For a better world

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Alejandra Rangel
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Reviewing the new Call of Duty is always a problem. The Activision franchise is the emblem of this generation that is coming to an end, that is total serialization, proliferation of DLC but also and above all a formula that despite the clamor of the haters around the network continues to entertain millions of people. The sign that something could change, while remaining anchored to a granite gameplay, we had it with the first Black Ops two years ago.

Treyarch had chosen for the campaign to tell us a story with an adult tone, halfway between the psychological thriller and the spy, all in the name of a surprising clockwork ending. The multiplayer had also received a generous dose of new ideas, both in terms of mechanics and content. This year, the American developers have definitely upped the ante, boldly proposing a non-linear campaign with multiple endings and a fundamentally renewed multiplayer sector. Without forgetting a zombie mode which, although far from being a real campaign, has increased exponentially. But let's go in order.

Everything can change

As for the review of the first Black Ops, even now it is impossible to summarize the plot of the game without falling into spoilers. We have a "villain", Menendez who from a simple drug trafficking boss in the 80s has come almost forty years later, in 2025, to be the arbiter of the fate of the world. It will be he who will be able to light the fuse of the third world war between the United States and China.

His motivations are ancient. His hatred of the United States seems to go beyond geopolitical differences. But here we stop, we are getting too close to the danger zone. The story written by David Goyer, the man to whom we owe the script among others of the Batman trilogy of Nolan and the next Superman, stages with continuous leaps between the "real" cold war and the future one, the incessant chase of the CIA to Menendez. For this reason we face in the role of Mason senior the battlefields of the so-called proxi wars, or the wars "by proxy" that saw Americans and Soviets engaged through secondary actors, fighting in Angola, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Panama. In 2025 the war arrives at home, but not before, for example, crossing the road with the ISI, the infamous Pakistani secret service and making a nice foray into Burmese territory. But even here it is better not to go further in telling the world tour of Mason junior and the grumpy Harper. The structure of the campaign is therefore similar to that of the first chapter, but Treyarch shuffles the cards on the table with an unprecedented crossroads system that thanks to the multiple endings and the countless junctions scattered over the more than seven hours of play (on normal difficulty) makes us talk about a really high replay value for the title.

An anecdote is more effective than a thousand explanations to tell the complex narrative path set up by the American boys. Call of Duty: Black Ops II it was tested in a long review session in London where the whole European press was able to try the game simultaneously. Once the campaign was over, a nice discussion was born to verify the gaming experiences with the other journalists present. We have very often made different choices, seen different endings and we have taken, more or less consciously, divergent paths of narrative progression. When we then asked Treyarch for guidance, we found that in many situations we could have chosen to do things that were not immediately recognizable. In practice there is no "good" or "bad" ending, but different nuances between one and the other that change the final outcome and will influence the probable third chapter. How did this come about? In some moments, which we could define topical, we are asked, for example, whether or not to kill someone, and this obviously will have a tangible impact on the next mission, normal or Strikeforce. But sometimes there are no clear signs of these bifurcations, it is as if we were taking a road without seeing the intersection. To make everything even more structured in terms of writing, if you are attentive to the dialogues, it is possible to temporarily deviate from the main objective to obtain additional information on the mission or on the characters and this can facilitate us or maybe make the next choice more difficult. clear point of view on what we are doing and how everything is evolving. This is the strength of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Most missions don't have a unique goal. The pace is very high, the twists are never lacking, and often they change completely during the course, completely overturning what was previously played.

A whirlwind succession of truly unsettling characters and situations that can almost leave you dumbfounded in the first few bars, but only at the end, whatever it is, you will have a clear and clear picture of the situation. It being understood that in some moments it can be difficult to understand the complex intertwining and the multiple branches of the plot. In some ways the events are less "fascinating" than those of Black Ops, on the other hand the story, the one with a capital s here is less strong and impactful (few will know Noriega and the Iran-Contra scandal) to the advantage, however of a story that keeps us glued to the whole game, never banal and that amazes for its inventiveness, toughness and variety of situations. In short, given the impossibility of upsetting the key mechanics of the franchise from the ground up, the choice to push hard on the narrative sector is a sign that Treyarch did not want to create the usual war FPS. If already with the first Black Ops the American boys had made this drift clear, now they have managed to change the rules of the game. Obviously we are not talking about something original in an absolute sense but, from the point of view of the genre of belonging and the series as a whole, we are faced with something that almost marks an evolutionary step, a nice step forward to go beyond the usual shoots. shoot.

