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.

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.

There's more than one way to explode a boat.
There's more than one way to explode a boat.

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.

Looks like you made him angry.
Looks like you made him angry.

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 PlayStation 3 to your YouTube account and live stream your league play matches, but after trying on multiple systems in multiple locations we were unable to broadcast a single successful stream. The first barrier is the 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, more substantial barrier is technical. The systems we tried crashed numerous times during loading screens (a problem we did not encounter in regular play), and the few times we managed to play a match and gather the necessary viewers, the viewer number abruptly fell to zero and the stream failed to start. This novel feature is currently non-functional, 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 with no streaming option currently active, 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.

There was a zombie head there just a second ago.
There was a zombie head there just a second ago.

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 and the novel new social features are a flop, the rest of Black Ops II is lively and entertaining, 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
Live streaming feature is not functional
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Call of Duty: Black Ops II

About the Author

Chris enjoys aiming down virtual sights, traipsing through fantastical lands, and striving to be grossly incandescent.
63 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
  • 63 results
  • 1
  • 2
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

I love how nobody mentions that Black ops 2's multi-player mode has less guns to choose from than Black ops 1(less SMG's and AR's to choose from). Why downgrade? Black ops 2 no longer has weapons personalizations, and the campaign of Black Ops 2 feels cheap, with annoying visible hit markers that pop up as an 'X' for every enemy you hit(as if blood and gore isn't hit markers enough?). Black Ops 2 has potential to be better but it's not because they downgraded and dumbed the game down. Black Ops1 is still much better, and I still play BO1 over BO2 and Ghosts.

Avatar image for Zekethompson22

This campaign is so good!

Avatar image for elitesoldier117

its an ok game by itself but when you compare it to the others it seems all the same and a waste of money

Avatar image for darksonic140

**** microsoft. DLC comes, PS3 and other consoles need to wait for a month...

Avatar image for SkaiNett

WTF "SAME AS LAST YEAR" brand? Riptide gets the medal, but CoD, the king of Copy and Paste, didn't receive it.

Avatar image for MasterOfDeath23

Good story, poor that al those kids are whining and bitching in every multipayer match that someone is a hacker while its just a player who is better then the bitching kid. I just like to play normal match with poeple that dont yell and bitch all the time and just playing a good match. Due the fact that i hate fanboys cuz their the ones who are bitching most of the time. But yeah i like battlefield games to and other games such as amnesia and fear and those kinda games. BO2 is just another cod game with just a good story, the multiplayer is rather fun unless people are bitching and the fun is also gone due the crappy lagg compensation, still its a enjoyable game.

Avatar image for Zekethompson22

The sotry in this game is so good. I am playing it for the 3rd time!

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@Zekethompson22 the story sucks. The hit markers make it suck even more. Feels like an arcade game.

Avatar image for Bomberman27

I dont hate CoD.I hate the fanboys,haters and flamewars surounding the franchise.

Avatar image for Scorchstar

@Bomberman27 and Activision :3

Avatar image for HYPERROY

Well I see why it got an 8, well its just a multiplayer online that's about it. I have not even touch the main story of the game yet. I only play online, but I got to say this game gets you really angry and fast!!

Avatar image for gothemile

Call Of Bore: Crappy Ops 2. Now that's having fun with game titles.

Avatar image for uhlv

On your opinion guys, COD black ops I or black ops II???

Avatar image for big86boss

@uhlv Black ops 1, no question. The last good COD in my own opinion

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@uhlv Black Ops 1 has a better campaign and better feel. the multiplayer and Zombies are also better in BO1.

Avatar image for Alsabah-123


Avatar image for mihail0212

дмирий коршиков

Avatar image for KevinWijaya

Honestly from my own opinion, the BO2 gameplay and the visual effects are much better than MW3 however I think the stories on BO2 aren't better than MW3 but overall I think the BO2 campaign is good enough especially for those who never played any previous CoD games. Things that I really dissapointed in BO2 is the multiplayer because the MW3 multiplayer is still much better than the BO2. Okay there are a lot of new weapons variaties and new maps also in BO2, I admit that. But I didn't get the excitement and the joy from BO2 Multiplayer and definetly the MW3 multiplayer is better.

