I’ve begun my playthrough of Call of Duty: Black Ops II with mixed feelings. The first Black Ops was alright and I’ve generally reacted positively to all the CoDs starting from the first Modern Warfare, and every game in the series since then has pretty much just been more of that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it – CoD played well back then and still does – but many people take offense to the fact that the series has been doing the same thing for 5 games, and by now I sympathize (though I’m buying the games, so I’m really still a slave of the dark side).
Black Ops II features heart-pounding action from start to finish. Not pictured: heart-pounding action.
What really jumped at me with BlOps2 is the linearity of its levels. I don’t know if it’s just due to me coming directly from Dishonored with its large, open levels and an absence of teammates constantly yelling “GO GO GO!” at you, or if I’m just getting old and slow-paced. It didn’t really bother me in the previous games, anyway.
The game has leaning (probably to please the PC nerds), which seems like a really pointless mechanic in this game because your character takes a month to lean to either side, and then this game is far too fast-paced to really make use of leaning anyway. It worked in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. because the firefights were tactical and deadly, where you could step out from cover, take a shotgun shell to the face and have to reload your game from the last time you conveniently remembered to save (which was probably about an hour ago). Here, the singleplayer is too easy and the multiplayer too frantic for it to be necessary.
The PC version of BlOps2 assigns the Q and E keys to leaning, making V the default key for knife attacks. I’ve seen the V key used for melee in lots of other games and it has always confused me; why V? Is it because it’s next to C for crouching? In my experience, that just makes it harder to use. I always end up pressing C by mistake, and confronting an enemy player with your ability to sit down is not very threatening. You can still remap the controls the way you like, so it’s mostly a moot point. I just don’t get it.
Fuck you, main menu.
One curious detail about the main menu of the game: “Multiplayer” is the default choice, with “Campaign” taking the second spot, which is pretty indicative of the game’s focus I guess, but it further emphasizes the idea of “yeah, you can go play the campaign if you really want, but multiplayer is why we’re all here, right?”. I’m sure half the players are entirely skipping the singleplayer already, and the fact that this game makes it easier for them makes me sick. This also makes it obvious that the menu wasn’t designed with the PC in mind, as the PC version is already split into the 3 different modes right in the Steam library. If you wanted to play multiplayer, wouldn’t you just start up the multiplayer from Steam and save several clicks?
At the time of writing, I’ve only played a handful of levels, and so far, the singleplayer campaign is not quite up to my expectations. But who knows, it might turn out to be the best CoD of them all. However, it’ll have to be pretty damn good to impress me after Dishonored, which I recently finished.
Dishonored is a great game if you like really good games. It’s primarily stealth-focused, so if you’re so inclined you can get through every mission with nonlethal methods and without anyone knowing you were ever there. You can also go in guns blazing, killing everything that moves and throw around corpses like a madman. Or you can do as I did, i.e. try to be stealthy, get spotted, and fight your way through the rest of the level.
There’s a variety of special powers and weapons at your disposal which you can tune to your liking, depending on whether you’re trying to be stealthy, combat-focused or a bit of both. All the powers and weapons come in handy at some point, and it generally feels very balanced. What the game could use is some sort of nonlethal takedown from the front, like a smack across the face or something. When an enemy is facing you in close quarters there’s not much to do besides stabbing them, which worked for me, but not for people trying to do a nonlethal run. Most prominently, Dishonored also features a teleportation-like power called “blinking”, which works pretty damn well and makes almost every corner of the map easily reachable.
The environments are for the most part well made and the game world is a bleak and grim place, making it perfect for a masked man to run around on rooftops killing people. The levels are littered with notes and books that further flesh out the setting, and if you actually take your time out to read them, you might find a diary of a mother detailing her last living days before succumbing to the plague, or a book on how whalers extract oil from their catch. Notes and logs are standard fare for many games nowadays but in this one, they’re more often than not worth reading.
Samuel, you’re a dick.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about the game it’s the impact your actions have. Depending on your choice of lethal vs. nonlethal methods, you end up with high or low “chaos,” respectively. High chaos means there will be more rats and enemies in the later levels (as well as more hostile NPCs and a bad ending), which will effectively make the game harder. It makes sense in theory, but the game’s killing mechanics are so awesome that being punished for using them doesn’t seem like the wisest decision. Making the characters change behavior depending on the player’s actions is cool; punishing the player for using the available gameplay mechanics is not.
With that exception, Dishonored is awesome, and playing BlOps2 afterwards makes it feel even better by comparison. A few times during BlOps2 I’ve thought to myself, “Now I’ll just blink over to that rooftop,” then realizing that no, there is no teleport power in this game, as much fun as that would have been.
Perhaps it’s not too late to add it to Modern Warfare 4? Just claim it’s some secret military technology and no one will ask difficult questions.