A staple of assumed understanding in first person shooters is just what the Call of Duty franchises’ multiplayer is like, which is typically a summation that could be applied to any first person shooter’s multiplayer component. Being familiar with the other releases will aid you, but enough has changed that not all assumptions will go unchallenged, and if you are unfamiliar, this may be the release to lure you over from the single player component.
Though not the most immediately visible change, Scorestreaks have the result of increased objective play from your teammates. Where other releases had Killstreaks which may or may not have fed upon each other, this actually created incentive to not play the objective as it made you vulnerable. Scorestreaks makes the rewards stem from raw score values achieved in a life span. With a finer tuned appreciation from the designers as to just how many points a given activity is worth you get a much larger participation rate when it comes to the objective. Beyond that, you no longer begrudge the Assist credit, as it still moves you closer to the next reward. Black Ops 2 takes a closer look at the value of any given activity based upon the needs of a game mode and rewards you according to the mode’s goals, and the method used for any kills.
A more overt change in Black Ops 2 is the revamped Create-A-Class system. Since Modern Warfare, it was implemented as choosing a primary and secondary weapon, three perks, and some variant of customization therein. Black Ops 2 replaces that with a simple 10 point system, where each class can have 10 points with which to customize. Some of the rules are still there, but in the vein of a card game Treyarch has provided Wildcards in exchange for a point that create exceptions to the rule. Want a second perk from Tier 3? Well for 2 points that can be arranged. Want to replace your tactical equipment with more lethal equipment? Done. The cost is that the Wildcards require a point to be placed. It isn’t just equipment or perks however, you can opt to not carry a primary in the hopes of finding one in the match. This new system even goes to the point of leaving you with the default of just a knife, a surprisingly viable build as six perks is a significant thing. Inversely you can focus on your weapon and equipment over perks, leaving entire tiers bare. Treyarch has encouraged such by providing challenges that give bonus XP and cosmetic improvements such as getting so many kills for a weapon without any attachments, or any perks.
This customization is well met by encouraging a wider variety of behaviors for the purposes of the game modes. Offering the typical compliment with the addition of Modern Warfare 3’s Kill Confirmed and Treyarch originals of Multi-Team and Hardpoint. Multi-Team is exactly what it sounds like: there are more than two teams present, each with a smaller size creating a more amorphous front on any level. It gives you the pacing of free-for-all but with a teammate or two. Hardpoint features a single capture objective rotating through the map in a fixed pattern. Occupying the Hardpoint generates points for your team so long as it is uncontested. Though it keeps the action focused, this single clear addition is undermined by the spawn pattern of the objective which lends itself to memorization, and thus very similar engagements over and over. More so, this knowledge leads to the behavior of leaving behind a captured Hardpoint near the end of its lifespan in favor of getting to the next Hardpoint location in time for its arrival. I can understand the designer’s reluctance to put in many random elements for an objective based mode, but this fixed pattern and its inherent repetition found me often not choosing it. Sadly, all Hardpoint matches play virtually the same due to these perspectives potentially not being considered.
Granted, the real game of Call of Duty is found in the moments surrounding the objectives, something which has been punctuated by a common impression of Black Ops 2: that of significantly reduced recoil. The franchise has been steadily moving toward more predictable and less drastic recoil patterns in its weapons, making it easier to stay on target in most situations. In other first person shooters, controlling the gun is a major factor in any engagement. However, Black Ops 2 has factors which indirectly cause an emphasis on planning rather than simply stumbling upon an opponent and outgunning them. Sure this can still happen, but with a smaller divide between players and weapon recoil handling, the element of controlling the engagement is a larger factor than ever. As I experimented further with the loadout possibilities of Black Ops 2, I found the more I played to positioning and information, versus just trying to improve my gun, the better I did. Of course, positioning is reliant upon the nature of the map, of which Black Ops 2 multiplayer offers 14, and that is a very different matter.
The maps give an impression of being smaller than previous Call of Duty maps. Was this a design decision or an effort to guarantee meeting minimum framerate requirements on consoles? If the former it is most strange as the result is, with mild exceptions, level designs which ultimately favor the sub-machine guns over the other weapons. Lines of sight tend to be within the optimal range for sub-machine guns: short enough that a sniper rifle is just silly, and an assault rifle’s lower fire rate hinders them; long enough that shotguns can’t quite reach. True you can make an assault rifle more potent in the face of sub-machine gun dominance through the use of attachments and perks, but that is investing points just to play a sub-machine gun without actually using one. Light Machine Guns are almost nullified by many maps due to their strength as a defensive fixture for long wide lines of sight where a sniper’s fire rate wouldn’t suffice. Those locations simply aren’t there for the LMG users to lay down and provide cover. But who needs cover when the maps are honeycombed with alternate routes? I don’t want to promote camping but past a point it just feels like you are perpetually vulnerable to an attack from the rear without the freedom of movement to counter it. I guess that is why David Vonderhaar (lead multiplayer designer) put in three different proximity triggered traps: claymores, bouncing betties, and shock charges.
