Video Game Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Call of Duty: Black Ops II
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC and Wii U)
Genre: First-person shooter
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Release Date: November 18, 2012

Love it or hate it, the Call of Duty franchise has been an intriguing one to watch over the years. What started as a series of World War II shooters has turned into a brand split into two territories. Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare series and Treyarch’s Black Ops have been alternating entries over the last few years, with both of them being neck-and-neck in terms of quality. With this year’s Black Ops II, Treyarch may have just taken the lead.

Building on the foundation set by its Cold War era predecessor, Black Ops II takes place in two different time periods: the 1980s and the year 2025. In the 80s, you once again take on the role of Alex Mason, the protagonist from the original game. Now retired, Mason is recruited on an unexpected mission in Angola to extract his old buddy, Frank Woods. In 2025, you play as his son, David, who has followed along in his father’s military footsteps. The common trait between the two settings is the rise of terrorist mastermind, Raul Menendez, who eventually grows to be a despicable villain seeking to create a new world war in 2025. In a nutshell, it’s the type of story you would expect from Call of Duty, but it’s so over-the-top with bombastic action set pieces and explosions that there’s never a dull moment.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

The inclusion of a futuristic setting is an exciting and much-welcomed development, as it offers a breath of fresh air from years past. The year 2025 is host to a wide variety of new military equipment, and the game isn’t afraid to throw them into the mix. One early campaign highlight has you gliding into the jungles of Myanmar using some sort of flying squirrel outfit — one of the best introductions of any level in the series. Being able to play with new gadgets is a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a greater emphasis placed on this in future installments.

Another compelling addition to the campaign is the Strike Force mission concept. These are optional levels that allow you to control and issue commands for an entire squad. The missions can be completed via an “Overwatch mode” from above, or by controlling individual soldiers/vehicles/etc. on your own. They are a nice change of pace from the normal linear structure of the main levels, though there is room for improvement. Sometimes AI units will remain stuck in a position, letting enemies run by them without firing. The controls can also take some getting used to, but still, it’s great to see Treyarch trying something new.

Completing any of the Strike Force missions can also alter events in the main campaign — in fact, there are several branching storyline options scattered throughout. Important characters can live or die by your actions, and these decisions will greatly affect the story’s ending. In this sense, there is a bit of additional replay value, which is a good thing since the campaign still only lasts approximately six hours (typical of the series).

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

But regardless of the game’s largely enjoyable single player mode, nearly everyone plays Call of Duty for its multiplayer action. In this regard, Black Ops II does not disappoint. There aren’t nearly as many groundbreaking revelations online, but there are still new features sure to entice even the most seasoned veterans.

In an effort to help even out the playing field, there is a new “Pick 10” create-a-class system in which you can only keep a total of ten items (i.e. weapons, perks, grenades, etc.) on your person. This adds an element of strategy since you have to decide what pieces are most important to your style of play. Matchmaking overall has been improved to line you up with players of similar skill, and so far the results have been quite good.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Another pleasing change is the removal of Killstreaks in favor of “Scorestreaks” — basically the same concept, but now these streaks can be built up by completing objectives (i.e. capture the flag) rather than just killing enemies. New scorestreak rewards are included as well, with several different options available to use based on your preference.

Essentially, this is the same Call of Duty multiplayer we have had for the past few years, just with a few new bells and whistles. There are some connection kinks that still need to be worked out — I have lost connection for no reason on more than a few occasions — but I suspect these will be cleaned up as usual over time.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Since this is a Treyarch game, the popular Zombies feature is back as well. Not just restricted to the familiar Survival mode, there are two new ways to play: Tranzit (a story-based version) and Grief (two teams compete against each other while fighting off the onslaught of zombies). Fans of this feature will appreciate this new group of options, though it remains best to play with people you know. I had a difficult time getting matched up with random players despite thousands being shown available. When playing with a buddy (or three), it’s just as fun as you might remember.

With a strong combination of three entirely different main game modes — campaign, multiplayer and zombies — there’s something for everyone in Black Ops II. I had a blast playing through each of them, and multiplayer junkies will especially get their money’s worth here. While a handful of minor issues keep this from being perfect, this is still another excellent entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down. And hey, if every Call of Duty is as good as this, why bother stopping at all?

9/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Movie Project #13: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]
Directors: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English/Russian
Country: UK

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!”

I would like to think of myself as a fairly big Stanley Kubrick fan. Everything I have seen by him has captivated me in some way — whether it is the hallucinatory brilliance of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the insane adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, to name a couple. Because I have enjoyed his work so greatly, it pains me to admit that it has taken me this long to finally see Dr. Strangelove. In terms of his filmography, this one ranks near the top on so many lists. It was due time that I saw this.

