns of games like Bioshock and Borderlands.

    For me, the real enjoyment of BO2 comes from playing online multiplayer and Zombies mode with friends. (ZOMBIES and Alcatraz… how can you not love that?)

    I find BO2’s multiplayer to better than MW3’s, but not quite as good as the original BO (which I remember, people seriously disliked at first compared to MW2). Map design seems to be really slipping these days among CoD shooters – maybe it’s time to send the map designers to architecture school to get some schooling in how to make interesting buildings rather than long hallways filled with camp spots?

    COD’s “realism” left a long time ago.

    The COD of 2013 lets you put BACON “camo” on your weapons… yep.

    (And even though I love my PC, my gaming lately has been all on the Xbox)

  18. Also, for a change of pace, I recommend Company of Hero’s 1 and soon to be 2. One of the best rts games ever made.

  19. A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

  20. Why even review the single player game? Since MW1 the focus has been on multiplayer. No one cares about or plays the Single player anymore.

  21. It may not be good, but calling it the worst videogame ever (or even implying it might be) shows a distinct lack of videogames played.

    Boring? Yes, but it is miles above the tripe being put out on a monthly basis. Solid mechanics, especially in multiplayer, contribute to a good amount of fun.

    That so much of the review focuses on the single player is also telling. Really the single player in CODs has been secondary to multiplayer, and while Battlefield is far better, they are VERY different in their goals. BF is not COD and they aren’t trying to be the same. COD is an arcade shooter, focused on tight mechanics and competitive, fast-paced gameplay while BF requires more teamwork.

  22. I’ve been playing Black Ops II since Christmas. When playing the mission game, I usually ditch the confusing high-tech future weapons for something more conventional. But I’ve had more fun playing the Zombies game than the mission game.

    I think for the mission game, I preferred the original Black Ops, even with the historically inappropriate firearms.

  23. I used to love COD: Modern Warfare, even owned the sequel. however the moment I saw Bad Company 2’s destructible terrain, bullet drop, a bit more “realism” (not that its intended to be old-school Rainbow Six realistic) and vehicles, I could not wait to get into that game.

    Battlefield 3 had the same effect on me too. mind you I’m not saying that Bad Company and B3 are perfect, they just had game dynamics that set them way better than the Quake 3 corridor deathmatch that the COD series and Black Ops had been recycling over and over again.

    hey, I’m no hater. I loved Ghost. who doesn’t?

    the hype is just way bigger than the actual game.

    but dammit, Battlefield 4 is starting to worry me. it looks like more of the same

    • +1

      That’s the sad irony… Battlefield isn’t content to be Battlefield! Something tells me the corporate masters at EA will do anything to move more units, even if it means making Battlefield more like CoD.

      The original BF1942 and the futuristic BF2142 (PAC 4 life, suckaz) were 2 of my favorite PC games of all time… maybe the graphics weren’t as great as we have here in 2013, but the gameplay was there.

      Video gaming breeds eternal optimism, though. Gamers as a whole are always hopeful the next game will be better, or fix the shortcomings of the previous games. So I’ll look forward to Battlefield 4 and the new CoD: Ghosts… 😉

      On a related note, I find gun owners to be usually of the opposite bend. We as a community tend to hate on any new firearm designs and constantly refer to older classic firearms designs as being perfection – 1911. AK. AR-15. Colt Python. So we usually view the future of firearms with pessimism. “POLYMER SUCKS! ANYTHING NOT IN 45 SUCKS! ANYTHING WITHOUT A HAMMER SUCKS!” Haha.

      So being a gamer and a gun owner allows me to balance both attitudes…

  24. Nick, I think you should stick to your guns (pun intended). Your “review” described a mediocre game, which it is, not one of the worst games ever. Yet you gave it a 1 out of I don’t know what. I played it on the PS3 and I never experienced guns disappearing, jacked up audio or NPCs walking through shit. I’ll give you this, the story is weak and full of the cliched tropes. I swear, the developers have something against anyone that isn’t white. I’d give it a 6/10. Oh, and the multiplayer is pretty fun. If you can tolerate the little kids. But then again, they just be muted.

  25. I just found out there is a ship in black ops 2 called the USA obama I have sold the game and will use the proceeds to buy more ammo

  26. You guys should really give Arma 2: Combined Ops a try. I have a feeling people on this site would love it to death. Or you can wait until Arma 3 comes out later this year, as I’ve been playing the Alpha and it is already twice as good as Arma 2.

    I used to play a lot of COD back when COD 4 came out, and then a lot of Battlefield in the days of Bad Company 1, but after playing a semi-realistic military sandbox like Arma, nothing quite measures up.

    Also, if you haven’t played Day Z mod yet, your gaming life is incomplete.

  27. Thx for this nice review, I am happy not buying this game 🙂
    I have a same opinion like LeadRain, when you want a “realistic” Military Game, than play ArmA2 or ArmA3 (on steam now – alpha version) you can have realistic maps and the AI in single missions are great.

  28. I’m just saying, Black Ops 2 messed up. I would rather be glitching all day in Sonic ’06 than playing Black Ops 2 trying to beat a bunch of unskilled no-life 10 year olds. Any game ever made besides Sonic Free Riders is better than this piece of rushed piece of crap. If you want to play a REAL first person shooter, go to Battlefield, Time Splitters, Socom, MAG and anything that doesn’t have Call of Duty slapped on it after World At War.

  29. You only look at the campaign. Clearly the campaign sucks due to the fact gaming has evolved into an online realm. The producers know this and put next to no effort into the campaign. However when evaluating multi player it is good for a CoD game. I mean everyone already knows there is no skill in CoD games online and that the camper or host usually can do better then usual. We as a community have screwed the pooch on the reason all CoDs are nearly identical, the fact is we don’t embarrass change well (look at the Halo franchise) and all expect to be the highest rank in the game if we put the time in, even though skill level may blow. The shit rank system is the reason there is no need to adapt an get better, and leaves a lack of motivation to play. In a good online game as you rank up you should be able to notice the difference between players and strategical team plays then running around with a shot gun and still achieve a 2 kd ratio. Bottom line is CoD is the worst thing to happen to online gaming since the invention of the wii

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