Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 review

  • The branching campaign story
  • Exploring the wide-open Tranzit Zombies mode
  • Customizing your multiplayer loadout with the "Pick 10" system
  • The unresponsive AI in the Strike Force Missions
  • Not having friends to play Zombies with
  • Players who use the Guardian Scorestreak effectively

Right when you were thinking you could skip the annual Call of Duty release due to franchise fatigue or simply wanting to take a year off, Treyarch delivers one of the most full-featured and best games in the series. Call of Duty: Black Ops II makes improvements to the formula in every single one of its game modes--from its incredibly balanced and thrilling multiplayer to a campaign that's engaging and full of surprises and a Zombies mode that could pass as its own stand-alone experience.

Watch the Call of Duty: Black Ops II video review

Black Ops II takes off in the year 2025, with Black Ops' Sergeant Woods pushing 90 and David Mason (son of Black Ops lead character Alex Mason) taking over as leader of the future US Navy SEALs.  Cyber-terrorist and all-around-bad-guy Raul Menendez has a bone to pick with the Masons, Woods, and the U.S. of A. over the loss of his disabled sister, and he has waited the good part of forty years planning his revenge. The story remains engaging throughout, with surprises and plot twists that change depending on your performance and several life-or-death choices made throughout the six-hour campaign.

If that sounds unlike any Call of Duty you've ever played, that's because it is. Black Ops II's story contains alternate paths that change small portions of the campaign, leading to multiple endings. Whether you meet the specific criteria of some objectives can determine if certain characters live or die, so taking too long to rescue a V.I.P. or making a wrong turn during a driving sequence might completely change the ending. The branching story is surprisingly dynamic, and seeing the substantive alternate endings adds another reason to replay the campaign after the credits roll.

The missions alternate between flashbacks set in the 1980s, starring Alex Mason and Woods, and 2025 missions from the perspective of David Mason and his high-tech Spec-Ops team. The variety is staggering and well-paced, and though there's plenty of running and gunning, all of the set-pieces are memorable and exciting. One mission, you'll shoot at tanks with a rocket launcher while riding a horse; the next, you'll guide a spider-like recon drone through a winding network of vents. The campaign excels with its pacing, excitement, and delivery, but falls short in one of the new additions: Strike Force missions. 

The new Strike Force missions are optional levels that pop up during the campaign. Unlike the standard missions, you can choose to play from the first-person perspective of any unit on the battlefield; alternatively, you can swoop up to the tactical overhead perspective in which you select units and order them to move, attack, or capture points like you would in a real-time strategy game. It all sounds good on paper--but in practice, the AI doesn't work well enough to play exclusively in the overhead view (which should've been a viable option). Playing in first-person isn't much better. Enemies run out from cover to be mowed down with your gunfire, so it isn't much of a challenge.

The addition of the Strike Force missions might have come short, but the advancements in the fan favorite Zombies mode vastly improve the apocalyptic survival gameplay over the previous titles. The undead shooting survival mode has expanded to a level that is basically a separate title in itself. The traditional Survival mode (in which you hold out as waves of angry undead beasties attempt to eat your brains) is now joined with three new modes: Grief, Custom, and the expansive Tranzit mode. Grief lets up to two teams of eight total players attempt to survive the Zombie horde and outlive the other team by finding ways to get them killed. Discovering creative ways to deter the other team is hilariously entertaining, since you can toss zombie bait into opponent's defensive positions, and knife other players off balconies into the zombie horde. Custom games adjust the match settings like your starting round, difficulty, and whether want the mystery box power-ups to appear.

Tranzit expands Zombies from a traditional horde mode to a full apocalyptic adventure. You still must survive waves of undead attackers, but you can also explore the massive world map using an automated bus as transport and interact with a new puzzle element involving "parts." Parts can be used to assemble special items with unique properties, like power generators or riot shield-like weapons--pushing players to explore, take risks and develop strategies to open new doors. You’ll spend hours exploring and experimenting in Tranzit's open world, and when you and your friends unlock something new, the return for your effort is extremely rewarding.

