Here’s the Thing with Call of Duty, It’s Call of Duty
If there’s one thing you can count on in the games industry, it’s a yearly iteration branded by Call of Duty. The powerhouse FPS is practically unstoppable and Treyarch continues to raise the bar set by previous developers of the series. Luckily for us, Activision provided us a copy of what has been poised to be the best Call of Duty ever. But one thing has plagued the series, regardless of consistently selling a bajillion (not a real number) copies every round, it has been the target of harsh criticism for becoming stale and repetitive. Does Call of Duty Black Ops II break the mold or is it just another shake ‘n bake remake?
I’m as impartial as they come but I have to admit I’ve never been a huge fan of the franchise. Yes I’ve played them all, reviewed some and enjoyed many recreationally like anyone else, but the anticipation that millions and millions of gamers feel when the next CoD is announced is just not something I ever felt. Treyarch on the other hand I am a fan of, so needless to say my ears perk when I hear they’re at the helm of anything.
No strangers to the franchise, Treyarch builds on the massive success of the original Black Ops, implementing many tweaks and features to what is hailed by many as the best FPS of all time. Among them is the story, which is a direct sequel and focusses on David Mason as he tries to find out what happened to his father Alex, star of the first Black Ops. Recruiting the talents of Oscar-winning screenwriter Davis S. Goyer, the story of Black Ops II not only continues the Cold War adventure but brings it to the year 2025. The game jumps between Cold War-era missions that follow Alex Mason and Frank Woods of the original Black Ops and 2025 missions that follow Alex’s son, David as he tries to thwart the terrorist plots of Raul Menendez.
Treyarch adds two main elements to the campaign of Black Ops II the first of these being the Strike Force missions. Players are put in charge of a squad of troops and drones and must accomplish specific objectives such as rescuing a hostage. Players have the option of entering “Overwatch Mode” to set waypoints and issue commands to their squad in order to take strategic control of combat zones.
Strike Force missions tie into the second element of the campaign being branching storylines. Treyarch has attempted to include the feeling of failure, something games have moved away from in recent generations. If a player fails a Strike Force mission they will not be sent back to a check point but will continue on with the story. Depending on the outcome of each mission, the geo-political fiction that wraps the ending of their game will be different. In addition, the outcome of critical-decision-making points of the campaign and choices the players make could mean the difference between life and death for some characters, all of which creates the opportunity for multiple endings. The possibility of experiencing different moments or different endings than your friends not only makes it worth replaying to experience different outcomes but also makes you a part of what you play, effectively making it your story.
The great narrative and well overdue evolution of the campaign are welcome additions to the franchise and does nothing but provide players with more options of replayability but let’s be honest, people buy CoD for multiplayer and Treyarch knows it. Although they don’t stray too far from the overall structure set before it, Treyarch provides a number of new options and modes to fill your online appetite All the familiar game modes, boosts, perks and kill streak awards are back in full force and holding true to its futuristic theme, much of the equipment, weapons and kill streaks are futuristic.
The leveling system has been tweaked with players now earning tokens that can be spent on unlocking new weapons, perks and the like. This is great and provides players with the opportunity to skip out on meaningless upgrades and focus on the gear you want sooner. The aforementioned kill streak awards have been replaced by score streaks, forcing players to change their play style as every match becomes less about your specific kill count and more about doing what nets you the most points. This probably won’t stop you from obsessing over your kill/death ratio, but definitely devalues it in some game modes.
One thing I always hated about leveling and ranking up in Call of Duty was the prestige system. For some reason after hitting max rank and choosing to prestige all your stats and experience are erased and that was your “reward.” It would appear the folks at Treyarch agreed it was a silly move and removed that facet of the prestige system, which means you can continue your weapon experience and challenge progress. However, you do receive a Prestige Token when you get to that point which allows you to obtain an additional Create a Class slot, a refund on all your tokens spent to date or the option of using the traditional character wipe that resets all your stats. Personally it actually makes me want to strive for the prestige.
