Going Deeper into the Darkness: Analysing the Call of Duty Black Ops II Single Player Campaign

The name Call of Duty in the gaming world today contains significant weight, with the franchise having a global monopoly on multiplayer gaming, not to mention being able to convey incredibly brutal and action packed single player campaigns.

After the Modern Warfare franchise officially came to a close, one may begin to wonder where COD could efficaciously go next. They have explored a multitude of the wars that have torn across the world over the past century, so what else can they do to show the militarian expertise that they thrust upon players shoulders?

COD Black Ops 2 provides the answer, by sending the gamer into the year 2025.

Now, the original Black Ops was considerably different than the other titles in the franchise, and its sequel is no different. The graphics of Black Ops were nowhere near as good as the Modern Warfare franchise, appearing to be a little outdated. The story did not follow a stereotypical chronological path, and could on occasion temporarily lose the player within the continuous battles. The fact that the lead character, Alex Mason, was additionally losing his mind throughout the story did not exactly help matters either.

Black Ops 2 however manages to bypass some of these issues as it attempts to clamber to the top of the many games that have already graced our screens this year alone. The graphics alone rival that of the Modern Warfare games, however, with the unfortunate release of Halo4 last week (unfortunate for Treyarch), the graphics are unable to measure up to that which 343 Industries threw at the player in their new addition to the Halo saga.

The storyline, like its predecessor, is just as confusing, but just as compelling at the same time, and even if at any point you feel overwhelmed or lost, the action alone will keep you wanting to experience more of the game play.

Returning to the screen is Alex Mason, whose story picks up in the 1980’s. Here, the story of both him and Frank Woods continues as they attempt to go up against many oppressors, their story inevitably affecting the future, where Mason’s son David, takes up the flak and becomes the lead protagonist for that specific part of the campaign.

With voices from actors Sam Worthington, Michael Rooker and Tony Todd, just to name a few, the characters alone are eccentric enough to keep you wanting to experience the campaign till the very end.

However, the voice acting alone is not all that compels you forward. A game that could perhaps have being called ‘Blow Up’ rather than Black Ops, you will continuously find almost all of the environment being blasted into smithereens at one point or another. From the very opening of the game, you take control of the turrets on a chopper and lay waste to an array of enemy tanks that are attempting to seize control of the battlefield, and from that moment on the explosions continue, with more blasts than a fireworks display frequently lighting up your screen.

Additionally, a new feature in the game that makes it more exciting are the load outs that grace you at the beginning of each mission. A lot like Soldier of Fortune, you are able to select from a wide variety of armourments, many of which will gradually become available as you continue to play. For each specific character, there are different weapons depending on the time period that you happen to be in.

On top of this, many weapons can be equipped with an additional piece of weapon tech, from either a scope, an additional few rounds, etc, that will make combat more effective.

One great aspect of the load outs is your ability to not only take some pretty heavy fire power into the map with you, or the ability to change the weapon skins, but the ability to take an additional kit on the mission. These will also be unlocked as you move through the campaign, each one coming with its own unique factors that will help you through the mission. One allows you to move faster whilst you are looking through your scopes. Another allows you to reload significantly faster. The most interesting would no doubt be the access kit, which allows you to hack/pick the locks of certain doors and crates which gives you access to what is inside. When playing as Alex, there is a particularly good moment where you can acquire a sniper rifle and some animal traps within a locked storage room. On the other hand, whilst playing as David, you can acquire a cloaking device inside a locked crate that allows you to be almost entirely invisible, which is beyond cool.

Yes, you read that last line right – a cloaking device. By sending the game into the future, Black Ops 2 not only gives you access to new equipment and weaponry, but other interesting pieces of technology. This can include the ability to take control of remote robotic devices the likes of cannons, sentries, turrets and other gadgets across the maps that enable you to defeat the never ending swarms of enemies that attempt to defeat you at every turn.

With that said it is obvious that, much like the original, approximately half of the game is going to be spent on your back, with your legs and arms in the air. A single bullet is enough to cause significant trauma, your screen continuously being a bright red in colour as the heart of you dying character beats in your ears. Although this may sound sinister, the game alone will take around 6-8 hours to complete on the ‘Hardened’ difficulty setting alone, so don’t expect the campaign to last you for the rest of the month.

On top of this, the realism of the game is just as intense and further draws you into the environment surrounding your characters. Rushing water propels you backward, pushing you in the direction of the current if you refuse to move with the tide. Pieces of debris shower you from all angles as explosions tear through the environment. Smoke and other particles arise from walls and other such aspects of the maps as your bullets connect with the area around you. This and more allows you to feel right at home on the battlefield.

Apart from the general length, which is often an issue with many games of today, the other two issues are as follows; one is the game itself. Too often the game will automatically take over. During the first level, there is a particularly sweet part where Alex leaps out of a helicopter, lands on a boat, and just as an enemy proceeds to jump atop of him, he slits the throat of his opponent, almost severing his head entirely, with blood profusely spilling out across the screen. The issue with this gloriously bloody scene? You, the player, have nothing to do with it – the game does this for you. On another occasion in the future, where you use ‘Nano Gloves’ to walk along a rock wall, the game does this for you again, with a few scenes in-between where you need to swing your fellow partners in crime along with you, before swinging yourself to the next segments of the terrain. After this, there is a pretty beautiful flying scene where you don a pair of wings and go flying through the jungle. Again, the game does most of the work here, and all you need to do is on occasion turn the right thumb stick and you will graciously avoid flying into trees (unlike me on my first attempt). Later still, there is a time when the game will automatically put your character into prone, and crawl under a fallen tree. Can’t the player be involved in completing any and all of these objectives on their own? There is something incredibly fun with doing many of these kick ass moves on your own – for one, you become more fully immersed, and you feel impressed deep inside that you yourself were involved in successfully completing that objective. If the game takes over, then that feeling is non-existent. In fact, the game baby’s you so often, that when it comes time for you to take control, on some occasions you will narrowly miss hitting the key that you are acquired to hit and fail the operation.

On other occasions, the game does seem to make up for its lack of providing the player with full control during scenes that do not involve continued gun fire. These moments however are as rare as they are short. During one scene, you are forced to continuously press the ‘X’ key (XBOX 360 controller reference, may be different for other platforms) so many times that you eventually lose count as to keep your character under control and to stop them from blowing away the antagonist you are attempting to interrogate; a process that is not made easy by the suspect’s stubborn resolve.

There are a number of entertaining moments that indeed occur throughout the storyline however which make up for this, including storming luxurious villa’s; spying on enemy targets; manoeuvring through ravaged landscapes whilst attempting to outmanoeuvre technologically advanced sensors; blasting through enemies with an amazing array of powerful weapons, and not to mention the availability to now pilot and control vehicular transport.

Whilst playing as Alex, you are provided the opportunity to travel on horseback across a colossal Middle Eastern battleground that is reminiscent of Stallone’s First Blood Part 3. You work side by side Middle Eastern Comrades, which is a first for the entire Call of Duty saga, as you rush around on horseback, taking out enemy gunships and anti-armour defences, all of which is as challenging as it is exhilarating.
Of course, David is additionally provided with the availability to use transport, with an intensely fun buggy cruise through a ravaged city. Anti-air defences fly down on you in the shape of drones as they attempt to blast you off the road, whilst fellow enemy buggy patrols fire volley after volley of bullets from their turrets. Defenceless? I think not! Simply boost your vehicle in the direction of the opposing forces and watch their vehicle flip and fly across the map, before exploding as easily as everything else in the game.

If there is any problem with the vehicular battles, it would be the controls. At times your vehicle may suddenly go faster than your fellow characters, and during other instances may be hopelessly unable to catch up, both of which could lead to dire ramifications for your character and the progress of the mission. Adjunctively, in certain intervals it can be very easy to run your vehicle into random parts of the environment for the twists and turns that you may need to perform seem to not come as easily as you would wish. These issues however are unable to outweigh the fun that you will easily gain from these moments, and you will most likely be feeling upset that the vehicular combat aspects of the game did not involve as much longevity as you would have wanted.

The other issue (as discussed five paragraphs back) you might find is another new aspect of the game. In the future, there is a new game type that, although it does not have much pertinence with the overall storyline, necessitates completion all the same. In this new game variant, you, the player, are able to place the game into a RTS (Real Time Strategy) camera mode and control characters from above. You can move your teams to certain locations, target them to attack certain enemies and/or targets, and complete basic level objectives. Of course, if you at any period of time feel that the general AI is wavering in its competency, you can easily take control of either a player or potential robotic device and go into first person mode once more where you can attempt to complete the many objectives on your own. Upon dying, you will either automatically be sent into the body of another soldier, or be sent back to the screen above, where you can overlook the map. You needn’t worry so much about the death count of your team, for new members are continuously being shepherded in, but the quick way the map can change from being in your hands to being in jeopardy is quick, if not annoying, and will keep you guessing as you attempt to overpower the impressive numbers of the enemy’s forces. Survival is obviously not necessarily guaranteed. Although new ideas and aspects are always well appreciated in games, it feels odd to change up an already well defined first person shooter franchise with such a new course of game play.

Challenging, bloodthirsty, and riddled with profanities, COD Black Ops 2 does strengthen the Black Ops franchise, but have some of the changes gone too far? The continuous action scenes will keep you mesmerised, and the twists and turns of the story as it is slowly but surely revealed to you in dribs and drabs will keep you committed unto the end.

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