Activision answers the call of the Wii U launch with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
Around this site, we have a Call of Duty and Medal of Honor expert who we call Nathan Stevens. Ok, Nathan f'n Stevens (kidding!), but you get the point. While I recently reviewed the forgettable Vita exclusive CoD, Nathan wrote a book on CoD BO2, explaining why it's one of the biggest games of the year, as opposed to just a derivative annual sequel, and also the most complete CoD game to date.
With the Wii U, the big question is how is it different? How does it stack up to the established versions on the PS3/360? As far as content comparison, you get nearly everything the PS3/360 versions have right here with Wii U, except for the Elite mode and LiveStreaming. Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombie components are all otherwise intact, although the online community tends to hover around 800 connected players. You will usually see around 100 in Zombies, and 500 or so in Team Deathmatch. I have yet to see more than a dozen or so in some of the more "obscure" modes like Hardpoint, but then again, the console has only been out a week, so I would expect this number to rise after the holiday season.
As far as Gamepad integration, it's not bad. You can play the full experience on your Gamepad, completely void of the TV if you prefer. Even cooler is playing co-op with a local friend. One player can use the Gamepad solely while the other uses a Pro Controller or Wii controller and the TV. The fact that Treyarch still supports local multiplayer -- including System Link, a term some of you may have forgotten all about -- is really cool and appreciated. In multiplayer, you can also change loadouts and use earned Score Streaks without having to stop the action. Maps can be displayed as well but I ultimately found myself too glued to the goings-on on the TV to be able to make much use of the Gamepad. Unless I am playing local co-op play, the Pro Controller will be my control method of choice.
As for presentation, this may be the best looking Wii U game I have played to date, in the campaign anyway. Texture details and weather effects and facial expressions look great. The presentation in general, starting from the opening cutscene is crafted really well. The campaign does actually share some characters and events from the previous Black Ops game, too. Told in the form of flashbacks, Alex Mason recounts some of his missions behind lines in the 80s while his son David is an active Black Op in the year 2025. The differences in tech between the two periods is significant and it's interesting being able to play the story from both sides with such diverse weaponry and technology. The Campaign has a great branching design that will make you want to replay and explore it again, too. There are plenty of scripted set pieces that the series is known for, from shooting mounted guns to sniping enemies under pressure. One of the earliest sequences in 2025 has you negotiating a cliff with your comrade using some of those suction-cup like gloves as seen in Mission Impossible 4. It reminded me of the ice climbing from a previous CoD game, although I forget which it was. So yeah, big explosions, close calls, and plenty of other Hollywood moments are on the menu, which is exactly what people have come to expect. BO2 delivers that with no issues. Strike Force missions, which Nathan went into great detail about, are also a part of Black Ops 2 and offer a whole other perspective, literally, on the battle. These RTS-style missions are pretty neat, and definitely change up the pacing of the game, but at the cost of some of the intensity.
The campaign, while interesting and action packed, is the gateway to the other two modes which are of course Multiplayer and Zombies, the latter of which is really only worth playing with at least one other player. The mode surprised me at how robust it was. It's kind of like a Left 4 Dead although perhaps not quite as frantic. There are three modes within Zombies, Tranzit, Survival, and Grief. In Tranzit, the most story-based mode of the three, up to four players must (well, really really should) work together to survive. Players earn points by rebuilding barriers, reviving fallen team mates, and killing zombies, which are then used to purchase new weapons or shortcut puzzles. Yes, it is surprising to use the puzzles in a CoD review, but the idea is pretty neat. The earliest example of this is in the train station at the very beginning, from which players can leave a room by spending credits to open the door, or they can find items in the area to put together to open the door. This puzzle aspect is left pretty open-ended and some other aspects of the mode seem to be as well. That can be a good thing, but it can also be confusing, especially when you are online and you and three other players don't know what's going on, the blind leading the blind so to speak. Two other Zombies modes include suriving endless waves, also supporting four players, or Grief, which can support up to two teams of eight fighting it out with zombies also in on the action. The Zombies mode was more compelling and fleshed out than I expected, and given how few players there are playing it right now, it makes it more enticing to keep spending more time in Zombies.
Outside of maybe Halo, CoD has had the biggest multiplayer following and community this generation (and I say that with zero research, by the way). The formula is pretty simple; you spawn, you kill, you die, and you keep going. That's CoD multiplayer in its simplest form, but it's surprisingly addictive, I think in part because it really is that simple. The XP system, the leveling and ranks, Calling Cards, Challenges, and Prestige (after level 55) and all that stuff is what keeps people going, though. Good map design and a nice variety thereof help, as are old features like spectating and kill cams. There are also numerous modes of play, although most of them aren't being utilized on the Wii U right now. Most matches are Core Team Deathmatch (as opposed to Hardcore which loses the HUD and lowers HP). Modes like Kill Confirmed, Demolition, and Hardpoint aren't seeing much action on the Wii U, to the point that I haven't been able to find matches in most of those ancillary modes yet. But I have spent a lot of time in Deathmatch and it plays really well. I don't follow CoD nearly enough to know if there are any bugs or glitches, but just in playing for several hours I can say that multiplayer plays well on the Wii U. I don't have any problems getting booted back to a lobby or disconnected in anyway, load times and framerates are great, everything just seems to work and work well.
In closing, it's reasonable to consider that next year's CoD will have a strong third platform to possible further fragment the user base. Of course, if the user base is growing all the time as I believe is the case, the difference may be unnoticed or even positive. But whether you're looking forward to the next CoD or eager to try out Black Ops 2, the Wii U version is a good choice, with the only major caveats being the size of the online community and waiting the arrival of DLC to be enabled on the Wii U. So with that in mind, go forward knowing that Treyarch did a great job here, but wait and see if the community responds in the next month or so.
To the summary...