But that’s enough about working cooperatively--what about the part where you get to shoot your friends in the face? Black Ops II's multiplayer has received several game-changing improvements. First off, the class customization uses a "Pick 10" system. Players have ten points to choose the items they want in their loadout, including weapons, perks, and the new Wild Cards that allow you to do things like equip extra perks or add an extra attachment to your primary weapon. You can also get rid of slots you don't use. Don't want to have a Perk 1? You don't have to. Use that point to add an extra lethal grenade or an additional Perk 2. Pick 10 gives players much more freedom in the way they choose their loadouts and keeps the competition balanced at the same time. 

Killstreaks have also gotten an overhaul in the way they are earned and are now called Scorestreaks. Kills are no longer the only way of earning the multitude of air support, drones, and turrets that stack up the kills for you. With Scorestreaks, camping out and racking up kills is often the slowest way to earn your streak bonus. Higher score values are awarded to players who put their efforts toward match-winning objectives, like controlling capture points, planting bombs, and guarding flags. The score system becomes a huge motivator for your teammates to go for a flag capture, rather than camping out and trying to earn a Stealth Chopper, making the cooperative effort all the more thrilling.

The Scorestreaks themselves have also changed with the game’s futuristic setting, but most generally follow the same function as their previous counterparts. Being able to unleash and control several drone types and Predator missiles have a secondary cluster bomb option add variety to old favorites, but new streaks like the Guardian have particularly strategic uses. The heat-wave projecting turret prevents opponents from crossing its area of effect, essentially forcing them to find an alternate route and creating bottlenecks on the map. Streaks like these create new strategic options in team games and can be devastating to more disorganized opponents.

Outside of the gameplay, Black Ops II has also received several other upgrades as well. The Codcasting feature allows players to commentate on matches, livestream, and share their videos online. Then there's League Play that ranks your skills and places you in brackets with players that are at your skill level. This is the most feature heavy multiplayer offering in the series' history with options that will appeal to a variety of players.

Treyarch blasts away 'franchise fatigue' with one of the best Call of Duty experiences to date. Black Ops II delivers on all fronts. Zombies drops you into an intense, expansive world with untold secrets to discover, multiplayer's Pick 10 system and Scorestreaks open up new strategies to exploit, and the single-player campaign warrants repeat visits from its captivating, branching storyline. Treyarch introduces new ideas to the tried-and-true game mechanics of the series and improves upon them. Every aspect of the game has been honed to a razor-sharp experience, complete with beautiful visuals and rock-solid controls. Thought you were done with Call of Duty? Think again. This is the new Call of Duty. This is the definitive Call of Duty. And this is a shooter that absolutely can't be missed.

This game was reviewed on Xbox 360 at a review event.

More Info

Release date: Nov 13 2012 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Nov 18 2012 - Wii U (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii U
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Treyarch
Franchise: Call of Duty
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs



Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • MilkDud2 - March 8, 2014 1:32 p.m.

    loved it, best multiplayer in the business. I hope they make a third one that's just as good!!
  • talleyXIV - November 15, 2012 8:22 p.m.

    Guardian scorestreak is the single coolest new killstreak in the last 3 Call of Dutys.
  • Toad396 - November 14, 2012 6:11 p.m.

    This game is pretty good and all, but the servers are messing up lately, and I found that the barracks' loading screens are really long.
  • RedTurtleMULISHA - November 14, 2012 3:13 a.m.

    Playing it right now. Yawn...
  • acestingray - November 14, 2012 12:41 a.m.

    Ps3 owners having issues... again..
  • shawksta - November 13, 2012 7:55 p.m.

