- The Washington Times - Monday, November 19, 2012

One of the superstar franchises of first-person shooters returns to try and top its 2010 offering while dazzling gamers with its blockbuster approach to war in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Hardened Edition (Activision and Treyarch, rated M for Mature, $79.99).

Not simply resting on its past glory, developer Treyarch attempts to deliver another time-sucking triumvirate of gaming options for the fan of military shooters that mixes new innovations with familiar game play.

As always, the action starts with a shaky-camera, popcorn-munching, outrageous solo campaign that’s about eight hours long and is as impressive to watch as to play.

The story has the player violently thrown back into the world of Special Forces combat, mainly through the eyes of veterans Alex Mason and his son David.

It’s a time-hopping affair, spanning almost five decades, with a tale that reveals past and future glimpses of war technology, including introducing the supercarrier USS Barack Obama.

The generations of Masons work with other team members on missions to stop supervillain Raul Menendez before his cyberattack starts a world war.

The past conflicts take us back to the 1980s and, particularly worth noting, a war-torn Panama with a mission to capture Manual Noriega.

An incredibly brutal scenario plays out, highlighted by a gantlet of slaughter perpetrated by the player as the enraged supervillain.

Suffice to report, the locations and levels of violence are stunning overall, and include epic moments, such as the Rambo-esque ride atop a horse in Afghanistan, shooting copters out of the sky with a rocket launcher.

I, however, would have appreciated less working through the flashbacks, instead sticking to the dynamic future developers envisioned. The year 2025, for example, plays out with sophisticated weapons systems tied to unmanned vehicle and robotics that Cyberdyne Systems easily could have developed. I expected Arnold Schwarzenegger to walk out at any moment to clear a nest of pesky human terrorists.

Massive controllable MQ drones like “Terminator” Hunter Killers rule the skies, soldiers use bat wings to glide and swoop across terrain, a sophisticated tracker gauntlet ties into computer databases and helmet visuals, and a Predator-like cloaking device gives soldiers the ultimate camouflage.

Also, soldiers get to use Ziggy in a mission. This robotic spider comes with a taser attachment and has its owner use a flexible flat screen to control it.

Better yet, and most impressive, was the CLAW — Cognitive Land Assault Weapon — a remote-controlled quadruped that gave me a “Star Wars” chill.

A few favorite weapons include the Glavaknuckles, worn on the hands and thrust into the body of the enemy, electrocuting him to the point of vomiting; or the Storm PSR sniper rifle that uses a scope to see through walls and rounds that can penetrate most objects to hit the target.

Treyarch also tweaks the normally linear story design by offering the soldier a customized loadout of weapons, adding some choices during the missions that can alter the ending of the campaign and a not-so-appreciated set of Strikeforce missions.

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