A lot of people wouldn’t consider a Call of Duty game to be ranked amongst the best single player campaigns of the year, instead dismissing it as a poor, generic shooter without any real substance. That can be true though – personally I thought that last year’s release, Modern Warfare 3 was a bit of a farce, filled with clichés and generic shooting sequences, never really hitting the right notes for me.
I thought that the first Black Ops campaign was great, however; filled with action yet keeping a really strong narrative, something which hadn’t been seen from the series since the brilliant Call of Duty 4.
Black Ops II, then, surpasses anything we’ve seen before in a Call of Duty game in terms of storytelling. It manages to keep the fast-paced, incredibly fun action along with the grand set-pieces and fuses them with a fantastic plot.[videoyoutube]There’s a few reasons for this, the first being due to the fact that the gameplay is all kept within the family, so to speak. You’ll play as several characters, but they’re all very close to each other, interacting with each other throughout cutscenes between missions. The main two characters are Alex Mason – the main protagonist of the first Black Ops game – in the 1980s. and his son, David in the 2020s, along with a host of other allies and villains.
The main antagonist is great, too – Raul Menendez has a fleshed-out backstory, which is revealed as you play through and though you may empathise with him at times, he remains as a true evil force that both Masons must try to take down. There are some nice tricks up Black Ops II’s sleeve to keep you entertained throughout and Menendez is amongst the best of them.
Each main campaign mission fully serves its purpose to forward the story – there’s minimal filler throughout and all of the missions are truly great and different from each other. It’s still a much more unified story, too, so you shouldn’t be confused as the game flashes between not only different countries but different time periods.
Choices play a big part in Black Ops II – it’s a refreshing change for the series. Your first decision before any mission even starts will be to choose which loadout you’ll take into battle with you. Your loadouts are fully customisable, much like their multiplayer counterparts and you’ll become comfortable with the weapons, attachments, equipment and perks that you like, rather than ones that you’re forced to use or pick up as you progress through the campaign.
Each level has its own array of choices you’ll have to make – some are blatant press X or Y variants but there are also some really subtle things that you might not catch the first time around, many of which aren’t always hinted at. It’s a brilliant system, and the payoff is great too, with the multiple endings stemming from all of the choices that you make in each of the missions.
These sometimes hard-hitting choices are oddly but effectively paired with over-the-top action sequences and more explosions than you could ever hope for. Some of these set-pieces are genuinely fun and many left me smiling from ear to ear as I rode a horse or shot enemies in slow motion. Make no mistake, this game isn’t without its moments, but it isn’t dumbed-down, either.
Areas are far more open than previous games, with multiple routes to take – it feels like much less linear and much more of a triumph than we’ve seen not only with Call of Duty but with any first person shooter in recent years. It’s an extremely well-designed game and Treyarch have really proved themselves with these last two releases.[drop]There’s one fatal flaw in the campaign, which lies with the several (optional) RTS-style missions that do need to be completed in order for the best outcome story-wise.
These missions have some good mechanics, with multiple squads and the option to switch between standard RTS controls and controlling an individual troop, but they ultimately fall flat; they’re far too hard on the higher difficulty levels, with only limited retries and there’s no option to simply switch difficulty without changing it in the main story, too, with no way to up the difficulty level afterwards.
So, you’re stuck with either failing these on a hard difficulty level, or playing the campaign on an easier level, with no in-between options. It’s quite annoying, meaning that I left the story for a while.
I went back to it though, and all was well – the missions still didn’t disappoint and the game just got even better as it went on – there were a few nice twists along the way and plenty of action to keep anyone happy.
To put it simply, it might just be the best Call of Duty campaign yet – the multiplayer is still good fun and Zombies can be a blast, but Treyarch have really delivered with the exposition in this game, showing that the Call of Duty franchise can be something much more than just another shooter.