Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review

A sinister villain, some tough choices, and a new kind of multiplayer arena invigorate the reliably intense action in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

by

Jetpacks with rigid wings. Gloves that can adhere to any surface and support your body weight. Advertisements that feature your face when you walk by. The campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops II has some interesting ideas about the future of technology, but what about the future of this massively popular shooter series? On the one hand, Black Ops II introduces new mission types and dramatic decision points that liven up the campaign, as well as a league play option that represents a fundamental shift in the franchise's hallowed multiplayer mode. On the other hand, the campaign hits the same satisfying rhythms, the multiplayer captures the same frenetic intensity, and the cooperative zombies mode delivers the same stale undead-massacring action. Caught between striving for the future and remaining rooted in the past, Black Ops II finds solid footing, providing another great ride on the Call of Duty rollercoaster.

The ride starts off a bit rough as Black Ops II makes good on its pre-campaign warning of graphic content. Two early scenes linger on people burning alive, and while one ends up contributing to character development, the other is just gratuitous. Later cutscenes don't flinch from depicting gory violence, though of all the unpleasant sights you see throughout the story, the playful (and not at all gory) post-credits video might be the most appalling.

Fortunately, the campaign boasts an engaging story and a lot of entertaining action. It features the lead characters from the original Call of Duty: Black Ops, and though it references events from the past, a clear narrative thread emerges that is easy to follow. You jump between two time periods: the present, which is the year 2025, and the past, which spans about a decade during the Cold War. The narrative reflections of the elderly Frank Woods (a protagonist from Black Ops) weave these two timelines together, but the character that truly drives the story is the villain, Raul Menendez. During the Cold War missions, you follow Menendez's origin story and rise to power. In the 2025 missions, you desperately try to avert his catastrophic master plan. This parallel character development is deftly handled, infusing your missions with undercurrents of curiosity and urgency.

Things get even more intense when you are asked to make a choice. Press one button to kill a target, the other to let him live. The conditions of each choice vary and there are only a few of them, but even when you aren't responding to a prompt, you might be making a choice in a dramatic moment that will have consequences later. The main course of the campaign remains constant, but these decisions do affect the fate of some key characters. A few of these moments are sure to give you pause, adding some welcome weight to the proceedings. Once you've seen the story through, there's a handy rewind feature that lets you play earlier levels in order to see how different paths play out. There are also mission-specific challenges that give you ancillary goals to complete while you do so, further increasing the replay incentive.

The new millimeter scanner sight can highlight hidden enemies.

You can also see some variance in the available strike missions, which are a new type of campaign level. These stages put you in a squad of soldiers and drones, and then let you choose which asset to control at any given time. Defending installations against enemy assault, escorting a convoy, and rescuing a hostage are some of the endeavors you might undertake. Though you can set targets for the team under your command, strike missions are still all about you gunning down foes. Your AI allies are only good at slightly hindering your enemies, so you end up doing the heavy lifting yourself, often while tracking activity on multiple fronts and hopping around to deal with advancing enemies. Having to consider the bigger picture is a nice change of pace for a series that has mostly involved just shooting what's in front of you, and these missions are a welcome shot in the arm for the familiar campaign pacing.

Of course, familiar as it may be, that pacing is still great. The campaign ebbs and flows as you move through a variety of diverse, detailed environments using an array of powerful weaponry to dispatch your foes, occasionally hopping into a jet or on to a horse for a short jaunt, or manning a missile turret to tame a swarm of hostile drones. A few neat gadgets and surprising gameplay moments satisfy the novelty quotient, but you still get the lingering feeling that you've done this all before. The new strike missions, dramatic decision points, and memorable villain help keep this concern at bay, however, and this fiesty, enjoyable romp is more enticing to replay than other recent Call of Duty campaigns.

Black Ops II's competitive multiplayer has seen some changes as well, notably in the way you equip yourself before going into battle. The COD points system from Black Ops has been ditched in favor of a new token system that still affords you some control over the order in which you unlock new weapons and gear. The more interesting change is the new loadout system, which gives you ten points to play with and assigns a single point to every element of your loadout (guns, attachments, perks, lethal and tactical items). It offers a bit of flexibility if, say, you don't use a sidearm much but could really use an extra perk, and the new wild cards allow some limited creativity. Put one of these in your loadout, and you can go into battle with two well-equipped primary weapons, or you can load up on perks and bring just a knife and your wits.

Mounted guns are risky in multiplayer, but oh, so deadly.

