Thursday, September 24, 2015

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 review

    I have, until this week, never played a Call of Duty game. Given the CoD games are some of the most popular games ever created, indeed some of the most popular media ever, this is a very-very glaring oversight in my gamer street cred. So, I've decided to play the franchise and give my opinion on all of the modern releases.

    Given the Call of Duty franchise's sales are OBVIOUSLY going to be affected by my opinion, especially the games in the franchise which are a several years old, I'm not going to bother with a typical  review format but instead talk about them in a more general manner. I wouldn't even bother with the review at all if not for the fact I want to talk about them and see no reason not to since its my blog.

CoD biggest appeal is its ability to embody action movie fun.

    Now, if if I was serious about reviewing the franchise in an organized manner, I would start at the very beginning and proceed to methodically play through each game in order.

    I am most certainly not serious about it, though, so I'm just picking up each game as they strike my fancy and give them a try. This is going to start with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, purchased with Call of Duty: Black Ops, which I'm not playing first because I heard Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was better. Shocking, I know.

    So what did I think of the game?

    Well, as the leftist anarchist that I am, you can imagine my general skepticism at the fact the villain is the "Messiah of the Ninety-Nine Percent" out to destroy Western hegemony via social media networking. Occupy Wallstreet never managed to get up and running but it was still a nice moment where Americans regained some small sense of skepticism to the American Dream.

Raul Menendez's story is surprisingly poignant.

    Raul Menendez doesn't get much of a chance to espouse any real ideology, though, because he's motivated by the more personal fact an American black ops team blew up his sister with a grenade. This is after his sister had been burned alive by an American businessman and his country had been plunged into civil war by selfsame country's foreign policy. I'll give the developers this much, they certainly make Raul's anger understandable even if destroying the whole of Western civilization is an overreaction.

    Indeed, Black Ops 2 is an interesting game in that it zig-zags between incorporating real-life concerns about a lot of tragedies with over-the-top silly elements. A major part of Raul Menendez's plan, for example, is to hijack the United States' massive drone armies and turn them against the West--a plot which is basically a remake of Skynet taking over the United States' nukes.
One of the best villains in gaming.

    I'm a general supporter of drones and have an automatic skepticism of anything which treats the idea of, "the robot army will rise up against us" as a valid criticism of them. You can criticize them for dehumanizing war's costs, their much-easier deployment versus troops, and the general lack of laws regarding their but "Skynet will kill us all" is not a valid criticism.

    However, this is also a game which incorporates Manuel Noriega, Angola, the Muhjahideen revolt, and the causal excess of Dubai (as embodied by the floating city of Colossus). There's a large number of very big ideas in Black Ops 2 and I wish they'd been given a chance to peculate a bit more. I understand the limitations of the medium, at least in the context of wanting to get players back to shooting things, but a little more delay between these moments would have done quite a bit to elevate the game beyond its still good premise.

    Raul Menendez could have been a cardboard cut-out of a villain but the fact they let you play him a couple of times really gets you to understand him in a way other mediums can't. Even Raul's insane hatred of the protagonists and revenge against them isn't a Moral Event Horizon because they're the people directly involved in his  life's ruination.

    I would have appreciated more sequences where you play as the "Messiah of the 99%" because he's a really interesting character and his bits are really fun. My favorite section of the game is slaughtering dozens of invading soldiers with a machete, trying to get back to Raul's sister.

Just the right mix of sci-fi and modern military shooter.
    Much has been made of the game's branching storyline element and I've got to say I wish there were more games like it. I love you can alter the story without knowing you were doing so.

    While I managed to get the Golden Ending on the first try, I could easily have gotten myself a much darker one without knowing it--which is like reality where life-defining choices are made in an instant. Also, the sniper shot revelation? Awesome bit of tricky sadistic mind-games from the villains. That was straight out of the Joker's playbook.

   Sadly, the existence of a Golden Ending is by itself annoying as I think it would have been more interesting to go with something slightly less "happy ending vs. terribad ending." The existence of Cordis Die could easily have carried over into a sequel as its not the sort of movement which would vanish the minute Raul was taken down.

   I came to like the characters in the short time I got to know them and wish the campaign had included more story, no matter how much it might have annoyed other players. I, particularly, wish I'd gotten to know Farid and Chloe better because they seem like interesting characters. I didn't really need the Mason, Woods, Hudson family drama as I felt it distracted from the main narrative in the present day.

His best characterization is after the credits, IMHO.
    The Strike Missions were okay, albeit my least favorite part of the game. Of all the games to incorporate side-quests into, Call of Duty seems like a very strange one to do so. They could have easily inserted these into the main campaign with no difference whatsoever. I think they would have been more fun done in the traditional game manner as well since the resource-management element of the first mission was awful.

I wish we'd got to see more of blonde Lizbeth Salander.
    As my first Call of Duty game, this didn't leave me lost and was a lot of fun. So much fun, really, I've decided to give the entire series a try from Modern Warfare onward. Given I'm not a huge-huge fan of shooters, this is pretty glowing praise. Also, because I have no interest in the most important thing to most CoD players: multiplayer. No, seriously, I'm not a guy who enjoys competing against other players which dramatically reduces the replay value.

    Still, I got my money's worth out of the six-hour campaign. I don't mind short campaigns for a video game as long as they're entertaining and this certainly was. The fact I bought it years after certainly helped the price range. I do hope, however, Activision does a remastered version for Xbox One or backwards compatibility. The former is more likely than the latter but there's no reason not to port this game and its predecessors to the Xbox One.

    Oh and there's a zombie mode so there's that too.



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