A Frag too Far?
I wish I were enjoying the killing more. I should be excited about following gruff men, macheteing necks and performing mass mutings, but after only a week I think I'm all but done with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. My annual Call of Duty binge always comes to an end before Christmas, but never quite this early. Even World at War kept me engaged for longer, with its spammy, racist grenades. I thought Black Ops 2 would provide ample entertainment until at least early December, by which time Need for Speed would be below £30 and I'd be ready for Far Cry 3, but it seems that I've been caught well short.
I have been a fan of the most successful and vilified franchise of this generation since the first Modern Warfare, which I bought with my brand new PS3 back in the spring of 2008. A COD November release is an event worth noting in the calendar, one that heralds the beginning of the build up to Christmas. Desperate to get the festive season underway, BLOPS 2 is the fourth straight COD that I have felt compelled to pre-order, though you'd never catch me at a midnight launch, queuing up with all the puffer-jacket pricks.
Call of Duty is not the most innovative of IPs, but Treyarch and Infinity Ward know their strengths and develop accordingly. While the series has long been in need of a graphical overhaul, I have no complaints about the single player gameplay. Short burst, high energy and very Robocop, some of the most explosive and memorable set-pieces of this generation belong to Call of Duty. Visuals aside, everything is well polished (Ubisoft please take note): enemies don't glitch, horses don't vibrate, guns sound loud, voice acting is of the highest quality and the characters never dull. Once I'm done with the campaign fragging, then it’s over to the multiplayer for a month of excitement and self-loathing. While it’s high-speed, quick-draw cat-and-mouse competitive multiplayer may seem basic when compared to more strategic shooters, its brand of sociable murder has become hugely successful. The levelling and load-out systems are tweaked to perfection and the game modes accessible enough that anyone can jump straight in and have a blast. There is also enough on offer to keep the more dedicated shut-ins presteiging right up until the next instalment, with enough DLC to make even Capcom blush.
I still consider COD4: Modern Warfare's single player campaign to be the standout, but that's not to say that the series has lost any of its lustre over the years. Last year's Modern Warfare 3 offers the best all-round package and was one of my favourite games of 2011, so I had high hopes for Black Ops 2. I'm not sure if the quality is lacking or if I have just moved on, but I find this COD to be far less compelling than its predecessors. There were moments that had me rolling my eyes and others that made me yawn, but overall I did get a certain amount of pleasure from the campaign. However, it is missing the big set pieces and memorable moments that have ensured that previous entries have stuck with me long after the final mission. I didn't think much of the characters - I had a similar issue with the first BLOPS - and I find the near future setting far less interesting than the past or present. This is a future dominated by drones, where soldiers no longer bark "Oscar Mike" every two seconds, which is a bit rubbish.
As tradition dictates, I attempted a second playthrough on the hardest difficulty setting, but that only lasted an hour as I had no great desire to revisit these events and characters so soon. Disheartened but not yet defeated, I moved across to multiplayer. A half hour session customising my emblem - a moustachioed blob - and a long evening that saw me post a 4:1 Kill:Death ratio serve as my highlights of 22 levels of slaughter. There are some interesting new additions, such as league play, and it still has the same addictive qualities, but I'm bored more often than not and unlikely to stick with it for much longer. The maps strike me as being more restrictive and I feel like I'm playing the same set of three levels on loop, even though there are probably as many here as in any other instalment. Even the abusive twelve year olds seem uninspired. Occasionally a mic'd up soldier will escape my full lobby muting, yet the session will remain surprisingly quiet. I haven’t heard a mother insult worth repeating and, to my dismay, not once has it been suggested that I put a penis in my mouth. I blame the parents.
Perhaps the spark has gone. Maybe KillNoobzNow69 was right to suggest that I go play "fucking Mario" instead, and leave the shooting to the real gamers. It'll be a shame if Call of Duty must join God of War as a series I once adored but have since lost all interest, and I think I'll have a tough decision come next November, especially if Modern makes the move to future warfare. BLOPS 2 marks my third major gaming disappointment in the space of two months – Resident Evil 6 and Assassin’s Creed 3 complete the trio - and I've taken to gazing at my PS3 and asking "is it you or is it me?” Hopefully one of the remaining games I intend to play before the New Year (Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Dragon's Dogma and Far Cry 3) will get things back on track and cap off an otherwise entertaining year in video games. In the meantime, I'll play a couple more rounds of Deathmatch and see if this relationship can't be salvaged.