These are two extreme examples, but tweaking your loadouts with the gear you've chosen to unlock still confers a sense of getting more powerful and better equipped for combat. These are still the fast and deadly battlefields that have drawn millions of players for years. Positioning and reflexes are king, firefights are over in the blink of an eye, and success is rewarded with deadly equipment and satisfying experience gains. New gear, new weapons, and new score streak rewards are sprinkled throughout, offering new martial capabilities and strategic wrinkles. Traditional gametypes and a few rule-bending party games all offer familiar frenetic fun, but one new mode of play holds the potential to really shake things up.

When you first enter league play, you must play a few rounds so that Black Ops II can calculate your skill level. Then, you are placed in a division, and your subsequent league play games pit you against players who are roughly your skill level (your numbered rank is not displayed). You can rise and fall in the league standings, and at certain intervals, leagues will be recalculated to allow players to move up to the bigs or get busted down to the minors. Whether you relish running with the wolves or are tired of getting trampled, the quality of play increases when players are better matched.

League play also represents a significant change in competitive play because everything is unlocked from the start. This kind of freedom was previously relegated to the small ponds of custom games, but now there's an ocean of players who have all chosen from the same available options when they enter a match. This levels the playing field and lets you leverage the full power of the Black Ops II arsenal right from the start, which is great news for players tired of having their options restricted. However, this also means that you don't gain experience in the way you may be used to; the only XP you get from league play is a nominal reward at the end of a match. Without the ever-present possibility of completing challenges, unlocking new gear, and leveling up, league play feels detached from modern Call of Duty tradition. It's a strange sensation, but it feels liberating, allowing you to focus on the action at hand without the temptation to play in certain ways to target certain rewards. League play has the potential to shift the way that people play the game they've been enjoying for years, and that's an exciting prospect.

There are also some new sharing tools aimed at making the multiplayer experience more social and more extroverted. You can link your PC to your YouTube account and live stream your league play matches without having to purchase extra streaming software or capture equipment. This accessibility is appealing, but there are substantial barriers that limit this feature. The first is audience; you must have at least 10 viewers on your stream before it will go live. The game gives you a link to share and leaves you to recruit a crowd. The second barrier is technical. Call of Duty has long boasted high frame rates that make the action slick and speedy, but the games we streamed and viewed ran at slower, chunkier frame rates, as well as low resolutions. Watching a pale shadow of Black Ops II is hardly appealing, so your best sharing bet is still theater mode. There, you can watch your previous matches, edit highlight clips (or let the game take a shot at it for you), grab screenshots, and upload media to share with those on your friends list and the community at large.

Another new feature, so-called "codcasting," aims to introduce a new player type to the Call of Duty scene. By queuing up a game film and selecting this feature, you can watch the match with a suite of tools that let you highlight the action. You can track different players, watch certain areas with a free-roaming camera, and even use a picture-in-picture mode to see the standings and the action side by side. Though this has the potential to allow players to generate some dynamic, entertaining play-by-play videos, its current manifestation is very limited. You can only codcast saved films of games you have played in, and unless you can provide your own streaming solution, your only potential audience is the five other players you could invite in to your lobby. Future updates to this feature could make it more useful, but as of now it just feels like a shell of what it could be.

Sorry, zombie, that hazmat suit is no match for the ray gun.

Black Ops II also heralds the return of zombies mode. Now in its third incarnation, this cooperative survival mode is still frantic, challenging, and home to some weird humor. But though some of the new missions play with the formula by adding a bus to catch or a competing team to watch out for, the core action has grown stale. Shooting the bullet-sponge zombies lacks the satisfying immediacy that Call of Duty thrives on, and dealing with their lurching, single-minded attacks grows dull even as they get faster and more numerous. The new maps feature veins of fire that flare up when you cross them and obscure your vision, adding more visual sludge to the already murky environments. Perhaps the fire is intended as some kind of platforming challenge--jumping frequently seems to be the best way to avoid it--but hopping around doesn't make the environments any less ugly or the enemies any less boring.

Though zombies mode is stagnating, the rest of Black Ops II is lively, and it's great to see some shifting in the familiar structure. Developer Treyarch's storytelling prowess has once again resulted in an engaging, exciting campaign, and the addition of league play to the online multiplayer arena is an intriguing change that could reinvigorate the formula that has endured for so long. By reaching forward while remaining rooted in the things it does so well, Black Ops II offers a great shooter experience.

The Good
Great campaign scripting
Story choices are often tough and encourage replay
League play offers a new stage for the familiar multiplayer combat
The Bad
Zombies mode is stagnant
New codcasting tool is hamstrung
Technical limitations hamper live streaming feature
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews
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About the Author

/ Staff

With his Apple IIGS as the spark and his neighbor's NES the fuel, Chris Watters' passion for gaming caught fire early. Years later, you can find him aiming down virtual sights, traipsing through fantastical lands, and striving to be grossly incandescent while desperately avoiding sunburns.

