Disappointingly Similar, But Perfectly Passable
For the first time in over a decade, Nintendo is genuinely trying to revitalize the hardcore gaming market’s interest in Nintendo-brand consoles. In the past, the Mario publisher has been notoriously unfriendly to third-party developers, so hardcore gamers have had to look toward Sony and Microsoft to get their gaming fix. And even though the Wii U’s launch lineup was incredibly strong, drawing on franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect, there’s still a healthy amount of skepticism from hardcore gamers.
However, there’s one franchise that singlehandedly acts like a thermometer for the hardcore gaming market at large: Call of Duty. Activision’s number one series is a juggernaut by anyone’s metric. So, if we truly want to understand where the Wii U fits into the gaming market, we just need to figure out how the industry’s biggest franchise gets along with the industry’s newest console.
A few days ago, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told CNN “If you do a side-by-side comparison you would actually see that third-party games like Call of Duty look dramatically better on our system.” And, as much as I would like to agree with someone as charming as Reggie, it’s just not true.
See, Fundamentally, the Wii U version of Black Ops 2 is no different from the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 editions. Actually, based on the game’s graphics, it looks like the folks over at Treyarch have simply ported the Xbox 360 version over to the Wii U. Both versions use the same 880×720 resolution and upscaling filters. However, the Wii U edition has some major performance issues.
Obviously, some of the problems can be chalked up to the console’s infancy, which means that developers didn’t quite have a handle on the hardware yet, but there’s also a chance that the processor is bottlenecking the performance. If that’s true, the Wii U is going struggle once Microsoft and Sony release their next-gen systems.
Nitpicking aside, the experience of playing Black Ops 2 on the Wii U is entirely enjoyable. Sure the game has a bit of video lag from time to time, but that’s nothing new in gaming. Plus, it still looks better than the PlayStation 3 version.
The single-player campaign is, unsurprisingly, exactly the same as that every other version on the market. They’re so similar, in fact, that I was genuinely disappointed at their sameness. If you’ve had a chance to read my review of Black Ops 2 (or anyone else’s, for that matter), you’re aware of the complaints surrounding those newfangled Strikeforce Missions.
For the uninitiated, Strikeforce Missions are a top-down strategy component that Treyarch introduced into Black Ops 2 to add a bit of flavor to the franchise. Unfortunately, the Strikeforce Missions were obviously undercooked, so they left a pretty bad taste in everyone’s mouths. (No more food analogies, I promise.)
However, the concept was brilliant. The missions gave fanboys an experience not found in any other Call of Duty title or, for that matter, any FPS. (Unless you count that new Carrier Command title. But you shouldn’t, because that game is unplayable.) Players take control over several squads of infantry units and machinery. Much of the mission is spent dictating squad movements and attacks, but players can also directly control the infantry units or machinery at any time.
The problem isn’t with the concept—like I said, that’s brilliant—it’s with the execution. The controls are awkward. The friendly units’ A.I. is so terrible that, when I was playing the Xbox 360 version, I actually ended up abandoning the RTS controls and started using the squad members as a cache of bodies that I would draw from whenever I got someone killed. The whole process is not enjoyable. In fact, I think that I would have given Black Ops 2 a better score if the Strikeforce Missions hadn’t been included at all.
The thing is, Treyarch had the opportunity to use the Wii U’s GamePad as a more streamlined gameplay device. As any iPad owner knows, touch-based interfaces are the best way to play strategy titles (perhaps second only to a mouse/keyboard interface). A touch-based interface allows the player to respond quickly and execute complex commands without having to think about the controls. But the Wii U’s Strikeforce Missions don’t utilize the touchscreen at all; they utilize the same cumbersome control setup that made Xbox 360 edition frustrating, which means that, in most situations, the tablet controller is just used as a gigantic Xbox controller (though, it still doesn’t feel as large as those original Xbox controllers).
However, this isn’t always the case.
In fact, perhaps the most impressive part about playing Black Ops 2 on the Wii U is the option to mirror the television on the GamePad. This means that you can shut the television off and finish your missions on the toilet. Seriously, I probably played half of this game with my pants around my ankles, and it was more enjoyable as a result.
Actually, the GamePad controller kind of turns Black Ops 2 into the portable Call of Duty title that we’ve been waiting for. Now maybe I’ll be able to post my copy of Declassified on Craigslist.
The GamePad can also be used as a second screen when you’re playing with a friend. So, you can kiss the splitscreen goodbye when you’re fighting off a horde of zombies or those other mindless monsters: online gamers.
But if you’re not into the GamePad controller, Nintendo has also released its Xbox-like Pro Controller. The Pro Controller feels great in your hands, but there’s a tiny snag: The buttons are below the thumb pad, which is different than the 360 and PS3 controllers. You’d think that such a small change wouldn’t be a big deal, but it actually takes a fair amount of getting used to if you’re accustomed to the other setup.
The only other thing that separates Black Ops 2 on the Wii U from its cousins is the absence of Call of Duty: Elite. Now, I understand that the Wii U is a newcomer, and therefore still has a few bugs to be worked out, but the fact that Elite is missing tells me that Activision doesn’t take the Wii U as seriously as the PS3 and 360.
Like I said, Call of Duty acts like a thermometer for the hardcore gaming market, and the fact that Elite is missing makes me wonder if Activision thinks that not enough players will notice the difference to make the port worthwhile. Consequently, I’m forced to question whether or not third-party developers are truly on board with Nintendo’s latest system.
But, aside from the difference in control setups and the absence of Elite, the Wii U edition of Black Ops 2 is identical to the others. The single-player campaign is identical, Zombies Mode is the same, and the multiplayer component hasn’t changed. So, for the first time in gaming history, a Nintendo console has delivered a strong Call of Duty performance. But given the significantly smaller player base and controller-based learning curve, the Wii U may not deliver the optimum Call of Duty experience.
The real question you’ll have to ask yourself when you’re deciding which system to purchase Black Ops 2 for is “How often do my bowel movements interfere with my gameplay?”
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Perhaps not what we had hoped to see out of the first next-gen system, but every bit as good as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. 3.8 Control
The GamePad can feel oversized and awkward, while the Pro Controller takes a bit of getting used to. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Perhaps the most underrated element of Treyarch’s development. 4.5 Play Value
The replay value is nearly endless. You’re practically getting three games for the price of one. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best