News may be slow right now, but that just means there is even more time for us journalists to play games right? Right, and since Christmas I have been playing a lot of Black Ops II. I have never been the biggest fan of Call of Duty, though I have enjoyed the original Modern Warfare and some of the earlier World War II themed games. I got a $50 gift card for Best Buy during the holidays and I decided that getting another Wii U game in my library was a must. One thing I had noticed so far in playing my Wii U is that I hadn’t really played a lot of things online in a multiplayer setting. How can I fairly judge how well the online system is if I don’t do such things?
So, after scoping out an online deal that had the game $20 off, I decided it was time to make the plunge into the depths at which many Nintendo gamers have been critical of over the years: For the first time in four years I actually bought a Call of Duty game. To put it in fair perspective however, this isn’t my first foray into Black Ops II. I had previously borrowed the game from a friend to play on my Xbox 360 and I had exhaustive amounts of hours put into that version. Conversely, I spent some time with the PS3 versions as well over the course of two weekend romps at my cousins apartment.
Needless to say, I had played a lot of this game already before purchasing it for the Wii U, so I sort of knew I would enjoy it if for nothing other than the fact I didn’t need to borrow the game anymore. Sure, part of me felt guilty playing the game because it’s supposed to be “generic and unimaginative”. It’s definitely no Borderlands 2, and I would hesitate to say it’s better than other IP’s out there. But man, after all these years I not only understand why Call of Duty is so appealing, I now have a definitive view into why Nintendo is so high and mighty about the Wii U being as good if not better than whats available for hardcore games. To put it bluntly, of the console versions of Black Ops II… the Wii U is simply the best of the bunch. Period, end of story.
You see, a lot of people have been looking at the game on purely a performance based level. How’s the frame rate? Are the graphics on par or better than the competing versions? Well, to put that in perspective you truly have to play the game for yourself to judge. It definitely looked and performed better than the PS3 version based on my experience, and I would argue on the TV at least it looks better than the 360 version, though due to one small FPS issue I noticed I will say the 360 version probably performs better. The FPS drop I experienced was at the end of a cut-scene in the third act of the campaign. It wasn’t anything mind boggling or game breaking, and it had no effect on the gameplay.
Seriously, I experienced no noticeable FPS drops while playing the campaign. Sure, I suppose if you throw up a FPS tracker and compare version the Wii U probably has some drops in frame rates compared to other versions… but since when do we play games on a console with FPS trackers visible? We don’t, what matters is if there was noticeable FPS drops while playing without it being pointed out. Fact is, there isn’t, and I don’t care what gamer wants to say otherwise: It’s not there, there is no technical performance issues FPS wise with this game. It’s not there, and they are just looking for excuses to say this versions is inferior.
Of course, graphics and performance aren’t everything, what really matters is how the game feels. How it plays with the GamePad. You see, this is truly where the Wii U takes the cake. Lets side aside the fact that the GamePad functions (which are optional) are done fantastically well. Lets set aside the fact the game looks pretty solid on the GamePad, even with the “washed out colors”, which is lessened greatly if you up the brightness on the GamePad to the maximum level… which affects the battery life. No, this all overlooks a point that needs to be made clear: The pure controls for the game are simply superior in every facet of the imagination for this game.
Yes, the game for all it’s bells and whistles controls the same as the rest, but what the controls for the GamePad do is provide a much better feel for the game. You can adjust the sensitivity of the analog sticks on the fly without going into several different menus. That alone is a big bright spot, but the controller itself just feels right while playing. Sure, to an onlooker it may look silly that you’re holding this “rather large” controller and playing Call of Duty, but who the hell cares about that onlooker? What matters is our own experience while playing.
The GamePad is simply a superior controller, in this particular case, for Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Sensitivity controls can be perfected, the weight feels proper, there are absolutely no hand cramping issues to be heard of, and the “space” between the left and right hand actually feels comfortable and an added bonus for long gaming sessions. Of course, the Pro controller works well enough and feels solid, though a tad light… it still will give you the same feel of a 360 controller while playing, which is pretty damn good. Still, nothing beats the GamePad for me. Without playing the game with it… it’s just hard to understand where I am coming from.
The only knock against Black Ops II on the Wii U is the online community is naturally not even close to as large on other systems. So if you play the game on your 360… good luck playing your same friends on the Wii U. Averaging around 3,000 players online at a time those numbers are nothing to brag about, but all the game modes are still playable and accessible. It’s also refreshing for those that are sick of the 12 year old wankers spewing profanity left and right that makes you wonder what society is coming too. The voice chat conversations so far for me have been refreshingly tactical, and while a couple times you can hear a few friends having some good laughs none of it is nearly as over the top as I have experienced on Xbox Live.
It’s just a different, and I dare I say it, more intelligent lot of gamers playing it on the Wii U. With arguably the best graphics of the bunch, superior controls, and an online community that is more friendly and truly feels more like you’re part of something and not just some number… it’s no wonder everyone seems to really enjoy this version more than the others. Don’t miss out on this experience, as it truly shows you where the Wii U’s online is heading.
For those wondering, the online itself is fantastic. You can see quick access to your friends list and if they are online and what they are doing (seriously, why the heck wasn’t this included in the base Wii U OS without loading an app?), and while inviting someone to play who is playing another game doesn’t work (you can send them a message however), if they happen to be playing Black Ops II at the time the invite will pop up on their screen like clockwork. Fact is, Nintendo may have nailed it with the online for 3rd parties. Let them have the control and don’t limit or require them to do things. Seems like the best course of action thus far. Hopefully it continues to play out well.
Of course, a lot of people will scoff at this piece because hey, it’s about Call of Duty. Well, I finally understand why this game is popular and why it comes out every year. Be ready to be amazed: It’s the most accessible FPS I have ever played. More than the original Goldeneye even. It’s so pick up and play that literally anyone can do it. Now, I’m not saying anyone can be “great” at the game, but everyone can enjoy it, even those that don’t like swearing if you are able to “handle” some from time to time (lots of swearing in the campaign… but what can you expect? It’s war, of course soldiers swear)
That’s why this franchise is so popular. Anyone can play, it’s very easy to get into, and it doesn’t bog you down. Where in Madden 2013 I have to dedicate an hour to complete and online game, if I have to bail in the middle of Black Ops II it’s no harm to my overall progress. The matches are fast and fun. Frankly, it reminds me a lot of the original gaming back in the day online. Of course, the big defacto is no matter what, no matter how good or bad you are at the game, you always feel like you’re progressing. There is not rating system where if you lose or if you get zero kills and assists in a game you “lose points on your rating”. Rather, everything adds points and adds experience.
This means no matter what, you are always progressing. Obviously the best players progress a lot faster, get access to all the upgrades quicker, and get advantages because of this, but even the bad players are progressing as well, so you truly feel like you are always making progress. Accessibility folks. This is Call of Duty’s greatest strength.