Call of Duty: Black Ops II - Review
For one reason or another, so far Call of Duty has never betrayed my expectations and that of many other fans, even if, both in multi and especially single player, the innovations proposed have never been substantial. The video game industry is becoming more and more risk averse and, with Call of Duty, Activision has firmly adopted the principle of "you win you don't change" (while the development team has changed profusely over the years). How to blame them, after all? Fans are happy, investors are happy, and Activision's coffers are swollen with dollars.
Aided by a host of other supporting studios, including names such as Raven, Beachhead and many others, it was Treyarch's turn to bring the new episode, Black Ops II, to our screens, which continues the narrative line that began two years ago and brings us told the story of Alex Mason, embroiled in a story of espionage and the cold war. I confess that I found the first Black Ops not very exciting from a narrative point of view, while I liked the setting and the weapons a lot. With this sequel, Treyarch tells us what Alex Mason did at the turn of the 70s and 80s, together with his partner Woods, and how those events affect the life of his son David, struggling with the terrorist Raul Menendez.
As per the tradition of the series, the story is told through the inevitable cutscenes, interactive and otherwise, and the dialogues between the protagonist and the other characters during the missions. Black Ops II once again takes up the style of action films, seasoned with explosions and scenes at the limit of verisimilitude (and often far beyond). The first couple of hours of gameplay sees us jumping back and forth between Alex and David, and the pace suffers, because the story is too fragmented and it's hard to get involved in the action without proper narrative contextualization. I don't need a story to enjoy a game, but a broken and intrusive narrative is often worse than a nonexistent one, and the opening part of Black Ops II struggles to take off. However, when the game finally follows David Mason more stably in 2025, the pace picks up and returns to the standards we are used to: thrilling action, great choreographic scenes and absurd and almost incredible, yet engaging and thrilling events.
Combat drones play an important role in the storyline and gameplay.
One of the great new features of the Black Ops II single-player campaign is represented by the narrative intersections, which for the first time allow us to directly influence the progress of the plot. While in the past all the scenes that seemed to have an uncertain outcome were actually written and decided by the authors, this time we will be able to change the course of events, more or less voluntarily. In some cases, the fact of being faced with an important choice will be more evident, while in many others this possibility will be more hidden and one will almost casually take a narrative path rather than another, without realizing it to the end.
There are six different endings and each of them is the result of a combination of all the choices and all the mistakes made during the game. The result is excellent, well beyond the rosiest expectations, and in some ways more convincing than seen in many role-playing games. However, this feature is a double-edged sword, because it is inserted in a series that for years has accustomed the player to having almost no freedom of action and decision-making. The risk is that many face Black Ops II as an ordinary Call of Duty and then subconsciously think that, for example, their efforts to save a certain character are completely useless because the outcome is already written, while in reality we could have changed. his fate, if only we worked harder while looking for him.
The Strike Force are the other big news of this new episode. During the single player campaign, we will have the opportunity to take part in these missions only apparently disconnected from the main story: Alex Mason only plays the role of coordinator from the headquarters and will not physically participate in the mission, which will instead be entrusted to soldiers and drones autonomous. The outcome of the Strike Forces directly influences the progress of the campaign for a player: for example, a success could make our task easier in a certain area, while a failure could reinforce Raul Menendez's terrorists. Strike Forces can be faced in the role of external coordinator, by giving orders to the teams at our disposal through the appropriate interface, or by taking direct control of any of their members. The tasks assigned are quite varied and include objectives such as the defense of a base, or escorting a diplomatic convoy to a war zone, but, if faced in person, they do not differ much from the normal single-player campaign missions.
Unfortunately, not having a real narrative vein, they reveal little more than target practice sessions and mercilessly highlight the limits of the game's artificial intelligence: playing a passive role and relying on your soldiers is a lost cause and it is useless to hope. that they are able to complete the goal without our direct intervention. Seeing them attack enemy soldiers without even bothering to take cover behind the elements of the environment is distressing and will make you lose patience on more than one occasion; the enemies are affected by the same deficiency, but the numerical superiority compensates for the lack of tactical acumen and instinct for preservation. The basic idea of these missions is not to be thrown away, but their implementation leaves a lot to be desired and they fail to be acceptable neither when you play as a real-time strategy, nor when faced as a FPS like the rest of the game.
At times, the graphics engine amazes with memorable moments.
Perhaps it is also thanks to (or because of) the Strike Force missions that the campaign for a player of Black Ops II lasts longer than those of its predecessors. Although I found the initial part slightly cumbersome, the pace of the narrative increases dramatically as the story progresses and the game gives truly memorable and spectacular moments. The game mechanics are the usual, so you will know very well what to expect, for better or for worse, even if in some situations the player has greater freedom of movement and tactical approach than in the past (such as during the mission in Afghanistan with Alex Mason). From a graphic point of view, the engine shows all its limits and some details really leave something to be desired (don't stop to observe the grass, I recommend it), but it is the price to pay to have 60 frames per second fixed in every situation and the overall aesthetic result still manages to be of strong impact, thanks to an artistic work and design of fine quality.