Review

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II

Bullet Heaven

In Call Of Duty: Black Ops II, a violent culture is nothing a little violence can’t solve.

By Ryan Smith • November 20, 2012

There’s no question mark at the end of the title Call Of Duty, but the series’ ideas lately are in such conflict that I wonder if there ought to be. It’s especially deserved for Call Of Duty: Black Ops II, a game whose campaign mode is riddled with nearly as much self-doubt as bullet holes. Over the course of its eight-hour story, Black Ops II wrestles with things like the generational effects of violence, our dependence on technology, income inequality, and America’s sketchy foreign-policy history.

That might be a startling statement to those who subscribe to the lazy, oft-held assumption that modern military shooters are a straightforward celebration of jingoistic militarism—a virtual shooting gallery of terrorists lined up in a row so your Navy SEAL avatars can gun them down with a spirited scream of “Hoo-ah!” In reality, the plots of recent genre titles like the first Black Ops, and especially Spec Ops: The Line have added a layer of moral complexity missing from shoot-a-thons of yore. Even a game that edges towards military worship, like Medal Of Honor: Warfighter, manages to set aside time to explore the negative effects soldiering can have on a troop’s family life.

The time-hopping tale of Black Ops II is the series’ most coherent in years despite leaping not only across decades of history but also between the perspectives of a few characters. You begin in the year 2025 with Navy SEAL David Mason’s desperate search for terrorist mastermind Raul Menendez, but the game quickly retreats to the Cold War era to relive the lucid flashbacks of nursing-home patient Frank Woods, a main character from the first Black Ops who hunted Menendez (alongside Mason’s father Alex) in the ’80s. You follow all that?

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II

Mason is the game’s natural hero, but Black Ops II is more interested in the psyche of its villain—a political activist who has harnessed military might and the power of social media to gain a worldwide following. Similar to Bane’s brand of politics in The Dark Knight Rises, there are echoes of Occupy Wall Street in Menendez’s call to overthrow corrupt capitalist nations. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened substantially in 2025, causing segments of the public to become more accepting of a radical message like Menendez’s. (One level takes place on a resort island called Colossus, a place whose glittering decadence causes Mason’s squadmate to mutter, “So this is how the one percent lives”).

Part of Menendez’s motivations are rooted in personal tragedy—a fire set by an American businessman committing insurance fraud disfigures his sister, and later, that same sibling is murdered by the U.S. military. It’s part of a theme that runs throughout Black Ops II about how violence can shape a person, even decades later.

We’re presented with that idea in a broader sense because Menendez’s hatred for capitalist countries is also born out of failed U.S. attempts to prop up brutal regimes. Black Ops II’s fiction is blended with actual history, and as a native Nicaraguan, Menendez has witnessed the abuses of the United States-backed “contra” counter-insurgency in his home country and his heart hardens. The game recalls the mess that the Reagan administration made in Central America and features cameos from central Iran-Contra figure Oliver North and Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator who managed to manipulate the CIA throughout the ’70s and ’80s.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II

It’s an ugly era of American history, and it’s kind of surprising to see it highlighted in a series of games that once painted the U.S. military with the same gauzy “Greatest Generation” brush strokes as HBO’s Band Of Brothers. Black Ops II’s sense of history echoes Noam Chomsky more than Stephen Ambrose.

For those of us who question the overly hawkish messages that shooters can send, the newfound soul of military shooters like Black Ops II represents a kind of progress, but the courage of its subversive convictions are ultimately undermined by its own design. A startling amount of skill and craft is on display in Black Ops II’s roller-coaster ride of action sequences through war-torn streets, or at the helm of tanks and aircraft. This time, there’s even an element of crude decision-making: You can choose who lives and who dies in major story moments and influence the game’s ending. There is no option, however, to peacefully negotiate or engage in nation building. The game lays the sins of a violent culture at our feet and asks us to atone in the only way that a first-person shooter knows how to—with a gun.

Meanwhile, there’s a wispy sketch of a story in Tranzit, the marquee map featured in the cooperative mode (which is now simply called “Zombies”—apparently, the PR-conscious undead opted to drop their Nazi party affiliation), but it seems beside the point. I’ve never cared much for developer Treyarch’s repetitive zombie slaying action, instead spending the bulk of my time in the competitive multiplayer mode. The core elements that define multiplayer haven’t changed much since the original Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, but the mode has evolved over the years into a much more refined package.

The best addition to Black Ops II is the Pick 10 class system. Instead of simply choosing your preference of predetermined slots of guns, grenades, and perks, you’re left to decide which 10 upgrades and item types you want. I’ve never been skilled at using grenades, so I sacrificed that slot to add a stability attachment to my gun. I also bypassed owning a secondary weapon to gain the power of faster reloading. Pick 10 revolutionizes the standard inventory system and adds a level of strategy and planning in character building usually only found in role-playing games.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II

I also applaud Treyarch’s move to replace kill-streak rewards with “score streaks.” Many players eschewed teamwork for lone-wolf tactics in prior Call Of Duty games, a behavior encouraged by kill-streak bonuses that gave players the ability to call in an airstrike or rain missiles down from the sky based on their ability to slaughter a bunch of people in a row without dying. Score streaks, on the other hand, enable rewards for engaging in team-friendly activities as well as murder—defending a base in the Domination mode, say, or defusing a bomb in Demolition.

Any concerns that the futuristic timeline and advanced tech of Black Ops II would turn the multiplayer into another version of Halo are overblown. The new toys are more or less grounded in reality. Shooting a grenade from your wrist instead of throwing it changes very little, and there are no super-powered evaporation lasers or anything like that. The only in-game gadget with the potential to throw the competition out of balance is the Target Finder scope, which effectively paints little triangles over enemies’ heads, but the scope’s narrow field of vision mitigates its advantage.

Black Ops II’s competitive multiplayer mode remains not only the best of the three components of the game, but also the most intellectually honest. There’s no tortured backstory describing why two teams of men are taking turns defusing a bomb on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier or shooting at each other on a cruise ship. In every mode of Black Ops II, bullets are the best solution to a problem; multiplayer is where that formula makes the most sense.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops II
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: M

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  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    So more of the same, with some slight tweaks to the multiplayer? Sounds about right. That said, changing the focus away from your KDA ratio seems like a pretty good move. Mleh.

    • WorldCivilizations

      I am glad that GS gave this a positive review because it has become a bit too fashionable to hate on CoD. I see the series as the current crown ruler in the multiplayer FPS dynasty (Goldeneye -> Halo -> CoD?). Sure, these games don’t earn their position through originality, but they are the best refinement of the formula, among many, many competitors. 

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Yeah, I don’t hate them really I just have a general apathy towards most AAA games lately (AAApathy?). I find it hard to get excited for most of these games that the internet/marketers hype up. Borderlands 2? Assassin’s Creed? I just can’t muster up anything more than a “meh.”

        • Erdschwein

          HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA DOUCHE-TOEVSKY HAHAHAHAAH

          DOUCHE!

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I get it now!

      • rjonathon

        agreed…cod is just plain fun. i don’t think i’d play it all the time if i had a console (pc rts gamer mostly), but it’s great to hop into every week or so at a friend’s house. haters gonna hate

      • Enkidum

        Unreal 4 is going to slay them all! THIS YOU MUST BELIEVE!

    • GaryX

      Actually, this is supposed to have quite a few changes in the campaign at least w/r/t to branching paths and how levels are structured. Quite a few critics I’ve read have actually jokingly pointed out that it has more narrative freedom than Mass Effect 3 did. From what I heard Giant Bomb describing, it sounds like it doesn’t necessarily call out when a choice is being made and won’t let you sit around and dwell on the options either. As far as these kind of games go that sounds pretty cool to me.

    • Bakken_Hood

      Wha…how did CoD, which I hated before it was cool, come up with the multiplayer class refinement I’ve been hoping for since R6V or thereabouts?  Between Mass Effect 3 and “Pick 10,” we might be closing in on the highly customizable , strategy-oriented co-op shooter I’ve been dreaming of.  My inner elitist anti-corporate douchebag is incredulous that EA and Activision are leading that charge.  Halo 5, I hope you’re taking notes.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

        I hate other stuff now. You’ve probably never heard of it.

        • Bakken Hood

          Thank you sir may I have another…  In the unlikely event anyone’s wondering, I like lots of other things that are cool to hate– I’ll stick up for Halo any time– and just don’t care for CoD’s manic pacing, or the fact that everything else is copying that particular aspect…crap, I’m doing it again.  Anyway, kudos to Treyarch for this welcome development in multiplayer character customization.  I hope a game more to my druthers steals the idea.

  • Gameological Society Commenter

    I shall not be purchasing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 but this is not because I do not like the Call of Duty video game series. In fact I have found the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series a guilty pleasure. The gameplay may have been more of the same as the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series progressed but the touching tale of John “Soap” MacTavish and his commanding officer Captain John Price resonated with me. Their relationship in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare thrillingly developed into a pseudo father-son dynamic which made me hope to one day meet my own father and possibly shoot people alongside him with M4 automatic assault rifles fitted with the red dot sight attachment. It was a heart warming kinship forged between two men under dangerous and high pressure circumstances. I felt John “Soap” MacTavish and I were kindred spirits. I even fashioned a John “Soap” MacTavish mohawk from my own hair using Mom’s good pinking shears and I thought it looked excellent, but the police officer laughed at my hair when he was taking my mugshot (It transpired that following that man with the moustache home from the bar, crying not to be abandoned and demanding cuddles, is considered harrassment and is deemed illegal. I proclaimed to the courtroom that it’s patriotic Americans like John “Soap” MacTavish and Captain John Price and me that fight for our freedom to go where we please but despite the round of applause the judge officially didn’t see it the same way though I could tell he sympathized with my position. Nonetheless I was let off with a warning shortly after I broke down in tears, whimpering about Dad dying at the end of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and the emotional trauma that this event subsequently unleashed, culminating in forever vanquishing my last chances at a long hoped for career in academia). Luckily in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 I found out that Daddy was alive all along and then he and I rekindled our affair and we became almost like brothers. By Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 I had forgiven him and we made up for lost time by going AWOL and going to Disneyland together. Even Imran “John” Zakhaev joined in on the fun and bought us both cotton candy and we rode on the teacups and all had a marvellous time.