Discussion

11 comments
Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

Is there any way to turn off the hitmarkers in the campaign? Seeing an X show up everytime I shoot somebody in the campaign takes me out of the experience and ruins the immersion of the campaign. treyarch's bullet wounds, bloodspray , and gore effects work well enough as hitmarkers. 

me-Rian
me-Rian

ابحمل كود 9 وشلون 

اطني رابط كود 9 زومبي

Rocket2Uranus
Rocket2Uranus

so before i spend a dime in this game....

hackers.... are there alot?
when i heard there are no dedicated servers... i didn't pre-order.

cubeyd
cubeyd

if i want season pass but do't have the game how much is it


cubeyd
cubeyd

which is better getting the season pass or just the game

rikster40
rikster40

The cut scenes take too much away from the momentum of the game.  I want to kill stuff not listen to a bunch of crappy dialog.

outlawst
outlawst

the story mode is a real mess !!!

MarbskiE
MarbskiE

i don't understand the graphics of this game. clearly, the graphics of BO2 is no different from its predecessors' (which i play at max settings @ constant 60fps), but somehow, i get huge FPS drops on certain areas in this game. even at medium settings, there are still huge FPS drops. i can't believe i'm playing crysis or farcry3 on high settings with better FPS rates than this game.other than that, the gameplay feels.. 'different'. honestly, i liked the CoD franchise from the first to MW3 as far as SP campaigns are concerned (so you could pretty much call me a CoD fan), but this game? i can't even bring myself to finish the first 4 missions of the campaign.

Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

 

Is there any way to turn off the hitmarkers in the campaign? Seeing an X show up everytime I shoot somebody in the campaign takes me out of the experience and ruins the immersion of the campaign. I have been playing these games since I was a kid, I am not dumb, I can see when I hit a digital soldier on screen by seeing them bleed and fall over. Seeing a X show up for every hit, made me wanna stop playing the campaign all together. Past COD campaign were fine w/o hitmarkers.

 

GValer
GValer

graphic all CoD games must have minimum 8 ball

Jason-BroDY
Jason-BroDY

the story was gud but the gameplay and the graphics sucked like hell :P it doesn't deserve a 8.0 rating!!! i'd score it 6.5

Warmuro
Warmuro

This CoD game is really different from other CoD games. Story is not bad, but what makes it really cool is your decisions. There are a lot of weapons and a lot of customizations for those weapons too. When you shoot, you can see your enemy's wound. However, i didn't like the soundtracks, some death animations. I think the best soundtracks were in MW2 which are composed by Hanz Zimmer. I don't know if it's just me but some of the death animations are unrealistic and silly to me. Ah, and when you shoot and hit an enemy, there appears a white cross which shows you hit your enemy, just like in multiplayer. It's pretty unnecessary and i hated it. I also hated the some of the cinematics, especially the ones appear when you complete your mission. In cinematic, a few planes fly to the base (probably). What's the point of that cinematic ? And there's a really bulshit ending cinematic too, pointless and kills all the atmosphere of the game. My score is 7.0, but most of the CoD fans will get mad so let's make it 7.5. 

gamefreak215jd
gamefreak215jd

Wow can't believe the user rating actually rose from 5.5 to 6.4.

yohanz5
yohanz5

IGN review is far more accurate. sorry gamespot

Killer_73
Killer_73

good game but expect more from battlefield 4

luizferrarezzi
luizferrarezzi

this campaing could be better if this wasnt the cod with the worst AI of them all and sometimes the enemies spawn in front of me.

yogibbear
yogibbear

Yah this game is finally out. Now game journalism can focus on good games again instead of this BS.

DITHRICH
DITHRICH

good review that focuses on the good(the campaign) and less on the redundant(the multiplayer)

adnanshaikh
adnanshaikh

dear developers , i just want to say that i buy your product for playing it , not to sit back and watch movie clips next time increase your game play not just putting some attractive unusefull vedios ...

KobraXZ
KobraXZ

Over 200 user reviews result in the game getting a 6. I think I can safely say this review is completely inaccurate, and we all know why.

Vlokens
Vlokens

I'm very disapointed. The game is good, but why they removed the server browser? This auto-connecting system sucks, I'm always being placed in servers that arent in my country, and its a crucial thing in a game that every milisecond counts... And if I select "best" in connection settings, it simply will keep looking for a server with a good conection and never connect. I'm not kidding, once I waited more than 8 minutes and the game was still looking for a good connection.

