This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Treyarch's choice-driven first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which reviewers describe as "the most ambitious and exciting Call of Duty ever made." Black Ops II currently earns a score of 85 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
IGN's Anthony Gallegos rates Black Ops II at 9.3 out of 10. "While large portions of the design conform to the tenets established by prior iterations of the franchise," he writes, "the unparalleled wealth of gameplay options and brilliant twists on the formula have shaped Black Ops II into the most ambitious and exciting Call of Duty ever made. [...] This is an evolution."
Black Ops II's strong single-player campaign is one of its greatest assets. "A great narrative already makes Black Ops II stand out in the pantheon of Call of Duty campaigns, but where it really sets itself apart is the addition of player choice and consequence," Gallegos notes.
"Moments and devices that would otherwise seem irrelevant -- like whether you find all of the intel in a level or choose to shoot someone -- can come back to haunt you, hurt you or help you. Failing objectives might result in new or more challenging missions rather than a restart screen."
The new Pick 10 system defines Black Ops II's multiplayer aspect. "Call of Duty has shaped the way other shooters present class and loadout designs for years, and Treyarch successfully redefines the standard with the Pick 10 system," Gallegos explains. "The hook of Pick 10 comes from the ability to defy the loadout rules. Each attachment, weapon, grenade or perk counts as one of your ten points, and you can swap them out at will to create a huge number of combinations.
"Pick 10 accomplishes something I didn't even realize I wanted: For Create a Class to be as exciting and enticing as it was when I first popped in the original Modern Warfare. I don't just experiment because I want to create a loadout perfectly tailored to a specific mode, but because it's a genuinely fun and intuitive system to use."
"The team at Treyarch could have played it safe and Black Ops II would have sold well, but instead they challenged assumptions and pushed the series forward in awesome new directions," Gallegos says. "This is not just a fantastic Call of Duty game, but one of the best shooters of the last decade."
Dan Ryckert at Game Informer scores Black Ops II at 8.5 out of 10. "With the first Black Ops, Treyarch demonstrated it was willing to take risks by shaking up numerous multiplayer conventions," he recalls. "Fans loved the new features, and the developer has shifted its focus to campaign changes for Black Ops II. Some of these risks pay off, and others are faulty despite their ambition."
"During my six hours with the campaign, I sometimes didn't even realize how my actions had shaped the situations," Ryckert writes. "These decisions don't affect the grand scheme of things, but many cutscenes and in-game scenarios can be altered based on your actions. The weight of your decisions isn't on the level of a game like Heavy Rain, but the system had me talking to others about their experiences in a way I had never done before with this series."
However, Ryckert warns that the new Strike Force missions are "undoubtedly the weakest part of the single-player component."
"The idea of integrating sandbox stages with light RTS elements could have been a great way to shake up the standard gameplay," he admits. "Instead, these stages are a full of frustration as you attempt to control your AI teammates. Ordering my squads around via the overhead tactical view proved to be a fruitless effort, as they rarely reacted to my commands. At one point late in the game, I even had to restart an entire Strike Force mission because of a glitch that wouldn't allow me to perform the final required action."
The changes to the returning "Zombies" multiplayer mode are more successful. "Black Ops II offers [...] a massive (and secret-filled) Tranzit mode that shuttles players across a zombie-infested town on a bus," Ryckert describes. "It appears to be another horde mode clone on the surface, but fans of the previous offerings know that the bevy of Easter eggs in zombie mode offers a surprising amount of replayability."
"Despite some frustrations, Black Ops II is yet another massive, polished, finely tuned entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down," Ryckert says. "Even if Treyarch misses the mark on occasion, I respect the developer for taking chances with a series that would sell just fine if it stuck with the status quo."
Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann gives Black Ops II4 out of 5 stars. "The game's ambitious single-player campaign [...] isn't without fault, but the way it integrates player choice into the proceedings is fantastic, helping you to craft a Call of Duty tale that feels like a product of the decisions you make along the way," he praises. "The rest of the package? Pretty much exactly what you'd expect, but a little bigger and a little bolder."
Gerstmann is impressed with Black Ops II's subtle story branching system. "It's not that every single choice is incredibly vital and Earth-shattering," he writes. "It's that you're never quite sure that you're doing the right thing or behaving in the right way, and the route to what you'd probably consider the 'happiest' version of the ending isn't clear. In a year filled with games that handle player choice in different ways, the Black Ops II campaign manages to be right up there with the best."
Multiplayer presents a variety of new options. "Rather than just filling out the class creation form in a slightly different way, Black Ops II lets you rewrite it a bit," Gerstmann explains. "Want to take six perks into combat instead of the standard three? There's a way to do that, but it involves carrying no grenades and only one attachment-free gun.
"All this is done in such a way that you can even further create classes that cater to your play style, and the results are interesting. But you still have to deal with weapons that unlock in a set order. [...] That means you'll level up and, yay, you've unlocked a sniper rifle that you'll never use. Or, at least, I'll never use it. After six years of playing this game with varying degrees of prowess, I know what I like. Climbing up the unlock tree yet again only to see it filled with options that I'll never want to use just sounds like more trouble than it's worth at this point."
"It doesn't reinvent the wheel, and some of the multiplayer changes feel more like they're propping up an aging concept rather than truly moving it forward, even though it's still a good way to spend time with your online friends," Gerstmann concludes. "For me, it's the notion that Call of Duty is showing some terrific signs of life on the campaign side that left me the most impressed. It's got its share of flaws, but overall Treyarch has assembled a great, fast, and fun first-person shooter that, even if you were thinking about finally skipping a year, is still worth your time."