Avatar image for Onlinefire

if someone wants a hack in bo2 multiplayer of 11 prestige and im not lying and if u just think that im lying u can see my prestige its 11 prestige and add me in ps3 onlinefire and send me a message in ps3 that u want 11 prestige hack

Avatar image for obey21

tbh i think this is the strongest of the cod's campaign wise

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@obey21 I thought it was the weakest COD campaign yet. the hitmarkers that show up as an X every time you shoot an enemy was really distracting and made the campaign feel less immersive. Throughout the campaign, controller was constantly ripped from my hand where I was forced to watch annoying cut-scenes, when I could of been interacting myself. this game has more scripted scenes than any COD to date. overall this was the worst COD campaign yet.

Avatar image for obey21

@Dredcrumb9 @obey21 sure all of those things are a bit annoying at times, i should of been more specific when i meant 'campaign'. i actually mean how well developed the story is, not the gameplay.

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@obey21 @Dredcrumb9 do you know what "obey " means or where it came from? If not, I suggest you look it up and stop being a trendy sheep.

Avatar image for 1337hackz

I thought this review score was a little low, an 8.5 would have been more appropriate.

Avatar image for Nintyfan95

So much fun...

Avatar image for 3SidedSquare

LOL @ lack of "Same As Last Year" medal.

Avatar image for manabmw

This Game SUCKS!!...

I Bought the first BO aftre playing MW and i am telling u guys i broke the game cd after 4 days!!...

Tryark are peice of crap!!

After i spent my money on this rubbish BO2 i promiised my self i never buy any of there game any more!!,

and i didnt!!

i didnt buy the BO2 and N im sooooo happy...

MP are sooo bad, te engine of the game sucks, even the single player is not so good for the single game i have better games such as far cry3!

bottem line...

waiting to the Next MW!!!!!!

Avatar image for KevinWijaya

@manabmw well the campaign's still better than MW mate

Avatar image for 1337hackz

@manabmw Dude this game out way better than MW ever since IW left MW sucks.

Avatar image for aviaziz

@manabmw you are tell the truth i actually played the first one and it wes ok but i thought that the game planners will read or learn about what people like but they didnt and this is the worst shooter i ever played.they need to wake up those futuristic shooter is bad...

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

Worst COD campaign ever, each level feels like 5 minutes worth of gameplay. To make the campaign worse we have Resistance fall Of man style hitmarkers in the campaign that really took away from the immersive feeling of past COD campaigns. Please release a patch for those of us who don't wish to see an X hitmarker show up every time you make a hit. treyarch's beautiful, signature graphic violence is enough to know I hit an enemy, seeing an X show up on the screen is distracting. Leave visible hitmarkers for multiplayer or easy difficulty only.

Avatar image for KevinWijaya

@Dredcrumb9 The campaign is still great mate, the multiplayer is less better than MW3

Avatar image for 1337hackz

@Dredcrumb9 Dude the Campaign was great.

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@1337hackz must of never played a good FPS campaign if you think this campaign is great. Play Halflife 1 and 2, Goldneye 64, and Perfect Dark 64, and FEAR campaigns, than tell me this campaign is great for a FPS campaign. Black Ops 1 and W@W campaigns were good(for being cod), but this campaign is a step down. The visible X looking hitmarkers that show up for each hit, cheapened the campaign and took away the immersion. Each level is 2 mins of gameplay and the rest is cutscenes that rip the control form your hands every minute, this campaign was not great, it sucked.

Avatar image for 1337hackz

@Dredcrumb9 @W I've played those I've played those campaigns I just liked this game it's fun. Every mission felt fresh and original, it wasn't just go to this area and shoot these bad guys like it usually is.

Avatar image for unrealtron

I had fun with it.

Avatar image for alexmason132222

but guyz dont u think that black ops 2 deserves a little more than this

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@alexmason132222 it deserves less than this. Black Ops 1 was great, this sequel was supposed to be better not worse.

