Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 REVIEW

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II Videogame review

Welcome to the future, Call of Duty.

Release Date: Out Now!
RRP: £39.99
Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Also available on: PS3, Wii U and PC.
Publisher: Activision

This year, Call of Duty: Black Ops has made the leap from the Vietnam conflict to 2025, where drones and Predator-esque camo suits and charged weapons with railgun effects dominate. So total is the takeover that at times the first-person shooter feels less like Call of Duty and more like N64 sci-fi classic Perfect Dark, albeit one with a storyline partially borrowed from The Dark Knight (David Goyer co-wrote Black Ops II, so it’s allowed) and a world built on explosive foundations.

In a bizarre display of self-mutilation Activision managed to spectacularly undermine Black Ops II’s campaign as much as possible by using the entirety of the game’s penultimate level as a demo for the product’s reveal back in May. That there are branching storylines dependent on both your choices and your skill in the field matters little: the penultimate level is where the game’s twists and turns come to a head, and the appearance or absence of certain characters and lines of dialogue make next to no difference to the fact that Activision as good as spoiled the ending six months ago. Factor in a selection of wonky sandbox levels that try and fail to emulate Command And Conquer and the single player campaign, though not without its high points, doesn’t leave you fully satisfied.

Far from spoiled is the life-sapping multiplayer mode Call of Duty is most famous for. This iteration’s online component is set entirely in the 2025 universe also, and has benefited from some much-needed balancing nips and tucks to the scoring and skill systems. Killstreaks have turned into Pointstreaks to reward team players, while Perk and item usage is capped to prevent over-powering. Both changes are key to stopping players grinding to the good gear and then pasting those with fewer hours on their game clocks thanks to their unlocks.

Multiplayer is even more addictive with shooty drones to help.

And almost none of this matters because of Tranzit mode: a gametype that stops Call of Duty: Black Ops II from being “the annual first-person shooter of the masses” and turns it into “the brilliant zombie game that could go on to rival the likes of Left4Dead”.

The premise is simple: Earth was destroyed at the end of Black Ops’ Zombie mode, but a handful of people survived and this is their tale. Up to four players begin the mode locked in a bus station with a bunch of zombies. Once they’ve earned enough money from killing the undead they can open the main door and pile into the bus waiting outside. This then takes them to a new area – a diner and garage combo, to be exact – for a new stand.

After a few waves of zombies the robotic bus driver will grow impatient and honk his horn, signaling his departure. You can wave it goodbye for a few minutes, or jump on to visit another area. The next stop’s at a farm. The stop after’s an underground research laboratory. And the final stop is a burning town centre, after which the bus route loops back around to the beginning.

Survival isn’t the only goal. There are things to make and do at every location: turbines to build to open locked doors; hidden bus upgrades to improve your ride between locations with; zombie shields and turrets to craft to give yourselves a fighting chance. Restoring power to the underground lab conjures an electric zombie boss, even. It’s a formidable foe, but a necessary evil to trigger other events elsewhere.

Zombie mode Tranzit is not to be missed.

Visually Tranzit’s a step down from the campaign (due in part to its co-op support) and sometimes the interactivity radius detection bugs out and you have to shuffle around to find the sweet spot for combining objects, but by and large the mode delivers escalating tension exceedingly well.

The deadly zones in between the five main areas aren’t empty, either. Only the foolish or the over-equipped would explore these mid-worlds, but they’d be right to do so because secret parts can be found here too, and combined to make even better machines. There are secrets buried deeper still – scenarios that only activate once a specific sequence of events are completed all over the world – but it’ll take a good while before the community discovers them all. Tranzit is so dominating the other Survival-based Zombie modes barely deserve a look-in.

Blame it on annual Call of Duty fatigue or the poorly judged reveal PR campaign in May, but Black Ops II doesn’t make the initial impression some of its predecessors did. Yet both its multiplayer and Zombies modes are significant improvements on the past, each strong enough on its own to keep you from sampling the other for weeks on end. A few rough edges are perfectly digestible when the game is as big and as ambitious as this.

Matthew Pellett

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