Call of Duty
has become so horribly mainstream that some core gamers see it as a sort of corporate killing series only the most unimaginative would be caught playing - and then they play it.
No matter how many hundreds of millions each title makes, CoD is still really the benchmark of shooters. It's the king of online multiplayer, and though campaign modes have been shrinking in recent years, it still offers a solid single player experience that far exceeds expectations.
It follows two timelines in typically convoluted style - one through the Cold War in the 1970s and another in a new stoush between the US and China in 2025. It jumps between characters - in the early years there's Alex Mason and Frank Woods, in the latter, Alex Mason's son David trying to find out how his father was killed - and focuses on a common enemy, Menendez.
He's perfect for a game like this, admittedly pretty evil, but the product of a tragic past that makes his nastiness, at times, almost forgivable. These intertwining narratives mean a nicely varied main mode, leaping across locations and seeing players wielding rattly old weapons in the Afghani sands and in Nicaragua and super-tech hardware, toys and wingsuits in the future.
Instead of waves of soldiers, you could be fighting murderous rolling robots or quadcopter drones as well - if you imagine it'll be part of future warfare, chances are it'll be trying to kill you. A cutscene where a situation is being explained might fade out to put players in the thick of that incident, adding huge weight to these video breakaways.
Consequences - not usually something FPS players are hugely concerned about - are a big part of Black Ops 2, and every level's success or failure can leave players in terrible positions moving on to the next - a failure to find a small piece of intelligence, a bad decision that leaves a teammate disfigured, can all radically alter the way your single-player experience goes down.
And there's a new style of challenge thrown into the pot - Strike Force missions, which allow players to strategically control lumbering great machines of death, remote gun outposts and limited numbers of footsoldiers as they carry out important tasks that radically alter the global political climate, and the game itself.
The results of these sorties - and the degree of success - mean Black Ops 2 is quite playable for a second or third time through without losing much impact or appeal. This is a nice change in the era of the afterthought campaign mode - especially considering the prices commanded by blockbuster games like this.
Treyarch has exceeded what I expected from Black Ops 2, providing a single player mode that is incredibly engaging and gets away from the shooter-on-rails approach that sucks the replayability out of titles. A must-have.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC