Despite the campaign's efforts Black Ops 2's long-term worth, as with all Call of Duty games, will be measured by its multiplayer. We were only able to test this component of the game via system link, so cannot comment on how smooth (or not) the netcode is, and as any COD veteran knows it takes a few weeks for all the imbalances to surface. Thus, at this point in the game's juncture our critical opinion can only be limited to a few general observations.
What we did see, however, bodes well for BLOPS 2's online future, and is consistent with the efforts of a studio that has silently swooped in and stolen Infinity Ward's crown as the kings of COD multiplayer. One of the biggest and most influential changes is the shift from 'Killstreaks' to 'Scorestreaks'. This means that all positive actions now accumulate towards unlocking your rewards, rather than just kills. This is fantastic news for players who try to play gametypes such as Domination properly, rather than just running around doing the whole lone wolf schtick.
Already, we've noticed that the new system encourages other players to bend over backwards to be useful - disabling UAVs, taking and defending points and racking up assists. Let's hope this trend continues now the game is out in the wild.
One change we don't approve of is the new 'multi-team' gametype, where up to six mini-factions are pitted against each other. It's the worst aspects of Free-For-All, writ large - basically People Getting Shot In The Back: The Videogame. It's exacerbated by some wonky respawning, although to be fair it's no worse than any other Call of Duty game has been at launch. Apparently, Treyarch are already hard at work on a fix.
However, Multi-Team does make a lot more sense in Hardpoint, a new game mode that basically plays out like Headquarters, except with respawning. With a fixed point to base your gameplan around, repelling multiple teams is a lot more palatable a task - and a lot more fun, too.
A great many of the maps seem designed for multi-team mayhem, with numerous tight corridors and/or scattered debris allowing players plenty of scope to get up close and personal. Although smaller maps are the order of the day, there are a few sizable exceptions, not least the sublime Turbine map, which closely resembles Modern Warfare 2's Afghan map, only with more vantage points and a windswept bridge that cuts across the top of it.
The general pace seems faster than that of previous Call of Duty games, and perhaps for this reason snipers didn't appear to have a lot of luck during our sessions. With camping a risky proposition at the best of times, some of the snipers turned their attention to no-aim quickscoping, which appears to have wormed its way back into the game. Some people, huh?
Overall, however, we'd take it over Modern Warfare 3's bland offering. Everything seems nicely balanced, due in part to the 'ten item' limitation system which forces you to discard secondary weapons and grenades for perks and attachments. Treyarch has once again recaptured the Call of Duty multiplayer magic, it seems, even if they haven't been able to significantly better it.
Zombies on the other hands sees Treyarch excel themselves. There is just one solitary map available at launch, but it's a belter. Named TranZit, it's a succession of rural outposts - farm, town, bus depot, lab - joined together by a rickety bus that travels around the map on a perpetual loop.
Hypothetically, you could group together and stay on the bus for perpetually (we say hypothetically, because as anyone who's played Zombies before knows, tight, enclosed spaces aren't exactly the easiest places to defend), but then you'd miss out on the upgrades that are scattered randomly around the environment. By welding crap like mannequin bodies and car doors together at the various blueprint stations, you can forge new items such as shields or portable generators that heighten your chance of survival.
On top of that, there are upgrades for the bus itself - such as a hatch that allows easy access to the roof, and a snowplough that makes light work of any undead shufflers dimwitted enough to stand in the bus' way.