Call Of Duty games are not unlike Michael Bay movies. They have huge production budgets. They have lots of explosions. They're generally dismissed by genre aficionados. But they're fun as heck to just turn your brain off with every once and a while. I'm by no means a mega fan of the series. But I like to dip in and out of them every few years. It's kind of like Madden. I don't need to play every new iteration annually. But sometimes, I need to get my fix.
A couple years back I delved into Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and I loved it quite a bit. It was a brisk campaign and kept me on my toes and interested the whole time. The same can ALMOST be said of Black Ops II.
The main hook in this one is the jumping back and forth between different timelines to tell a bigger story. And it's both the story's biggest flaw. While I found both timelines to be neat settings - be it the late 80's Cold War stuff or the jump ahead to the year 2025. The former is interesting to me from an actual historical standpoint, whereas the latter tips the game into a slightly more sci-fi themed thing, which is cool with me.
The problem is how disjointed the story all is. Jumping between timelines with flashbacks and from the view of multiple characters often threw me off. I'd often have trouble keeping track of who was who in each timeline. Plus some characters used multiple names. In fairness, most of our main characters are big tough dudes who I had trouble differentiating.
The other issue with the story for me was the constant WOAH YOU DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING moments. Spoiler: a whole lot of people are spies or double agents or something. Though I'm not saying this to be completely negative. There were some legitimately good parts of the story and the setting. One backyard meetup with your troops outside of battle felt downright real thanks to the Christmas decorations in the front yard, and sounds of the neighborhood. Likewise, the decision on whether or not our own spy should kill Harper was actually pretty rough to make.
But disregarding the messy story - and there were good moments in the story as well - the gameplay itself was solid. I mean, it's Call Of Duty. There's lots of money here, so of course it's well polished. The running and shooting and loading and aiming and all that - it just works. If you've played a COD game, then you know that.
The times where things went off the rails for me however, were the moments where the game forced me to do something out of the normal expectations of Shooting in First Person. I feel bad saying this because I love when developers think outside the box, and try to keep things fresh. But Black Ops II doesn't work for me when it's not just sticking to the basics. I hated flying a jet and trying to emulate Afterburner in HD. And I hated, hated, hated the little RTS missions that were tacked on here.
Treyarch was smart, though. The so-called Strike Missions that are the RTS bits I speak of are all optional. My understanding is that playing them or not (or success vs failure) greatly change the outcome of the story. But I don't care. I played the tutorial mission and it was awful. It also greatly dragged down the otherwise consistent momentum of the campaign, so I noped out of them without a thought.
At any rate, I know the Black Ops games are rather beloved. I would have thought that with the sci-fi touches, I'd rank this one really high. But I can't put it above COD4, which is a pretty perfect game - at least within the COD series it stands as a perfect representation of what makes these games so good. But instead Black Ops II is like, well, that Michael Bay movie I mentioned. It was fun while it lasted, but I'm not going to be thinking about it much now that I'm done with it.