Perhaps the biggest tweak to the multiplayer aspect of Black Ops II is the addition of the ‘Pick 10’ system. This new take on the traditional create-a-class system allows players to create loadouts consisting of up to 10 items – weapons, attachments, perks, etc. Of course there’s an exception to every rule and this is no different as Treyarch also introduces ‘Wildcards’ to their Pick 10 system; Wildcards use one of your 10 item slots to enable other bonuses. These can include things like gaining extra perks, taking a primary gun in place of your secondary weapon or adding a 2nd or 3rd attachment to your primary weapon. This really creates an almost endless amount of combinations for players and all but ensures you likely won’t run into two players running the same loadout. This not only adds depth to class creation in online matchmaking but those who play competitively can strategize with teammates on loadout builds for specific maps or game modes – having different players in roles of a grenadier or suppression support for example.
It’s no secret eSports and competitive play is part of the Call of Duty niche and Treyarch not only recognizes this but improves on it. Implementing League Play really sets Black Ops II apart from not only previous iterations but pretty much every other eSports console game. Players are able to create teams with a unique name and logo and from there jump into the matchmaking fun. You begin by playing a few matches to gain your skill rating and from there you’re thrown in to the skill-based matchmaking, participating in a division with players of similar skill competing on a season ladder. Another point worth noting is teams aren’t left stuck in a specific division once their skill level has been determined. Keep winning and performing at a higher level and you will have the opportunity to move up the ladder into higher tier divisions. Skill-based matchmaking is a proven system that has resulted in much fairer matches in games like StarCraft II, ensuring you’re always challenged but never out-gunned.
To complement the League Play Treyarch has introduced a couple other features that round out the competitive atmosphere of the franchise. CODcasting is a special type of Theatre mode which allows you to commentate over previously recorded game, allowing players to create their own video-on-demand series or use them as a training tool to study strategies and tactics for competition. Treyarch also delivers a live-streaming feature that allows players in League Play matchmaking to stream their gameplay directly from the console to YouTube. Live streaming is a huge aspect of eSports and this is just one more feature that will solidify its popularity in the community. All players need is a verified YouTube account and a valid Call of Duty Elite account, and seeing as COD Elite is now a free service it creates a relatively low cost of entry to those who wish to broadcast their gameplay.
Treyarch wants your BRAIIIIINNNNNS more than ever this time ‘round with incredibly expanded Zombie modes. The new Tranzit, the Zombies story mode, takes you on a journey through a zombie infested wasteland. Playing through rounds and areas of increasingly difficult waves of the undead all while cruising around on a fortified bus, fending off zombies as you travel from zone to zone. Each stop on your bus ride through the Zombie wasteland makes up one of Tranzit’s many chapters. You can’t save whenever you like but you can complete a cluster of areas to unlock the next no the world map. Being killed after beating so many waves only to thrown right back to the start sucks but it really just enforces the fact that solo play is the less desirable option, enforcing (the incredibly fun) 4-player co-op play.
Survival mode and the new 4vs4 Greif mode round out the Zombie experience of Black Ops II. Survival is kind of eclipsed now by the larger open-world Tranzit mode, but it’s still fun to hunker down and try to hold your ground for as long as possible. Grief mode pits two teams of 4 against one another in a survival situation. It’s a fun mode that challenges teams to hold out as long as possible, although teams can’t directly hurt one another they can bait zombies by throwing meat at the opposing squad or stun them when attempting to revive a teammate.
Call of Duty is a formulaic game. Its success is measured on how much it can change while staying the same. The bread and butter of any CoD release is the gameplay and Treyarch stayed true to form. Instead of fixing what wasn’t broken, they opted to fix what was. Implementing much needed tweaks and updates to the campaign, multiplayer modes, loadout system and even Zombies. It’s still Call of Duty but it’s not just Call of Duty, it’s not just multiplayer, it’s just a full-featured experience from a franchise that many believe needed a reboot and we got it.
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