Call of Duty, in any of its guises, is a tricky game to review. Not only does it have a considerable legacy, after first appearing on the scene 2003, but there's also a lot of it, and it appeals to multiple and quite different audiences simultaneously. This has never been so apparent as it is in Black Ops II, direct sequel to 2010's Black Ops.
Black Ops II, you see, includes a solid (8 or so hour) singleplayer campaign, the latest iteration of developer Treyarch's Zombie survival mode, and a deep competitive multiplayer option - the reason a large percentage of the audience turn up in the first place.
The score, then, which you may have already seen, needs to encompass the entire package. Whether it's representative of the part of the game that you're most interested in is something that only the words of this review can answer.
So let's start at the beginning.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II's campaign is a direct sequel to the story featured in the first Black Ops. It features many of the same characters, and even retreads some of the same ground, while also telling a brand new story.
The new tale jumps between the 70s, 80s, and the year 2025, as a way of explaining the motivations of the various characters in the game. Don't worry, we won't ruin it for you, as if you're a fan of the story of the games, there are some rather epic twists and turns to enjoy as you work your way through, and you definitely want to have that experience in the game - rather than on a website.
Considered as a whole, the story - unfortunately - is something of a disjointed, poorly paced, badly written shambles. There are elements of it that are enjoyable and worthwhile, but filtering through the bad dialogue, poor acting, pointless characters, and bizarre presentation will leave even fans of Michael Bay films scratching their heads in wonder.
It seems likely, in fact, that the script exists solely to link the levels together. While each is fun and worthwhile in its own right (more on that in a moment), they make no sense whatsoever when strung together. That many of these locations even exist makes sense only when you consider the possibility that the designers wanted to set levels there, rather than creating levels that suit the story. From floating luxury cities to underground science labs, you'll find yourself shooting people and machines in all sorts of exotic locales - whether it makes sense from a story perspective or not.
Regardless, some of the aspects of the campaign are very much worthwhile, not least of which is the surprising inclusion of branching storylines - a first for Call of Duty. Throughout the game, you'll be confronted with a number of key moments that affect the outcome, right through to multiple different endings. In addition to giving you something cool to talk about with your friends, this new method of storytelling gives you plenty of reason to play through the campaign several times and is a great inclusion.
Another first, although a perhaps slightly less successful one, is the inclusion of a new type of gameplay - Strike Force missions. In them, you can direct multiple teams of Strike Force units from a top-down perspective, using strategy to overcome various objectives. Your goals include things like defending key defensive base structures, finding a high value target on a large map, or protecting a convoy as it moves through enemy territory.
In addition to being able to direct your forces strategically, you can also jump in and take first-person control yourself - even of the various drones, turrets, and other non-people units you might have access to at the time.
Continue reading on page 2.