The past and the future meet on many levels in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In the campaign, you relive the events that made a man into a villain, then fight to avert his plans for future catastrophe. The competitive multiplayer offers the same frenetic intensity of past games in the series while providing a new way to play that subverts the history of these hallowed online battlefields. And the Wii U finally lets owners of a Nintendo console experience the visual fidelity that players on other consoles have enjoyed for years, adding some novel ways to experience the action courtesy of the GamePad. Poised between past and future, Black Ops II finds solid footing, providing another great ride on the Call of Duty rollercoaster.
If you played Call of Duty on the Wii, you can stick with your preferred control scheme here as the game supports the Wii Remote with either the Nunchuk or the Classic Controller. The new pro controller is also a great option, but the GamePad offers a few appealing novelties. Most notably, you can play the game entirely on the tablet screen, leaving your TV free for other uses. The screen shows a good amount of detail and runs at a smooth frame rate, making is possible to enjoy any game mode. It does have drawbacks, however, as the small screen area can make it tougher to spot mid-range foes and the button placement on the comparatively bulky GamePad take some getting used to.
This feature can also be used while someone else is playing on the television, enabling each player to have their own screen. You can team up or face-off in competitive multiplayer, both online and off, as well as take on the cooperative zombies mode. If you have a sizable main screen, you might be better off sticking with splitscreen play, but the added versatility of the GamePad is an asset to this version of the game.
As in the other versions, the ride starts off a bit rough as the game makes good on its pre-campaign warning of graphic content (which also lets you opt out of said content). Two early scenes linger on people burning alive, and while one ends up contributing to character development, the other is just gratuitous. Later cutscenes don't flinch from depicting gory violence, though of all the unpleasant sights you see throughout the story, the playful (and not at all gory) post-credits video might be the most appalling.
Fortunately, the campaign boasts an engaging story and a lot of entertaining action. It features the lead characters from the original
Things get even more intense when you are asked to make a choice. Press one button to kill a target, the other to let him live. The conditions of each choice vary and there are only a few of them, but even when you aren't responding to a prompt, you might be making a choice in a dramatic moment that will have consequences later. The main course of the campaign remains constant, but these decisions do affect the fate of some key characters. A few of these moments are sure to give you pause, adding some welcome weight to the proceedings, and there's a handy story rewind feature that lets you play earlier levels in order to see how different paths play out. There are also mission-specific challenges that give you ancillary goals to complete while you do so, further increasing the replay incentive.
You can also see some variance in the available strike missions, which are a new type of campaign level. These stages put you in a squad of soldiers and drones, and then let you choose which asset to control at any given time. Defending installations against enemy assault, escorting a convoy, and rescuing a hostage are some of the endeavors you might undertake. Though you have a team at your command, strike missions are still all about you gunning down foes. Your AI allies are only good at slightly hindering your enemies, so you end up doing the heavy lifting yourself, often while tracking activity on multiple fronts and hopping around to deal with advancing enemies. Having to consider the bigger picture is a nice change of pace for a series that has mostly involved just shooting what's in front of you, and these missions are a welcome shot in the arm for the familiar campaign pacing.
Of course, familiar as it may be, that pacing is still great. The campaign ebbs and flows as you move through a variety of diverse, detailed environments using an array of powerful weaponry to dispatch your foes, occasionally hopping into a jet or on to a horse for a short jaunt, or manning a missile turret to tame a swarm of hostile drones. A few neat gadgets and surprising gameplay moments satisfy the novelty quotient, but you still get the lingering feeling that you've done this all before. The new strike missions, dramatic decision points, and memorable villain help keep this concern at bay, however, and this feisty, enjoyable romp is more enticing to replay than other recent Call of Duty campaigns.