    I did play Call of Duty: Black Ops. The Call of Duty: Black Ops story did not have the engaging characters that abounded in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. Sam Worthington’s performance as Alex Mason did not provide me with the nuanced portrayal of an interrogated prisoner that I needed to fully immerse myself in the story (particularly disappointing given Worthington’s fine acting résumé), which made me instead focus more intently on the gameplay. Being a Call of Duty game about Covert Operations, so-called “Black Ops” (hence the title “Call of Duty: Black Ops“), I hoped that the possibility of there being diverse missions on offer would open up freedom of choice when it came to the gameplay. However it became apparent that something was awry on the very first mission. The major problem with the game was that the game didn’t accommodate me trying to play the game the way I wanted to play the game. I wanted to use stealth through that first mission using non-lethal means, but the game wouldn’t let me. Surrendering, retreating, these options were also not possible in this game, which completely destroyed my immersion. Call of Duty: Black Ops actually forces the player to shoot enemies, which is a ridiculous notion in this day and age. I eventually got to Fidel Castro and his friend. However, instead of sitting down with that lovable Cuban rascal and having a cup of tea while using diplomacy to negotiate a mutually beneficial peace deal, I was forced to shoot him, with a gun, or it was game over. What lazy game design. No speech options, just shoot first and don’t even ask questions later, on to the next section of shooting people. I was shocked. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series was not as egregious in this respect I thought, and at least had all of the Johns to ground the action by bathing it with cascading waterfalls of character and soothing rainbows of man love.

    Luckily, the Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer was more forgiving. My non-lethal play style was easily accommodated and I found it much more satisfying (I even received lots of what I assume were complimentary messages in code from my Xbox live squad mates but I’ve been unable to decipher them. Here’s a typical one: “Yo xXsimulacraXx, 0-15 lmao, u n00b u lost teh game for us u sukk lol 0_o”. It must be related to the unbreakable bonds of comradeship forged on the front line between us soldiers. Friends for life). But as we all know, the single player campaign is a Call of Duty‘s strength, so the multiplayer, as enjoyable as it very well may be, is not a tempting enough carrot for me to purchase Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

    • Jackbert322

      What I don’t even.

    • HobbesMkii

      Well, this frequently wanders off to no man’s land and the gist of it seems to be “you take video games too seriously,” but hey, at least it’s long, right? Length is just a kind of quality, isn’t it?

      Oh, wait, no…no it isn’t.

      • Jackbert322

        Thanks, now my genitalia feels depressed.

    • WorldCivilizations

      tl;dr

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Man, I appreciate your commitment, but you wrote this maybe a week ago?  That should have been sufficient for a second, even third draft.  The spirit is there, but you gotta edit or it’s just a jumble.
         But again, you’ve got moxy.  So for your efforts, I’m giving you this official pair of Jonathan Blow Scrivener’s gloves.
         Perfect for illuminating the margins of all your Prima Strategy guides or writing out longhand Khajiit/Sonic slash fic. 

      • HobbesMkii

        Right? That first parentheses doesn’t close until nearly the end of the paragraph it’s in. Kill your darlings, @Gameological_Society_Commenter:disqus !

    • caspiancomic

       My relationship with my dad is actually pretty healthy.

      Other than that though, this guy’s totally got my number.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      “I even fashioned a John “Soap” MacTavish mohawk from my own hair using Mom’s good pinking shears and I thought it looked excellent, but the police officer laughed at my hair when he was taking my mugshot (It transpired that following that man with the moustache home from the bar, crying not to be abandoned and demanding cuddles, is considered harrassment and is deemed illegal…”

      Pack it in everybody.  This guy wins the Keyboard Cat of the year award.  Might as well delete your accounts because nothing’s gonna top this.
      In fact this comment is a pretty good metaphor for Call of Duty itself, bloated and packed to the gills with content, polish and attention to detail but seemingly hollow and devoid of meaningful content at the same time.

      I’m in awe.

    • Enkidum

      You should close the bracket around the period, not before it, when there’s a complete sentence (or, in this case, more) inside it.

      • HobbesMkii

        He would have had to put the main sentence’s period before the open parentheses, though. (This is an example.) 

        Alternatively, it would have been acceptable to have a period both before and after the parentheses given the sentence’s completeness (However, while grammatically proper, this looks absurd.).

      • The Guilty Party

        Even though you are 100% correct, it looks terrible and illogical and I hate it. And I will never do it. This is not from ignorance, but a very lame sort of rebellion.

        • HobbesMkii

          That’s okay. The more people do it, the more acceptable it becomes, until finally they just change the grammar textbooks to match. Observe the topsy-turvy fate of the serial (or Oxford, if you’re snooty) comma. 

        • caspiancomic

           Thank you, Mr. Party. I’ve always felt that using a period before closing one’s brackets looked hideous and didn’t make much sense besides, and it sort of breaks my heart that my preferred method is technically incorrect. I do know better, but some rules were made to be broken, damnation!

    • Fluka

      *Smiles and nods, while affixing a tiny gold star sticker to post.*

    • Electric Dragon

       These Markov text generators are getting better and better.

    • Erdschwein

      I think this guy’s got the whole commenting thing under control, I think I’ll knock off.

    • http://twitter.com/RyanSmithWriter Ryan Smith

      I give this parody review of my review a 9.9 for commitment and 4.7 for insight. I’m hoping for more from parody review II.

    • Bad Horse

      Wait, I never played anything after MW1, but I think I’m gathering that literally all the guys that got shot in the head point-blank at the very end of Modern Warfare lived to fight another day. Is this possible? Am I taking crazy pills?

      • HobbesMkii

        Only two do. The black guy and the wiseacre both die.

        • Bad Horse

          That rap over the credits constitutes a hate crime.

  • Sleverin

    I’ll never play these games but the Pick 10 sounds like a sweet idea for customization and allows for players to develop a class set more attuned to their play style as mentioned by the reviewer. 

    It is too bad that they try to do some storyline changing stuff but their only endgame with it is more bullets.  I know this is no RPG, but peaceful solutions are my first pick, I’d probably be a bit upset by playing this game, but I never will so meh.

