Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 - PS3 Review
Looking upon generations of consoles they are often defined by one or two key franchises. In Sony's case the PSOne had Crash Bandicoot and Gran Turismo, the PS2 era had Grand Theft Auto and I'm sure when we look back on the PS3 it will almost certainly be Call of Duty. To much critical acclaim, and monster sales, this is a franchise that has redefined the FPS, opened up online gameplay to millions and then, for better or worse, brought DLC and Elite services to the mainstream.
|Call of Duty: Black Ops II introduces warfare in the year 2025 - including Drones.|
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the latest game in the franchise, and is the sequel to the franchises biggest seller, the 2010 Call of Duty: Black Ops. Can this latest title keep the series fresh? Activision, and developers Treyarch, will be hoping so. So let's get to it...
Written by David S. Goyer (the writer behind the Blade and The Dark Knight trilogies of films) Black Ops II actually has two connected storylines - the first is set in the 1970's and 1980's while the second is set in the future, in 2025. Alex Mason returns in the earlier portion of the game which sees the rise of Raul Menendez, a Nicaraguan terrorist. Moving to 2025 the game focuses on Alex's son David and sees Menendez attempting to bring China and the USA to a full-blown war situation.
Somewhat unsurprisingly the storyline in this game is all over the place in order to get you from one distinct location to another, but it comes together quite nicely. Actual gameplay will be familiar to those who have played a Call of Duty game over the last half decade - pretty much everything is identical to previous games with the same level of responsiveness, and yet more swarms of enemies to take down. Their AI isn't anything to write home about but you often get swamped by sheer numbers making this a Rambo-styled fest among the best of them. Where Treyarch have progressed the single player campaign is with the ability to determine your own load out before each mission. Yes, the game will make recommendations but you can essentially choose your own weapons and perks (much like multiplayer) prior to starting each mission.
|Action is unrelenting in Black Ops II.|
There are a few other neat additions to the single player campaign in Black Ops II. Leaderboards are included so you can compare your progress to that of your friends for each level and an overall score - of course you can go back and try to beat your score, but there's little information as to how to rack up the most points. In the trailers there were moments of horseback riding and we struggled to see how that would fit into the game, and story, but without spoilers it does, and it's pretty good fun too.
So the campaign is nice, but itís not without issue, and yet again our biggest of these is the short campaign length of around 6-8 hours or so (although, admittedly there are branching storylines and multiple endings depending on your actions and this game is certainly longer than most others in the franchise). Actually, strike that, the runtime isn't our biggest complaint this year. As you would all know the Call of Duty franchise, ever since its first outing is a FPS, but this year we also get some tactical missions to take on where you have to place and manage many unit on the battlefield. It's not horrible gameplay by any means, but really is a step away from the FPS genre and in the end we pretty much picked a soldier, and just used him to battle the waves of enemies. There's no doubt that the developers were looking to add something new to the mix, but it's just not as fun as one would hope.
|Characters and locations are battle-scarred.|
Another issue we have with the single player campaign is it's brutality. Sure, war is brutal, we get that, but while the Airport Terrorism scene in Modern Warfare 2 was pretty bad, this game pushes the brutality up there - people being burnt alive, soldiers mowing down innocent villagers, throats being cut, people being executed. We're sure this happens in real life, but is needed so explicatally, and violently in a game like this? We're not so sure. Before you jump up; Yes, we know, you can turn off the confronting stuff with an option presented at the start of the game, but really, how many people do that? This game would probably be a good candidate for the new (from 2012) Australian R18+ rating in my books.
Let's face it though, most people that pick up Call of Duty: Black Ops will dive headfirst into the online multiplayer, and indeed when we first started up this game we did exactly that. As with previous games there is a swag of game modes here which support up to 18-players online (most are still restricted to 12 or so), with support for split-screen play, and LAN and has 14 maps on offer which as based on missions in the campaign (or 15 with the pre-order Nuketown 2025 bonus). In fact, if you've played a previous game in the franchise then you'll know almost exactly what to expect here with almost a carbon copy of previous titles.
|Action at the container dock.|
There have been a couple of changes though including multi-team battles where, for instance, three teams of six can compete in a Team Deathmatch styled game. Sounds good, but is really just another Team Deathmatch mode. KillStreaks have been replaced with ScoreStreaks which sees rewards unlocked according to the score you've accumulated prior to death. This means it's not only kills but also captures, plants, UAV takedowns etc that adds to your score. This is certainly beneficial in matches like Domination or Demolition where it's not just about the kills.
Moving on and Black Ops II includes an ability to record, edit and upload entire matches (or parts of) to Youtube. Leagues have been included for more formal League play and rankings. One final change which will impact all is the ability to set the load out on your soldier, you can now only have 10 items in total - that includes any weapons, perks or attachments so hitting the right balance can be key to success. Do you sacrifice a grip on your gun for a second grenade type? Do you remove all grenades and add a second item to your primary weapon?
