Call of Duty is unarguably the most successful game series these days, and sees a yearly release now. Call of Duty games have always been polished experiences, but receive mixed feelings from players whilst consistently getting good scores critically.

Well one thing is for certain in my mind; Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the most polished and best Call of Duty game yet. Surprisingly, Treyarch has taken some chances and changed  things up for the new entry in the blockbuster series. These changes like a choice-integrated story, new class creation system in multiplayer and an expanded zombies mode make this the most enjoyable Call of Duty to date.

Over the years, the story mode of Call of Duty has taken a backseat to the multiplayer aspect. However, the most interesting part of Black Ops II and the biggest change is the campaign and Black Ops II builds an engaging and memorable player choice integrated story.

The story of Black Ops II flips back and forth between the Cold War era and the current time (2025 in the game). Characters like Alex Mason and Frank Woods return from the first game during the flashback parts while in the future you take control of the son of Alex, David Mason. In the future, the military of the world has been overtaken with robotics and unmanned drones, and technology exists that puts the face of each person that looks at it onto an advertisement. This is definitely a Call of Duty set in the future, and it’s a nice change of scenery.

It plays out in traditional Call of Duty fashion, with missions and shooting and so forth but where Black Ops II shakes things up are with the decisions it puts in the story and the different ways to finish a mission.

Choosing to let someone live or kill them could alter the outcome of the story and who lives or dies. In addition to these big in-your- face decisions, the game also has more subtle effects that happen on the story. For example, it may be as simple as steering your vehicle away from fire so that your squad mate doesn’t get burned, or it may be the difference between saving an important hostage and killing their kidnapper or letting them get away.

The layout of maps themselves in missions has been altered as well, instead of just wandering from corridor to corridor, Black Ops II creates various routes for you to take on a mission. There usually isn’t just one way to go and oftentimes you can find bonus equipment and weapons that will help you along.

All of these compile into an interesting story that keeps you hooked the whole way through. Black Ops II also takes a decidedly more serious tone to its storytelling, rather than the more ridiculous and campy storytelling the series has had so far. For the most part it succeeds and tells a dark and serious tale with some emotional high notes. In addition to all of this, Black Ops II has the best villain I’ve seen in a video game this whole year. Raul Menendez is a villain with more complex ambitions than to just control or destroy the world and he’s a villain that you actually get a feel for and begin to appreciate the reasons behind everything he’s doing.

During the story you also get interesting missions called strike force that break up the shooting action. These missions allow you to control multiple units from a birds eye point of view in order to complete objectives through the map, each strike force mission is basically a small sand box area. You also have the option to jump into any of your units, human or drone and play as them. Which is a help since the AI for strike force allies isn’t the best sometimes.

All of this combines into the most engaging Call of Duty campaign to date and an experience that I found myself wholly invested in. The campaign was a great surprise and something worth replaying more than once because of the different ways it can play out as well as the multiple endings. One other small change in the story is the ability to change your load out before each mission.

Of course another major portion of Black Ops II and the reason a majority of people will buy the game is the multiplayer. As such, there isn’t a ton that’s been changed about multiplayer but a host of additions and minor changes make it one of the better multiplayer experiences the series has to offer. The new pick ten allows you to build your own class and gives it more variety. With this system you’re allowed to pick up to ten things to equip to your class whether it’s weapons, perks, equipment, or whatever you want.

Treyarch has also removed some perks (like the terrible second chance) and added wildcards and new weapons and the like. This makes the Call of Duty experience a bit more accessible to everyone and the inclusion of COD TV and in game live streaming with the ability for anyone to ‘shoutcast’ a game all show Treyarch’s dedication to bring Call of Duty to pro gaming and esports.

Black Ops II has all of the game modes you’ve come to expect from Call of Duty; Deathmatch, Domination, Capture the Flag, as well as Kill Confirmed from Modern Warfare 3 and let’s not forget those addictively fun modes from the first Black Ops; One in the Chamber, Sharpshooter, Gun Game, and Sticks & Stones all make a return.

Once again Call of Duty proves to be an addictive multiplayer experience that becomes a serious time-sink, but if you’re not all for competitive play there’s an option for you as well. The popular Zombie mode makes a return to Black Ops II as well. There’s still Survival mode that pits you against unending hordes of zombies with up to three friends and tasks you with surviving as long as you can. Zombies proves to be as fun as ever, after all there is a reason this mode was so popular.

A couple additions add diversity to it though, the new TranZit section gives you a bus you can travel on to go between multiple locations as you fight off the undead horde and provides a little bit of light story if you’re willing to look for it. There’s also an option for a ‘headshot only’ mode that gives a more traditional zombie killing experience.

Black Ops II visually may not be the best looking game and its sound design although improved still doesn’t meet something of DICE’s quality but the soundtrack has some memorable tunes. Things do look better this time around though, as you can tell the engine gets pushed to its limit but the facial animations look great thanks to superb facial capture and of course Black Op II plugs along at 60 fps without even a hitch. Even though the game may not look as pretty as others, Call of Duty still has mechanics and a formula that just works, the controls are as tight as ever and it’s still hard to find a shooter that controls better.

I went into my time with Black Ops II expecting another Call of Duty game, which is both a good and bad thing and what I came away with was a game that kept the core foundations of its series but wasn’t afraid to take some chances and make some changes. Yes nothing is radically different in multiplayer and zombies, but tweaks and a new wave of polish make the experience better than ever.

The story is where Black Ops II takes the most chances and it pays off with an engaging and serious story that builds itself well around player choice and interaction; something that I never would have expected from a Call of Duty game.

Black Ops II is the best Call of Duty game to date, a high achievement when put up against the likes of the original Modern Warfare. Treyarch needs to be commended for taking a chance and making changes to a series that would have done just as well and sold as much had they chosen to do nothing.

Review Score:

[starreview tpl=16]

Title : Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Format : Xbox 360/ Playstation 3/ PC
Developer : Treyarch
Publisher : Activision
Release Date : 11/13/2012

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

* Activision provided with a review copy.