It’s been almost a year since the first Black Ops came to Xbox One via backwards compatibility.
And now finally, after a long and vocal campaign by gamers, its sequel and arguably one of the better Call of Duty entries of the past decade in Black Ops 2 has also come to the program.
The game is now playable on Xbox One — and heavily discounted — so it’s sure to get a hefty boost in player numbers online.
But the multiplayer isn’t the only reason you should return to Black Ops 2.
It established Treyarch as the franchise’s best developer
For many years before Black Ops 2 was released, Treyarch was sort of the “secondary” CoD developer after Infinity Ward, which had turned the industry on its head with the Modern Warfares eries (and, you know, having created Call of Duty).
Treyarch games were always the underrated gems that didn’t quite get the love they deserved. The strategic prowess of Call of Duty 3. The superb level design and weapon balancing of World at War. But it was with Black Ops 2, the sequel to its best game up to that point, that really established the developer as Call of Duty‘s best asset.
At the time, Infinity Ward had gone through some big issues, and Treyarch stepped up to the mantle to deliver the goods. Why is this a good thing for Black Ops 2 and Call of Duty more broadly? Because you can tell that it was the game Treyarch wanted to use to define itself. Its strong identity and unique design allowed for the first genuine attempt to innovate in the franchise for a long while.
It’s probably the last “great” Call of Duty
Following the release of Black Ops 2 we got the extremely average and forgettable Ghosts. That was followed by the shift to the jet-pack boosting era with Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3, and Infinite Warfare.
Black Ops 2 is a reminder of how great Call of Duty used to be. It’s probably not the best Call of Duty, but it’s up there, and it’s the closest thing we have to the franchise’s golden years.
Strike Force missions tried to redefine Call of Duty
In attempting to innovate and take the franchise in a new direction, Treyarch introduced Strike Force missions.
The end result was hit and miss, but what the Strike Force missions offered was a fascinating attempt to redefine how the standard Call of Duty story was told.
These missions put you in control of large squads, with set objectives scattered across large sandboxes. You could either aim to complete one or all of the objectives, and the interesting thing was that even failing all of the objectives didn’t equate to a failure of the mission.
Instead, it changed the overall outcome of the campaign. What this created was an unpredictable (or less predictable) approach to storytelling, something unseen up to that point in a Call of Duty game.
The action is pretty fantastic
Black Ops 2 may have been the beginning of the cliched Michael Bay action extravaganza, but Black Ops 2 still hits a fine note in this regard.
Whether you’re in the campaign or in multiplayer, the environmental level design keeps the action close, explosive and fast. Black Ops 2 keeps the action explosive enough without going overboard. Fantastic sound effects, solid visuals, and a gritty yet contextual colour palette compliment the constant barrage of explosive firefights and close-quarter multiplayer matches.
It has one of the better Call of Duty campaigns
Continuing on from the first Black Ops, Black Ops 2 was similarly ambitious, especially for a Call of Duty game.
Treyarch’s Black Ops 2 took us across multiple time periods and to eras rarely touched upon in games at that point. It’s a campaign filled with mystery and intrigue, not to mention fantastic pacing despite its weaving in and out of different time periods.
This is what helped define and establish Treyarch as the franchise’s best storytelling and greatest asset.
Zombies were as good as ever
Zombies was introduced in World At War, and its creation is somewhat an act of luck.
A number of Treyarch employees were working on a Zombies mode in their spare time, and when the higher-ups at the studio saw the work that had been put into it, they decided to include it in the final game. With Zombies’ in Black Ops, we truly saw the beginning of what would be an important pillar of the Call Of Duty franchise for years to come.
Black Ops 2 continued this trend with fantastic DLC, great map design, tense levels, fantastic weapons and just an all-round fantastic cooperative experience really helped set the tone for the mode over the years.
Pick Ten is a unique albeit controversial spin on classes
The Pick Ten system is a class-building feature that was introduced in Black Ops 2, and also appeared in Black Ops 3 as well as last year’s Infinite Warfare.
It gives the player the ability to choose ten elements to make up their loadout. It allows you to place more emphasis on particular elements, like spending points on more attachments and foregoing grenades entirely if the player does not use grenades.
At first, it proved to be an incredibly controversial change, befitting of Treyarch’s effort to redefine and innovate. However, over time it’s proven to be a great system. Infinite Warfare may have muddled and gone over the line with its own interpretation, but Black Ops 2‘s version is certainly the best.
The weapon progression system is pretty great
Black Ops 2’s weapon progression and unlock system is widely regarded by the Call of Duty faithful as the best in recent years.
It saw the return of a levelling unlock system for weapons, something we hadn’t seen since Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. Attachments were unlocked after reaching certain levels, while camos required certain in-game objectives (like certain number of headshots) be met.
Combined with the Pick 10 system, is created a balanced and strategic system that forced players to be more mindful of their own skillset.
Scorestreaks were a refreshing breakaway
The scorestreak system did away with killstreaks, and instead introduced players to a system whereby in-game rewards were granted based on points earned in a single life.
Points earned across kills and other in-game tasks would count towards a scorestreak bonus. It was a praised system that has lasted in Call of Duty since its reveal, encouraging players to be more mindful of objectives and their team than they are of simply getting cheap kills.
In many ways the scorestreaks system epitomised Treyarch’s effort to turn the Call of Duty franchise on its head.
It’s a reminder of simpler times
Even though Black Ops 2 jumps the shark in some regard — both gameplay and story wise — it’s yet another reminder of just how great Call of Duty could be when it wasn’t trying to be an all-out, balls to the wall crazy futuristic shooter.
With all earlier Treyarch Call of Duty games now available on backwards compatibility, and with Modern Warfare Remastered out in the wild, it’s the perfect time to jump back into another Call of Duty classic ahead of this year’s “return to its roots” Call of Duty entry.