    It was Glorious, Treyarch, THIS IS WHY YOUR BETTER. I beaten the Campaign the first time and holy F*CK was it enjoyable, the story had feels man, even if it was short and the fact that its all branching pleased me, but ill do that later. THAT FINAL CUTSCENE, F*CKING YES
  • ObliqueZombie - November 13, 2012 6:33 p.m.

    I am definitely pleased with this one, even if all I did was MP for the first... 13 hours of the game? Not in a row, mind, but since midnight until now. Sure, I yelled at the TV, but after a few hours you tend to nitpick every little detail, and being annoyed comes easy after you're on a roll and some dickhead kills you with a lucky, stray bullet. Overall, I'd say it's the best CoD I've played to day, next to Black Ops and next to Modern Warfare. The way it feels is quite stellar in comparison to the other games, and the pick-10 system leaves me classes drastically different from my friends'. But my complaints thus far are as follows: the zombies mode is still too damn hard for me and my friends, because zombies kill in two swiped and the new maps aren't explained at all. I still prefer to the original zombies mode, but I KNOW I'll be pumping hours into these new ones to finally get the hang of them. Secondly, that a lot, if not all, of the best guns and perks are given right off of the start. Almost makes leveling up less exciting and the matches that much more frustrating, because everyone's aim is dead-on and most are unseen from your streaks. But, all is well now. I'll be playing this on and off with my friends for quite some time.
  • awesomesauce - November 14, 2012 10:21 p.m.

    They added an easy mode for zombies so you can take like 4 or 5 hits now. I agree now it's a bit more reasonable
  • ObliqueZombie - November 15, 2012 10:37 a.m.

    Really, now? Like a customized game, or just an optional game type to choose?
  • awesomesauce - November 15, 2012 9:47 p.m.

    It's a setting you switch while you're starting a map. It says would you like Original or Easy mode. You can take more hits in easy mode but i think some Easter eggs are turned off.
  • ObliqueZombie - November 16, 2012 5:39 a.m.

    Awesomesauce! :D I'll have to tell my friends about this!
  • Moondoggie1157 - November 13, 2012 5:14 p.m.

    Well, I can honestly say that this is the first time I have been looking forward to a CoD game. I'm fucking stoked for the new Zombies mood, that has always been my go-to. And even though the campaign stories are kinda shallow sometimes, they are always entertaining and worth a play-through. Hell, after reading this, I might just be getting into multiplayer as well, haha who knew? Guess I'll be buying this for Christmas...
  • obviouslyadouche - November 13, 2012 4:38 p.m.

    Cod multiplayer cannot be judged until at least a month later, fact. The first initial week or so no one really knows what the good setups are. After that things start to get worse and worse until the most powerful setup is found and never changed. Mp40 was the most powerful weapon in WaW, One man army, danger close noob tubes dominated Mw2 and black ops was full of ghost famas. Call of duty has had piss poor balance since the beginning and with the new pick ten system I see a lot of room to make a stupidly overpowered class.
  • xx_CaPTiiN_SpAiiN_zz - November 15, 2012 9:45 a.m.

    *ghost ak74u
  • IamTheBalance - November 13, 2012 4:36 p.m.

    Another copy paste CoD game.. Yawn
  • Marteo Broter - November 13, 2012 4:37 p.m.

    Another generic comment about how cod is all the same...yawn
  • IamTheBalance - November 13, 2012 4:46 p.m.

    Another generic fanboy complaining about people's opinions... Yawn
  • Marteo Broter - November 13, 2012 8:47 p.m.

    You are entitled to your opinion, just as I am entitled to mine (which just so happens to disagree with yours). But I guess liking call of duty makes me a fanboy, so whatever.
  • snapback - November 14, 2012 5:12 p.m.

    yeah but you are not entitled to his opinion i am not saying that i dont like cod because i do like it
  • avantguardian - November 13, 2012 10:50 p.m.

    seriously though, this shit is tiresome, man. why don't you go troll some pokemon articles, tell 'em how they really need to switch it up.