'Call of Duty: Black Ops 2' will impress more than the franchise faithful

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:23 AM ET

I feel like I’ve joined the fraternity of dudebros, those energy drink-swilling, MMA-watching, “XTREEEEME!”-seeking guys who are fanatical about the Call of Duty franchise. You know, the kind of gamers who bellow obscenities after perforating enemies with headshots on the virtual fields of battle.

It’s a weird sensation. I am very much the antithesis of a dudebro. Too nerdy, too old, and I’ve never tasted Mountain Dew Code Red.

But here’s the thing: I really, really like Call of Duty: Black Ops II. As a guy who doesn’t much care for Call of Duty games in general, this comes as a bit of a shock. Does this mean I have to go buy a Tapout shirt now?

For those who haven’t seen the TV commercial featuring Robert Downey Jr., or those who haven’t witnessed those L.A. skyscrapers being turned into gargantuan billboards, or those who didn’t line up Monday to purchase the game at the stroke of one minute past midnight, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the bigger-budget sequel to 2010’s Call of Duty: Black Ops, a series that runs parallel to its sister franchise, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, in video gamedom’s most famous family of gun porn.

This being a Call of Duty game – and keep in mind that last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sold a billion dollars’ worth of copies in just 16 days – Black Ops II must meet expectations held by its massive, rabid fan base. You know it’s going to be a military first-person shooter that leans to the twitchy, arcadey end of the spectrum. You know it’s going to have huge, setpiece cinematic moments in which player control is little more than a clever illusion. You know it’s going to be sweaty and sweary and bloody and oozing testosterone from every scarred, tattooed pore.

A game for the dudebros, and one they will welcome with open, bulging arms. Weirdly, that turns out to be not such a bad thing.

Black Ops II is essentially three distinct games in one: a single-player action game that jumps back and forth between the Cold War of the late ’80s and the near-future battlefields of 2025; a comprehensive and addictive online multiplayer game that can be played against hundreds of thousands of potential opponents worldwide; and a cheeky yet white-knuckle horror game that pits up to four players against endless waves zombies.

Might as well get the heretical admission out up front: I’ve never really gotten into Call of Duty’s online multiplayer thing. My multiplayer tastes skew towards slightly less frantic games, like Uncharted and Halo. But I enjoyed the couple hours I spent taking a cursory look at Black Ops II’s multiplayer modes. Heck, I even got a “Bloodthirsty” medal in a team deathmatch, meaning I killed five guys in a row without dying. It will probably never happen again.

If you’re a fan of Call of Duty multiplayer, I think you’ll like Black Ops II a lot. Plenty of guns, plenty of toys, plenty of perks and plenty of great maps. But the truth is, you already know far more about it than I ever will, even if you haven’t played it yet. All I can say is that as a rank noob, I had a surprising amount of fun.

Same goes for Black Ops II’s zombies mode. What began as kind of a joke add-on in 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War has become a fully realized secondary experience in the Call of Duty games. Dubbed TranZit, it has up to four players (the more the better; playing solo is suicide) travelling from point to point on a rundown bus driven by an animatronic skeleton, securing locations, upgrading weapons and fending off an ever-larger and more powerful swarm of the undead.

It’s intense, weird and requires a lot of communication and teamwork, as players assemble makeshift defences, search for better weapons and open up access to new areas, ranging from a dilapidated farm to an underground lab. And when the bus’s horn sounds, you’d better haul ass back on board (or clamber onto the roof), or you could get left behind in zombie hell.

Then there’s Black Ops II’s single-player, story-based campaign mode. Story in a Call of Duty game is generally about as necessary and memorable as the plot of a porn film, but developer Treyarch pulled a bit of a fast one with Black Ops II: they introduced choice and consequence into the game. Very old hat for many titles, but it provides a subtle raising of the stakes – and alternate outcomes – in several of the game’s 11 story-based chapters.