 

With a server browser things are way much better, if theres no one playing in Brazilian servers I simply can choose to try to play later or go to a server with a bad latency. Or maybe brazilians are playing but the server is full, I should have the right to choose if I wanna join another server or if I want to wait someone leaves the server.

 

Things worked so fine in Black Ops 1, server browser worked fine for years (counterStrike, Battlefield...), now all the games want to hide information from the users, treat us like robots, it's so sad...

wimboo
wimboo

I would like to thank the reviewer for the excellent rating

 

@ other reviews this game got like more then 9 way overrated

 

Honest review with facts placed well

I got the game for PC and it 's worth the money

Like I got 3 seperate games, wich is a good thing

rmthomson2
rmthomson2

cough cough metacritic user reviews.....

Ioriya
Ioriya

I think people have already said everything they could about the same game for the last whatever years it's been out.

Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

 @MarbskiE I agree, the campaign is complete crap. Black Ops 1 and W@W were great, they had no annoying X hitmarkers in the campaign, just blood and gore to mark your hits, and you felt more immersed in the experience(even if it was linear). To think the same people who made W@W and BO bought us this load of crap...

Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

 @Warmuro I agree, the hitmarkers that show up as an X everytime you hit an enemy ruined the campaign for me. Treyarch's beautiful bullets wounds, bloodspray, and gore effects are enough to know I hit an enemy. Treyarch didn't even include an option to turn off the hitmarkers in the story. This game had so much  potential, but treyarch would rather make a quick buck off the masses of casual gamers.

Warmuro
Warmuro

Ah, and AI is the worst thing in this game.

aniket93
aniket93

 @yohanz5 8.0 is fair enough for the game!!Its just another call of duty game not worth the 60$ price tage

renome
renome

 @KobraXZ You think people would do that? Just, go on the Internet and lie for money?

GunghoIguana
GunghoIguana

 @KobraXZ Meh.  This is a game where people will rate it whatever without even playing it.

dobpat
dobpat

@Vlokens I am afraid the situation is worse than you think. From all i know this game has no servers at all, it is just that a player is the host. So no server browser of course. And that is the reason why this game and mw3 for example a complete shit for mp. Don't get me wrong, i absolute share your opinion, but if you would have informed yourself about the game you should have know it. And then you probably would not have bought the game. With buying it, you gave the developer a sign that you are fine with these ridiculous multiplayer restrictions. For me this was always a reason to not buy a CoD, if there are no dedicated servers at all. And if a mp game is hosted by a player, then the host has always a ping advantage which you can feel. So it is not even fair at all. But a lot of people do not seem to realise that, esspecially console players i think, which do not feel alot anyways. Main thing for them is a lot of boom boom everywhere. Even if its more an interactive b movie. They will buy for sure i regret.

another_drew
another_drew

 @wimboo we must not be playing the same game. the pc version i got is lag ridden and totally unbalanced. almost unplayable at times. im still not understanding how i can empty a full clip into a person and have them turn on me and kill me within mere seconds. oh thats right these games aren't blessed with accurate hit detection or decent connections. game deserves less than an 8 thats for sure.

omnimodis78
omnimodis78

 @Warmuro Wait, what?  This game had A.I.?  This was the first CoD game I couldn't wait to finish!

Vlokens
Vlokens

 @dobpat  @Vlokens So, if theres no dedicated servers it's just a matter of displaying more info to the user, they show only how many players in each kind of game, they could give us some percentage of the chances of getting in a game with a host that is close to you.

Actually last couple of days I had nice matches, looking both for "best" connection and  for "normal" connection. Game is no longer crashing, the only thing I still don't understand is why there's no hardcore domination???

r0y4l
r0y4l

 @GunghoIguana  @KobraXZ Not saying that this game is bad, I actually enjoyed it very much. And it was well worth my money. But placing it 2 points above Warfighter is laughable, at best. And at worst just goes to show how coloured GS is nowadays. A user rating of over a thousand users is not ideal but still worth far more than one of these "reviews".

Call of Duty: Black Ops II More Info

First Release on Nov 12, 2012
  • PlayStation 3
  • Xbox 360
  • + 2 more
  • PC
  • Wii U
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the sequel to 2010's Black Ops and contains a single-player campaign, competitive multiplayer, and zombies mode.
7
Average User RatingOut of 3213 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Developed by:
Treyarch
Published by:
Activision, Square Enix
Genres:
3D, Action, First-Person, Shooter, Team-Based
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
All Platforms
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs