How Call of Duty: Black Ops II succeeds where Medal of Honor: Warfighter fails
And here we go. This is probably going to be one of those articles where the Electronic Arts fanboys come flying out and explaining how their game is superior and Call of Duty is a lump of shit. But after playing both games thoroughly, I can honestly say that Call of Duty: Black Ops II, despite being an "umpteenth sequel" from the likes of Activision, is a better experience overall than EA's Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
And influence has nothing to do with this. Yes, Activision did fly out a select few journalists to play the game beforehand, but the fact of the matter is I could've been sitting in the middle of a cold hotel in Hoboken with a 32" display and would've come up with the same verdict. It's all about the game you play, not the surroundings that Activision went all out for – though I am appreciative for being selected, don't get me wrong.
I've chosen to break down each game, category by category, to explain the differences between the two titles, and where I think Warfighter went wrong in a certain kind of way with each one. So hold your "F*CK WORKMAN'S EXISTENCE" hatred comments for a minute and hear me out.
Let's start with…
Okay, in a first-person shooter, story seldom makes a difference, as most people go rushing into competitive multiplayer just for the sake of "pwning" their friends. But to some, story can be an influential part of a game. Ask anyone who's played Halo 4.
Where Medal of Honor Warfighter's story went wrong wasn't on the dramatic side. We realize that Tier 1 soldiers are human too and have their experiences just like the rest of us when it comes to family trauma and emotional fallout – even more so due to their circumstances. But the game's fault is that it tried to push the story too hard, and make us care about characters instead of establishing them. As a result, it was hard to feel any sort of connection to Preacher and his crew, despite what they were doing to keep their country safe.
With Black Ops 2, Activision went an extra mile to assure strength with their story, as they brought David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Rises) to help put it together. As such, it felt a bit more established, I believe. Not only do you get to see what happened to Mason and Woods over the course of events following the first game (Woods has become an angry old bastard, and for good reason), but you also feel a certain connection with the main villain, Raul Menendez. There's a reason he's so driven, compared to past villains from the Modern Warfare series, and at one point you actually step into his shoes and see what kind of madness he's going through, even if it is a bit over-the-top, in a Scarface sort of way. It's better established than Warfighter, and by the time you reach the conclusion, you're actually factoring in choices and deciding on how you finish it, where Medal of Honor just…ends.
Some people will obviously feel that Warfighter's story is just fine, and from a military perspective, makes more sense than the future "psychobabble" that Black Ops II serves up. And they have their opinions, of course. But in my eyes, the story in Treyarch's latest just clicks better, and makes you give a damn about what's happening, and what you become from your decisions.
Now here's where the two games kind of get a little more balanced. Some people trashed Warfighter's gameplay as being somewhat unoriginal, where Black Ops II gets picked on frantically for being a bit too easy for some folks out there.
But here's the thing. Danger Close did make an interesting stride with Warfighter, and that's with the driving stages. Racing through city streets while keeping close tabs on your mark is excellent, and, for that matter, the stealth-like stage is ideal too, and feels utterly realistic. As for the shooting and other vehicular stages (like the remote sentry), they're not bad, though there are times the flaws are just too apparent, like occasional collision detection problems that stop you from lining up a rocket strike on a distant building, or the sniper stages where you think you have a target lined up and it sails into the wall.
Not that Black Ops II is perfect either, as you could shoot a guy three times and he's still somehow standing in very light circumstances. But at least with Activision's game, you have a few gameplay options. A stage where you're riding around on a horse while firing a rocket launcher has some nuance to it, though it's definitely a far cry from Lawrence of Arabia. Then there are the Strike Force stages, where you manage allied forces from above before jumping into soldiers and vehicles, to fight them from any angle. It's quite good, and you can actually succeed or fail in these missions. As for the shooting itself in the series, it's standard. You've seen it before, but it's so effective you can jump in, slash necks and shoot people in the head like a pro.
So each game has something to offer here, but in terms of accessibility and interesting scenarios, Black Ops II pushes a little further.
Here's something that's sure to be a dividing line with the hardcore players out there. On the one hand, there are those who are so devoted to EA products after being "turned off" by what the Call of Duty games did, they'll defend whatever they release to the end. (These are usually folks banned from the official Call of Duty servers, or think it's full of "cheaters", if you will.) On the other, you have those that live and breathe Call of Duty, barely breaking away to play anything else – including Halo.
But judging on their own merits, let's see how each multiplayer experience sums up, shall we?