Any given match is going to be littered with such traps, mandating the use of either Engineer which reveals enemy equipment, Flak Jacket to simply survive explosions, or Tactical Mask to counter the tactical equipment. None of these are available for quite a while, which leaves you at the mercy of random chance until you hit those levels. In the meantime be prepared to either die often because of such, or to be killed from behind by an enemy player who found you carefully navigating to spot the equipment. You are going to die a lot because of these items, and you will encounter them frequently, particularly betties and shock charges, as they are so rapidly deployed with significant range. However, once you get Engineer and the Black Hat PDA, you will find a simple joy in acting as a hijacking interloper for the enemy team, as you convert their traps to your team and destroy automated turrets while completely concealed. This is uniquely satisfying in a variety of circumstances, and an almost poetic experience in the combat.
These aren’t the only perks you will pine for, as Ghost is the true desire. Ghost has been nerfed (or in my opinion, made interesting) in that it only disguises you from UAVs while in motion but is still very useful as the game favors aggression generally. You will pine for it, as it unlocks at the max level and until you get it, you are at great risk every time the enemy gets a UAV or an Orbital VSAT: a UAV that can’t be shot down and updates in real time. If Ghost had no condition to its effect, a max level unlock would be understandable, but in the continued vein of Call of Duty, Black Ops 2 overcompensates in balancing. The pacing of the unlocks means that you must first go through considerable pains at the hands of superior tools or unavoidable implements before you can use many, and longer before you have a counter which doesn’t take you out of the flow of the game. This is accentuated if you are late to start playing the multiplayer, and it puts anyone who buys the game after release at a disadvantage, unfortunately short changing growth potential and dissuading converts. That is if they aren’t already dissuaded by other inexplicable deaths.
Call of Duty is big on positioning which is continually encouraged in Black Ops 2 with the low recoil, but this also means that more people than ever can hit what is on their screen consistently. On their screen is relative, as Black Ops 2 suffers from lag compensation. In short, you can never believe what you are seeing; to avoid the specter of visual lag, they unleash the nightmare of inconsistent behavior. Think you escaped certain death by running around the corner while taking shots? Think again as you die from a shot fired at where you once were. That knife wielding maniac far enough away to shoot him first? Wrong, he was four feet closer and you are already dead.
I have watched KillCams where it showed all parties in different configurations and states, for example: I have opened fire on a sprinting enemy knowing he couldn’t fire back and then suddenly dying. I then watched from his perspective where he slowly approached with his sights raised putting shots into me evenly, while I sprayed bullets in a 90 degree arc. I could give dozens more examples where I was plainly experiencing a different game from my opponent, which renders the notion of multiplayer into a bit of a farce. If a connection is poor and you can see it first hand, you learn to compensate for it, but when the game picks and chooses who did what first, no one knows what to expect. I would much rather experience some ice skating and teleporting when I am lagged or another player is, than to have a smooth experience of being shot to death by people not even facing me. These mistakes are not new to the franchise, but they have gotten worse since the original Modern Warfare and the persistence of such issues release after release is frustrating. Plainly, get rid of lag compensation and bring back dedicated servers. I can deal with lag, but not with rubber banding player preference.
Black Ops 2 multiplayer is a fun game, fun enough that playing it was a distraction from writing this review, but it is also a conflicted one as to what audience it wishes to please. You will have a great time playing, but you will also have a terrible time. The primary factor in this is where you are in the sequence of the gameplay logic’s processing of each player’s input which can be almost deterministic. This is a flaw prevalent across multiplayer shooters, but it is one that each release is responsible for fixing. Black Ops 2 has not done this and thus its design innovations, iterations, and improvements are watered down by an inconsistent experience.
- Time Played – 21 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- Resolution Played – 1680×1050
- FOV Slider – Yes (default of 65; max of 90)
- 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
- Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse, Gamepad (Keyboard/Mouse used)
- DRM – Steam
- System Specs – Windows 7, AMD Phenom II X6 3.2ghz, 16gb RAM, Radeon HD 6850
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Demo – No
- Availability – Steam
- Saved Game Location – Cloud storage of user progress and classes via Steam.
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Context sensitive actions can be overridden incidentally leading to unintentional situations.