When it comes to Call of Duty games there is an expectation that it will be an action filled romp with a story that serves only to move you from place to place in an interesting fashion. Lots of explosions, double crosses, and of course shooting, are tent poles of the COD games. Black Ops II doesn't disappoint in any of those categories. What separates BLOPS II though is its genuinely compelling narrative that kept pushing me to play just one more mission, and in a market filled with generic knock offs that's not something to be dismissed.
Of all the changes Treyarch has made, the one most beneficial is the new setting. While there are several missions that take place in the 1980s, they are spread evenly throughout the campaign. The majority of the game takes place in the year 2025, and the new setting allows Treyarch to introduce some cool tech as well as some new gameplay types. Just like the first Modern Warfare injected some life into the series with modern weapons, Black Ops II can be looked upon in the same way. The series needed a fresh direction, and I believe Treyarch has accomplished that.
So what's different? Well for starters the enemy types; flying drones, ground robots, and the CLAW (the mech like tank) all require different methods of dispatching. You can't just run out and unload a clip at them, unless you like respawning a ton. The weapons aren't completely over the top, but they do offer some enhanced features such as red dot displays that allow you to see through walls and cover, and even a sniper rifle that will go through objects and structures depending on how long you hold the trigger -- not mind bending by any means, but enough to keep things interesting. Also new to COD are the Strike Force missions. These missions put you in command of several units, and task you to fulfill a certain objective in a given time frame. Depending on the mission you are able to take control of soldiers, drones, turrets, and even the CLAW tank to accomplish your goal. The units you have at your disposal change with each one, and every mission is only available for a certain amount of time. These are optional btw, but they can affect which ending you get. Zapping from unit to unit is easy enough, and after a mission or two it feels pretty comfortable. While a nice distraction from the main story, I would like to see more variety in the missions themselves. Aside from two of them, they basically amounted to "shoot everybody until the timer runs out," and that can get old quickly.
As for the narrative (and don't worry, no spoilers here), I loved how they used Frank Woods and Alex Mason from the previous entry, and at the same time passed the baton to a new cast of characters that can take the story and the franchise forward. It was a bit odd to hear Merle's voice (of Walking Dead fame) coming from Mike Harper, but after a mission or two I got used to it. I enjoyed the story a great deal, but there is always room for improvement. There are some confusing parts to the narrative, and it would've helped the flow if these were more clearly explained. There was also a sense of deja-vu when it came to certain events and plot twists, but all in all I enjoyed it.
While I did play the multiplayer, my time with it wasn't extensive. I also didn't have time to dive into Zombie mode 2.0, so I decided to just focus on the single player here. That said, I would happily revisit these characters and the world they inhabit, and kudos to Treyarch for making that happen. I'm not a devout Call of Duty fan by any means, but this was a truly fantastic entry in the franchise, and one that I think can be a great foundation for future entries. Some would say the series truly changed hands with Black Ops, but it wasn't until Black Ops II that Treyarch truly took the baton. I'm looking forward to seeing where they go next.