For the first six hours, I had no idea what was going on in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The story—if you can call it that—jumps back and forth between the years 2025 and 1985. The future segments follow SEAL Team operator David Mason as he tries to stop some guy from doing something Evil, while the 1985 follows David’s father who is trying to stop the same guy from doing the same thing. It’s a strange and convoluted tale that makes zero sense until the very end, by which time I stopped caring.
The gameplay doesn’t fare much better. You’ll get to engage in traditional FPS gameplay for five minutes, only to be interrupted and told to do something else. Watch this cutscene. Swing along this cliff on this magic rope whilst wearing these magic gloves. Glide through the air whilst wearing this magic flying suit. Drive this car. Operate this robot dog with a machine gun on it’s back. Run away! No stand and fight! No, keep running away! Play this RTS level. Play this other RTS level, if you want, but if you don’t you won’t get the best ending. I never got to settle in and actually enjoy the game. It was too busy dragging me from set-piece activity to set-piece activity, when all I wanted to do was shoot anonymous guys in the face.
The frenetic jumping around calms down toward the end, though. The story stops flashing back into the past, and becomes a fairly straightforward narrative that’s mercifully easy to follow. The gameplay stops throwing gimmicks at your face and lets you get on with the business of shooting things, saving the world, and having a blast while doing so. Well, maybe you’ll save the world. It’s possible you won’t, depending on the choices you make during the game. Black Ops has four endings, some of which are surprisingly bleak.
The game has a couple technical issues that mar the experience. Checkpoints don’t actually save to disk, so if the game crashes in the middle of a level—which it will—you have to restart that mission from the beginning. I played through the first half of one mission seven times before I wised up and quit after every checkpoint in order to save my progress. Yes, you read that correctly: I had to quit the mission in order to save because that’s the only way to do so.
Which meant I saw the intro movie to that particular level over a dozen times, which is a dozen times more than I cared to. You see, Black Ops 2 tries to hide its load times behind streaming movies. Once the load is complete you can skip the movie, but until then you’re stuck watching the scene. That’s not a big deal when you’re playing normally, but when you are forced to watch it over and over again because that’s the only way to save…. Let’s just say I wished for a standard load screen.
I’m a fan of the Xbox controller, so that was my primary method of playing the game. Since Black Ops 2 is available for consoles as well as PCs, it’s designed to be perfectly playable that way. There’s no aim assist, by the way. Or, if there was, I didn’t notice it.
I did try using the keyboard and mouse at first, but found the default layout to be too spaced out for my liking. WASD moves, as you’d expect, while QE leans, which is something you can’t do when using the controller. F interacts with the environment, which is standard. But if you want to throw your primary grenade you have to hit G, which is a fair distance away. If you want to throw your secondary grenade, you have to press 4—a very unusual choice. Crouching is handled with C, which is fine, but to go prone you have to hit right-CTRL. Melee attacks, which are practically a necessity at times, require you to hit V. I couldn’t handle it, and really didn’t feel like going through the motions of redefining the keys, but you can do so if you like.
Other than that, you could argue Treyarch did a good job porting to the PC. You can change resolution, toggle vsync, play in a window, and set your anti-aliasing level. You can change the adjust the quality of textures and shadows, turn off ambient occlusion and tweak depth-of field. I think that covers most of the settings a die-hard PC gamer could want. The FOV slider maxes out at 90, though, which is weird because every time I’ve seen someone complain about FOV, they’ve needed it to be over 90. Personally, I didn’t have to change it at all, since I ran the game at 1280×800 and sit far enough away from my monitor that the default of 65 was fine, but it seems like an oversight to have it limited to such a low value. Hopefully that can get patched in the future.
Conclusion—Is It Worth The Money?
The notes I took while playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 were littered with questions along the lines of: “WTF?” “What’s going on?” “This makes no sense!” and “Am I playing the right game?” At times, it felt like a parody of itself, an impression that’s hammered home by the nonsensical sequence that takes place after the credits roll. At other times it felt like the developers just wanted to cram in as many cool sequences from action movies as possible. “Hey,” I imagine them saying. “Remember those cool gloves from Mission Impossible? Let’s have those! And let’s have the invisibility effect from Predator! And that line from Starship Troopers. You know, ‘You want to live forever?’” It never feels like a solid, confident product from an experienced team, and if I had paid $60 for it I would have regretted the purchase.