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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: 'Black Ops 2' Campaign - That. Just. Happened.

To say that I wasn't excited about the release of Black Ops 2 would be an understatement. I have been fairly vocal about how the Call of Duty franchise is over, leaving non-innovative yearly releases at our front door only to be met with disappointment.

Even through the first half of the Black Ops 2 campaign I wasn't convinced. At one point I even sent a text to SG's own Bryan Cole reading, "This campaign to Black Ops 2 is so horribly written. Pathetic."

That was of course written before the end credits rolled, and before my mind got completely owned.

War isn't fun. Nothing about war is supposed to be fun. The problem with nearly every military shooter these days is that war is glorified. Killing thousands of enemy soldiers is simply another level in the game. "Oh, don't be upset, it's only a video game" is heard far too often. So much in fact that Greg Goodrich, Executive Producer of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, was quoted in an interview with GameSpot that these are entertainment products. That while they are trying to capture what it's truly like to be a soldier in war, at the end of the day they are video games meant to be enjoyed.

Which brings up a very strange scenario. On one hand you have what is easily one of the most horrific acts that man can achieve being portrayed as an "entertainment product". On the other hand you have war as a reality, which when emulated outside of the battlefield itself should never, under any circumstances elicit feelings of euphoria. 

The question then becomes, "As a video game developer set out to create a military shooter, do we aim for fun entertainment or real life emotions?" 

I never thought I would be writing that Black Ops seems to understand this line exists. The only difference between it and the rest of the competition is that there's no clear side it's standing on. Instead, Treyarch has somehow managed to give us the best of both worlds. 

There are moments in Black Ops 2 that are absolutely exhilarating. Flying through the air with a squirrel suit, soaring through the war torn streets in a jet, and climbing rocks with a set of futuristic sticky gloves are all examples of this. Then there's the moments where you're in war. Where as a soldier you are given commands and expected to follow them. Where the only thing between you and your objective is an entire army of human beings, all waiting to be slaughtered by the twitch of your trigger finger.

Where even the ones you love aren't safe. Not from your enemy, and certainly not from you.

To me, Black Ops 2 is a story more about family than capitalism. About the importance of the ones you love and how you will stop at nothing to keep them safe. A story that is written with so much emotion it's nearly impossible to not understand both sides of it. Black Ops 2 is one of the most difficult games to play because of this. Nearly every scene is soaked in guilt, leaving you wishing you could just stop pulling that damn trigger.

But dammit you're a soldier, and soldiers do their jobs without question. Or at least we all hope it's that simple.

I still believe that the Call of Duty franchise is oversaturated. Especially in the multiplayer side of things. Black Ops 2 however is a giant step out of the quicksand of mediocrity. The campaign, while it may seem very straight-forward, is actually full of choice. These choices dictate how the game plays out, and is done well enough to honestly rank up there among the best of the year. 

In between campaigns you have the option to play 'Strike Force' missions as well. These could (and possibly should) be a game on their own. Rather than controlling one soldier amidst an army, you can jump in and out of Tactical View, setting commands and transporting into different entities. If you have played Driver: San Francisco, it's exactly like that. Only done well. These Strike Force missions also dictate how the game plays out. They are completely optional of course, but if you want to see the full ending I highly recommend you take the time to complete them.

Oh, and yes, you read that correctly - there are multiple endings to Black Ops 2.

If this is the direction they are headed then we are about to see some incredibly well-written, hard to play games. The emotional roller coaster that Treyarch has created is beyond what we have seen in any previous Call of Duty games. For the first time since I can remember, a Call of Duty game is worth owning for the single player alone.

A copy of Black Ops was given to me by Activision. It was delivered Tuesday, November 13th. This review is based off a complete single player playthrough.
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