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Overview Well, Black Ops is back with vengeance in its sequel, Black Ops II, and it would seem that Treyarch actually had some new tricks up their sleeves. Black Ops II, to my knowledge anyway, is the first in the series to bring choice and alternate story routes to your gameplay experience. It would seem the company is trying to make a break from its usual one track story and actually putting some serious effort into diversity this time around. If you haven’t played one of the other seventeen Call of Duty games and this was a first for you, then you actually managed to step in on one of the good ones. Call of Duty, your fairly typical first person shooter is a game mashed FULL of guns and gadgets. As of the first Black Ops in the franchise there are three modes that allow you a fairly wide range of entertainment: Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombie Mode. In each mode your goal is fairly straight forward, shoot the enemy (preferably in the head!), with a couple of variations in multiplayer mode such as “confirm you shot them by picking up their dog tags”, or “shoot them so that you can blow something else up down the road”. Almost any way you play it, there’s shooting of some kind unless you’re of the rare “knifing” persuasion. In Call of Duty, FPS also stands for “First Person Stabber”, which multiplayer actually allows some variety in for Black Ops II. Ever wanted to stab someone with a golden knife and NOT be at the top of an ancient sacrificial Aztec pyramid? Perfect, because Black Ops II has you covered! Either way, the game is great for any gun fanatic out there, old or new, and even those that want to use some future weapons that spew over nine thousand bullets a second. Campaign Our story begins with a short music video montage of the backstory for a character named Raul Menendez who is our villain for this short action packed hell-ride (sooooo much fire!). At a young age it would seem Menendez tried to rescue his sister from a burning building and somewhat succeeded, though his sister is in pretty bad shape. Before I go any further, here would be a good place to mention that you should be extremely careful with the “graphic content” option given to the player by Treyarch. You don’t really get a choice with introduction, but if that churns anything in your stomach, I seriously recommend turning graphic content off, because it was a rather disturbing ride in the beginning and the end of the story with it on. Anyway, getting back on track, it turns out that the warehouse Menendez and his sister were trying to escape from was actually burned down intentionally by an American for the insurance money and thus an evil mastermind is born with hatred against rich people. Hooray! No racism this game! Mostly anyway…It would seem that you do spend an inordinate amount of time killing Cubans, in the future or the past. Personally, I would never have guessed that the best equipped elite mercenary of the future would hail from Cuba, but you learn something new every day. The story is split across three characters with missions in the near future of 2025 and the past ranging from Vietnam through the 1980s. While you’re busy dredging up backstory in the 1900s, you switch back and forth between Alex Mason, the brainwashed CIA operative from the first Black Ops, and Frank Woods, his partner; however, the majority of time is spent in the year 2025 as David Mason, son of Alex Mason hunting down the monster, Raul Menendez who always seems to be one step ahead of you. This is, of course, when you get to play with all the fun new gadgets. Gadgets are a bit of a plot item in the newest Black Ops: winged gliders, harriers, drone support of multiple kinds, and even smaller stuff like mountainside traversal grapple partner swings (what?). I’m not even mentioning guns here or their attachments, like the introduction of the Storm PSR sniper rifle which fires through solid objects the longer you hold down the power button, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Another innovation this time around would be the introduction of Strike Force mode, which allows the player to take the position of a Commander on the field with a limited number of troops and a specific objective and time limit. Now, I always play the campaigns of Call of Duty on Veteran for my own amusement, but I don’t know what I was doing wrong with Strike Force. The instant my guys got on the field and somewhere near an objective they got absolutely destroyed and I lost every Strike Force mission I went in on. Maybe it was because of Veteran mode, or maybe because I’m just terrible at it, but either way it was different, difficult, and even a bit clunky for Treyarch’s release standards. You can’t just keep trying at them either. The number of troops you have is limited to the number of missions you’ve done, but the Strike Force content also disappears after a specified number of missions are completed. So, if you don’t know