1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
When Cubans want to take over the world,
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This review is from: Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Standard edition] (PC DVD) (CD-ROM)
Call of Duty Black Ops is the ninth, full-fledged installment in the long-standing series that has probably sold half a billion copies worldwide since the first game. While the Price-Soap-Makarov story-arc of Modern Warfare took us three instalments - and thus FIVE years to complete (Treyarch's World at War and Black Ops got in the way), we now have the next sequel, Black Ops II, continuing the story arc of Black Ops even though its predecessor probably wasn't planned as the first game in a series at all, given its non-cliffhanger ending (but then again, neither was Call of Duty 4). Of course, with things being increasingly ramped up in every Call of Duty installment (to the point where WW3 was a marketing tag for MW3), it is hard to outdo the bombastic finale Modern Warfare 3 offered last year, being an almost ceaseless cacophony of explosions, cinematic setpieces and relentless action in metropolises across the globe from start till finish.
So while Modern Warfare 3's selling factor was WW3, Black Ops II's gimmick is warfare in the near future. No, not plasma guns and light sabres, we're talking about realistic (if slightly optimistic) predictions for how technology and military warfare will have developed 12 years from now. You have weapons whose scopes can locate enemies behind walls, EMP grenades and, of course, an army of unmanned drones. The Campaign is nine hours long this time around, yep, that's right - NINE hours. That's almost twice the length of your usual Call of Duty campaigns until now. Of course, one reason for this is that the Black Ops II campaign comes with five "bonus" missions that take place on multiplayer maps. You can either control a soldier, a drone, or play the map from an RTS perspective and command groups of units to attack of defend critical points on the map while the clock is ticking the entire time - you don't have to do these to progress through the campaign, but skipping them means they won't be available later. I actually like this new concept. The Call of Duty engine looks great enough to make for a great tactical game akin to World in Conflict; it's a shame they made the tactical view in infrared though - would have loved to simply command my units in the optical range from the top-down view, but anyway.
So the premise for the Black Ops II campaign is the global manhunt for a Hispanic narco-terrorist, Raul Menendez, wanting to exact revenge on capitalist countries worldwide, specifically USA, for having assassinated his father and disfigured his sister in a fire. His greatest weapon is not just the almost one billion civilians supporting him through social media, but a weapon called Karma. One with which he seeks to gain control of the entire unmanned drone fleet of the United States and use it to attack China and thus lock the two superpowers in a new Cold War. Once again you get to visit different locations on the globe, this time our journey taking us through Angola, Burma, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, the Cayman Islands, Singapore, Yemen and Los Angeles, introducing us to historical characters like Manuel Noriega and Jonas Savimbi. Many of Black Ops' cast make a comeback, including Alex Mason, Jason Hudson, Frank Woods, and, surprisingly, Lev Kravchenko. The campaign is split into missions alternately taking place in the 1980s and 2025 - it all starts out when Alex Mason's son, David Mason, visits the retirement home of Woods to glean more insight into Menendez's past.
The visuals are great. If you could max out Modern Warfare 3 without problems, it's no guarantee that you will be able to do the same with Black Ops II - the graphics have definitely improved, and while Black Ops II does have the familiar, slightly blurred, soft, visual feeling of the Black Ops engine, I anyways thought Black Ops looked better than Modern Warfare 3 due to its more vibrant color palette. Most obvious graphical improvements though are the lens flare, rain drops running down your HUD and the completely overhauled water - simply amazing. The latter comes very close to a lifelike ocean. In fact, if you have everything maxed out in Black Ops II and scale the brightness down enough, in certain places you start to wonder whether you are playing a Call of Duty engine game or a Cryengine game - it is that good. You also have vegetation shaking due to winds, all of this immensely better than the PS2-like foliage quality of Modern Warfare 3 (take a look at the palm trees in MW3's Village MP map to realize what I mean).
Another improvement is also the soundtrack. While Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2 had stellar soundtracks (composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer respectively), Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3's themes were subpar - only their main themes were vaguely recallable. Black Ops II on the other hand has many memorable sounds like the Urdu woman singing to a futuristic beat while you are escaping through the streets of rainy Pakistan, or the dubstep multiplayer theme; the theme playing when you enter the Colossus retreat, or the Hispanic song playing during the final mission - there's something for everyone here. When I entered Club Solar for the first time, seeing the dance floor packed with people dancing in rhythm to dubstep managed to give me goose bumps for the first time ever in a Call of Duty game. Of course, while none of the music is memorable like the iconic Modern Warfare main theme songs, the score for Black Ops II is nevertheless refreshing and melodious, taking you on a journey through Arab, Indian, futuristic and Hispanic genres.
