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November 3, 2013 / Jett

Call of Duty: Black Ops II on Wii U Review

It’s easy to be dismissive of Call of Duty: Black Ops II on the Wii U for reasons beyond its quality. Over the past few years, tens of millions of gamers have already established a home for Activision’s shooter on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Meanwhile, Wii-only gamers have been stuck with gimped ports. While the Wii U now has the horsepower to render the full experience, the tiny install base for the console means that virtually nobody is playing this game online. When I played my first team deathmatch, the game said there was only 1,806 other players with me, which is laughably low compared to the hundreds of thousands of gamers who play CoD on other platforms at any given time.

Activision can’t control those variables. They could have chosen to back away from the platform completely to concentrate on more profitable platforms, which I personally wouldn’t blame them for. Or they could have put in a half-hearted effort towards porting this over to save on costs. Instead, they’ve made an honest effort to provide the authentic CoD experience to Wii U owners that want it, even if there aren’t that many on the platform.

I primarily play this series for its single player experience. Modern Warfare 3 was a huge letdown in this regard, as its focus on the same types of theatrics and bombastic action without any meaningful context rang hollow. Black Ops II has the benefit of starting off with better source material. I liked the more down-to-earth story that was first established with Mason and Woods in the first game. Here, it continues that story within two different time periods. Part of the story takes place in the 1980s where you play as Alex Mason again. the other part of the story takes place in the year 2025, where you assume the role of David Mason; Alex’s son. The story switches between these two time periods while pulling the larger narrative together.

Storytelling will never be a high priority for the franchise, but I think the game does enough to let you know what you’re fighting for. In general, the setpiece moments aren’t as bombastic as those found in Modern Warfare 3, but the fact that there’s clearer meaning to the action makes this journey more worthwhile. Not to say that Black Ops II is short on thrills, as you’ll shoot a ton of soldiers, charge a heavily-armored tank while riding a horse, and fight with futuristic weaponry that is new to the series. In particular, I enjoy the missions that take place in 2025, as they make great use of the futuristic technology to add new life to a formula that is going stale.

There are other ways in which Treyarch attempts to liven things up. There are specific moments in the game where the action can branch off. In some instances, it’s as little as taking a position from a sniper tower versus charging through the front gate. There are other choices you can make that will directly impact the story in huge ways. The biggest addition to the mix are Strike Force missions. These play out more like real-time strategy missions where you command different units around the screen while taking direct control of a soldier, turret, or robot. However, I don’t think the strategy part comes into play very well, and it ultimately boils down to just switching between units and shooting dudes as you always did. Kudos for trying, but it could have been done better.

For the first time since Modern Warfare 2, I spent some time in multiplayer. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s still really fun, as I greatly enjoyed it back then too. The thrill of gunning down enemies while not getting shot yourself is as enjoyable as its ever been and there are all sorts of ways to customize your loadout. While the Wii U community is too small to get enough participants to sustain anything beyond team deathmatch, the online experience itself is excellent. All of my matches ran surprisingly smooth throughout.

One of the other benefits of the Wii U version include support for dual-screen co-op and Off-TV Play. The former allows for one person to play on the TV while the other uses the GamePad. I got a lot of use out of the Off-TV Play functionality, which works for both the campaign and online multiplayer. I never noticed any sort of framerate drops or lag while playing in this mode, which makes it a viable option when you don’t feel like playing on a television.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II manages to re-ignite my interest in the franchise. I like the strides it’s made in the single player department while its multiplayer suite still leads the pack. Maybe the Wii U version isn’t the one to get if you have a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, but for the handful of Wii U only owners dying for a quality CoD experience, this is a viable alternative that delivers on almost all fronts.

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