Developer: Treyarch / Publisher: Activision / Played on: Wii U / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs]
Question the morality of Call of Duty’s unrelenting annual releases all you like, Treyarch has genuinely outdone itself with Black Ops 2. The hard-hitting campaign packs in as many shocking scenes as it does explosions, and mixes dual plots lines spanning separate time frames with player choices that have a valid effect on events and, in turn, your ending. Multiplayer expands with a new score streak system, and the Zombies mode has received similar expansion, with a new open layout in ‘Tranzit’ mode and new eight-player gameplay options.
Black Ops 2 is, in spite of its shouty forum critics, a stellar performance from Treyarch. So how does it stack up on Wii U? To put it simply, it’s damn near identical to the Xbox version. That, by the way, is a good thing.
But there are subtle differences. Some for the better, others not so much – and those differences are the things I’ll focus on in this review (check out the review of the Xbox 360 version here for your regular critique).
The Wii U version of Black Ops 2 is near indistinguishable from the Xbox 360 version. All three of the main gameplay modes – campaign, multiplayer and zombies – are present and intact. 5.1 surround sound (via HDMI only) is supported, and all of the conventional button controls carry over seamlessly to the GamePad’s deceptively comfortable twin-analogue setup.
Visually, Treyarch has ported over all of the textures and effects perfectly, and that slick 60-frames-per-second engine makes it to Wii U with near-identical results to Xbox. With the exception of some very occasional dips in frame rate during scenes of high intensity, you wouldn’t tell the difference.
Now for the important stuff, the question that will hang over the Wii U version of every multi-format release: How does Black Ops 2 make use of the GamePad controller?
The coolest feature served up by the addition of that extra screen is its unique alternative to split-screen play. If you have a second player on a single Wii U system, the game gives you the option to have one player use the TV, with a Pro controller or Wii Remote/Nunchuk in hand, while the other plays on the GamePad screen.
Traditional split-screen is still an option, but for those who hate having that trimmed letterbox view of the world, Wii U’s two-screen alternative is brilliant. I did notice a slight and occasional drop in frame-rate for the TV player, and detail is reduced slightly, but considering the Wii U is being asked to render two entire screens separately, performance holds up well.
Other uses of the GamePad screen affect the multiplayer mode. While playing on the TV, the GamePad screen displays a full overhead view of the map. The obvious benefit is an expanded view of the landscape beyond that of the common radar. Yet it doesn’t completely render the traditional radar obsolete since shifting your focus from the screen down to the GamePad is a significant inconvenience compared to the microsecond flick of the eye required to check the on-screen HUD. It leaves you more vulnerable; I certainly endured a few deaths paying too much attention to the GamePad map.
On the other hand, it serves as a great aid to those new to a map, or those who have difficulty fully grasping the layout of a given map. Wii U players will also, over time, have a better idea of compass-point references (which way is north, south, etc.).
It’s also worth noting that this map view is still displayed when playing the game’s Hardcore listings – a mode in which the radar is completely removed on the other three platforms. But, more in line with other versions, player positions are only exposed via an active UAV, so it’s not a significant perversion of the purity of the Hardcore mode (my personal preference).
That’s not all for GamePad features. On the left of the touch screen are ‘class’ selection options, which allow you to change your class mid-game without having to enter the pause screen menu. And on the right edge of the screen are giant touch buttons for activating score streak items.
Shoving all of that to one side, you also have the option to, at any time and in any mode, switch full gameplay over to the GamePad screen, liberating you completely from the TV. Full GamePad play hasn’t particularly appealed to me. Until now.
Playing Black Ops 2 online from the comfort of my bed has been an absolute revelation. I love it. More than any other game on the system so far, Black Ops 2 demonstrates Wii U’s unique ability to serve up console gaming with all the conveniences of a portable. And I’m partial to quick 3DS sessions before sleep, so this is quite a treat.
That 6-inch screen gladly lives up to the task too, and is large enough to accommodate the chaos of Treyarch’s FPS. I had no real issue spotting targets in the distance and hitting the mark. It runs every bit as smoothly as on the TV, and still looks great. It’s sad to think that this is how we had all hoped Black Ops: Declassified on Vita would have been like. Oh well.
In terms of actual gameplay, Treyarch has fortunately resisted any niggling temptation to include gimmicky motion or tilt controls, keeping all of the in-game mechanics grounded firmly on the buttons and twin analogue sticks, where they should be.
The game defaults to a slightly different button control layout, with jump, reload, crouch and ‘weapon swap’ commands all rejigged, presumably to accommodate the fact that the GamePad’s right analogue stick rests above the face buttons, instead of below them as on its competitors. But Treyarch was courteous enough to include a “Classic” controls option, which puts all those commands back where they are respective to the Xbox and PS3 versions.
Online play, in terms of content, is uncompromised on Wii U except for the lack of Elite support. The servers hold up; it plays as smoothly as you’d expect and I encountered no problems with lag or other technical issues. I didn’t get to test the ‘party’ or ‘game invite’ systems due to a lack of Wii U-owning friends.
If I have one major complaint of the Wii U’s multiplayer, it’s the lack of players. At the time of writing, there were 195,815 players on the Xbox version. Wii U? Not even half of that. Wii U players totaled a pitiful 453.
This makes finding a game in anything other than the common Core Team Deathmatch playlist near impossible. Bare in mind the Wii U is barely two weeks old, was only available in the US at the time of this review, and is pretty much sold out in that region. This situation will inevitably improve, particularly after Christmas as consoles are liberated from their pretty wrapping paper and as the console gains ground in other parts of the world. But right now it’s a huge hindrance to the game’s main attraction.
Also, the game supports voice chat on Wii U, but the console ships without a compatible microphone, and the official peripheral is a $25 option which seemingly no one bought. So while, for better or for worse, Black Ops 2 on other systems plays host to a buzz of vocal players, there’s not a peep out of the Wii U community (MiiVerse aside). The silence is blissful in public games that are usually plagued with feisty 10-year-olds, but the fun of playing with friends will suffer without each of you making the necessary added investment.
Nintendo gamers can finally join the Call of Duty party, free of the drastic compromises associated with Wii’s tired old predecessor. Black Ops 2 on Wii U lives up to its Xbox counterpart (that being slightly superior to the PS3 version) in almost every way. The lack of CoD Elite support and live video streaming is irrelevant to your enjoyment of the actual game, and additionally insignificant next to the lack of players at the moment – a limitation that will subside as the user base grows.
The GamePad features are no revolution, but Treyarch makes good use of the second screen without tacking on worthless gimmicks, delivering the excellent experience that is Black Ops 2 in all its glory with or without your TV. While the Xbox 360 still reigns supreme on the back of its fuller online community, if the Wii U is your sole HD platform stick Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 at the top of your purchase list.
+ A near-faultless port of an excellent game
+ Good use of the GamePad screen
– Lack of players online (for now)
9 / 10