The one thing I hate is the gun sounds. Call of Duty was never famous for realistic gun sounds, but this one is the worst to date. Each and every gun sounds like it is firing plastic bullets at BB gun velocity. It's unbearable. Battlefield 3 came out in 2011 and they've already nailed the sounds of most weapons. It's just....hard to digest why Treyarch would put such horrible clacking sounds to most of their guns in this game.
The campaign is a lot darker than its predecessors; while previous Call of Duties would shock you with one particular scene or two, Black Ops II is full of it. From close up visceral throat slicing and blood spatter on walls to knives rammed into hands or stomachs and rampaging through an entire village with a shotgun to save your disfigured sister from a hand grenade thrown in the bedroom, this game is full of dark tones. In fact, there's plenty more - like gunfire in a club full of dancing people, and minutes later you find yourself walking out of the burning building with people sitting against the wall, sobbing and bleeding or someone digging up a grave and setting himself on fire. And what's worse, the first time you play it (and you do not know how to proceed), your actions have a 50/50 chance of either leading to a satisfying, good ending, or messing things up to the point that a catastrophic ending becomes inevitable and leaves you disgruntled and confused. In my first playthrough, I got the worst of all endings for some reason, despite having saved Karma.
So while I found the story dark and mature, that doesn't necessarily mean it is better than the campaigns of previous Call of Duty games. For one, there's the fact that the story itself is unrealistic to the point of ridiculousness. Cubans taking over the globe? Are you serious Treyarch? Russians invading Europe made sense in Modern Warfare 3. Russian ultranationalist terrorists committing an airport massacre in MW2 and launching nukes at the Eastern Seaboard in MW1 or heck, even a nuke going off in the Middle East made sense. And if anyone, Russians invading the United States as they did in MW2 and the beginning of MW3 was also the most plausible of all WW3 scenarios. But now all of a sudden we have high tech Cubans wearing cloaking devices and operating top secret research bases in Burma? Come on. Where do they get the money for that? It isn't explained in the game. And our main antagonist is Nicaraguan. Even if he is a powerful drug trafficker, how can he finance all this? Not once does the game ever take time to explain the geopolitical situation in 2025 - it is only hinted at. So you have the superpowers China and US, and the rivalry between them, but that's about it. There is no union in Central America which Menendez could have orchestrated and gotten himself into power. So again, no explanation is offered why we have high-tech Hispanic soldiers everywhere. The civil war in Angola, the historic American involvement in Panama and Nicaragua are all brought up, but never explained. Black Ops didn't explain much about the Vietnam War either, but then again most kids know about `Nam from their school books. Textbooks don't mention anything about these countries though, so why only add to the player's confusion by introducing him to historical conflicts without shredding an ounce of insight into them? Great job, Treyarch - you are no better than the monkeys at Infinity Ward. Heck, at least the storyline of Modern Warfare 3 was pretty straight.
And then you have Menendez. If there is one video game villain who is more annoying than him, please point him out to me. But I've already begun to hate this character. Neither Imran Zakhaev in CoD4 nor Colonel Shepard in MW2 were as ridiculous as this Hispanic guy. He seems to be the Hispanic Captain America - the Superman of Latin America - able to take a point blank pistol round to the skull and survive a grenade explosion on top of that only to return and start killing off all your friends. Wait, did I say one grenade explosion? Make that two. It took Vladimir Makarov THREE damn games to become as powerful as Raul Menendez manages to within the first half of this game. This is fanfic at its best, as if a 12 year old had written the attributes of the bad guy. Put him in prison? He escapes. Try to kill him instead of your friend? Has superior reflexes and kills you instead.
Of course, all of this can be understood as America's oft overlooked, secretive (hence the involvement of the CIA and the Hudson character) covered up and forgotten foreign policy in Central and South America under right-wing Regan during the 70s and 80s that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama all the way down to Chile getting vicious paypack in 2025. One man, Raul Menendez, losing his sister to an American arson operation fuels a desire for revenge that can turn an entire world upside down. Just like Vladimir Makarov, or both these people's historic counterpart Hitler.