    • GaryX

      Peaceful solutions just wouldn’t work in a game like this. They’re basically virtual roller-coasters. It’d be like criticizing a Pokemon game for lack of third-person shooter segments.

      • Sleverin

        It’s a good point, but I wouldn’t really be playing this game in the first place as noted below by Merve, 60$ is also a steep price for an 8 hour singelplayer campaign…if I was even interested.  I’m not trying to sound horribly dismissive as in “LOL COD SUX”, but I’m more of a TF2 type of guy, something along the line of jokey fun.  Then again shooters just aren’t my thing, it takes a certain kind of charm for me to play one…I’d be more likely to play Pokemon to be honest.

        • GaryX

          I wasn’t ragging on Pokemon and hopefully it didn’t seem that way. I just meant that it’s a hollow criticism because, for better or for worse, it’s not what this particular franchise is about. It’s not my thing either, but I think the game’s get unfairly maligned now that they’ve become the face for “everything wrong with gaming.” Most people aren’t really paying 60 bucks for the 8 hour campaign–which is why it’s surprising and great that they’ve gone to lengths to actually make that better.

          Though I still don’t know how people justify doing it every year. I mean, I get the metagame changes, but it’s not like you need a whole new game to do that: just look at TF2. Though I guess if it entertains you for 12 months then 60 bucks isn’t that much to pay.

        • Sleverin

           Since I can’t reply to a reply….

          I agree, “everything wrong with gaming” is pretty harsh for something like CoD.  Between possible parents rights groups lambasting it for violence and the gaming “community” slamming it for ruining a large amount of our hobby, it does seem ridiculous.  I mean, it’s not like sandbox gaming where it seems like they tried to shoehorn it into some stuff weirdly, it’s a shooting game, plain and simple. 

          I guess my main problem (based on what this review has told me of course) that you know, as mentioned no “nation building” here, but more quick action.  It almost seems to undermine some of the ideas they seem to be trying to put in…I mean if “violence begets violence” was a message here and that an endless cycle of it is a more tyrannical way to forge a new world and instead ending the cycle with peaceful negotiations etc. then I’d be interested/surprised.  Seems like they tried for that but got shot down, in a blaze of glory, probably a higher up in the company?  Who knows, that’s the stock answer everyone uses so I’m going to do it too!  (It makes me an individual!)

    • Bakken_Hood

      Pick 10 + ME3 rock-paper-scissors abilities + Brink team-based objectives = Bakken Hood’s head explodes.  I’ve been waiting for Pick 10 for years.  It saddens me that it’s wasted on CoD’s hyperkinetic headache.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    I’m kinda interested in the single player. The concept of war technology 10 years from now has been an interest of mine and i want to see how the game tackles the aspect of it.

    But what i’m more interested in is the e-Sports element of the multiplayer which, if successful can bring in players not only from the USA, Southeast Asia & Korea but also countries like Japan and Western Europe. 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I’m also quite interested in the single-player campaign, though mainly out of curiosity. I haven’t really played any modern FPSs. (New Vegas and Human Revolution don’t really count.) Sometimes I just want to sit back and shoot a bunch of dudes. What’s holding me back is the price. Since I have little to no interest in the multiplayer, $60 is a little steep for an 8-hour campaign.

      • ToddG

        Might I recommend the first Modern Warfare as an alternative, assuming you haven’t played it.  It is  far cheaper at this point, and almost certainly a better experience.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I was hoping to pick Modern Warfare for somewhere in the $5-$10 range, but its price rarely dips below $20, and I haven’t ever seen a PC download of it go for less than $15. I guess Activision doesn’t want to discount past CoD titles too deeply lest they cannibalize sales of the most recent one.

        • ToddG

          @Merve2:disqus   Wow, I had no idea it stayed so expensive.

        • TaumpyTearrs

           @Merve2:disqus
          If you are already doing any Black Friday shopping I saw Modern Warfare 2 is going to be $10 at Walmart and Target, IIRC.

          I’m planning on doing some gift shopping for myself, my fiance doesn’t have a job and my parents are  giving me money that I will be saving towards getting a vehicle/apartment again, so I’m gonna spend 50-60 bucks getting games for myself as my only present. The Wal-Mart and Target sales are nuts, I’m gonna end up up with between 3-5 games for the price of one, and pretty much all of them are less than a year old.

        • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

          A friend works at Blockbuster so I got MW3 for £8 recently. It lasted a weekend so I can’t really recommend it, the first MW was more challenging and fun and I’m reasonably sure it’s free of DRM that would stop you not being able to buy a 2nd hand copy.

        • Bad Horse

          HUGE disclaimer: if you come into MW1 at level 1 after the entire community has been on it for 3-5 years, you will not last more than 10 seconds in a game. And I don’t mean you will be killed, I mean they will vote to kick you before you can even get a chance to be killed.

          Only buy MW1 if you want to play it in single-player, or privately with like-minded friends.

      • Raging Bear

        For single-player value, I recommend Borderlands 2. I haven’t even tried co-op, but the single player hasn’t gotten dull for me yet over the course of dozens of hours. I even accidentally deleted my character and started over, and didn’t mind that much.

        • Asinus

          But why can’t I find a sniper rifle?! All I have seen in the first several hours is the Gearbox one I started with. I’m getting pretty annoyed. 

        • TaumpyTearrs

           I got bored with the first Borderlands after like 10 hours of single-player and 10 hours of co-op, does this one change up the gameplay or missions enough to keep it fresh? I liked the setting and design, and the infinite weapons idea is neat,  but the combat varied from too easy to frustrating depending on enemy strength, and I never really found a sweet spot of fun-but-still-challenging.