Medal of Honor: Warfighter does provide you with plenty to do, between unlocking various Score Chain awards depending on your performance, working with a paired partner in Fireteam, and trying out different modes that will challenge you, including the eSports-directed Home Run, which has become a favorite amongst the more hardcore fans.
However, there are small problems. The connection with the service runs fine, for the most part, but there are times your Fireteam tactics are questionable, forcing you to fall back to avoid certain death in some cases. (Also, it doesn't help if you're paired with an idiot.) For that matter, rewards can take a little longer to earn.
At least customization has its place here, with six classes to mess around with and various units to unlock and perfect. I just wish there was a way to really switch between them effectively in a match, just in case certain weapons and tactics aren't working for you.
Now, on the other side of that coin, Black Ops 2 brings a ton of familiarity. Fan favorite modes like Kill Confirmed, Team Deathmatch and Domination return, but Treyarch has livened things up with the inclusion of Party Games. Sticks and Stones stands out from the pack, mainly because you're only armed with a crossbow and a knife. You have three exploding shots in all, and once you're out, you'll have a heavy reliance on running up to people and going stabby-stab.
Now, Warfighter has some variants to consider, lots of customization, and plenty of worth in its own multiplayer, but Treyarch seems to have a better understanding with its options. Sure, their multiplayer isn't perfect when it comes to connections (the servers are being put to the test tonight), and there are occasional "what the fuck!" moments when it comes to you suddenly getting killed (though, let's face it, sometimes it's your fault).
But with Black Ops II, there's a better understanding with the outreach to eSports community, I believe. And if you don't quite "get" what it's about, some tools can point the way. The Call of Duty Elite service, which is now free, provides various gameplay videos that show the pros in action, and can teach you a thing or two. If you think you're ready to show something, you can also take advantage of the free live YouTube streaming service, to capture gameplay video and show everyone just how good – or sucky – you are. (And you don't even need game capturing equipment, just a valid YouTube account and an understanding of the rules.) And let's not forget Zombies, which is a great exercise in co-op, even if the later stages get to the point you're screaming at people in the name of survival. ("No, guard THAT door, you shithead!")
EA fans can say how dedicated their multiplayer is, but Treyarch just stacks the options like crazy. There is literally something for everyone – unless players are banned from their service, that is.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter requires a 2 GB install, mandatory, for HD textures, where Call of Duty: Black Ops II does not. For some folks, this isn't that big a deal, but if you have a lower-count hard drive in your PS3 or a 4 GB Xbox 360 model, it does.
We didn't really get too much into graphics and sound because, honestly, both games did a serviceable job with that. Black Ops II does run a little faster when it comes to speed, though both games run into their fair share of glitches. (Nothing surmounting to the point where you'll say "The game's broken" but you get my point.)
I do think Warfighter's voiceovers aren't really that great. The characters' voices just grate after a while, and every attempt they make at adding something to the story…it just doesn't work. Black Ops II, on the other hand, doesn't try to go too far over the top. Kamar de los Reyes is a real standout as Raul Menendez, giving his voice a gruff sense of conviction, yet not going into silly James Bond-like villainy. And it helps to have Michael Rooker in your cast, no matter what the case. (One negative, tho. As cool as it is having Tony Todd on the team, he says "cocksucker" wayyyyy too often.)
It's hard to judge the DLC for the games thus far, as Zero Dark Thirty hasn't released yet for Warfighter and we have yet to hear what Treyarch has planned for Black Ops II. That said, at least both games are receiving ample support, even though Warfighter hasn't sold as highly as EA was expecting.
Again, I need to reiterate that neither company's treatment had an effect on this article. This is based on the weight of the products themselves, which were provided for review and analysis coverage. And the truth is, as hard as Danger Close tried with Warfighter, it just doesn't stand out like other first-person shooters this year, despite the military tactics and the serviceable multiplayer. With Black Ops II, Treyarch sticks mostly with what worked so well in Black Ops, but fine tuned the options available to players in the multiplayer section, and throwing in some interesting segments in the single player (again, horse + rocket launcher = crazy). It just feels better overall, in spite of EA's best efforts.
Now, where the battle goes from here will be interesting, as in this coming generation, we'll really see what both sides have to offer. EA will have Respawn Entertainment's first title soon, along with DICE's Battlefield 4 and whatever else Danger Close works on. Activision, meanwhile, has Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and the top-secret project that Bungie (the creators of Halo) are toiling away on.
So, for now, the victory goes to Activision…but who knows where it'll go from here.
-Robert Workman, @TheDCD