Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

If games were food - then Black Ops 2 would be one of the heartiest banquets you'd ever seen. This game is packed with content, the only time you'll ever see more content on a disk is if you pick up a compilation title. Every year the Call of Duty titles have got bigger and bigger, but Treyarch have really pushed it to the limits with this one. There's the single player campaign, the Zombies mode and of course of the multiplayer. Each one of these components has been expanded and fleshed out more so than ever before. There's so much to do you get the feeling lesser studios would have released this game as separate stand alone products.

But quantity is one thing - quality is another. You may have all you can eat, but is it a Gordon Ramsey masterpiece or something that's served in a tray from a takeaway that you're sure you saw on an episode of Grimefighters?

Whilst it's the gameplay that keeps us coming back for more, presentation and graphical appeal does count - and Black Ops 2 certainly doesn't disappoint. The single player campaign looks especially lovely. Whether you're traversing a jungle mountain range in the pouring rain, jumping out of a VTOL in a daring aerial assault or taking in the panorama of an opulent  floating holiday resort it all looks stunning. The stand out moment has to be fighting your way through a flooded street in Pakistan - it really does look  outstanding. As always, the character models, weapons and other interactive elements all look solid and are well detailed. There are a few hiccups though. There's  odd niggles with shadows and every now and again there's a drop in frame rate - but for the most part they're barely noticeable. Importantly the multiplayer doesn't have any frame rate issues and runs at a solid 60fps providing a smooth and responsive experience. 

The sounds are just what you expect from a Call of Duty game. Great gun sounds, excellent voice acting and a superb futuristic soundtrack which perfectly fits the game. Treyarch have also included every single control style imaginable. You can play this game with the Wii Remote, with the Gamepad, with the Pro Controller and even with the original Wii Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro. The amount of options should leave everyone with the perfect setup.


Single Player:
Treyarch have made a bold move for a Call of Duty title when it comes to the single player mode. For the first time ever the decisions you make in the game affect the outcome at the end of the game. There are six different endings which change depending on your choices.
This is implemented well - it's not just a single choice at the very end, but a series of choices and performance based tasks that run right through the campaign. A large part of the way you are judged is based on your performance in the new Strike Force missions. Strike Force missions are not like typical Call of Duty levels - instead of controlling the main character and moving down a set path you control a squad and have to perform a predetermined task in a time limit.

These new missions sound great - however in reality they don't quite work. You control one member of the squad you're in charge of. The problem is the rest of your squad seem totally inept at doing anything other than dying, forcing you to run around the levels doing all the work.
The other big change to the campaign is the setting. Most of the game takes place in the future with some flash backs playing out in the cold war era where you control the protagonists from the original Black Ops. The futuristic setting is really well done and at times it took me back to my days playing Perfect Dark on the N64 - which can only be a good thing. Treyarch's attention to detail really does bring their futuristic vision to life, one example being adverts that superimpose your face (ie: the characters face) on them when you walk past. Little touches like that really do help make the single player experience feel polished and special.

But the single player isn't all roses. It also has an annoying habit of throwing you into a vehicle or a drone with little or no warning. At these points you will struggle to acclimatise to the controls and stumble through a rapid series of challenges where you will inevitably die until you work out what exactly you're meant to do. These sudden and poorly implemented changes of pace do nothing for the game and you yearn to be back on foot doing what Call of Duty does best - gunplay.

The single player is overall a solid experience. The setting is great, the story is well written and the multiple endings are a welcome step forward. However the Strike Force missions could have been better and the moments where you're thrown into the cockpit of a plane at a moment's notice could have been left out altogether.


If Call of Duty is a banquet then the multiplayer is the definitely the 'main dish'. The multiplayer is what keeps people coming back for months - even years - after the game is released. This makes the multiplayer arguably the most important component of the game and certainly the one that gets the most discussion online.

So where to begin? Well, for a start Treyarch have given Black Ops 2 the biggest overhaul since the original Modern Warfare. Their new system - titled pick 10 - totally redesigns the way you set up your classes allowing for far greater customisation when deciding how you're going to play.
But the truly fantastic thing about pick 10 is that despite greater freedom it's probably the most balanced COD title to date. There doesn't seem to be any killer classes or perks that outweigh all others. The fine tuning means that you can adopt several play styles - all of which have different but equally compelling merits.

The other huge change is that kill streaks are now replaced with score streaks. You now earn points for all manner of things including capturing flags, assisting with kills, destroying enemy equipment, shooting down helicopters and protecting objectives. These points unlock score streak rewards. This means players are now rewarded for doing things other than killing. That means that someone who isn't necessarily the best killer can still earn good rewards for helping the team in other ways.

Treyarch have also righted several of Infinity Ward's wrongs. Gone are the overpowered dual wield machine pistols which could hit anyone anywhere regardless of range. Gone is the silly quick scoping which saw sniper rifle out shoot sub machine guns at close range. The time to kill has also been increased meaning that gun fights are back. Treyarch have also tried at deal a huge blow to campers - they've carefully tweaked the Ghost perk and removed motion sensors meaning that you're only hidden from UAVs when moving. All this is clearly an effort to try to create a smooth playing run and gun game where the onus is on moving around the map.