Just as you want

At a purely gameplay level, there are two major innovations of the title. The most important is the inclusion of the Strikeforce. This type of level, available only for some "shifts" after a few missions, is conceptually comparable to a sort of real-time strategy to be played (if you want) in first person. They are not just a way to vary the classic routine of the title, but they will have a significant impact on the continuation of the story, whether completed successfully, or failing miserably.

From this point of view it is good not to underestimate them, perhaps discouraged by a cumbersome and not very functional unit control system, because in the end everything contributes to the final outcome. Pad in hand, with mechanics similar to the last Driver, it is possible to enter and exit freely in all the assets and soldiers present on the battlefield from a satellite view, also giving basic orders to the troop, in an extremely free way. The only obligation is to take into consideration the objectives to attack or defend depending on the mission. Unfortunately the interface and the chronic slowness of the units cannot compete immediately with those of the "real" RTS, the impression is that it is better to fight in first person and not rely on artificial intelligence which here discovers all its intrinsic limits. Also because the missions have a time limit and it is objectively more fun to fly small armored ground drones, for example, than to see them move at a snail's pace on the battlefield. In short, the Strikeforce work more on a narrative level than in actual gameplay, but undoubtedly they contribute to making the game as varied as possible.

The second way to vary the action is related to the choice of your arsenal. Just like in multiplayer, before each mission we can choose our loadout. Chapter after chapter we unlock new weapons, optics, grenades and so on, while overcoming challenges it is possible to acquire real perks that allow us, for example, a more stable aim, higher reload speed, more sprint, more damage and much more. . Among these, immediately available, is the access kit. On missions it is possible to find new weapons such as rifles, Molotov cocktails, animal traps, but also drones, automatic turrets and calls to confuse enemies only if you have this sort of "universal Swiss army knife". Crates, closets or terminals then become clearly visible on the battlefield, allowing us to expand our attack or defense strategy. Obviously this is not a feature that changes the face of the game, but it is pleasant to see how Treayarch wanted to insert another extra variable to take into consideration, all on the altar of extreme replayability.

Wider massacres

But what are our gaming impressions? The first thing you notice is that Call of Duty: Black Ops II it's a very violent title. In the very first minutes Treyarch spares us nothing, fire is the protagonist, and then opens the dance with a gigantic massacre, which almost makes us ask a few questions whether it is appropriate to recount such recent events lightly. More generally Treyarch does not skimp on anything, the splatter often appears in the game. The quality of the missions is very high and as previously written, the variety of approaches and situations is not lacking.

The repertoire is the usual, frenetic, cinematic and pyrotechnic one of the franchise, but perhaps more compact and inventive than usual. To broaden the feeling that there is much more to do is the general enlargement of some levels and the marked general verticalization. The infamous "tracks" are always present, especially indoors, but in some situations a huge single map is even ventured, as in the Afghan mission, in which to move freely choosing the path. More generally, between weapons and accessories to be found and numerous defilations and secondary routes, the feeling is that the univocal approach to getting to the destination has been completely avoided. With the plus of course of crossroads, choices and challenges to be won to get the various perks to equip. All the futuristic gadgets that you can use also exponentially increase the variety rate of the game. Very cleverly the developers have decided not to rotate everything on the use of the same: it can be safely said that they are simply one more possibility and not, except in rare cases, the necessary tool to move forward. In this sense, the game pushes us to try as many rifles as possible on the battlefield, each of which significantly different from the others, to be carefully chosen according to the situation.

Where though Call of Duty: Black Ops II gives way to criticism is in the level of difficulty and in artificial intelligence. The title must necessarily be played on a difficult level. The challenge at normal latita, for a good half you can almost safely run towards the next trigger. By raising the challenge rate, the damage of the opponents increases and we are forced to really take advantage of the level design, avoiding staying in the open and moving as much as possible from cover to cover. Artificial intelligence therefore shows all its criticalities if we do not want to test ourselves. When the spaces widen it is not uncommon to run into enemies impaled in the open or who casually leave the covers assigned to them. This is much less evident in the indoor sections, with the opponents defending themselves more effectively, but even here a couple of times we have noticed soldiers aiming at the wall for a long time and with great satisfaction. Fortunately, however, their number is always very high, they also have a decent aim and above all they throw grenades in profusion.

Multi-bodied and deep

The other area where Treyarch has wanted to work a lot with a view to renewal is multiplayer. There are two key areas: the personalization of your arsenal and team play. Everything then revolves around the equipment system called Pick 10 and the great importance given not so much to the single kill as to the "cooperative" score for achieving the support actions, here called Scorestreak.