        • Raging Bear

          @The_Asinus:disqus I’m not sure if it’s just luck or design, but there does seem to be a point where you start finding more sniper rifles, and it’s probably not long from where you are. There similarly seems to be a point at which you suddenly start to find more slag/corrosive weapons, so I suspect these things are deliberate.

          @TaumpyTearrs:disqus I promise, 2 is better in every way. I played fair bit of the first one despite not liking it very much, so I know what you mean, but I find the sequel consistently entertaining. I don’t know if I’d say the missions are a LOT more varied (though they are at least a bit), but the weapons, enemies, and especially the maps definitely are.

      • Citric

        I found the first Modern Warfare for $10 at Wal Mart once.

        At this point I’ll add the disclaimer that I didn’t really like it, mostly because I felt like I was getting in the way of the game instead of driving it forward. 

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Yeah, no way in hell is CoD gonna be a serious contender for and “esports” thing. That new counter strike game/quakelive have that covered on the FPS front. Those guys are too “hardcore” for them to let something like CoD catch on. Also it’s totally not balanced to be competitive, just to be fun/ridiculous.

    • rjonathon

      no…starcraft forever!

      actually…league of legends forever, apparently. until sc3 drops :/

      • Future_Garage_Band

        Wait, are you saying Blizzard’s going to develop sc3 before the mythical wc4? :(

  • GaryX

    So how’s the virtual Avenge Sevenfold?

  • rjonathon

    moral complexity? is that where you where momentarily feel bad about owning 14 year olds online?

    • Army_Of_Fun

      That happens? Those are the players that are able to dedicate 60+ hours a week to the game. Not to mention, the least obnoxious ones are still as obnoxious as, well, 14 year olds.

      When you’re able to run circles around them, there is never a hint of regret. It’s a time to celebrate. A time to teabag them.

  • dreadguacamole

     Ryan – are you sure you’re not reading too much into the game here? I mean, they’ve got the actual, real-life Olliver North to promote the game; are they really calling his actions into question or are they just giving a bit more dimension to a bad guy because it’s fashionable?
     Because if they really portray the douchebaggery he was up to in his prime and its effects… man, that’s all kinds of awesome.

     I couldn’t really get over just how exploitative and crass the little bits I’ve seen of this game’s campaign were, but I’ll need to give it a proper look now.
     I’m not too hopeful, though; remember when modern warfare 1 could be read as an indictment of american actions in the Middle East? (the US fucks up completely, leaving the british to pick up the pieces – because the british have such a great history with the middle east!)… anyhow, that’s not something the sequels borne out. To say the least.

     CodBlopsOne was fun and pulpy because, well, it wasn’t afraid to be pulpy and silly; it was kind of knowing about just how stupid it was. I’m sad to see that go, but I’ve been hearing some interesting things about the campaign for the new one. I’ll get it as a rental at some point, I guess.

    • ToddG

      I will defend just about any facet of the original Modern Warfare single player campaign to my grave.  It is unfortunate how apparent it was in the MW sequels that they had no idea what made the original game so good.

      • Bad Horse

        Can you help me out? The MW1 campaign pretty much ensured that I’d never play CoD again – I could appreciate the level of craftsmanship but I found the pacing too frenetic and unrelenting. Except for the ghillies mission, which was fucking awesome. Why didn’t the rest of the game have that sense of drama?

        • Drew Toal

          The ghillies mission is all I remember. It was the best.

        • ToddG

          While I will admit it is not a groundbreaking story by any means, I found the manner in which that story was told to be incredible, and unique to the medium in a way that few games’ stories are.  Everything from the intro, where you’re the about-to-be-executed president riding through the streets listening to the radio and looking around at the insurrection around you, to the breathtaking nuclear detonation scene, to the ghillies, to the tense final moments when your partner slides you the gun to shoot the main villain.  The nuke in particular was literally jaw-dropping to me; that agonizing crawl out of the helicopter, seeing the devastation… amazing.  And so totally unexpected.

          Then they made MW2 and tried to recreate the same moment like a dozen times and it lost all impact almost immediately.

        • HobbesMkii

          @BreakingRad:disqus You summed up perfectly my feeling in regards to the Modern Warfare series. That nuke scene in the first one was incredible because it was a great bait-and-switch moment. You’re escaping with the pilot you’ve just spent time rescuing and everything looks hunky-dory and then BLAM! you’re crawling around the aftermath of a nuclear explosion before succumbing yourself.

          After that, though, it seemed like both MW2 and MW3 took every opportunity available to shoot you in the face and pretend as though it added a great deal of dramatic depth.

        • ToddG

          @HobbesMkii:disqus  Yeah, IW never seemed to get that it wasn’t just a first-person death that was so stunning, but the fact that it was such a subversion of FPS expectations.  Because there’s the explosion itself and the chopper crashing, which was unexpected.  But then they make you crawl out, and I was honestly wondering if they were going to let my character survive (which would have been ridiculous, of course, but come on, this is just a video game, so I wasn’t going to rule it out.)  But then after one or two full minutes of crawling, you literally roll over and die, and there’s the realization that they put that in basically just as a cutscene.  It was a truly inspired and artful choice, and used both the player’s expectations and the structure of the medium to craft a moment not possible in any other.

          Also, the Medal of Honor game from a few years ago actually built on that moment in a much better way than either of the subsequent MW games did.  There’s a mission where you end up surrounded by enemies, trapped in this burnt-out husk of a house, and it keeps collapsing around you and forcing you further and further out into the open, and I was pretty sure they were going to kill me like MW did, but then reinforcements show up and kill the enemies, and I was legitimately surprised to have survived.  It was neat.

    • Captain Internet

      I have to say that having played the game, it does not strike me as a coherent comment on US foreign policy, or indeed coherent at all. 

      You go to foreign places and shoot people, and occasionally someone suggests that it might be bad, but it’s hard to pick up on in amongst all the shouting and swearing and people telling you to push buttons. All the characters are extremely unpleasant, and nothing that happens makes any sense. 

      The multiplayer is great though. 

      • Erdschwein

        I think this is the best review I’ve read yet.

      • HobbesMkii

        You go to foreign places and shoot people, and occasionally someone suggests that it might be bad, but it’s hard to pick up on in amongst all the shouting and swearing and people telling you to push buttons. All the characters are extremely unpleasant, and nothing that happens makes any sense.

        Sounds like US foreign policy to me!

        *rimshot*

    • http://twitter.com/RyanSmithWriter Ryan Smith

      Dread,

      It’s not really an indictment of North individually, but as a whole but there’s this criticism of Cold War foreign policy. It feels like the implication is that we helped create Menendez in similar ways to how the U.S. helped create Osama Bin Laden.

      I agree that some aspects of the campaign are totally exploitative…the number of burning children, and burning people in general gets especially totally ridiculous.

      • dreadguacamole

         Cool, thanks. I suspect I’ll be a bit less charitable in my assessment of its messages than you, but the fact that this discussion could happen in the first place -that the game is open at all to interpretation- is a very good thing.

  • uselessyss

    It’s kind of funny that a “1 percent” reference is actually in the dialogue of the game.

    When people take a look back at Black Ops II 10 years from now, are they going to get that reference? Is it going to be one of those terms that instantly dates media as belonging to the early ’10s?

    • HobbesMkii

      When people look back at this game for its references to contemporary society, they’re all gonna point out how premature that David Petraeus as Secretary of Defense call was.

      • http://twitter.com/RyanSmithWriter Ryan Smith

        So true. I was tempted to mention this in my review, but it didn’t really fit. Another interesting tidbit–There’s an aircraft carrier in 2025 named after Obama! That also seemed a little premature.

        • HobbesMkii

          Yeah, the only living President I see where that happened is when George H. W. Bush had a carrier christened after him 13 years after leaving office. His son was President at the time, though (I’m not saying that had anything to do with it, but I’m not not saying that either). Maybe in Treyarch’s history of the world, Obama gets assassinated or died suddenly? FDR got an aircraft carrier named after  him in 1945 and JFK got one in 1968. Still, if that’s the case, that’s pretty freaking morbid.

        • Erdschwein

          Yeah, it doesn’t really take into account that Petraeus would be old as fuck by that time. Donald Rumsfeld was the oldest(and the youngest according to wikipedia) SecDef (hire me activision!) and we all know how well that worked out!

  • doyourealize

    I see this is available on the Wii U. Despite not really wanting this game and being unsure about the system, any idea how they use the second screen? I can’t imagine it would be convenient to have to look down when you wanted to see how much ammo you had left. Do they even use it?

    • ToddG

      I have not played it, but there IS that one commercial where a guy uses a very similarly-proportioned device to target an airstrike.  Which would be awesome.

    • sirslud

      You can play two player ‘split screen’ .. one person on the TV, the other on the tablet.

    • GaryX

      I haven’t seen it, but I’m pretty sure Giant Bomb played it in their live stream (I wasn’t watching at that part), so you could probably find out there.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    From what i hear, all the tragedies that are piled onto the villain play out more like a “Looney Tunes guide to Tragic Events” than moments with actual emotional weight.

    But really I’m curious for the Gameological Commenters to weigh in on the Battlefield v. Call of Duty rivalry.  In most of the corners of the internet I frequent, it’s generally accepted that if you want a dumb run and gun where helicopters guide themselves you play CoD, but if you want an engaging team-based, shooter that requires the synapses in your brain to actually fire, then you play Battlefield.

    I play a lot of Battlefield 3 though so I’m pretty biased.

    • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

      Well, @ZODIACMOTHERFUCKER prefers Battlefield, so Battlefield wins.

    • TaumpyTearrs

       Battlefield:Bad COmpany 2 pretty much ruined me for other shooters. Playing COD feels bizarre, because I’m trying to lead my targets or account for bulletdrop, then I realize the bullets go exactly where I aim them, even when firing a huge LMG. That and the lack of vehicles/destructible environments in multi-player just seems boring.

      Having said all that, I felt like Battlefield 3 was a step back for the series and I actually returned my copy after about 100-150 hours of multiplayer. That sounds like alot, but I played Bad Company 2 for 300+ hours online, and never stopped playing it til i traded it in to get BF 3. The lack of environmental destruction in BF 3 is just a huge loss, and I’d honestly prefer smaller, less detailed levels if it meant I could blow them apart like in Bad COmpany 2.

      And EA’s behavior with 3 has really pissed me off, pulling COD-type shit with their “premium” membership and charging for new maps (in BC 2 they were free as long as you had your code from buying a new copy).

      I bought the Close Quarters map pack (which is obviously targeted at COD players) which described itself as “full of the most detailed HD destruction yet!” and then i discovered it has a level where NOTHING is destructable, and 3 other levels where you can chip away at a couple of walls. Its a damn shame, as Ziba Tower is one of my favorite level designs ever, but the lack of destruction and smaller squads meant I got bored with it quickly.

