STAFF REVIEW of Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Xbox 360)

Friday, November 16, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Call of Duty: Black Ops II Box art You know, I have to admit, it wasn’t that I was going into Call of Duty: Black Ops II with low expectations, but it was more that I was expecting simply more of the same. Realistically, Treyarch could have played it safe and essentially given us the same game once again and we would line up to get it and it still would have sold millions regardless of the end product. Needless to say, I was quite surprised once I delved into Black Ops II and uncovered what’s been tweaked, added, and improved in the series. For being a yearly game, it’s sometimes hard to get excited about a franchise when it always feels like more of the same, and that’s what I was totally expecting before I started playing. Luckily Treyarch decided to try something new and not simply play it safe and it feels like for a yearly title that Call of Duty actually feels much improved over the previous year rather than just having a few new tweaks. So let’s declassify Black Ops II and delve into one of the better shooters this holiday season.

If you played the campaign of the original Black Ops, you’ll once again be met with the game’s protagonist Alex Mason and his partner Frank Woods. With the campaign having two separate story arcs, the returning heroes will be played by recounting events that occurred in the 80’s and Mason’s son David taking the reins in 2025. Back in the 80’s, Mason and Woods had an encounter with a man named Raul Menendez, and because of this battle between them, Menendez is now the world’s most dangerous terrorist with a plot to bring down the worlds technology infrastructure for his own gains.

In 2025, Mason’s son David visits Woods in hopes that he will have some information that will answer his questions and lead him to Menendez. The time jumping never becomes confusing as weapons available in each era stay true to their respective time periods and it seems the further in the future it becomes, the more over the top the action also does as well. Woods might recall a mission where they were riding horses while shooting down tanks and choppers, but David’s mission could have you wingsuit gliding down the side of a mountain face to infiltrate a base.

The story’s strength is also reinforced by the fact that you are finally given some actual choices to make in the campaign that will affect the outcome at the end. With some tough choices to be had, you’ll actually see a branching story path emerge that will make your decisions actually have some weight accompanied with them. You’ll inadvertently at times decide who lives or dies, only to find out much later on. With a decision to be made in most levels, you’ll have to play through the campaign a few times if you want to see all of the conclusions.

To bolster the empowerment of choice comes some special missions you’ll be given after a certain point called Strike Force missions. These missions are played similar to a Real Time Strategy game where you can be the commander with a bird’s eye view and direct your ground forces to attack or defend anywhere on the amp you choose. If that type of gameplay simply doesn’t appeal to you, you’re given the option to freely swap from any unit and play as them in a traditional first person view if you want. Be warned though, if you let units die in these missions, they are permanently dead and will affect the outcome and ending you receive. These missions pop up during the campaign at designated times and you’re given the option to play or completely ignore them, but doing so will change the outcome of the main story. You’re also given a specific amount of campaign missions to complete these Strike Force levels before they disappear for good. While they are technically side missions, it’s a really interesting take and I’m glad that they actually weigh in on the campaign story depending on your performance.

Playing the normal campaign missions will feel familiar, as many are the same formula of tight corridors that open up into large battlefields finished off with an awesome set piece. New to the series though is finally the option to choose and customize your load out before each mission. This may seem like a small addition, but finally being able to pick my favorite weapons and attachments for a campaign mission is a big deal and something that was needed to make it more involving.

The ever popular Zombies Mode from Black Ops returns once again, though vastly expanded and improved. Zombies is now broken up into three different modes that vary from the traditional Survival mode, Tranzit, and Grief mode. Survival Mode is your classic zombie gameplay where up to four players are challenged with surviving for as long as possible against oncoming waves of undead. Tranzit Mode is a much larger experience with a bus that can move your team from area to area, trying to unravel the mysteries of what’s going on while trying to survive. At first this mode can be extremely overwhelming as the map is absolutely huge and once you get on the bus and see how far you traveled, you’ll wonder how to get back. Tranzit is actually the whole Zombie play space and if you play Survival, those are simply small sections of the Tranzit map broken up for a more intimate experience.

New to Zombies though is an interesting mode called Grief. This is where one group of four players challenge another group of four but there’s also a group of four players controlling zombies. This Humans vs. Humans vs. Zombies is appropriately named 4z4 and adds a new twist on things. The team with the last human alive wins, but there’s quite a lot of strategy involved; do you sabotage the other team or work together for a period to fend off the zombies? It’s definitely a mode you’ll want to give a try with your buddies and turned out to be much more entertaining than I was expecting.