When creating a class, you have ten slots available, to be filled at will. Each piece of its loadout has a "weight", visually displayed in base ten. Once you have exceeded ten tenths, we can not help but eliminate something, replace it with something else and so on. The interesting thing is that everything contributes to reaching the threshold, not only weapons, optics or bombs, but also the perks. As you level up, you unlock an item pack, weapons, grenades, wildcards or the same perks, but the game only gives us one unlock token, for just one item. Furthermore, all weapon upgrades are unique and each gun must therefore be specialized to make everything available. We understand then how the game pushes to experiment as much as possible and at the same time thanks to the tokens to choose wisely what to "buy".

The Pick 10 gives us extreme freedom, it is enough not to exceed ten elements, and as if that were not enough to make the system even deeper, the aforementioned Wildcards give us the possibility to fold the rigid equipment system. They too "weigh", but allow us to have for example a third accessory on the primary weapon, to add one or more perks, to double the grenades, or even to use a second primary weapon as a secondary. Therefore a very vast system, it is impossible to unlock everything once the level cap is reached. It is therefore necessary to make several laps between the ten Prestigees. The Pick 10 makes even more sense from the perspective of the motivated team play of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. All the actions that are done in the game, especially in the objective game modes, make us earn a score, as the twenty-two Scorestreaks become available, also to be unlocked using the token. The difference from simple kill accumulation is glaring. It starts with the inexpensive UAV for 350 points up to the swarm of Hunter Killer drones that cost 1900 points. In short, thinking of being a runner who cares about team play does not pay.

All the scaffolding is designed to always work in concert, with the defenses and conquests of strategic points which are the preferred method for accumulating points. The system undoubtedly works, putting in a corner the lone wolves that have always been the stylistic signature of Call of Duty multiplayer. Obviously in team deathmatch such an approach is less binding, but in any case having a teammate always near is the best way to increase the score also in view of the numerous and rich assists that you can do. The impression is that this complex system works very well and that there are no obvious balancing problems. Obviously we cannot know what the community will do in the medium-long term, but trying different combinations even the most extreme ones and with the most "exotic" weapons, perks and Scorestreaks we have always noticed that there is not something irremediably over-enhanced. Even the infamous rifles with search optics are counterbalanced by a reduced line of sight that compromises their constant use. In short, between the scoring system and unlocking with the dropper it seems that Call of Duty: Black Ops II may have found a balanced way towards a stable and adaptable system for all types of players.

Xbox 360 achievements

Call of Duty: Black Ops II rewards the player with fifty objectives, divided between campaign, multiplayer and zombies. The many objectives of the campaign are obtained by replaying some choices several times, in order to see the various branches of the story, but also by completing some internal challenges. In multiplayer, the richest objective takes us directly to the Prestige area, while as regards the zombies you have to play for a long time and discover as many objects and secrets as possible.

Lots of content

At a purely content level, the game offer is very substantial. We find fourteen maps, all on average larger than those of Modern Warfare 3 and characterized by a level design that is never banal and flat, distinctly vertical, airy but very "intricate" in terms of hiding places, secondary passages, defilations and bottlenecks. From this point of view, the Los Angeles Aftermath, cluttered with rubble after the Menendez attack, the Yemeni Turbine, squeezed between two mountains and the two Pakistani, the urban Overflow and the industrial and labyrinthine Meltdown, are clear examples of the skills of the boys. Americans in designing perfect playgrounds. However, even the smallest maps enhance the complex customization system. Really "caciarone", but still full of loopholes and escape routes, such as the small "mega yacht" of Hijacked and the deck cluttered with smoking remains of the Chinese aircraft carrier in Carrier. On the side of the game modes, among the novelties there is the inclusion of the multi-team, with three teams fighting each other to get to victory and therefore pushing a lot on the cooperative side having more enemies than companions and Hardpoint, a sort of variant of King of the Hill which rewards the maintenance of an area even with a single player inside.

In addition, the mini-games such as One in the Chamber, Stick and Stones and Gun Game return and what is really appreciated the never too acclaimed Kill Confirmed is part of the menu prepared by Treyarch. To complete everything we must add that both the mini games and the complete training with bots to be customized at will contribute (albeit to a lesser extent) to raising the level, a way therefore to stimulate to play everything. To close the full-bodied multiplayer offer there is the strong desire to enter Call of Duty: Black Ops II within the E-Sports circuit. For this reason, the competitive E-League mode will be organized on real leagues for all types of players, in order to create a sort of path classified from the lowest leagues up to those in which the best players compete, with promotions and relegations.

