Impressions: Call of Duty Black Ops II

Another year. Another Call of Duty.

We’re not sure Activision surprised a single person when they officially unveiled that a new Call of Duty game was in the works back in May. Of course, we were probably even less shocked to see the game with a massive entrance at E3 at Microsoft’s Press Conference. We had the opportuni to go behind the scenes of Activision’s booth and see the game first hand, and here are our thoughts.

The first thing we notice is how the game looks. It convinces us of one very important thing: the developers have stopped trying to get the most out of he Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 or their own engines. This is apparent for one big reason: Metro: Last Light. Take a look at our impressions of that game and you’ll see why.

It is quite clear that, on first glance, at least, Black Ops II doesn’t look any better than Modern Warfare 3 did last year. Or the original Black Ops the year before. The game certainly doesn’t look bad – in fact, it’s still one of the best looking games on any platform – but it doesn’t look as good as it clearly could if the developers took a new approach to graphics.

Character models look great, but textures are far – very far – from polished. We assume they will have a bit more time to polish the game before its November release, but that certainly isn’t enough time to recoat the entire game in beauty.

The audio in Black Ops II is pretty good, but it does sound like every other game in the franchise. There isn’t a noticeable score in the background during most moments, and while there is a lot going on that sounds very high-fidelity, we think it’s just too much going on.

There are some unique moments and new gameplay mechanics in the game that help elevate it from its current plateau. Driving and flying both look interesting, but they’re a bit unrealistic. At one point in the demo, the player takes command of an armored truck and drives into other cars and through the highway’s concrete median. That’s all well and good, but the truck barely slows or shows any resistance when it is going through three- and four-ton objects. We know the truck is armored, but surely there would be a little more physical resistance than that.

Even with these unique moments, we’re not sure they’re enough. Last year, Modern Warfare 3 opened Microsoft’s Press Conference with fighter jets crashing into aircraft carriers while bombs were being planted on a submarine, only to finish with a getaway boat taking off from a platform to land right in the belly of a helicopter and be flown away to safety. We’re not sure driving and flying will beat that.

We may sound like we’re being too hard on the game, but with the fifth game since the massive reboot of the Call of Duty series, we expect much more innovation year-over-year, especially since every other game is developed by a different team.

With that said, there is a new game mode in Black Ops II that is very intriguing. It’s c Strike Force, and it brings real-time strategy elements to the Call of Duty battlefield.

The object of the mode is to eliminate three laser defense systems so that your team can take out a piece of precious cargo – presumably a bomb or some drugs – and complete your mission.

You take control of the entire squad from an overhead view on the battlefield and have the ability to switch on-the-fly into any of your soldiers’ viewpoints and control them in first-person mode. It plays out very quickly, and you can also choose to commandeer defense turrets, ground robots, and airborne drones. The mode looks like a lot of fun and while we didn’t get to try it out first hand, it seems like something we would enjoy.

Strike Force is a genuinely new game mode for what is otherwise a pretty stale shooter, in our opinion. This mode will also tie into the storyline in some instances, but those details are unclear at this point.

Expect Call of Duty: Black Ops II to launch November of this year and once again shatter some sales records. If it were up to us, we’d like Activision to take a break from the series for a little while so we can focus on games that don’t start with the words Call of Duty.