Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Credit: Activision)Notice more than a few work absentees today? Blame Call of Duty fever. Countless gamers are expected to call in sick on account of Tuesday's release of Black Ops II, the anticipated sequel to 2010's Call of Duty: Black Ops and pretty much pre-destined to become the best-selling game -- and quite possibly the biggest media entertainment property, period -- of 2012.
The new game takes a number of leaps forward by featuring a branching storyline, near-future weapons and tech, and a host of multiplayer tweaks and changes. It's been branded as the biggest Call of Duty game yet, and considering how much content developer Treyarch packed into the original Black Ops, that's saying something.
But is it saying enough? Is Black Ops II worth a sick day?
Reviewers are weighing in, and while it's not quite the critical home run Activision was hoping for, it's widely considered a success. Currently averaging an 85 on Metacritic, Black ops II does more than enough to justify a little self-imposed R&R.
IGN, for one, thinks it's the complete package.
"While large portions of the design conform to the tenets established by prior iterations of the franchise, the unparalleled wealth of gameplay options and brilliant twists on the formula have shaped Black Ops II into the most ambitious and exciting Call of Duty ever made," writes reviewer Anthony Gallegos.
He's also a fan of the game's new branching campaign ("a narrative worth replaying just to see the wildly different moments and endings"), though the real joy is, as always, the game's big, over-the-top action.
"Shooting is as fun and precise as ever, and alongside the abundance of gigantic explosions, vehicle missiona dn intense firefights, it feels like the closest thing most of us will ever get to starring in an action film," he adds. His mark? A stellar 9.4/10.
Machinima's Rob Smith is also a fan — he gives it a 9/10 — but takes issue with the game's new Strike Force missions, which lets gamers command other units against enemy forces. It's a strategy game blended into your shooter, but it just doesn't work very well.
"It's one of those steps off the reservation that you want to applaud, but the execution will be one of the great polarizing gameplay decisions," he laments.
What works much better, however, is the game's revamped Zombie mode, featuring an open-world gameplay type called Tranzit which drops you and some friends into a rickety bus smack in the middle of an undead wasteland.
To Games Radar, it's just as awesome as it sounds.
"Tranzit expands Zombies from a traditional horde mode to a full apocalyptic adventure," writes Lorenzo Veloria in a 4.5/5 review. "You'll spend hours exploring and experimenting in Tranzit's open world, and when you and your friends unlock something new, the return for your effort is extremely rewarding."
The game's bread and butter -- its best-in-class multiplayer -- is also roundly applauded, particularly the 'Pick 10' system that lets players deeply customize their characters.
"Treyarch took a big risk with the Pick 10 create-a-class system, and it paid off, reimagining how players customize their experience," writes Russ Frushtick from Polygon. "They could have stopped there, but the developer's drive to go deeper, changing certain core elements of Call of Duty multiplayer to encourage more teamwork, makes Black Ops 2 online play even more remarkable. No other online shooter is offering a better experience right now." Still, his glowing praise for the multiplayer is tempered by a general dislike of the single-player experience, leading to just an 8/10 score.
He's not alone with that judgment. Gamespot (8/10), Giant Bomb (4/5), and Joystiq (4/5) come in with a mix of praise and criticism, offering a variety of opinions about the single-player and multiplayer experiences. But everyone seems to agree that while it isn't quite as innovative as Activision and Treyacrh would have us believe, Black Ops II is still a cold worth catching.