what you’re doing the first time around (like me!) and you lose all your troops, which just keep coming in to get mowed down unless you quit the mission early or win, then you have little to no chance of completing any of them, which really disappointed me. Zombies Zombie mode has evolved once again and I must say I’m a fan! Masochistic survival mode is still there, and shinier than ever, but is it really getting a story that’s more comprehensive than a three page comic book? Yes! In a loose homage to Scooby Doo and the gang, grab some machine guns and jump aboard a bus to look for clues as to why the zombie apocalypse is really happening! This new system allows some players to stay in one area while others ride a rusty bus to a totally different mini-area for alternate supplies and different “parts”. These “parts” are a piece of the new crafting aspect and allows the player(s) to MacGyver defenses and access-ways of many kinds all over the maps. Of course, the whole thing still works off of points, so make you shoot every last zombie you find to make bank! I would even say the level designers have figured out a way to make the maps more claustrophobic and scary with the addition on the brown mist that surrounds each area. Stepping into the fog gets the player an intimate experience with a creature reminiscent of the head-crabs from Half-Life and isn’t recommended unless you’re in the bus. Environments are also mutable, and even change without player intervention at times. Too many rides on the bus gets the roof torn open, staying in the initial starting zone gets the floor cracked open and spewing Hell-fire, that sort of stuff. Multiplayer The general format of Call of Duty multiplayer hasn’t changed too drastically, and there are plenty of new guns, new maps, new weapon attachments, and all of the other shiny bits and baubles. They’ve now included a mini Adobe Photoshop to edit your emblem to perfection, the ability to camouflage your tactical knife (always important!) and, of course, the ability to leave a calling card on your enemy. Gone are the days of Halo’s tea bags I guess. Even taunting has gotten a face lift as of 2025. Call of Duty has, once again, flip flopped on the subject of dedicated servers, and, while this isn’t a super exciting bit about multiplayer intended to amp you up and get you ready to go with Black Ops II’s new multiplayer, it’s important to mention. Dedicated, or mod, servers allow players themselves to administer a server and to modify it as they see fit. Treyarch has decided that this breeches the integrity and security of the ranking system, which, to the rest of us means: you have to play and level up our way or it’s not fair to everyone else. I see the argument, but I personally found the most joy and innovation in the client modified servers I played on in older games in the franchise, which I will miss dearly. Furthermore, the server files are being locked away too which prevent people from renting or buying their own servers to host Black Ops II. This has been most unpopular with PC gamers looking to control a clan server. I have heard from several people who feel that Treyarch has alienated them and their preferred play style. These people are players who would have otherwise been looking forward to the newest game in the Call of Duty franchise, but now boycott it. My own experience went something like this: upon entering my first multiplayer bout on Xbox Live, I was greeted by the whiney prepubescent complaining I am always met with when I’m on the chat system. Of course I had joined a match half way through, so going through now and muting people would simply be wasting my team’s time. Telling myself that I just have to get through this, I finished one round and then started to do my tradition of muting everyone except for my party, and, as I tried, an option popped up that made me ecstatic. “Do you want to mute all players except party members?” Dropping my jaw in amazement I quickly hit yes and was rewarded to see a bunch of tiny mute symbols next to nearly everyone’s name! It’s probably a sad reflection on me that this is the first thing I got really excited about in the game, however it’s something I know a lot of the more mature Xbox Live players hate dealing with. The rest of the games I played were pretty routine. 1. Start Round 2. Run with team around first corner 3. Get face blown off by rifle of some kind 4. Respawn 5. Run around corner 6. Repeat steps 3, 4, & 5 until death in step 3 is no longer caused by rifle, but by air strike and promptly remove step 5 from rotation until end of game. I can tell you though, from looking at the stats of three of the twenty some odd people on the map, that it IS possible to have fun and do well. How much time and effort you want to put in to getting that good and having fun is up to you though. Plus, this stuff’s getting easier with the addition of my favorite attachment, the “target finder” that puts a giant red diamond around your enemy when you look down your scope.