      I’d probably feel different if I had a good PC and could play BF3 with 64 people, but as far as the consoles are concerned it felt like a bit of a failure.

      • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

        Deep down, I know that Bad Company 2 is a superior game, but I still have ended up putting more time into BF3. The one thing that I say BF3 has over BC2 is that the guns just feel better.  The recoil in BF3 is crazy high compared to most shooters.  Even in BC2 I could pick off somebody from a ridiculous distance with an LMG or Pistol just by taking pot shots where as in BF3 this is much more difficult. 

        Though the severe lack of destructable environments has been a huge debbie downer, and not to mention the fact Engineers can’t have a rocket that’s effective against Land AND Air vehicles.  WTF!?

        • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

          I finished SP Bad Company 2 on a machine that could barely run it, might be time to reinstall it and have another, smoother runthrough.

        • TaumpyTearrs

           @facebook-1192385620:disqus  I started the SP cuz my internet was out for a week or two when I got the game. Then I played 300 hours of MP, and only finished the campaign like a year and a half later because I was trading it in for BF3. I didn’t even finish the SP campaign in BF3 before trading it in. They just aren’t very fun compared to the MP.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I agree with you in theory. IN THEORY, communism works. In theory.

      But in practice I find CoD to be way more fun than Battlefield. I get the teamwork thing, but that NEVER happens when I join a random server in a Battlefield game. I do like the vehicles and blowing up buildings and junk, but a lot of the time for me, tha maps are way to big and I spend most of my time trying to get to where the action is. 

      I usually get my FPS fix in the form of TF2 or Quake 3 or something like that though.

  • welldoneson

    Never more disgusted than when reading something that pretends the US was the cause of problems.  Almost invariably a US-installed “brutal regime” is less “brutal” than what it replaced.  Just what do you asshats think the US was trying to do?  Inform yourselves, kids.  Oh, and enjoy the ride down the toilet that Obama is about to send you on.

    The smart money is buying property in Canada.

    • stakkalee

      Well in Nicaragua, I think the US government was trying to put down a communist-backed leftist uprising to ensure that US-backed business interests wouldn’t lose their property and influence in the area, and to support another right-wing client state who’d then go on to purchase weapons systems from one of our many fine defense contractors.  Why, what do you think the US was doing in Nicaragua?

      On another note, if this game doesn’t have a scene where you scream “MENNNENNNDDDEEEZZZZ!” into the sky I’m going to be sorely disappointed.`

    • Bad Horse

      Remember when liberals were the shrill, humorless ones?

    • Moonside_Malcontent

       This comment is really gonna rustle the jimmies of my alternate username, Mohammed_Mossadeq_Malcontent

    • Citric

      I’m confused, are you suggesting Obama isn’t left wing enough? Because most of your post is rah-rah ’80s patriotism, but then you endorse a country which has never done much military intervention, has all the policies that Republicans hate, and even our Conservative party is somewhat to the left of US policy in general.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      If not cause of, how about steady continuation of?
         ”I stopped your bleeding by cauterizing your wound!  But poorly.  And it’s infected now.  Sorry, and thanks for your support!”
         Also, purely from a rhetorical standpoint, “asshat” is second only to “sheeple” in phraseology that the simple usage of invalidates any legitimate point you may have.
         And how come this fantastical sounding toilet ride is only starting now?  Obama’s had four years to get that off the ground!
         Hope and change, indeed. 

      • HobbesMkii

        Which sounds better:

        Sheephat or Asseeple?

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Oh, sheephat for certain.  That sounds warm and cozy, whereas asseeple sounds like an Olean side effect.

        • HobbesMkii

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus The other thing I need to consider is how to use it in a sentence. Should it appear as a call to action, as in “Wake up, SHEEPHAT!” or more of a slur, as in “Rather than refute the points made by that person whom I strenuously disagree with, I shall instead characterize his opinions (and thus the man himself) as those belonging to a sheephat.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

      It takes a tremendous amount of stones to claim that the Pinochet regime was somehow less brutal than Allende.

      • Geoffrey Zoref

        It takes no knowledge of history as well. 

        • dreadguacamole

           Nah, plenty of people who say this sort of thing know their history well enough. They just trust that the people they’re talking to don’t.

    • The Guilty Party

      The Troll swings his sword at Gameological Society!

      The Troll hits Gameological Society for 5 damage!

      Gameological Society still has lots of fight left!

      • Jackbert322

        Gameological Society uses Toal on Troll!

        The opinion of facial hair of Troll has been depleted!

        Gameological Society uses Teti on Troll!

        Pumpkin damage inflicted!

        Gameological Society uses Heisler on Troll!

        Troll is stricken with giggles from weekly release overview!

        Troll is weak!

        Time for an All-Out Attack!

        Gameological Society contributors have finished off Troll!

  • Moonside_Malcontent

    ” Black Ops II’s sense of history echoes Noam Chomsky more than Stephen Ambrose”

    As a point of order, saying Stephen Ambrose has a sense of history is like saying Clint Eastwood has a sense of politics.  Both are gifted entertainers and say the word a lot, but it’s become all too clear that both have lost its true meaning through endless autohypnosis focusing on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s luminous, bald head.

    Moving on, I admire Call of Duty’s willingness to at least present a counter-narrative to the traditional gung-ho militarism that has too frequently characterized mainstream discussions of the role of force, particularly in the United States.  Progress is progress.  But when you’re reflecting on the complicated realities of international capitalism while peering through a reflex sight at its enemies, is it revolutionary?  Doubt becomes effective only when it spurs action, not hand-wringing.  Worse still, don’t we have to confront the possibility that the only reason this counter-narrative is being presented at all is because someone making a considerable salary thought it was a good way to move some more units, making the anti-capitalist sympathies in this game a part of the profit-making apparatus? It’s turtles all the way down.