Unfortunately, it feels this game had the potential to absolutely blow your mind but once again, wasn't realized to its full potential. General Zhao for example looks like a real tough guy in 2025. He would have made for a great stoic, classy and cunning antagonist but you only get to see him for a handful of seconds before you kill him. Similarly, while I like the Briggs character, the number of times he says the c word just ruins his character for me. Yeah, it sounds cool once or twice, but not being able to speak a sentence about the enemy without having to use that pejorative is simply poor. And then you have DeFalco. Nobody knows why he joined Menendez or what his history is - he is simply placed at Menendez's side like your classic antagonist's lapdog. Of course, he looks a lot like Jigsaw from the SAW franchise. And then you have Menendez himself. If he looked more like Arnold Vosloo (guy who played Imhotep) I'd be genuinely scared of him. Instead, he looks like a metrosexual fresh out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. Same goes for Alex Mason, by the way. Pretty boys who might do great starring in a chick flick, but should have no place in a gritty, mature game. And while we all like ogling at Karma's cleavage, perhaps the only character that came off nicely is Farid - bout time we got a good Middle Eastern guy (just like Nikolai was the good Russian). Then you have Salazar, the Hispanic - guess who is the bad guy among our midst? Harper is introduced too, but he has a raspy and slightly annoying voice (voiced by Michael Rooker who totally sounds like Mark Lamia so I initially thought the latter was voicing him) and doesn't get enough screen time before it is time to take a decision. Speaking of choices, that was another big promise the developers had made regarding the story of Black Ops II - that it would be non-linear, that your decisions would matter. Well, they do, but the first time you play this game they come so unexpectedly that you aren't prepared most of the time and commit mistakes and then feel miserable for the rest of the game. And then there's the whole concept of drones going rogue and the G20 meeting in Los Angeles being an opportunity to kill all major world leaders - ingenious. But what happens with this Grande Finale? Nothing. We escort Madam President for 500 yards and then board a Swat Kats jet for five minutes of dogfights in the style of Ace Combat before the mission is over and we're back to hunting Menendez at the other side of the world.
SPOILERS END HERE
Of course, you have Zombies as well, but unfortunately the lobbies are a laggy, crash-prone mess. Otherwise it's pretty much the same mechanic as the last two games, with some new weapons and perks thrown in, some concepts omitted (I'm starting to miss the dogs) as well as a map where you can play for hours because it is so damn huge. It's called Tranzit, and you essentially ride a bus between several mini-locations. So while I appreciate this map, the problem is that you really really need players with headsets as communication is important and people have to stay in one location till they are done and then board the bus together - if your group gets split up (and there are only four people, remember?) it gets boring really really fast. There's also a new game mode where you can play with more players, but you are divided into different teams of survivors. Unfortunately, I never seem to be able to find enough people for this game mode. The other two zombie maps the game ships with, Town and Farm, aren't as great as Kino der Toten or Five in Black Ops. They are neither memorable nor particularly fun, and the lava fissures are annoying as hell (sorry for the pun). Treyarch's policy of denying us a zombie map, Nuketown zombies, that they spent time and money creating, and only giving it to people who purchased the hardened edition is another example of senseless greed at its finest. It is us customers, who are being frakked over - those people who did not buy the hardened edition are denied access to this zombie map and cannot play it. And similarly, those who spent a lot of money buying the hardened edition are so few in number that they won't be able to find enough players to play on that map in the first place. All that matters is that Activision has their money. Why should they be interested in whether their customers will find enough players to play their map or not? See, this is the problem with greedy corporations. I remember the days of World At War when new zombies maps were released as free downloads. Then came Black Ops and sold them along with MP maps for a lot of money. And finally you have this limited edition preorder madness. Just when you think it couldn't get worse...
I'm not going to waste time talking about the DLC packs that have been released because it's the same as usual - 15 bucks a pop and if you buy one of them you have to buy all of them or you will screw up your own lobby matchmaking. Unfortunately, Combat Training has been overhauled in that it is split into two parts: Bootcamp (which is only accessible to player level 1 to 11) and Combat Training itself which however now includes humans and no longer merely A.I. But what if I just want to play against bots? What if I want to kick these stupid human players out of MY game? Nope, not possible. Whutcha gonna do, fgt? So there's that. Create a Class has been redone in that it now uses a 10 point system - different items, ranging from primary weapons, secondary weapons, perks, equipment etc. cost varying numbers of points, so for example you can take more than three perks in your build if you give up your grenades, or take extra grenades if you give up some perks and so on and so forth. I like it. Another product of Activision's greed is that country flags for your player badge are now sold separately as continent-themed DLC. That's a dick move.
All in all, Black Ops II is decent, but far from great. It has great graphics, great multiplayer (although the weapons do sound like rapid-firing staple guns), a fairly good soundtrack and a clearer story than Black Ops, but the game falls short of its own ambitions and fails to deliver what it promised so boldly in its trailers - a futuristic game where unmanned drones are the focal point of world politics. Nah, we're rather spending half the game bridging the gap between Black Ops 1 and 2 with missions in the 80s involving Mason and Woods and demonstrating how Captain (Latin) America, aka Menendez, can dodge the most grievous wounds and come back to kick JSOC butt...
A 4, out of 5 stars, but barely.
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Initial post: 28 Nov 2013 09:34:49 GMT
Now THAT'S what I call a review. Thank you. Information about the GAME, not how laggy the multiplayer is. While I am sure it's important to many of you who play multiplayer, I buy games to play the single player, so loads of 1 star "reviews" about how laggy multiplayer is don't help me to make a decision.
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