Call of Duty multiplayer, the only reason quite a few gamers actually buy the series annually. As I said before, Treyarch could have simply put a new coat of paint on top of the old game and it still would have sold just fine, but it seems they wanted to change things up here as well, for the better. Most notably is the new create-a-class system appropriately dubbed the “Pick 10” system. You’re now given a 10 point system to use on weapons, attachments, perks, and more, with each item costing 1 point. It may seem much more simplistic, and it is to a degree, but it surprisingly adds a whole new layer of customization to make your class exactly the way you want it to. If you want to only have one gun with three attachments and specific grenades, so be it; the same goes if you want multiple weapons with no attachments but with many perks. There are even new slots called Wildcards that allow you to essentially “break” the old rules, allowing you to have three attachments, two perks in the same tier, and many other choices to suit your play style.

Call of Duty wouldn’t be the same without Prestige levels and a ton of unlocks. Firstly, you gain an unlock token for each level you rank up which can be spent on weapons, perks, scorestreaks, attachments, and more. Once you are level 55 you have the option to Prestige, but now that you won’t be able to unlock every item once you hit 55, you may want to prestige to continue earning upgrade tokens by leveling up. Your weapons now also gain experience and rank up and even your weapons can prestige, adding a whole other layer to the customization and length of gameplay.

If you’re a casual Call of Duty player, or even new to the series completely, there is finally a practice mode of sorts that you can begin with to learn the ropes and even earn a few levels before jumping online and getting slaughtered. Bootcamp offers you the option to play against bots so you can learn the maps without the harshness of doing so online against players much better than yourself. It was a much needed addition, though I wonder after all these years if it’s going to be used very much.

Some other changes include all game types and playlists are available to be played directly at level one finally. If you absolutely love the Hardcore mode but hated having to level up just to play it, your prayers have been answered. The new scorestreak system replaces the old killstreak mechanic and bases your available call-ins based on points rather than kills. This attempts to have teammates actually work towards the mode’s objective rather than their own agenda. There’s also an option to stream online for community members to watch as well; aptly named CODcasting. It’s great to finally see something like this finally included on disc; and while it may not be the most robust system out there, it’s included and is going to be a great base to improve upon.

Graphically, Black Ops II looks great considering the age of the engine being used. Large scale battles convey the vastness and faces and emotions still look fantastic in campaign, but many textures are very low resolution and shadows still look horrible in most places. Sure you’re not going to notice these things when you’re controlling the amazing grand scale set pieces but those that look at the finer details will notice some of the rigidness of the finer things.

The sound goes hand in hand with the visuals of the game and for having a song composed by Trent Reznor, the music in each of the campaign levels suit accordingly. Music sets the mood and it’s no different in Black Ops II when some orchestra strings take front and center while you’re defending yourself against oncoming tanks. The same goes for the weapon sounds, as the guns sound great and each differ from one another. The voice acting is clearly the strong suit and I think I may have squealed a little bit when I realized that Michael Rooker (Merle from Walking Dead) voices a character perfectly. I’m glad that attention was taken with the voice acting, as nothing can ruin a games immersion worse than someone who doesn’t know how to deliver a line believably.

Before you even begin playing, you’re given an option to enable graphic content or not. It’s clear later on in the game when you’re decapitating enemies with a machete along with some other very brutal sequences, though nothing still tops the shocking ‘Airport’ level from Modern Warfare 2. Aside from the finer details with the graphics I really didn’t have many complaints about Black Ops II. The only other issue that stood out for me was the laggy menu screens when selecting your loadouts pre campaign missions. There’s no slowdown in the game when a hundred things are happening at once, so I’m not really sure why the menu’s for loadouts is annoyingly slow.

With Call of Duty Elite now fully supporting Black Ops II (now with zombie support), you’ll be able to break down and check out all your stats and even get help to become better at the game as well. It’s going to be hard to go back to a Call of Duty game that doesn’t allow loadout swaps, a branching campaign story, and I can’t even imagine using the old Create-a-class system anymore now that Pick 10 is vastly superior. For those with 3D TV’s, you’ll also be happy to know that Treyarch thought about you as well. I’ll give it to you Treyarch, you surprised me and I’m thoroughly enjoying all the changes you made to the series, to the point of actually probably being my favorite of the series so far.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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