We're also again treated to more of everything, including the return of Combat Training and the excellent wager matches that Treyarch pioneered. This is the biggest multiplayer offering to date in any COD title and as you're playing it on the Wii U you can now go online with a friend without being forced to share a screen. One player can use the TV, the other the Gamepad to create a truly unique experience that is far superior to split screen.
Sounds good doesn't it? But it doesn't quite come off. The game suffers from a lack of joined up thinking which soils what on paper looks to be the best COD multiplayer experience to date.

If you've read my previous Call of Duty reviews for the Wii games, you'll see I was a huge fan of Treyarch's output.  The maps in World at War and the original Black Ops were some of the best in the series - up there with the maps in Modern Warfare and better than those in MW2 and MW3. Specifically maps like Asylum, Upheaval , Castle, WMD, Array and Cracked were masterpieces. All of these maps felt like real locations with well definable areas and a clear flow. So it came as a real shock  when playing Black Ops 2 to find the maps to be so average. Some maps are a total mess - Carrier and Slums to name two. Others fall into the category of being arena style maps like Express and Meltdown and are merely mirrored from side to side. These maps don't feel like real world locations and seem soulless and boring compared to the maps in the original Black Ops.


The problem with the maps also highlights a lack of joined up thinking on Treyarch's part. Whilst the game appears to be set up for run and gun gameplay, the maps clearly aren't. Every corner has a piece of waist high scenery on it, every room has some waist high cover and some maps have places where you can literally sit behind cover killing at will whilst barely being seen. All this adds up to make every map a camper's paradise.
So whilst there's no motion sensors or proper Ghost perk so pro-players can lock down areas, there's camp sites on every corner meaning that if you do try to move around the map you're immediately disadvantaged by the nature of the map design - this leads to terrible stop/start game play which rarely flows.

The problem is further compounded by a few other poor design choices. Whilst the dual wield machine pistols and quick scoping  are thankfully gone - Treyarch have compensated cheap players. Shotguns are now massively over powered and provide one shot kills to totally break up the game play. Add to this 'target finders' which put red boxes around enemies to help with aiming and you've got a setup which actually feels similar to what hackers used in MW3 with the 'red box hack'.  But even if players aren't using shotguns and target finders, don't start thinking you can move around the map taking on enemies - the spawn system will make sure that doesn't happen. When you kill someone they now spawn in on another player's position. This is quite simply an awful idea. You can kill one, two and sometimes three enemies only to have another spawn in near the end of the gun fight and kill you! It also has the effect of leaving large areas of the maps unpopulated whilst having clusters of enemies who will always get the better of you due to sheer weight of numbers. Make no mistake - this is the worst spawn system of any modern Call of Duty game.

But the final and arguably worst feature of Black Ops 2 is the lag compensation. This little gem tries to balance a poor connection with a good connection. Rather than a player with a poor connection getting owned by a player who has taken the time to open his NAT and wire in his system, anything can happen. This makes  gun fights a total lottery. The lag compensation balancing act never works. You will often engage in a gun fight only to seemingly die after being shot once when you've unloaded half a clip into your enemy. On watching the kill cam you see that in fact you barely pulled the trigger whilst your killer unloaded 5 or 6 shots into you with startling accuracy.

Don't get me wrong - when this game is working it plays well. You'll enjoy the new class system, you'll love most of the weapon balance and you'll be able to deal with the slightly average maps - because it's still COD. And when COD is good, it's great. The problem is this game isn't great often enough because of some startlingly poor design choices. The maps, the shotguns, the spawns and most of all the lag compensation all conspire to ruin what could have been the best Call of Duty since the original Modern Warfare.


The much loved Zombies mode also returns - and it follows suit by being the biggest and most expansive Zombies mode to date. The pre-release hype suggested that Zombies would have some sort of single player missions, but sadly that hasn't come into fruition. Instead what we've got a is a series of locations that are connected via bus journeys called Tranzit.

The setting is a creepy, burnt out post-apocalyptic America and you have little or no idea what is going on or what you should do - other than there are Zombies and they need killing. But that's where the fun stems from, you and your companions have to work it out. As you kill Zombies you earn points which can then be used to unlock new weapons and eventually doors which open up the world around you.

Zombies also features two other modes- survival and grief. The first sees you take on the simple role of trying to survive. It's basically what Zombies used to be and is more restrictive than the new Tranzit mode. The Grief mode sees two teams fight it out to see who can survive longer and whilst they can't directly kill each other they can 'grief' the other team by attracting Zombies to them, blocking them and generally being a nuisance with the aim of being the last team standing.

Zombies is a still a blast - especially with four friends and voice chat and if you're one of the people who literally lives in the Zombies mode then you're probably going to have more fun than you've ever had before.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has more content than almost any other release. It really is phenomenal how much Treyarch have packed into the game and that alone deserves high praise. This isn't some cookie cutter yearly update which demands your cash for some stat changes and a few maps, it's huge value for money. What's more, the game is presented well with excellent production values. The problem is, with so much content it feels like the polish has worn thin in certain areas - specifically the online multiplayer where the map design really isn't up to the high standard previously set by Treyarch. Disappointingly there's also the issues surrounding lag which when they come into play can hobble the experience. So whilst this banquet presents everything you can eat and more, it comes off as a little undercooked.

  • Gameplay3
  • Playability3
  • Visuals5
  • Audio4
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



More content than ever before
Looks and sounds great
Some great new additions and tweaks
Lots of control schemes & two player without splitscreen


Strike Force missions are a missed opportunity
Map designs aren't up to Treyarch's usual high standards
Horrible lag ruins the online experience

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