Zombies is the third and final main mode in Black Ops II and we certainly found it the most disappointing with players fighting off waves of zombies across four maps. Yar, it's pretty limited in the map count, but the online gameplay, as expected, is pretty slick. Still it's not a mode that we loved, that we really knew what was going on, or really enjoyed as much as the main Multiplayer. Personally I would have preferred it if the developers gave us new Spec Ops missions which are not in this release.
|Battling across a narrow bridge.|
It's also important to note that hidden in the menus is an optional Texture Pack install which drops about 1.8GB of data on your Hard Drive. It won't actually improve the visuals but reduces the need for the game to access the Blu-Ray drive to load textures - but is only valid for the Multiplayer and Zombie modes.
Ever since the earliest PS3 Call of Duty titles debate has raged about the developers using a lower resolution (it natively renders - in this case 880x720 but occasionally as low as 832x624 according to Digital Foundry - before upscaling), and while that introduces some jaggies on edges it does allow the developers to push the game up to 60fps, twice that of most other shooters. With a phenomenal amount of detail and effects such as smoke and explosions in the game world, many people would be hard pressed to pick the lower resolution of this game. Of course, with that higher frame rate comes better response times and a much slicker experience.
It's not just the frame rate that impresses though, but we must point out that it does occasionally stutter, as artistically this game is about as broad, and stunning as one would expect. Locations range from jungles, to deserts, to urban environments, to clean lab-like interiors. It's all covered, and superbly too with a tonne of objects and variety within each location. Naturally though the Call of Duty franchise lacks the destructibility of the environments as seen in the Frostbite 2 powered games (such as Battlefield) however there are still windows that can be smashed out, and some objects in the game world are moved or affected by explosions including exploding vehicles. Still, we certainly hope that level destruction is a feature in the Call of Duty franchise in future - and certainly on next-gen hardware.
|Black Ops II is visually impressive.|
Perhaps the biggest issue we have with this game is the "softness" of the image on the PS3 - something which the XBox 360 and even Wii U version don't seem to have issues with. Treyarch seem to be applying some form of anti-aliasing on the PS3 game which is affecting the sharpness in smaller details such as grasses or even blurring the textures. It's extremely noticeable so far as to suggest that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, for all the objects in the game world, is one of the worst looking games in the series. Strangely subsequent patches to the game saw an increase in sharpness, but then a later patch restored blurry-heaven. If you have a PC or XBox 360, go for those versions due to the improved visuals. Having said that, if you want to play the game in 3D - yes Call of Duty: Black Ops II supports 3DTV's, you may want to opt for the PS3 version which is apparently superior with this extra dimension - we haven't compared different formats ourselves, but playing this game in 3D on the PS3 was a blast.
Sonically Call of Duty: Black Ops II is top notch with some of the best use of surround sound channels and sub- woofer you'll hear this generation. In a FPS such as this the accuracy of the surround sound channels can be key in picking out enemy locations and indeed that's the case here. Fortunately the strong surround sound is backed up with top-notch effects with each type of weapon having it's own signature sound to the point where you can tell which weapon someone is using without even seeing them.
|Character models in the game impress.|
Looking further into the audio you'll discover a great theme song from Trent Reznor, while the majority of the in-game music (composed by Jack Wall who also did EA's Mass Effect 1/2 games) is atmospheric and perfectly suited to such an action-packed title in a wide range of locations around the globe. Not letting the game down one iota is the superb dialogue (and scripting of course) during the game which includes the lengthy cut-scenes as well as the soldiers shouting out and talking during the missions.
We all know this game will sell a squillion copies no matter the reviews, but I see this latest game as a step backwards for the franchise. Yes it looks and sounds great, but the gameplay hasn't advanced, the tactical missions were a misfire, the Spec Ops mode is missing, and it's just too, I don't know, slaughterhousey if that's a word. I'm not saying this is a bad game, far from it, but it doesn't reach the heights of other games in the franchise.
Review By: Dave Warner
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|GRAPHICS||Black Ops II is artistically stunning, but low resolutions and a blur filter knocks this down. The frame rate is good, but not a 60fps lock.||85%|
|SOUND||Surround Sound is fantastic in this FPS, as is music, dialogue and effects.||94%|
|GAMEPLAY||This is Call of Duty, but on steroids. Fast, frantic and fun - of but Strike Force missions disappoint and multiplayer seems "Samey".||85%|
|VALUE||Still a short campaign, multiplayer is more like a new large Map Pack, zombies is meh. Still, I'll play this more then most games this year.||82%|
|OVERALL||Don't get me wrong Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a great game, but largely feels like more of the same. The new tactical missions aren't much chop, but a short campaign and multiplayer which feels like a large map pack has us questioning if the series is losing steam. Perhaps a next-gen update is required. (Modern Warfare 4 on PS4 anyone?).||86%|