Set during the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove offers a satirical look at the omnipresent threat of nuclear war. After psychopathic US Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides on his own to initiate a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, all hell breaks loose. He orders his B-52s to fly into Russian airspace, leaving the United States President (Peter Sellers) to frantically find a way to cease the attack. He calls a meeting in the War Room with his military commanders, which includes General Turgidson (a hilarious George C. Scott). The Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) is also invited to the discussion, which Turgidson and others immediately object to. This situation leads to the absolutely classic line referenced at the beginning of this post. Desperate to solve this dilemma, the President calls upon a weapons expert, Dr. Strangelove (Sellers, once again), who is also a former Nazi.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

Meanwhile, back at the army base, General Ripper and his unwilling Group Captain, Lionel Mandrake (Sellers, again) are holed up against oncoming US Army troops who are sent to arrest the General. There is a slight problem, however: Ripper has warned his men that the enemy would attack disguised as American soldiers, so they open fire on their fellow countrymen.

Needless to say, this is all pretty fucking wild. There’s so much going on, and everything is done such in a cartoonish way that the satire bleeds through the performances. Folks, this is black comedy at its finest, and there are loads of hilarious moments.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

It all starts with the cast, who were clearly having a great time on set. Hayden, who I mentioned I was becoming a big fan of, is hilarious as the deliriously paranoid Ripper. George C. Scott is just plain awesome as the Commie-hating Turgidson, and I also rather enjoyed Slim Pickens’ delightfully over-the-top role as a cowboy piloting one of the B-52s. But, of course, it is Peter Sellers who dominates this picture with his trifecta of performances. Dr. Strangelove, the eponymous character, is full of great lines, and has a hilarious bit at the end that I can’t help but laugh just thinking about.

I was a little worried about the movie during its early stages. The slow beginning turned me off a little bit, but by the time we were taken to the War Room, I got hooked. I am happy to have finally seen Dr. Strangelove and its brilliant, sarcastic tone, and writing this post has just made me eager to watch it again. Fantastic.

9/10

Call of Duty: Black Ops [Xbox 360, 2010]

Call of Duty: Black Ops [Xbox 360, 2010]

Call of Duty: Black Ops
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Release Date: November 19, 2010

Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

Another year, another Call of Duty. The latest edition is from Treyarch, who also made Call of Duty: World at War and COD 3. Black Ops is their first foray into “modern” warfare, although it takes place during the 60’s and addresses both the Vietnam War and the Cold War. I must say that I am quite happy Treyarch didn’t go back to “ol’ reliable” because the last thing we need is another World War II first person shooter. Although the modern warfare FPS genre is beginning to get a little saturated as well, Black Ops keeps it fresh by going into the 60’s.

The single player campaigns are beginning to become almost an afterthought in the Call of Duty series, but they are still typically a lot of fun to play through. Black Ops is no exception, and it follows the story of a soldier who is being interrogated about information that he cannot remember. You play through various events in his life, picking up on bits and pieces of memories as you go along. There is a big plot twist at the end, but anyone who has seen a select movie or two will know exactly where the story is going. The individual levels are solid and some are particularly memorable — I loved riding in on a boat and blasting everything on screen while “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones played. I was a little annoyed that picking up guns and ammunition is basically worthless since you are given new weapons for every level, but that is a minor inconvenience. The campaign isn’t as good as the two Modern Warfare titles, but it’s still worthy of at least one play through.

The reason the majority of gamers play COD games is for the multiplayer. The same basic online play is still here, but there are some notable differences. For one, this time around you have to purchase upgrades for your weapons rather than unlock them via leveling up. The money required to do so is earned by performing well during game sessions and by gaining XP. One cool new “wager” mode provides the ability to gamble these COD points in an attempt to get even more. Most of the old favorite game modes are still here, such as Deathmatch, Headquarters and Domination, just to name a few, and most of the perks/weapons are back as well. There are also some welcome new additions that are unlocked over time. What I like most about Black Ops’ multiplayer is that you can pretty much mold your character into what you want it to be right from the beginning. It may take some time to unlock your favorite weapon, but you can gain access to all of the available perks very quickly.

Since this is a Treyarch game, it should also be noted that the Zombies mode is still available, if you’re into that sort of thing. The Spec Ops mode introduced in Modern Warfare 2 is nowhere to be found.

Overall, I cannot deny that Black Ops is an incredibly well made game, and it is easily the best COD game that Treyarch has released yet. I still prefer the previous two Modern Warfare games, but this one is right up there with them. Although the single player campaign is the usual six hours in length, the multiplayer provides countless hours of gameplay, and the new COD points system adds a whole new dynamic. I know I am going to spend a lot of time with this one…

8.5/10