Avatar image for khaos_6

hahah good, i hope they go bust, BF4 will kill any shoting game, i mean BF3 turned me right of MW, i hate the fanchise, MW is for little boys while BF is for men and skilled players.

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@khaos_6 BF3 isn't that good....people who act like the best FPS is either COD or BF are just as idiotic as Americans who believe Obama and Romney are different kinds of politicians. BF and Cod are equally shit.

Avatar image for ElectronReviews

Black Ops 2:

The good: A great and touching single player with a fantastic story - The action is bloody and extremely fun in singleplayer

The bad: The multiplayer is not fun at all, and It's not changed - Zombies is a total disappointment - The graphics engine is pretty dated - A dull sequel

Final Verdict: 5.5

Black Ops 2 is a disappointment with a dull MP and a sluggish "Zombies", but with a fantastic singleplayer.

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@ElectronReviews the campaign sucks, I never thought i would say this, but MW2 and MW3 have better campaigns than this. And I am one who loved Black ops 1 and W@W more than any MW title. Each level in Black ops 2 is like 5 minutes worth of gameplay, even on veteran it's super easy. the resistance styled hitmarkers that show up as an X makes the campaign feel very cheap and less immersive than previous COD campaigns, so it no longer has that cool cinematic feel. What was touching about this campaign? I found the characters to be shallow and hard to care about. Menendez and Woods are the only decent characters in the game but even they feel superficial.

Avatar image for HybridKing

Wayyyyy better than MW3, story is great, seeing the multiple endings make the campaign worth playing, customizing your loadout is gawd's gift to CoD, Zombies and multiplayer is still fun to play, specially with friends, anyone who says this is the same as last year us lying.

Avatar image for HybridKing

*is* lying, bloody typo

Avatar image for Killzonage

Looks like a fun game to play with the homies.

Avatar image for NegasBlack

This game is a waste of money! The only reason I decided to get it was to have some MP matches with and against my friends. I hadn't played a first person shooter for a while so in an attempt to get back to my previous level of skill I played through the campaign. The campaign is such an incoherent mess and even on the hardest setting a walk in the park. The main character David, has no character, he's an incredibly shallow person, no depth, not a thing is interesting about him. At times playing mission from the POV of other characters, like Alex Mason and Frank Woods is nice break from David.

The story itself is so f*cking ridiculous and uninspired and the whole time I was thinking the original Black Ops had a decent story to it, this is just garbage, if that. And then you get to the end, anti-climactic to the extreme, disappointing as hell and taking down the bad guy to end the game felt like such a cheap finish, I kinda felt like turning the game off and breaking the disc in half. Hell the "music video" at the end is probably the best part of the game.

And then there's the MP. It's a mess from start to finish. The menus are a pain in the ass, no overview whatsoever, finally do get the option to turn off aim assist, thank god for that, it screws up my shots more often than it helps, but the MP is even worse than it was in the original Black Ops. MW3 is a masterpiece compared to the level of crap BO2 is.

Avatar image for Dredcrumb9

@NegasBlack I agree Black ops 2 had a horrible campaign and on Veteran it was extremely easy. I never thought Treyarch would make a game worse than IW but BO2 is worse than MW3, and I hated MW3. The hitmarkers that show up as an X each time you make a hit, took away from the immersion of the story and forces you to look at a stupid X every time you shoot somebody instead of seeing treyarch's beautiful blood and gore death animations. This game was an insult to me as a big fan of Black Ops 1 and W@W. This game was made for Non gamers.

Avatar image for MrMaster4life

haha no it was against the justice guy >>>so instead of miss reading i miss clicked the wrong name to reply..sorry mate :) anyways back on all: its a great game if you enjoy fpshooters its a nice game to have in the collection

  • 63 results
  • 1
  • 2

Call of Duty: Black Ops II More Info

  • First Released Nov 12, 2012
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • + 2 more
    • Wii U
    • Xbox 360
    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.
    Average Rating3425 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Call of Duty: Black Ops II
    Developed by:
    Published by:
    Activision, Square Enix
    Shooter, 3D, Action, First-Person
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs