The past 2 Call of Duty games weren’t really up to the standard that I’d come to expect from the franchise. Part of this can be attributed to Black Ops 3 being my favourite in the series, the multiplayer keeping me going for a good 150+ hours before I decided to call it quits. So my expectations were probably higher than they’d otherwise be for Black Ops 4, hoping to rekindle that love of the COD multiplayer which I’d lost for the last couple years. Whilst on one hand all the ingredients are there for that to happen again there’s been some glaring omissions and strange launch-day decisions that have marred what could’ve otherwise been yet another solid COD game from Treyarch.
This is typically where I’d give a brief synopsis of the initial plot for the game but since Black Ops 4 lacks a single player campaign I have none to give. Sure they’ve buried some meagre bits and pieces on the specialists training modes, giving you a brief cutscene here or there that speaks to why each of the character classes have their abilities, but that does not a single player campaign make. After it was announced that this was the case Treyarch confirmed unequivocally that they never intended to put a single player campaign in, citing the fact that most players simply jump straight into the multi. I have no reason to doubt that but out of the 3 Call of Duty developers they were always the ones who made the most interesting and engaging stories. Leaving that out seems like a missed opportunity, one that this reviewer certainly laments. Of course it wasn’t taken away for just any old reason as it was replaced with Blackout although whether or not the trade off was worth it will be entirely up to you. For me it certainly wasn’t (more on that later).
The Call of Duty games were never known for their cutting edge visuals, instead favouring higher performance to go along with the game’s rapid pace of combat. This trend continues with Black Ops 4 with the game striving to maintain a smooth, high frame rate experience over providing Crysis-like eye candy. There’s also less opportunity for level and set designers to showcase what the engine is capable of doing due to the game being multiplayer only. All things considered though the game looks perfectly fine for what it wants to be: a fast paced shooter. I will admit though that I figured that for the handful of cutscenes they created they would’ve spent a little more of their ridiculous budget on making them a little more cutting edge.
Black Ops 4 retains its 2 core game modes that most players will know, regular multiplayer and zombies, along with the new Battle Royal mode called Blackout. The base multiplayer games don’t deviate from the COD formula much, retaining the same Pick 10 system alongside a familiar cast of weapons. Some weapons now have the option of an Operator Mod which will significantly change the way the gun operates from simple things like massive rates of fire increases to strobe lights for one of the shotguns. Deviating from the last few titles as well is the lack of loot boxes with the only microtransactions in sight being used for buying different cosmetic skins for the specialists. Perhaps the biggest change though is the lack of automatically regenerating health, instead relegated to a piece of equipment which you’ll have you manually trigger to regenerate health. Most interesting of all is that the stim pack is actually a choice, you can replace it with another piece of gear if you so wish. For those who are really at the top of their game this gives them a very high risk/reward balance to play with, one I’ve seen used to both great and ill effect. Suffice to say the core of Black Ops 4 doesn’t deviate too much from the formula with the exception of Blackout.
To be completely open here I’m not the biggest fan of the Battle Royal format. I’ve played my share of PUBG, both on PC and mobile, and it can be enjoyable with a bunch of mates. However I like my FPS games fast and furious, something which the COD franchise has supported me with for many years. Battle Royal on the other hand is very much a slow and considered game, one that favours being patient and formulating a strategy if you want to win. Sure I could just parachute into a hot zone and likely die in the first couple minutes if I wanted to speed things up a bit but honestly, given that there’s a much more capable TDM and other modes available right there I’m far more likely to want to play that. Still in the interests of seeing everything that Black Ops 4 had to offer I figured I should give Blackout a try and, well, it’s pretty much as you’d expect: PUBG with COD weapons. I’ve heard from many that it’s a pretty great experience (which is likely given that Black Ops 4 has seen incredible sales) but for me, as a rusher type player in these kinds of games, it’s the antithesis of what I want from this kind of game. Your mileage may vary, though.
A good chunk of content for Black Ops 4 comes from 3 so right off the bat you’re going to be back in familiar territory. The same goes for the character classes with half of them being direct copy and pastes of their former selves. At first I was a little miffed at that, wanting a whole new experience, but I got over that relatively quickly as I realised it gave me a headstart on knowing the maps and which character classes I’d fit best into. A lot of the weapons have been changed around and there’s a much more wide variety of mods to choose from, making a great deal of the game’s weapons viable in PVP (so long as you can get the right unlocks done, of course). The starter classes are also well rounded as well, one of them coming with a fully kitted out gun that you won’t be able to get until level 50 or so. I’ve found the most success running with the Spitfire SMG, a bullet hose of a weapon that feels like a long range shotgun when you upgrade it with laser sights 2 and the extended mag. The ARs and shotguns were also somewhat viable depending on the map but SMGs felt like the better all round weapon if I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into.
The class abilities are a bit of a mixed bag given that they all seem to have rather lengthy cooldowns and can be real hit and miss affairs. The shock drone, radar beacon, assault pack and razor wire ones seem to be the most useful, having a direct impact on your performance in a match. Other ones like the cluster grenade and trip wire feel hit or miss, unlikely to provide a consistent boost to your ability to win matches. For some of the ultimate abilities you’ll be lucky to get 1 off per game (like the vision pulse one) whereas the other, less impactful ones (like Crash’s overheal) you’ll likely be able to get off 2~3 times easily. I’m sure this is going to be a boon for competitive teams as there’s a clear delineation between support and offensive ultimates, allowing them to fine tune team comps quite well. For pub players like me though it’ll just come down to whichever one feels best to you. I’ve standardised on Crash for the most part since that seems to help my team out the most.
I couldn’t do this review without talking about the current state of the multiplayer networking, specifically the 20hz server debacle. To put it simply the Black Ops 4’s server engine runs at 20hz, meaning all in-game events are updated 20 times per second. That sounds plenty fast enough however most modern games run at double or triple that and even Black Ops 4 itself ran at 60hz during its beta phase. The problem with this is that it leads to really inconsistent play with players able to one shot kill each other, seemingly land shots on you when you’re around a corner or, if you’re lucky, seemingly grant you super powers with the ability to kill anyone before they have a chance to react. This issue only seems to be amplify the host advantage problem as well, making some games an absolute nightmare for the opposing team. Treyarch has said that the limit on server tick rate was done to ensure that they could maintain the service during the initial rush and that it would eventually be put back up to 60hz. If they stay true to their word then Black Ops 4 might actually be a great game to pick up around the holiday season but for now, if you’re someone who’s interested in playing competitively, it may be best to give it a miss until 60hz makes a return.
The lack of single player and the 20hz servers might not sound like big issues but for someone like me, who really enjoyed Treyarch’s cerebral plots and glass smooth multi, they’re huge marks against the best Call of Duty game I’ve played in the last 3 years. To be sure I still feel that Treyarch is the one the others should follow but even this instalment feels like the weakest one from the developer to date. Perhaps I’ve begun to outgrow the series or maybe it’s taking a new direction that leads it away from me, I’m not sure, as all I really know is that the near unmitigated fun I found in previous titles has been gone for some time. Black Ops 4 has a potential redemption story ahead of it in the form of better multiplayer servers but I’ll still have that hole in my heart which only a Treyarch COD story can fill.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 retains the trademarks of the Treyarch style that, in my opinion, makes their version of the IP the best. The combat is still great, the various weapon options still a joy to fiddle with and the familiarity of old maps made the transition in that much smoother. Blackout is something that I personally could do without but it’s likely to be a drawcard for the numerous players out there who love the format and have tired of current offerings. The lack of a campaign is certainly disappointing and the inclusion of a token effort felt more insulting than if they had just left it out completely. The 20hz server issue is certainly annoying but I’m hopeful that it will be fixed as the player base declines from its launch highs. For what it’s worth I’m still enjoying the multi and I’ll probably put a few more good hours into it before I call it quits completely. Perhaps the residual hype from Black Ops 3 is what has doomed me here but I can’t help feeling that I wanted just a little bit more from Treyarch this time around.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours of play time.
The FPS games of the noughties were almost exclusively set in the World Wars, an era that has seemingly endless stories to tell. However as time went on and year after year brought yet another World War based FPS to the table I grew tired of the setting and, for the most part, left the FPS genre behind. When the settings began to move towards the modern era towards the end of that decade I found myself coming back; my interest in the genre reignited by the utter ridiculousness that the Call of Duty franchise offered. From then on every year I found myself coming back, my obsession with the series peaking with Black Ops 3 with some 150 hours sunk into the multi-player. So when it was announced that the next instalment would return the series to its roots I was a little sceptical as the original Call of Duty wasn’t the one I fell in love with.
Call of Duty: WWII follows the story of the 1st Infantry Division’s Red Daniels, a first-class private who’s military career begins at the bloody Normandy landings. It’s there that you come face to face with the grim realities of war as bear witness to many of your fellow soldiers cut down in front of you. From there you continue your campaign through the western front, pushing back the axis line as you march steadily towards the centre of their war effort. It’s never easy however and the strain begins to wear on you and your commanding officers. Do you have the strength to continue on, after all the horrors you’ve witnessed?
The previous generation of games was dominated by the muted, drab colour palette that just so happened to be perfect for the World War 2 setting. This helped with the technical limitations of the time, the constrained visual diversity serving as a bit of a fudge to make things more realistic than they’d otherwise appear. As time went on the visuals became cleaner, crisper and the colours became much more vibrant as a result. The return to the WWII setting brings that drab colour palette back but with the visual fidelity of the current generation. The result is a game that, on first blush, feels like it’s a step behind due to low visual variation. However the game does manage to surprise you at times, especially when it comes to the in-game cut-scenes. The automatic graphics settings wizard doesn’t do a particularly good job however, erring on the side of performance over visuals a little too heavily. Even on my near 3 year old rig I could push pretty much everything up to maximum @ 1080p and still maintain a consistent frame rate.
WWII is innovative in the sense that it takes the series back to its roots, ditching the past 8 years or so of a trend towards modern and futuristic, at times fantastical, warfare. Gone is the infinite health regeneration system, instead returning to the health bar and first aid packs system of yesteryear (for single player only though, however), The two weapon system remains and your selection of armaments is your typical WWII affair. The campaign is a set of relatively linear missions containing the usual mix of straight up corridor shooting, vehicle sections and the tried and true tacked on stealth sections. Unlike the previous 3 or so COD games there’s no upgrade or progression system to speak of, just you and whatever armaments you can find on the battlefield. Multiplayer is still the same core experience with levels, loot crates and weapon progression but there’s a few new things thrown in the mix to make things interesting. Overall it feels like a return to basics for the Call of Duty franchise, for better or for worse.
Unfortunately that return to basics seems to have brought with it the unrefined combat mechanics that we left behind a decade ago. The Call of Duty series has always set the bar for fast paced, highly polished action but WWII doesn’t meet the standards I’ve come to expect. Sure the action is as fast paced as ever and the sense of scale is still there but when it comes to actually taking down enemies the guns feel ineffective and the controls sluggish. This is most certainly a design choice, wanting to emulate the real world weapons and combat more accurately, but it does mean that the overall game experience feels more clunky than it has in previous instalments. Indeed for someone like me who’s enjoyed the trend towards utterly ridiculous, almost fantasy level combat, this feels like a big step backwards.
One positive thing to come out of this return to basics is the simplification of the campaign. It’s your standard play one mission, advance to the next deal with a handful of collectables scattered throughout the mission for you to find. Each of the missions also has a set of “heroic acts” for you to complete which are usually taking out an enemy who’s about to kill one of your squad or dragging a fallen soldier back to safety. Some of the missions have stealth sections which are, for the most part, very simplistic in their implementation. The few vehicle sections are a nice way to break up the combat and, unlike previous COD games, aren’t overdone to the point of being monotonous. All said and done the campaign will probably only take you 5 hours to get through which is close to what used to be the standard for the COD franchise. Honestly I quite like that length, especially with it broken up over 10 missions or so.
The plot of the campaign is your typical WWII affair with a heavy focus on you and your fellow war buddies. Sure they dip into the main character’s history a bit, even trying to throw you for a loop by pitting him as an unreliable narrator, but the story is pretty predictable. It does try to touch on some of the pertinent issues of the time such as gender and race equality but, this being a WWII game, the heroes are still your typical American GIs fighting the good fight against the Nazis. Honestly this setting has been done to death so much that I really don’t find much to enjoy in it anymore, especially in the medium of video games. Perhaps one day that will change, I’m always open to a compelling story, but for now the story that Call of Duty WWII presents is nothing above what I’ve come to expect from the series in a setting that I personally find uninteresting.
The multiplayer didn’t undergo the same return to basics that the rest of the game did with the new system staying true to the current norms. The difference comes from how the usual COD perks are acquired which are now part of Divisions. At the start you’ll pledge to one Division (you can unlock the rest later with an unlock token) and as you level them you’ll unlock certain benefits. Those benefits are all broadly aligned to a certain kind of playstyle but you’re no longer able to mix and match to the extent you were in previous titles. This means there’s a little less variety in how you build your load out but it should make balancing things a lot easier. Loot crates are still a thing and, like always, can be purchased using in-game currency or cold hard cash. Thankfully it seems to be limited to cosmetics only so you won’t be going up against people who’ve splashed cash to get a leg up on everyone else.
There are differences of course, the main one being an interactive social area where you can go to get missions, try out score streaks or weapons and open up your supply drops in front of everyone. Unfortunately it’s not an optional area, you will have to go there to do all these activities whether you like it or not. Personally I much preferred the older, more streamlined systems which didn’t require me to drop out of the matchmaking system. There’s also a few new game modes although most people are still playing team deathmatch or domination, just like they always are.
I’ve spent a few hours in the multiplayer and honestly I can’t see myself spending much more time in there. The same sluggishness present in the singleplayer is there in the multi as well which, when coupled with the P2P networking (which has always been a little iffy), makes for some not so great online play. It’s a shame really as it looks like the new loadout system could be something of a winner but I just don’t have the patience to keep on playing when the core mechanics just don’t feel as crisp as they used to.
Call of Duty: WWII takes the series back to its roots and in doing so loses many of the things that drew me back into the series. Gone is the highly polished, fast paced combat which it was known for, replaced with a system that feels deliberately sluggish. The campaign’s simplified nature is certainly welcome although without the solid FPS combat to back it up it’s just not as satisfying as it could be. The slight change ups in multiplayer are interesting but not enough to the carry the game on its own. Indeed whilst fans of the setting or early COD games might find something to love here I simply can’t see it. My only hope is that Treyarch can pull this franchise out of the ditch it’s found itself in as the last 2 instalments have been nothing short of disappointing.
Call of Duty: WWII is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours in single player and 2 hours in multi with 43% and 7% of the achievements unlocked.
The yearly Call of Duty release belies the fact that there are 3 developers behind the franchise: Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer. The last game we saw from the original developer was all the way back in 2013 when they debuted Call of Duty: Ghosts, an uncharacteristic stumble for them. By comparison both Sledgehammer and Treyarch’s entries were both superior, signalling that Infinity Ward was no longer the king of the franchise it created. Infinite Warfare was then their chance to prove that they knew how to do Call of Duty best but, unfortunately, they’ve missed the mark once again.
Infinite Warfare is set in the distant future, one where humanity has expanded its presence throughout the solar system. However over time tensions between the United Nations Space Alliance and the denziens of Mars have led to the formation of the Settlement Defense Front; a ruthless militaristic organisation hell bent on Mars becoming the one and only super power in the solar system. You are Nick Reyes, a captain of the Special Combat Air Recon force who commands a fleet of futuristic warplanes, charged with the defense of Earth and all UNSA protected territories. With news of a specialist strike team being taken out by the SDF during a tenuous cease fire agreement tensions are running high and a system wide war is a very real possibility.
Infinite Warfare is the first Call of Duty to be release only for current generation platforms, leaving the PlayStation 3 and Box 360 behind. The improvement in graphical fidelity from Black Ops III is slight but noticeable, the inclusion of more modern effects like physically-based rendering evident the more realistic lighting effects. The automatic graphics selection does a good job although it priortises frame rate over better visuals. With a few tweaks however it’s quite easy to knock up the detail a few notches without any noticeable drops in framerates. Like all other fast-paced shooters the environments are mostly designed to look good as you’re rushing past as up close the lack of detail becomes rather evident. Overall it’s a solid improvement over its predecessors.
Infinite Warfare follows the tried and true Call of Duty formula, pitting you agains the enemy of the day with an array of weapons and abilities to combat them with. The missions are your standard corridor shooter affair with some rudimentary stealth sections thrown in here or there. New to the series is the ability to choose between a variety of different missions, a good chunk of which take place wholly in your futuristic warplane/ship. The missions also give you upgrades to both your ship and your player character, slowly building you up into the war machine every player imagines themselves to be. Other than that there’s not too much difference between Infinite Warfare and the numerous futuristic shooters that have preceded it.
Combat is, as always, fast paced and polished to the nth degree. Whilst you’ll still suffer from the enemy AI that’s able to snipe you with a pistol from across the map (especially at higher difficulties) you’ll still be able to run and gun your way through the majority of the game. One particular letdown here is the weapon variety as a lot of them feel very similar and thus you don’t feel as compelled to experiment as you would have in previous Call of Duty titles. There are some truly inventive ideas though, like the shotgun that has a lock-on sight, something which even made it into the multi-player version. The various grenades and gadgets provide a decent amount of combat variation although once you’ve used them all once it becomes clear that the shock grenades and the shield are probably the only ones you want to keep on you.
The non-campaign single player missions are unfortunately quite bland, especially the SCAR ones which are all basically the same, just played out in different locations. Thankfully they can be ground out pretty quickly, enabling you to blase through the campaign without a smattering of side quests constantly begging for your attention. In all honesty it probably would’ve served Infinite Warfare better to not have the overworld and instead focus on the core missions, feeding you upgrades through optional objectives or something similar. If a space nut like myself gets bored with flying around space in a futuristic warship then you know something is terribly wrong.
The story is typical Call of Duty: heavy on action and light on the details. Infinity Ward tried halfheartedly to avoid the typical America vs The Evil Foreigners trope but with all the key good characters being Americans and the bad ones foreign sounding it fails the sniff test instantly. There’s also too little development given to the numerous characters thrown at you so when the inevitable happens the emotional impact is essentially nothing. The fact that I’m struggling to come up with any memorable moments in the game should tell you just how little of an impact the story had on me.
The multiplayer experience was unfortunately marred by several launch issues, most notably a horrendously broken matchmaking system. After finishing the campaign I immediately dove into the multiplayer only to be met with no games to play. I tried all the options in the hopes it was just one game mode that was broken to no avail. After sitting there for 15 minutes I figured I’d try out Titanfall 2 just to see if I could still get a game and, lo and behold, I was playing not 30 seconds later. This has been fixed for the most part but I still can’t get a game of Domination to save my life. It’s sad really as I had such a good time with Black Ops III’s multi I was really excited to get back into the scene. It seems this time around it’s simply not to be.
One thing that bears mentioning is the new weapon crafting system which, unfortunately, has some of the troubling features of a pay to win system. You see you can craft variants of guns which have perks, all of which stack with their attachment counterpart. These weapons require salvage, a good deal of it for the higher end variants, something which comes in drips and drabs if you play normally. However, and this is the key, rare supply drops come with salvage, something which you can buy with actual money. I was ok with the new weapons in Black Ops III being locked behind supply drops since they were on par with the regular weapons but these ones are by definition more powerful. It’s a pity because I think the system is great otherwise.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is an unfortunate continuation of Treyarch’s previous stumbles, failing to live up to the standard that the other developers of the series are setting. For the most part it’s still your tried and true Call of Duty game however there are several issues which mar the overall experience. The repetitive single player missions distract from the much higher quality campaign missions and the effort developing them would have been better spent elsewhere. The multiplayer had some uncharacteristic teething issues, something which I’m sure turned thousands of players away for good. Finally the inclusion of a system that allows players to pay to get ahead of others isn’t something that should be encouraged, even if the underlying system was novel. Overall whilst Infinite Warfare keeps the core aspects of the Call of Duty franchise in tact it’s additions do nothing but distract from what makes these games good. I hope Infinity Ward takes the lessons learned from this second stumble and turns their next title into something worthy of their pedigree.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95, $99.995 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 14 hours of total play time and 64% of the achievements unlocked.
As we begin this new year many of us turn our thoughts on the previous year. For us gamers it’s a time to reflect on the games we played and choose our game of the year as we’re surely going to be asked what it was from our peers. Some of us will know our answer instantly, that one stand out title that stands out above all. Others, like me, tend to struggle to nominate one game as there are usually numerous ones that can take the crown. This year, like many years before it, came down to a hard choice between a few very deserving titles. My ultimate decision though took me a good few weeks to come to, however.
Like many years before this one 2015 saw me playing a wide variety of games from numerous different genres. Whilst the number of console games I played might have been lower the time I spent on my console was much greater than previous years thanks to a couple stellar titles. The indie titles are as strong as ever with many great games gracing my presence. There were also several notable AAA titles although they were also mixed in with the usual chaff of sequels and other half assed titles. Still compared to some previous years 2015 was a notable improvement on the consistency of the quality of games, something I was very much thankful for.
As always below is the list of the 52 games I played and reviewed last year, in chronological order:
This year was probably the first where I couldn’t think off the top of my head which title I wanted to give the coveted wooden spoon award to. Sure some stinkers came to mind like Battlefield Hardline and The Flock but I couldn’t shake the thought that there was something else. Going through my review scores I found it, the lowest scored game for the year which likely slipped my mind due to how long ago I played it. So this year’s worst game of the year goes to 4PM, a title that strived hard to be a cinematic masterpiece but feel so horribly short. I admire those who dare to experiment with games as a medium but I can’t in good conscious say that the experience 4PM delivered was anything but atrocious. It’s one saving grace was that it was short, something which saved it from a much lower score.
There are a few honorable mentions I’d like to go through this year just because these games have managed to do things that either impressed me or kept me coming back far longer than I thought I would. The first goes to Destiny: The Taken King, an expansion (which generally wouldn’t merit a review) that managed to reinvigorate a game that was suffering from its own burdens. Whilst I may not still be playing it today I can’t say I’m not tempted to go back and throw myself back into hardcore raiding once again. In a similar vein Call of Duty: Black Ops III reignited my passion for competitive shooters, so much so that I did my first prestige. I had avoided doing that for a long time because I thought it’d kill any motivation I had for playing but it did the exact opposite.
The final honorable mention goes to Bloodborne. I have avoided the Souls series like a plague ever since they came out, not wanting to throw myself before a game that cared not for my enjoyment nor my sanity. At the behest of my friend, who jokingly agreed to watch Frozen for as long as I played (that means about 18 viewings, Chris, get on it) I picked it up knowing I was going to hate it. For the first 3 hours I did and I have the camera footage to prove it. However, after I got that first checkpoint, something changed in me. I wanted to see more. I wanted to play more. I wanted to show this game that broke me down that I would make it my slave and boy did I ever. Bloodborne goes down as the game I wanted to hate but ended up loving, something very few games have ever managed to do.
However you’re not here to listen to me waffle on what you’re here to see is what my game of the year was. Well it’s my great pleasure to say that Ori and the Blind Forest is my Game of the Year for 2015.
It is so rare that a game makes me care so quickly for the characters and then uses those feelings of empathy against me. Just thinking about it again brings back a flood of emotions, a tumultuous mix of biting sadness and soaring beauty. I’ve given out game of the year based on those kinds of feelings alone but Ori and the Blind Forest is by far one of the most beautifully crafted games to come out in 2015. Everything from the graphics to the soundscaping to the beautiful soundtrack all merge together so well which is, in my opinion, what elevates a game from simply “great” to game of the year material. I will have to be honest though it was a tough choice between this and The Witcher 3, with Ori winning out because it does just as well with a lot less.
I am very much looking forward to 2016 as every year has brought me a new set of surprises. The releases penned for this calendar year look as good as any other and I will endeavour to play my way through as many as I can. I have found that broadening my horizons is the best way to discover new things to delight me and so I will dedicate myself to getting out of my comfort zone as often as I can this year. I will stay as true to my roots as I can though, bringing one review a week come rain, hail or shine.
Here’s to you dear reader, may the gaming year of 2016 bring you as much joy as I hope it will me.
The 3 year, 3 developer cycle that Call of Duty switched to has meant that it’s been a little longer between drinks for Treyarch, once considered the poor step child to Inifinity Ward. For players like me, who enjoyed Treyarch’s slightly more story oriented style for the single player, it’s been a bit of a wait but all hopes were that the extra polish would be worth it. After spending the last week with Call of Duty: Black Ops III I can definitely say the wait has been worth it, although Treyarch might need to come down from the giant ivory tower that they’ve crafted themselves.
The year is 2065 and you’ve been sent to rescue hostages from the NCR, the latest terrorist organisation to begin its war against the western world. You, along with your partner Hendricks, have been sent to Ethopia to rescue hostages and a VIP who’s been captured by this group. Whilst the extraction was a success you were left behind and mortally wounded by one of the NCR’s combat robots. You’re transported back to the Coalescence HQ for emergency medical treatment, bestowing upon you cybernetic abilities that elevate your combat capabilities far beyond that of any normal soldier. What follows is your exploits as a CIA black operative following a terrible conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.
Considering that Black Ops 3 was released on nearly all platforms (including 2 last gen ones) it’s great to see it able to use all the grunt of a modern PC to render some truly stunning graphics. On first release though this was unfortunately at the severe cost of performance as smoke and other particle heavy systems would drag an otherwise buttery smooth experience down to a slideshow. Thankfully this was a bug and was fixed in a patch last week, allowing me to once again ratchet all the settings up to maximum. Unlike other Call of Duty titles though you’ll rarely have any time to stop and take in the view as the game is all about action all the time (save for the last section which I’ll dive into more later).
Black Ops 3 is the definition of a corridor shooter, putting you in tight spaces with hordes of enemies that you’ll need to mow down in order to progress. Like Advanced Warfare before it though there’s a few extra mechanics thrown into the mix to keep things fresh, most of which come in the form of various powers granted to you by your cyber augments. Also, unlike most Call of Duty games where your load out is specified for you, Black Ops 3 gives you the option to build out your own kit for each mission. You’re even given a briefing panel which allows you to judge which kit would be best for each engagement. Apart from that (and the multiplayer, of course) there’s not much more to say about Black Ops 3 as it really does feel like Advanced Warfare with the trademark Treyarch psychological twist.
The buttery smooth, fast paced FPS combat that’s a hallmark of the Call of Duty series is back once again in Black Ops 3. The additional enhancements you’re given as part of your cybernetic upgrades goes a long way to alleviating some of the issues that plagued previous instalments in this series. Notably this includes things like target highlighting, “danger zones” shown on the floor to give you an idea of what might happen if you go there and the vast array of powers you have to devastate your enemy. However one piece of advice I’ll give is that, if you’re just looking to enjoy the single player, avoid the higher difficulties. Instead of making the enemies tougher it essentially makes you weaker with the hardest difficulty allowing any enemy to one shot you. Sure that does provide some form of challenge but, honestly, it’s just more tedious than anything.
For all its polish though there are still some rough bits in the single player. Quite often enemies will be able to shoot through or glitch through walls which, if you’re playing on anything above normal difficulty, will mean your instant demise. This became painfully clear on the final mission when you’re storming the last building and mechs, flying drones and anything else would just pass through terrain to get to you. I can handle getting nailed by unseen targets, that just means you need to be aware of where they are for next time around, but when you literally can’t do anything to stop them it really does grate on you.
The story retains Treyarch’s signature psychological thriller style, this time around with a sci-fi twist. To begin with it’s interesting as the characters deal with the implications of technology and the enhancements it brings them. Things start to come unstuck a bit as they dive deeper into the (highly predictable) conspiracy aspects of it and it comes completely unglued towards the end when the symbolism gets dialled up to 11. Probably the worst part about it though is that, if you read a couple specific things in game, the whole thing is basically naught anyway. In all honesty it started off strong before it tried to M. Night Shyamalan everything and completely disappeared up its own ass with that one piece of text.
The multiplayer is your mostly standard Call of Duty affair with levels, unlocks and customizations galore. It uses the familiar “choose 10” system, allowing you to create a character that fits your play style perfectly. The biggest change that comes with Black Ops 3 is the inclusion of “specialist” classes which are essentially base character models that come with abilities. These can be either a weapon, which can be incredibly devastating when used right, or an ability which usually gives you a tactical advantage over the enemy. This combined with Call of Duty’s typical huge array of weaponry makes for some incredibly varied combat, something which can be a bit overwhelming when you first start out.
Probably my only gripe is that the levelling is a bit too slow for casual-core players like myself. I’ve played about 4 hours at this point and my main weapon, the Kuda SMG, is no where near unlocking all the mods that I want to use. This means that, for nearly all of my current multiplayer time, I’ve been using the Vanguard starting class since it has a fully customized Kuda as part of the loadout. Treyarch is aware of this and is making up for it by making this weekend a double XP weekend but that feels like a bandaid solution on the problem honestly. Having a rested system or something similar would make the experience a lot better for players like myself as otherwise the longevity of the multiplayer will be severely limited.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III maintains the level of quality we’ve come to expect from the series, adding the Treyarch signature psychological thriller style to the future combat motif that has permeated the last few instalments. The single player is pretty much as you’d expect, maintaining the same fluid FPS experience even if it does overstay its welcome a little bit too long towards the end. The multiplayer, whilst suffering from a rather slow levelling system, is just as good as it ever was. As always the Call of Duty series might not be for everyone but for those of us who enjoy a spectacle, along with a few solid hours of multiplayer fun, then there’s really no other title to turn to right now other than Black Ops III.
Rating: 8.75 / 10
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79, $59, $79, $59 and $79 respectively. Game was played on PC with a total of 43% of the achievements unlocked.
The Call of Duty franchise is strangely polarizing among gamers. For some it’s one of the most abhorrent examples of what the current games industry is, with yearly product cycles and numerous DLCs coupled with lowest common denominator game play. For others they’re something else, an equivalent to the popcorn titles that grace the cinemas, to be enjoyed for the spectacle that they provide and nothing more. I most certainly fall into the latter camp as I enjoy the titles for what they are and am usually done with them before the first DLC drops. The latest instalment, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, ramps up the ludicrous by taking us to the near future where technology is so advanced it begins to look like magic.
The year is 2054 and you are Private Jack Mitchell of the United States Marine Corps. Your first mission is to support South Korea as their brothers from the North have finally decided to make good on their endless tirade of threats. During the fighting however one of your brothers in arms is struck down and a piece of flying debris severs your arm. Several days later at his funeral you’re approached by his father, Jonathan Irons, CEO of Atlas Corporation, the worlds most powerful military contractor. He offers you a second chance, to get back into action and to right all the wrongs that led to the deaths of people like his son. Equipped with the latest military grade prosthetic arm you follow his lead into battle but it soon becomes clear that Irons’ goals are far more ambitious than you could have known.
In it’s default state Advanced Warfare, to put it bluntly, looks like absolute garbage. I’m not exactly sure why but it seemed to assume I was running it on the computing equivalent of a dry potato and dialled the graphics all the way down to its barest minimums. Now my machine is by no means cutting edge but it’s been able to handle every other Call of Duty title at near maximum settings without hassle. Tweaking everything upwards however brought back the level of graphics I had come to expect from such high budget titles without the performance hit I was dreading based on the initial settings it had chosen for me. Whilst there were fewer stop and gawk moments than previous titles (mostly due to the insane amount of action going on) it’s still a rather good looking game, a big achievement considering how many platforms it was released on.
Advanced Warfare’s plays pretty much how you’d expect it to, given its Call of Duty lineage, however it’s the first in a long time to introduce a core mechanic that shakes up their traditional corridor shooter game play. For the most part you’ll still be running through tight urban environments, laying waste to the enemy du jour, however now you’re equipped with an Exosuit that bestows upon you certain abilities like being able to double jump or regenerate health. The near future setting has also allowed first time Call of Duty developer Sledgehammer Games a great deal of freedom in designing the weapons, some of which are pure science fiction goodness. All this, combined with a couple new interesting mechanics, makes Advanced Warfare a far more varied and interesting game to play than its Call of Duty moniker might first lead you to think.
Combat is, as always, smooth, refined and incredibly fast paced. It’s great to see that Sledgehammer Games was able to replicate the essence of what keeps people coming back to the Call of Duty franchise with their first title as it could’ve easily gone the other way. For the most part combat is challenging enough, punishing you for mistakes whilst rewarding you for good play, however some of the larger battle scenes suffer from an overzealous AI who will pin you, and only you, from every angle. This can lead to some frustrating sections where you have to carefully plod your way through, even though the scene seemingly wants you to run out guns blazing. This may be a function of me playing on the second hardest difficulty but still, sniper accurate AIs using SMGs at long range doesn’t make sense no matter what way you slice it.
The exosuit is by far the stand out mechanic for Advanced Warfare as it’s almost a free license for the developers to give you any kind of power for a specific situation. This includes the rudimentary things like slowing down time and regenerating health to more ludicrous items like cloaking and an unlimited grappling hook. These abilities also allow for many of the maps to be more open than they have been in other Call of Duty titles, allowing you some more control over how combat plays out. Unfortunately you’re never given control over how your exosuit is configured which is a bit of a shame since there are some abilities I’d favour more over others. There is a rudimentary upgrade system for the single player campaign which can turn you into a rather broken super solider if you invest your points well.
I didn’t get much of a chance to sit down with the multiplayer side however it does appear that Advance Warfare makes a return to the smaller, tighter maps that were favoured in previous Call of Duty titles.This means that the spammy, rushy game style that I like to play is viable once again and even with the default classes I found myself being pretty effective, something which usually isn’t the case. However the handful of games I played often suffered from lag, spikes and rubber banding which made it far more frustrating to play than what it should have been. I’m not sure if this is a function of the number of players or just some incredible bad luck but it seemed if there was one laggy person we’d all end up suffering.
Advanced Warfare, whilst being a highly polished game in most respects, still has a few rough edges that I hope will be smoothed over in Sledgehammer Games’ next release in the franchise. I had numerous occasions where enemies were able to shoot through walls, a frustrating thing to happen when you get behind cover only to die to a hail of gunfire that shouldn’t be able to hit you. The sound engine also seems to struggle when you change between headphones and speakers, even when you change it from within the game. Whilst these are issues you can work around they still add a layer of frustration that shouldn’t be in a big budget title like this but I’ll give Sledgehammer Games a pass since this is technically their 1.0 release.
The story of Advanced Warfare is your pretty typical Call of Duty shtick, light on the details and back story but makes up for it in spades with action and explosions. After the first hour it’s pretty easy to figure out where everything is going but with high calibre talent like Kevin Spacey on board it’s hard not to get drawn into it regardless. So whilst you might not have the emotional investment in the characters to warrant the kind of reaction the writers were going for it’s still enough to drive the game forward.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was a gamble that has paid off for both the franchise and Sledgehammer games, demonstrating that they’re able to replicate all the things that make this series great. The combat is fluid, fast paced and satisfying, expanding on the traditional corridor shooter with additional mechanics that are pure, and awesome, science fiction. It may be let down somewhat by its story and rough edges but overall it slots beautifully into the franchise. This should hopefully then flow on to the rest of the Call of Duty titles as they’ll now have an extended development time frame, something which can only lead to bigger and better things. For lovers of fast paced corridor shooters you really can’t go past the Call of Duty series and Advanced Warfare, I’m glad to say, is another great instalment.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne for $89.95, $99.95, $109.95, $99.95 and$109.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours played and 49% of the achievements unlocked.
