The largest beta release of all-time?
I don’t think it will come as much of a surprise that Call of Duty has gone and done it again, breaking records and relationships alike on its way to triple cap domination on the battlefield – reference intended. The only downside to this, to quote some guy in some comic book or something, “with great power, comes great responsibility,” and there’s no finer example than the current state of the Activision message boards. They’re currently plagued with complaint after complaint about a currently hindered online experience in one way or another and unfortunately I’m no exception to the rule.
My time has mainly been spent attempting to navigate the random crashes and freezes that come and go as they please. Then it’s on to the matchmaking that seems to only put me in a game when it damn well feels like it. When I eventually get into the game it’s all plain sailing from there. Oh wait, no its not. Call it what you will, but for the purposes of relating to a wider audience we’ll call it lag compensation for now. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been insta-killed by magic bullets, or pumped six bullets into a guy only to be turned on and shot dead and see the guy move on like I was nothing more than a bit of mud he was scraping off his shoe. It’s infuriating and I still don’t know how I’m managing to keep my head above water with a current 1.35 K/D but I know it hasn’t been an easy process.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom though, and of the 70-some hours invested into it thus far I’ve genuinely enjoyed at least a third of that. The patches they’ve released have helped somewhat in getting me into the game, they just need one to counter-balance those now and maybe I’ll win a one-on-one gunfight that doesn’t involve the other player suffering a small aneurysm. But enough of the negativity, because while I could write a two-hundred page essay on the issues I’ve suffered through, I want to paint a clearer picture of the overall online component and I can only do that by closing my eyes, taking a large step sideways and quickly shifting my focus to pastures green.
Onwards and upwards
The stuff that I’m most impressed by in Black Ops II are the things that have been implemented off the field of play, namely the ten-point create a class system. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does allow that wheel to be coupled with a wide selection of tires and a nice set of rims. Okay, I’m done with that reference. For those unfamiliar, your class setup can be created in many ways now with weapons, attachments, perks, equipment and wildcards all taking up one of the available slots. So you can choose to have two powerful assault rifles now loaded with attachments if you wish, or alternatively you can choose just a combat knife and a bunch of perks that make you move faster and run around cutting people up like a scene from a bad slasher movie. Finding the perfect combination for your style of play, the mode you’re playing in and the tactics you adopt in that particular game is a pleasurable affair and oozes sustainability.
The manner in which you prestige has also had a much-needed makeover, doing away with the need to redo the same challenges over and over again until every brain cell has been massacred. Now your challenges carry through, as do all of the camouflages and weapon attachments you unlock along the way. Weapons can also now prestige twice meaning more XP is available as you progress and helps you towards unlocking the mastery title for each. As with previous Call of Duty games you can also unlock your favourite Scorestreaks, Perks and such permanently, meaning you won’t have to wait to reach a certain level of a certain prestige to make use of that item. I’ve personally been choosing to unlock some of the later sub-machine guns on my quest for diamond camo. Yes, you heard me right - diamond. It used to be that the ultimate challenge was to unlock gold camo for every gun, but now if you achieve all gold in a particular weapon class these new decals become available for ultimate bragging rights.
Everything just feels that much more focused and refined in Black Ops 2. It never feels like a chore to move through the levels or to work your way towards a specific challenge and for me it only serves to heighten the experience and provides an overall goal that actually seems obtainable. The weapon variety also seems better this time around. There may be less to choose from than that of Modern Warfare 3, but each feel necessary and not thrown in to make up the numbers. They’ve also done a great job in balancing them, so one doesn’t feel that much more over-powered than another. There is an argument that the sub-machine gun class is best-suited as many of the maps are small to medium in size, but whether that means they need nerfing as a whole or there just needs to be some bigger maps released as downloadable content is yet to be seen.
Killstreaks, I hardly knew thee
For those that don’t know, Killstreaks are a thing of the past now and they have been replaced by Scorestreaks to promote all-round play as oppose to camping for kills. Now instead of obtaining X number of kills for a UAV in the air you will have to reach a certain score by killing enemies, capturing flags, shooting down air support and thing’s of that nature that will ultimately help you and your team go on to victory. Now that may sound like they’re easier to achieve because there are so many things that can work towards them, but that is far from the case. I consider myself an above average player and even I struggle to get the score required for the likes of the K9-Unit and The Swarm, which are the best two in the game and will bag you a large amount of kills in a relatively short space of time.
I just think the Scorestreaks need a little adjusting and re-ordering because at the moment you see nothing but UAV’s in the air that are constantly giving away enemy position and you never see any of the top-end stuff. There are also streaks such as the Lightning Strike that are quite easy to obtain and will get you at least two-to-four guaranteed kills every time, as well as acting as a quick UAV while you’re marking your target zones. Alternatively, the remotely-controlled Dragonfire drone that is a higher scorestreak can be shot down far too easily and sometimes you’re lucky to get a single kill with it. It’s already been revealed by the team over at Treyarch though that nothing in the multiplayer is untouchable and I’m sure these issues as well as other will be tinkered with in upcoming patches.
Mode, mean and medium Range
There are no great surprises in the modes on offer, with your usual array of Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination and a bunch of other objective-based alternatives. What is a little disappointing though are the omissions of Drop Zone and Infected that were two hugely popular additions to the series and the only reason I can think they weren’t brought over was down to space restrictions. My personal favourite right now is Kill Confirmed, because going back to the issue of Scorestreaks, they’re a tad easier here because not only do you get fifty points for a kill, but confirming said kill also racks up a further one-hundred points. I’m constantly finding myself running into post-naded rooms with four-or-five tags sitting there just begging to be taken and found myself on the right side of a Stealth Chopper many times as a result.
I suppose what Treyarch consider the latest mode is League Play, where you play matches and are placed into leagues of similarly-able players. This is supposedly the main hub for competitive players, but I personally cannot see the appeal. You start with everything unlocked and from there you build your ideal setup and then play against people across the globe, moving your way up the ranks as you improve until you’re playing against supposedly the best players in the world. It’s an interesting concept and if it gets enough support and they introduce enough features and tournaments into it then perhaps it’s something I may consider in the future, but for now I find the standard unlock system the far more engrossing of the two.
The maps are adequate enough, with an array of flanking routes that keep the game constantly moving and evolving. There are only thirteen though and after a while you start to get a little tired of playing in the same environment over and over again, especially when playing Ground War where only a handful of the larger maps are available. Hopefully they’re not going to dally too long on releasing the first batch of downloadable content because even at this early stage I can feel strong repetitiveness creeping in and the odd eye roll when Drone or Meltdown appear, which in my opinion are not just two of the worst in this game, but two of the worst of the past half a decade. At the moment this game is just lacking that Mission of Firing Range that people can call genuine favourites. There are also far too many head-glitch spots that the less-skilled players can hide behind and it results in engagements that don’t feel entirely fair at times, with head-height debris around almost every turn.
Bringing up the rear
The menus are polished and incredibly easy to navigate, although because of some of the bugs in the code at the moment you will experience the occasional slowdown when you flip from one page to another. There are some nice touches in terms of functionality, with a Mute All button at your disposal for those times when you can’t be bothered listening to some teen singing his rendition of ‘U Can’t Touch This’. On the statistics front though I’m a little disappointed, because while in your Combat Record it lists the basics, such as your kill-death ratio and win-loss ratio, it doesn’t list your longest killstreak anywhere, or your favourite map, or a host of other numbers that I’m sure many would have fun flicking through between matches.
The Emblem Editor is as fun as it was in the original, only this time there are far more layers to take advantage of and more designs to get you started, not to mention the ability save more than just the one. I’ve already seen some truly inspired designs, from a loveable Scooby Doo to a controversial portrayal of Hitler, and you just know by looking at them that they must have sat there for hours on end to perfect these. I personally have a bare-minimum design at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll get inspired one rainy afternoon and decide to create something a little more eye-catching.
CODcast is a cool new feature that allows you to commentate live on custom games between friends and upload them for the world to enjoy. You can also choose public matches you’ve played in from Theatre Mode and commentate on these retrospectively. I’ve had a play around in here and it’s incredibly simple to use, but with enough options to keep the tech guys and budding radio presenters amongst us happy. There is now also a film editor that lets you mess around with replays and create highlight reels of your best moments to share.
Overall, the multiplayer side of Black Ops II is one of the most engrossing and best Call of Duty experiences I’ve had to date. I’ve already racked up an insane amount of hours on it and I wouldn’t have done that unless I was getting something special from it. They just need to address some serious issues with both the lag compensation and the matchmaking, although these two might both be part of the same problem. It also seems to be partly down to the server load, because some of the smoother games I’ve come across tend to be early hours in the morning when there are far fewer players on. Whatever the reasons, if they address these in the next few weeks and eradicate them then I may go as far to say this is the best Call of Duty ever. However, I if they don’t then the patience of the community at large may be pushed to breaking point and that would be a real shame.
*this rating has been decided upon with the current issues still in full effect. If these are fixed then a follow-up piece may be written with a revised rating included.