Black Ops II begins in 2025, with wheelchair-bound retired soldier Frank Woods (one of the main characters in the first Black Ops) being interviewed by Joint Special Operations Command solider David Mason, the son of Black Ops’ Alex Mason. The younger Mason is gathering intel on Raul Menendez, a terrorist who seems to be plotting a cyber-strike at the heart of the world’s superpowers.

The intertwined pasts and futures of Menendez, Woods and Alex and David Mason are slowly revealed as the game jumps back in time to the tail end of the Cold War (where players take on the role of Alex Mason or Frank Woods) then forward to 2025 (where players generally control David Mason, armed with an array of high-tech weapons and gadgets that would make James Bond’s double-oh-skivvies moist with lust.)

This is the first Call of Duty game in which I not only remembered exactly which character I was playing at any given time, but knew where they were and why they were there. I often cared about whether they succeeded or failed, and on at least one occasion I gasped out loud at a plot twist. That’s more than I can say for Halo 4’s dense, baffling storyline.

The Black Ops II developers have also added a separate new mission variant called Strike Force, which gives players overhead control of the battlefield, issuing orders to squads, drones and air support, and jumping in to directly control any of these assets at will. These semi-optional interstitial missions not only mesh well with the standard run-and-gun chapters and fit into the broader storyline, but they’re fun, challenging and varied enough that after you play all five, you’ll wish there were more.

My chief complaint with the Call of Duty games has always been that they’re linear to a fault, herding players into pre-scripted, Michael Bay-style “big moments” that are the digital equivalent of theme park attractions with guns. Black Ops II is no different, yet the firefights are almost always satisfyingly designed, the setpiece sequences are frequently joyous (no matter how on-rails they might actually be) and the whole thing gels in a really impressive way. I honestly expected to hate it. But I liked the hell out of it.

I don’t want to suggest that Black Ops II is groundbreaking or profound, because it’s not. But it has a very clear idea of the experiences it wants to impart and the story it wants to tell. And damn if it doesn’t succeed on both counts.

Heck, behind all the explosions and swagger, it might even have something to say about our overreliance on technology, and the very personal cost of war. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it.

I’ll leave you with a short sampling of some of the cool things I did during my time with Black Ops II, as a way of illustrating the kind of implausible but irresistible macho wish fulfillment the game offers. (There are some small spoilers, so bail out now if you want to be completely surprised. Fist-bumps all around.)

I leapt off a cliff in a high-tech glider suit, weaving through rock formations and across jungle treetops in Myanmar…

  •  I piloted a machine gun-equipped quadrotor drone through mountain passes in Afghanistan, escorting a convoy to safety and raining hot death on enemy soldiers below…
  • I used a sniper rifle capable of penetrating solid concrete to protect the president of the United States as she made her way to safety during a terrorist attack on Los Angeles…
  • I shot a tank with a rocket-propelled grenade, while on horseback…
  • I engaged in a dance floor firefight in a nightclub aboard a massive, floating city in the Cayman Islands…
  • I followed orders given by President George H. W. Bush to kidnap Manuel Noriega from an airport in Panama…
  • I hid in waist-high water in the flooded streets of Lahore, Pakistan, to avoid being spotted by flying “death squad” drones patrolling overhead…
  • I fought a pitched battle on the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Barack Obama…
  • I took control of an array of high-tech robotic weapons, from four-legged autonomous tanks to a spider-like surveillance drone able to crawl upside-down through ventilation shafts…
  • I flew a fighter jet between skyscrapers in downtown L.A…
  • I finished the fifth and final Strike Force chapter by executing the world’s most dangerous military leader with exactly four seconds left on the mission clock…
  • I made an end-of-game decision to show mercy to an enemy, and was presented with a shocking epilogue that made me shout out loud in surprise not once but twice…
  • I watched various characters from the game take part in a post-credits music video alongside the digital likenesses of the band Avenged Sevenfold, which almost wiped out all the goodwill I’d built up for Black Ops II to that point. But hey, some of the dudebros will get a big kick out of that. And more power to them.

 


Videos

Photos