I have something of a soft spot for the Call of Duty series, a trait which I think is highly evident given the fact that I’ve been reviewing their games for the past 4 years. This primarily extends from their highly cinematic single player experiences where the actual game play borders on being more like an action movie rather than a traditional FPS. However I also found myself inexplicably drawn to the multiplayer, finding myself being one of “those people” who just couldn’t get enough of the fast paced, super spammy Nuketown map. I also have to admit that I did feel pretty special to be invited to come and preview their games way back when (something I’ve been unfortunately unable to repeat lately) and the fact that they sent me copies to review was a kind of validation that I hadn’t got before. Whilst that trend didn’t continue this year I’m still a fan of the series in general and have spent the better part of 2 weeks gorging myself on everything Call of Duty: Ghosts has to offer.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in the not too distant future in an alternate timeline to the rest of the Call of Duty series. You primarily play as Logan, the son of a lifetime military man Elias who regales you with the story of an elite unit who faced down overwhelming odds and came out the other side. They called themselves the Ghosts, known for never giving up until their mission was completed and always ensuring that all their men got out, dead or alive. The story is unfortunately cut short as it quickly becomes apparent that the USA is under attack however the origin of the bombardments isn’t quite clear. What is for certain however is that the new world superpower, The Federation, are behind it and they need to be stopped.
Ghosts is one of the first titles to make it onto the next console generation (although its still available on current gen) and the improvements to the graphics that they enable are quite impressive. Whilst the difference between Black Ops II and Ghosts is as great as you’d expect to be, especially with this being the first next gen Call of Duty title, there’s still been a dramatic improvement since the last Infinity Ward game. All of the screenshots were taken in game and I think they speak volumes to the amount of effort put in to the set pieces that Infinity has created. It’s also probably the reason why the game comes in at 28GBs, by far one of the largest downloads I’ve ever had for a single player game (the multi is a separate 4GB download of its own).
The game play is your standard corridor shooter with you being guided from point A to point B by one or more NPCs with different kinds of objectives along the way. Saying that for most games would be a jab at their originality or banality but the Call of Duty series does it so well that it’s hard for me to criticize them for it. Still if you were looking for something innovative or different about the single player campaign you’re going to be disappointed as it really is just a scenic tour through a whole bunch of impressive artwork with action movie style combat thrown in so you don’t get bored walking everywhere. That being said it is quite the ride with you rarely being given more than a couple moments to catch your breath before the next unbelievably epic moment occurs.
The combat is, as always, polished and refined to the point where it’s smooth as glass. The only variation from previous games is the weapons and equipment that will be made available to you and for the most part the differences are largely cosmetic as they’re all guns that shoot bullets. There is a little variety in the way the guns act in different environments, like when you’re in space or under water, but the standard assault rifle will be your mainstay for the majority of the game. If there’s one thing I’ll criticize Ghosts for it’s the use of sniper accurate enemies who seem to be able to hit you from almost any angle, leading to long periods where you have to peek your head out, get hit, figure out where they are and then try to pick them off before they or their friends do the same to you. This is made somewhat more annoying by the unpredictable nature of the NPCs who sometimes charge ahead or seem to get stuck in one position until you do the charging, but then again I’ve yet to find a game where I’ve felt the NPCs were truly useful additions.
Considering the amount of hype and focus the dog got prior to Ghosts’ release I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my perspective on it. Riley (that’s his name) is essentially another mechanic for them to throw at you with his main function being that of a kind of single target grenade that you can point at anyone and have him take them down. There are also some more weird sci-fi sections where you’re able to control him directly, making him sneak behind enemy lines and even take down people from a remote console. It fits in with the overall game, although why such a big deal was made of it I’ll never quite understand, and there’s a particular heart wrenching moment when he gets shot and you have to carry him through the battlefield. Conveniently they also provide you with an insane machine gun at that point, allowing you to go full rambo on the assholes who shot your dog which was probably one of my favourite parts of Ghosts.
I’m somewhat thankful that Ghosts took a new route as the previous storyline was starting to get a little long in the tooth, especially with all the various sub-plots that I just couldn’t seem to keep track over between instalments. They’ve taken a break from the traditional clandestine unit saving the USA from imminent attack, instead putting you in a world that’s been devastated by the newest superpower. It’s best not to think about it too deeply though as it tend towards more being an action movie than a psychological thriller, hoping that you won’t think and instead enjoy the ride. If you do that the story is passable and is more than enough to keep you motivated from one objective to the next.
The multiplayer breaks away from Infinity Ward’s traditional way of doing things (where most things are locked until you level up enough to get them) and instead adopts a Squad Point system for upgrading your character. Unlike the the cash system that the original Black Ops had Squad Points aren’t earned in troves by simply playing. Whilst you will get points for levelling up the system is obviously more geared towards you completing challenges, both grand ones that require multiple games to accomplish as well as field orders which grant you a bonus during the game. Because of this all the guns in the game are available to you from level 1 and all that’s required is that you grind out a few points to unlock them.
The perks, however, are hard locked to your level with the more powerful ones being reserved for the later stages. This does mean that particular play styles are just simply not feasible until you get to that stage as you won’t be able to have your pick of the perks until you hit level 60. For someone like me who’d developed a distinctive play strategy (I’m a rusher style player) it meant that I had to change the way I played in order to get anywhere in the game. It doesn’t take too long to adjust as you can still do the traditional assault rifle style play but I did feel a little miffed that I couldn’t engage in the insane runabout shenanigans that I did in previous games.
Indeed it seems that Infinity Ward is trying to encourage a slightly different style of play with Ghosts as there are now many more open maps that are more conducive to sniping than there was in the previous games. You can imagine how annoying this is to a rusher like me where my style of combat relies on getting in people’s faces, but it means that you just have to adapt or die. There are still a few crazy small maps however it seems that they’re no where near as popular as the Nuketown of old as there’s rarely more than 100 players in the Ghost Moshpit game type with most staying on Team Deathmatch or Domination. This is probably not so much of a problem on the consoles however as there’s an order of magnitude more players around at any given time.
For what its worth I feel that the multiplayer of Ghosts is weaker than previous instalments as it just doesn’t seem to have that same pulling power on me that it used to. I’ve still racked up about 7 hours on it after taking about 2 to find my feet again but I just don’t have that same sense of compulsion pulling me back. Maybe its the lack of Nuketown, maybe it’s the lack of my spammy akimbo style of game play but whatever it is it just isn’t the same as it used to be. Activision said that they were expecting lower sales this time around due to the console switch over and that seems to be reflected in the multiplayer. Hopefully the next instalment won’t suffer because of it.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is another highly polished instalment in the franchise, showing that Infinity Ward is capable of delivering a highly cinematic experience that’s thoroughly enjoyable to play through. Whilst the stories and setting are always different the core game play remains the same and it’s commendable that they can still make it enjoyable this many years on. However the multiplayer experience is definitely a step down from previous games, lacking the same addictive power that compelled me to become a fan of the series all those years ago. Overall it’s still a solid game experience but they’re going to have to aim higher next time around if they want to recapture their original glory.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is available on PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360, XboxOne, WiiU and PC right now for $78, $78, $78, $78 , $99.95 and $89.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 5.4 hours in the single player campaign and 7.1 hours in multiplayer.
As any Call of Duty player will tell you there was always a good developer and a not-so-good developer behind their franchise of choice. Unquestionably everyone loved all of Infinity Ward’s releases and it’s not a long stretch to say that they are responsible for Call of Duty’s success, thanks almost entirely to the original Modern Warfare. Treyarch on the other hand was always second place to them with their games typically being considered the off years for the franchise with the sales figures reflecting that. Indeed when the original Black Ops was released many of the compliments to it felt backhanded, the best of which I recall as being “the best Call of Duty Treyarch has made” firmly segregating it away from its glorious Infinity Ward brethren.
Still it’s not like they made atrocious games, indeed whilst the original Black Ops might not have held a candle to Modern Warfare 2 it still managed to rake in over a billion dollars in 6 weeks, an accomplishment that not many game developers can boast. It’s still somewhat slower than Infinity Ward who was able to accomplish the same thing in about a third of the time. However after playing through Black Ops II I really felt that the overall quality of Treyarch’s recent release was at least on par if not exceeding that of its predecessors, even those from Infinity Ward. I posited the idea to a couple of my friends that it was possible that Treyarch might take the crown as the better Call of Duty developer and it looks like they might be on track to accomplish that:
Activision may have skipped its annual five-day totaling of Call of Duty sales, but the publisher announced this morning the latest installment, Black Ops 2, grossed $1 billion in 15 days.
The publisher announced shortly after Call of Duty Black Ops 2‘s launch the annual blockbuster made $500 million in 24 hours at retail, eclipsing Modern Warfare 3’s record of $400 million the year prior. The lack of a five-day total, which the company had done for three years running, gave some analysts “cause for concern” that Black Ops 2 wasn’t selling as well as previous installments.
Going from 6 weeks to 15 days to achieve the same target is a pretty impressive feat in the space of only a couple years. You could attribute this to the popularity of the Call of Duty franchise but, coming from someone who’s played all of their recent titles, Black Ops II really is that much better than the rest of them. Indeed checking out the sales stats since then for each of the respective platforms shows (apart from PC still being very much in the minority at around 4%) that it’s on track to outsell all of its predecessors in the space of about 2 to 3 months on each of its respective platforms. Should that happen it wouldn’t be the first Treyarch title to outsell Infinity Ward, but it would certainly cement their position as equal developers.
The question then becomes what this will mean for the Treyarch/Infinity Ward developer duality in the Call of Duty franchise. In all honesty I don’t think it’ll mean much overall, indeed each iteration of Call of Duty for the past couple generations has outsold the last, but the fervour at which fans adopted this most recent title was definitely a surprise for me even if I thought the quality was a definite jump up from Treyarch’s previous games. Indeed as long as the series keeps making money and breaking sales records I don’t think we’ll see any major changes in the franchise, either from an actual game play or developer perspective. For me it’s just interesting to see how the perceptions have changed over the past couple years as I’ve witness the back and forth between the two developers behind the biggest game franchise in the world and how a perceived duality in quality has, in essence, simply disappeared.
One of the things I really like about reviewing games is going back over my reviews when a sequel or another instalment in a franchise comes out. The Call of Duty series takes the top prize for being my most reviewed franchise with not 1, not 2 but 3 previous reviews which I can draw on directly for comparisons. For someone who used to avoid any game that was based around one war or another it’s interesting to see how quickly I came around once I started playing the Call of Duty series, being hooked after a single game. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the latest instalment in the franchise from Treyarch and I must say that they’ve really outdone themselves this time, firmly placing themselves on the same level as Infinity Ward.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II takes place in the not too distant future of the USA in 2025. The story centres around David Mason, son of Alex Mason the main protagonist from the original Black Ops, who’s tracking down a known terrorist called Raul Menendez. Much of the story is recounted in flashbacks from an ageing Frank Woods who David Mason consult with to try and find out where Menedez is and what he might be up to. It’s through these flash backs that you start to make sense of some of the events of your past and understand why things certain things have happened and why you’re still alive to see them.
For a primarily console game I wasn’t expecting a major update in graphics from any of its predecessors as I believe they were tapping out the capabilities of the Xbox360 some time ago. Compared to Modern Warfare 3 this seems to be largely true with them both having similar levels of graphical detail. However if you compare it to Treyarch’s previous release there’s most definitely a step up which they’re to be commended for. If I’m honest whilst the graphics aren’t a massive improvement over Modern Warfare 3 they are a hell of a lot more smooth, especially when there’s a lot of action going on. For a game that is almost entirely fast paced action this is a very welcome improvement, especially when it comes to multiplayer (which I’ll touch on later).
If you’ve played any of the Call of Duty series you’ll know the basic breakdown of the game play that I’m about to give you. It’s a First Person Shooter and so you’ll spend the vast majority of your time running around, letting bullets loose at varying arrays of enemies and utilizing your additional equipment (like grenades, flash bangs and remote C4) to tip the scales in your favour. Thanks to the ability to customize your load out before starting a mission you can also tailor your experience somewhat by say favouring sniper rifles over close range spray ‘n’ pray type weapons. For what its worth I usually played with assault rifles and SMGs, preferring to run carelessly into battle while unleashing torrents of bullets at my foes.
Black Ops II, like nearly all other titles in the Call of Duty franchise, has their trademark FPS experience that’s so well polished that it just flows with an effortless grace. All the actions (running, jumping, shooting) just plain work like you expect them to. Whilst many other FPS type games will draw my ire for one core game play issue or another I really do find it hard to find fault with the fundamentals of any Call of Duty game. Arguably this is due to the ongoing success of the series which has been allowed to refine every element over the course of so many games but it still doesn’t fail to impress me, even after seeing it for the 4th time in as many years.
Treyarch has recognized that simply running from point A to point B and shooting everything along the way does get a little boring after a while and has included many different distractions along the way to break up the repetition. Shown above is just one of the many little set pieces they include (this one was actually fairly early on in the game) which was an extremely fun way to start the mission off. They have also included a second mission type called Strike Force which is very different from the usual missions and is more akin to a game like Natural Selection, blending RTS elements with FPS game play.
The Strike Force missions put you in control of a squad of marines, robots and flying drones that you will use to accomplish a mission. They’re all different, ranging from a defend the objective to rescuing and escorting someone out, and whilst you can treat it like a regular mission by taking control of one of the units directly you’ll need to issue orders to the other AIs constantly if you want to finish it successfully. If I’m honest I didn’t enjoy them that much at the start but after a while I really started to get into them, employing varying tactics and just loving being able to play with reckless abandon.
After all this praise I feel its appropriate to mention the few minor issues with Black Ops II that can lead to you having a bad time. Like nearly all FPS games that lump you with AI friends to help you out they are, for the most part, completely useless and will likely cause your death more often than they’ll save it. For instance I’ve seen my AI buddies run around corner and proceeded to think it was completely safe however since most of the other AIs won’t target them, only you, this can often mean that there’s someone hiding around the corner but they won’t trigger until you run into their line of sight. This is in addition to them getting in your way every so often which can cause your death when you’re trying to take cover or, more comically, fail a mission when they put their head in front of your sniper rifle (“Friendly fire will not be tolerated!” apparently).
I also had an issue with some of the triggers not going off, causing the game to get stuck at a particular point. The one I can remember clearly was when I was in the bunker just before the Celerium device. I walked in and reprogrammed an ASD to fight for me but after doing so my crew just sort of stood around, not doing anything. Try as I might to get them to move I simply couldn’t and since there’s no “restart from last checkpoint” option in the menu I opted for the tried and true jump on my own grenade to get back to my last checkpoint. After that everything worked as expected but it wasn’t an isolated incident and its something that’s been present in previous Call of Duty titles.
In a very surprising change to the Call of Duty formula you actually have quite a bit of agency in Black Ops II with the game playing out very differently should you make different choices at different times. They are, for the most part, unfortunately binary but there are other softer choices like completing the Strike Missions which will have an influence on how the last hours of the game plays out. The Black Ops II wiki page (SPOILER WARNING on that link) informs me that there’s no less than 5 separate endings available to you which is far more than you average FPS. That, combined with the fact that they’re not presented to you in Endotron 3000 style means that Black Ops II is quite a step up in terms of story.
The story in and of itself is quite enthralling too, even if the beginning confused me somewhat (although that’s somewhat typical for me in Call of Duty games, if I’m honest). I was nicely surprised by how progressive it seemed as well with many characters being female, including the President, and subtle references to current social ideals like the 99% vs the 1% and so on. After my good mate’s take down of the last Call of Duty’s story and lack of agency I had a much more critical eye on Black Ops II’s story than I have for any other game in the series and it makes me very happy to say that they’ve stepped up their game and my expectations were more than met.
The multi-player is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Call of Duty games bringing back all the classic match up modes along side the newer ideas like Kill Confirmed. Unlike the original Black Ops which allowed you to choose a server Black Ops II instead uses the same match making system that Modern Warfare 3 did. Usually I’d make a note here about how this sucks (and there are still reasons why it does) but since it works and can usually find me a game in under a minute it’s hard to complain about it. Treyarch has also brought back the much loved Nuketown map which has been revamped for the modern era. They also took it away which led to quite the uproar from the community (many of whom preordered just to get said map) but they’ve since brought it back so kudos to them for listening.
There’s really not a lot that’s new or inventive about the multi-player in Black Ops II that I’ve seen yet with the experience system, upgrades and challenges all being very reminiscent of both Modern Warfare 3 and the original Black Ops. It’s kind of hard to improve on that formula since it works so well but those who are looking for a wholly new multiplayer experience ala Battlefield 3 will find themselves disappointed. However for those like me who love the fast paced, spammy action that maps like Nuketown bring you it’s more the same thing we’ve come to love and I still can’t get enough of it.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II catapults Teryarch up from the doldrums of being Infinity Ward’s poor cousin and firmly places them right at their side, showing that they’re quite capable of delivering a game that’s every bit as epic and enjoyable. The graphics are a great step up, the game play smooth and polished and the story is very fulfilling, a rarity in the FPS genre. The multiplayer might not be much different from its predecessors but it works well and is just as addictive as its predecessors which will see me spending many more hours on it. I thoroughly enjoyed my time both in the single and multi player parts of this game and should you be in the market for some top notch, AAA FPS action then you really can’t go past Black Ops II.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Veteran difficulty with 7.3 hours in single player unlocking 71% of the achievements and 2 hours in multiplayer. A review copy of the game was provided to The Refined Geek from Activision for the purposes of reviewing.
The whole idea of boiling down an entire game experience to a single number is something that’s started to wear on me of late. It’s supposed to make for an easy judge of the overall quality of the game, combining all aspects of it together to give you something that makes it easy to compare it against other titles. However there’s usually far too much nuance in any particular game for that single number to be meaningful and whilst I still give them overall ratings I hope that the readers go through the whole review before reading the score so they can understand what lead up to it. There’s also the question of innate quality and how that should be reflected in the overall score, something which has lead to many questioning why critic reviews scores tend towards the upper end of the spectrum.
For me the explanation is simple, it’s survivor bias for the games that I actually finish (I hate not finishing games before reviewing them and will point that fact out when I do). This means there’s a certain quality bar that has to be hit for me to make it the whole through before giving it up and that pushes my average scores upwards. At the same time the objective quality of games (things like bugs, how the game plays, performance, etc) is actually quite high when you compare it to the past and thus it’s hard for a reviewer to give a game an absolutely terrible score when for the most part it’s a well done game.
Users on the other hand aren’t so sympathetic. Take for instance the current review scores for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2:
Taken at face value that’d have you thinking that it’s an absolutely atrocious game, one that the vast majority hates with an unbridled sense of passion. Contrasting that with the critic reviews and it’s easy to see why a lot of people jumped on the DoritoGate bandwagon, proclaiming loudly that all the reviewers where in the publisher’s pockets. The complaints are almost identical to all the previous releases most stating that it’s the same game with nothing new to offer or saying that the previous ones were better and they can’t believe they shelled out for it. Digging into the reviews however I started to notice some patterns that tell you that these user review scores are for the most part, total crap.
The first type of review pattern I came across was what I’ll call the Negative Nancy who’s long history of reviews are dominated mostly by scores in the 0-2 range. I’m not exactly sure what these users get out of writing and rating all these games so lowly but it seems like they’re dedicated to sending the user review score down as far as they can go even if they admit that the game has some redeeming features. Suffice to say it’s hard to take someone’s opinion seriously if all they’re doing is rating everything badly as you have no reference point to determine whether their style of reviews lines up with yours (unless you too, hate every game released).
The second, and most telling, are the Extremists. They are capable of dishing out both positive and negative reviews but do so only on the extremes of the spectrum with everything either being perfect or nothing at all. This kind of reviewing can be fine, if you give a rating in the form of something like recommend/don’t recommend, however their scores aren’t really any indication of the relative quality of the games due to the lack of graduation between the good and bad titles. That might be enough for some people but in all honesty if you want to know if a game is worth playing or not these kinds of reviews aren’t great indicators of that.
The final piece of information I’ll leave you with is the fact that there’s many people who are reviewing Black Ops 2, and in fact any of the most popular games, have just a single review. Now I’m not saying that only having one review discredits them completely but the fact that most of them have signed up just for the purposes of giving a negative review says a lot about their motivations for doing so. Indeed I believe many people will probably see an article like this one posted on a website and will immediately hop on the negative review bandwagon simply to be part of the crowd.
After saying all that though there were some negative reviews on there from people with long histories of reviews with varying levels of scores and those are the kinds of user reviews you can put some weight behind. They’re annoyingly rare unfortunately with most falling on either side of the extreme, rendering the overall score completely useless. The critic reviews are only better due to the long articles that come along with them (and not because of their overwhelmingly positive scores) and not the 2 sentences that accompanies the user reviews.
If you’re actually interested in proper reviews though I’m probably preaching to the choir here. We all know that games are incredibly hard to boil down to a single number and that’s usually heavily influenced by the reviewer’s biases. I try to lay all mine out on the table so you can get a feel for what led me to give the final score but I can’t say the same about the vast majority of user reviews on Metacritic I’ve read over the years. There are some good people on there but it’s akin to finding that elusive needle in a haystack, something that’s just not worth doing all the time.