  • Haymz_Jetfield

    I’m actually really enjoying both the single player and multi but the Strikeforce missions that involve defending a base are either totally broken or I don’t comprehend what it
    takes to keep my points from being overrun. Call of Duty SP is a love it or hate it experience and I generally find them to be far more enjoyable than any action movie I see that year and only slightly more interactive.

    As far as the plot – I think this may be the first COD where I have absolutely no idea who I’m shooting or why (in the future segments at least), and they probably would have been more successful making their villain sympathetic if he were also not a sadistic, murderous asshole.
    The PDW-57 with laser sight and FMJ seems hilariously overpowered, if only because I have a positive KDA after using it for a few days and I’ve never had that in a previous COD game. My ability hit the ceiling a long time ago and has been steadily declining ever since.

  • Erdschwein

    Frankly, I have a hard time with any sentence including “black ops II” and “coherent” that isn’t “Black Ops II isn’t at all coherent.” China’s stock exchange crashes so they ban the export of rare earths? Cripple our economy will you? Not if we do first! Destroy LA because it sucks, but nowhere else (I was fine with this reasoning actually). The whole game is filled with stuff of that “huh?” sort of logic; it’s like the writers just took a bunch of  cool sounding buzzwords and called it a plot.

    So far it’s not any different from the past billion COD games. But what really kills me is the pretension. It too has a long lineage in cod, but it’s always been much subtler. Here we find the writers trying hard (for cod writers) to seem subversive. Ooooh, the dark side of war! Collateral damage, grey areas! Again, there’s really only buzzwords. They don’t go into depth about how shitty the CIA was during that time, how we fumbled around in places we really had no business in, and how people died as a result. Make no mistake, these are the same people who managed to portray the Vietnam war without any hint of its immorality that is basically fundamental to modern considerations of the conflict. Menendez is supposed to represent the result of careless foreign policy, but he doesn’t at all. His sister is horribly burned by an American, just some random American. And then when the CIA actually does harm him directly they do so because he’s a huge narco. I’m not saying assassinations are necessarily ever justified, but it’s not like he’s really a sympathetic character or like some yokel whose family was drone-striked to oblivion.

    The most troubling aspect is that the game basically just shits on dissent as a whole. Someone wants to get rid of capitalist governments? It’s probably just an insane revenge plot because a marine banged his mom. Masses of disenfranchised, unhappy people supporting a violent man? They’re just stupid, how else could they love a terrorist? I’m not a radical or anything, but I find a game that’s so influential, and yet so intellectually lazy and dishonest, pretty disturbing.

    • ryanthestormout

      The Call of Duty series is in a weird place overall. You can tell that the developers sort of wish they had the freedom to make an insane post-modern meta-commentary like Spec Ops (a game I can’t believe was ever actually made and distributed in the first place) dealing with the consequences of war, but at the same time they’re in this position where they have to sell the game and keep selling it to more and more people, so they also have to bring in all the future tech and the rah rah action setpieces and the incontrovertible badasses and hope that people get the subtext, which is that every character in the game (Oliver North included) is a complete lunatic and overall piece of shit. I mean Christ, the first scene in the game involves one main character emotionally traumatizing and then abandoning the other main character, and then both characters grow up to kill a whole bunch of people all the time. I mean, one of the characters literally lost his mind in the first game. Meanwhile, you have dudes like Frank Woods and Harper who are both obviously paranoid, right wing lunatics, and you have Menendez who is “sympathetic” in the sense that he has a somewhat plausible backstory, but even then you can tell that he was never going to grow up and work in a bank. He’s worse than he might have been, but really he, like everybody else, is just a guy giving himself excuses to do what he really wants to do, which could be seen as a smart comment on war and foreign policy in general.

      The problem is what you bring up: all of this interesting stuff is supported by the flimsiest of pretenses. If the game had focused more on the characters (as in Spec Ops), they might have really had something here. Instead, they spend the majority of the game dicking around with all of these sub-James Bond plotlines that make no sense and literally disappear from your mind the minute that the game is over. But then, this is a problem that the series has had since Modern Warfare II (I still hold the first Modern Warfare and the first Black Ops to be pretty spectacular, plot-wise: just the right mix of incredibly convoluted and surprisingly compelling).

      Finally, I had less of an issue with the game’s handling of dissent. It’s cynical, yes, but it fits into the game’s universe that piece of shit warlords will take advantage of the already disadvantaged. I think the military industrial complex and the one percent come off looking much worse than the poor in this game, especially when you take into account that political and economic leaders have been using the poor to fight the poor (a point that I think flits along the sidelines of this game) since the beginning of time. It only makes sense that Menendez would do the exact same thing to America that America did to him. He’s able to rationalize it. Because he’s a dickbag.

      All of that being said, I’m really just happy to read a smart review that takes COD’s complex (or muddled, depending on perspective) take on jingoism into account. Especially after watching the review on Zero Punctuation (apparently, we’re all racist cretins).

  • WhiteBlacula

    Hunter Mason. Mason Hunter. John Mason. Mason Johnson. John Hunter. Mason Mason. Mason Carver. Carver Mason. John Carver. Carver Hunter.  In future space, they will kill you.

    • ChicaneryTheYounger

      Big McLarge-Huge!

      • ryanthestormout

        Butts Fartso!