Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review: Innovation vs. Expectation
Note: This review is for the Xbox 360 version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, because Game Front was unable to secure a copy of the PC version before the game’s release. Activision has provided Game Front with a PC copy, which we’ll be evaluating once it unlocks at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 13
As I was playing through Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 the weekend before its release to write this review, I started to wonder how exactly one is supposed to evaluate a game in this franchise. I’ve determined that it’s actually a very difficult thing to do.
For one, CoD The Franchise is enormous; monolithic, even. As the biggest entertainment property out there, it has an incredible amount of money and marketing behind it. It’s really hard to find a title that can compare to a Call of Duty game on even terms, given how huge the games are, both in terms of resources available to them and in the very minds of players. We tend to compare CoD games to other shooters like them and often find those other games lacking; we tend to belittle games that become “too much” like CoD. By definition, Call of Duty games tend to be good because of the money behind them, and bad because of their sameness — reviewing one is definitely a double-edged sword.
So how are you supposed to judge a game like Black Ops 2? Further, how do you make that game? Being too much like Call of Duty will turn off the people tired of Call of Duty — being too different will turn off those people looking for the next iteration of the uber-franchise. What score could I possibly give Black Ops 2 that is fair, when it is a game people both love and hate?
My solution has been to be as fair as possible; readers from both camps will likely disagree with some of what’s written here. It’s hard even to find the right language to describe Black Ops 2: It is both more of the same and refreshingly new; both well-trodden to the point of being possibly boring, and generous in innovation; both Call of Duty and Not Call of Duty.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Platform: PC, Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3)
Release Date: Nov. 13, 2012
Black Ops 2′s primary problem isn’t even its own fault. This is, after all, 2012. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out in 2007. We’re now standing at a half-decade of the same basic experience, released five different times prior to this latest one on the same console hardware. You follow your guys through a level, you shoot anyone who pops up at you, you complete whatever objectives come up by holding down a button. In this, Black Ops 2 is largely the same; the enemy AI hasn’t changed, nor has the basic makeup of each level in the campaign. Enemies pop up, you shoot them. Repeat.
This is what players want, after all. They vote with their wallets. They dutifully (hehe) buy these games each year, and if they’re disappointed, they haven’t been showing it because the franchise has only grown more popular with each iteration. So if you’re signed up for The Call of Duty Experience, Black Ops 2 delivers it. If you’re a fan of Call of Duty multiplayer, you’ll get what you expect in this package: a wealth of weapons and gear to unlock, new toys to earn by killing people that will help you kill more people, and new maps in which to hide or traverse in between bouts of shooting guys.
But I think Treyarch needs to be commended in a lot of ways for Black Ops 2. I can imagine working on this franchise every two years, knowing that there are fences inside which you must work and targets you absolutely must hit. Players pick up Call of Duty games with certainty, and to color too far out of the lines would piss them (and Supreme Overlord Activision) off, surely. And yet, Treyarch has made the most innovative and inventive addition to the series since Modern Warfare kicked off this parade of sameness.