Zombie in tour 2012

And then there are the zombies. Treayarch had promised us a campaign, rather than a succession of unrelated maps, and without a doubt from a purely quantitative point of view we are certainly there, but speaking of a real campaign is frankly excessive. In TranZit up to four players, even in split screen, can explore different areas of Green Run County by boarding a bus.

We can go up and down when we want, but it is strongly not recommended to face the road and the fog that separate the different locations, even if between more lethal enemies, bonus objects, secret areas and easter eggs it is definitely worth it. The rules of the game are the same. Doors to open that reveal new areas, weapons and perks to buy. The biggest novelty is that relating to the elements to be built. Inside the bus station, the farm, the laboratory, the diner and the city are scattered objects that if brought to particular work tables can be combined to build defensive and offensive objects, but also useful for unlocking doors without going through. the payment of the hard-earned dollars. Initially you can create a sort of fan to open the entrances, later a rostrum to be applied on the bumper of the bus, but also the very useful shoulder shield or to be planted on the ground. The problem is that the game doesn't give us any hints about it, there is no different indicator or texture to indicate what to look for. A nice problem in short, definitely frustrating in the first few games also because you will start pushing X furiously as soon as you see something strange. A choice undoubtedly spot on in terms of survival, a little less, at least in the early stages, in terms of gameplay. The heart of the game has remained the same, the waves follow each other incessantly and gradually more difficult, but the possibility of getting on the bus, and maybe staying there all the time, visiting other areas and discovering new secrets is a big step forward compared to the past. . We will not find ourselves in front of a campaign with all the trappings of the case, but the goal has nevertheless been achieved. And if you don't want to go round and round for Green Run there is the classic Survival set in a single location and Pain in which two opposing human teams face off against zombies. The last human left alive wins. Just a shame that once you are left alone in the map if you are unable to finish the onslaught of the undead the wave will start all over again and with all the players alive.

And since the more you go on the harder the battle becomes, almost to the limit of the impossible, with less money and weapons with halved damage, it is not uncommon to enter a vicious circle of continuous restarts from which a winner will practically never come out. But from a visual point of view, how are we doing this year? Treyarch at reaveal had promised us a transfer of PC effects on consoles, in order to make the impact with an engine less traumatic which, although guaranteeing a granite frame rate anchored to 60 frames per second, is increasingly showing its age. Revamping is in this sense very visible for what concerns lighting, models (facial animations are a strong point) and shaders, and secondly on counting and polygonal modeling. Some missions, such as the nocturnal ones in Burma and Pakistan create a visual framework that has nothing to envy to more technically noble titles, in a riot of lights and special effects, while the others, those "kissed by the sun", appreciate the general cleanliness and optimization, but show more signs of aging on textures. The multiplayer makes the difficulties of the engine more obvious, but the maps undoubtedly appear richer and more built than usual. Mind you, the general look is as usual of great impact, with more detailed and less "still" environments, in this sense the direction of Treyarch shows us and enhances only what they want us to see, but at the cost of repeating ourselves, the next generation is what it takes for the franchise. We can not say anything about the goodness of the Spanish dubbing and about the performance of Giancarlo Giannini in the role of Menendez, since the version we tried was the American one. The soundtrack, written by His Industrial Majesty Trent Reznor, is also of great value.


Version tested: Xbox 360


Readers (937)


Your vote

After the excellent Black Ops, Treyarch repeats itself, creating a very courageous campaign, with adult tones and that makes us talk about extreme replayability thanks to a complex and layered system composed of crossroads, junctions, a lot of variety and non-linearity of the (cumbersome) Strikeforce, all in the name of six different endings. In multiplayer, the level design is top class, while the new customization system is extremely deep and full of possibilities. The revamped zombie mode works and adds a lot of meat to the fire, but calling it a campaign seems overwhelming. Thumbs down for the campaign's low challenge rate when played normal, due to problematic AI.


  • Crossroads, junctions, six endings, a lot of variety and non-linearity
  • Adult history, complex and highly stratified
  • New multiplayer customization ensures depth
  • Excellent level design of the maps
  • The technical improvements are obvious
  • Low challenge rate to normal
  • Problematic artificial intelligence
  • The Strikeforce control method is cumbersome
  • Very full-bodied Zombie mode, but calling it a campaign is overkill
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