Treyarch did an admirable job porting the Call of Duty: Black Ops experience to the technically inferior Wii and its unique motion controllers back in 2010, and for all of its graphical weaknesses, it was more or less the same game sans a few zombie maps and splitscreen multiplayer. With Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, nothing is holding Treyarch back from being able to deliver the same, perhaps even more enchanced, version of the game thanks to the Nintendo Wii U.
Does Black Ops 2 on the Wii U offer a comparable console experience to the proven PS3 and Xbox 360, and is it worth the switch? Read on for our review.
We’ve already reviewed Black Ops 2 on the other consoles (giving it a 4/5), analyzing its campaign, zombies mode and multiplayer offerings, so in this review we’re going to focus on what new features it brings to the Nintendo Wii U and how it compares to the traditional console experience for the franchise over the years of the current console generation.
With the Wii U, players now have a second screen which Treyarch does utilize to a certain extent. In adding a second player with split-screen mode, one player can play on TV screen and another on GamePad to avoid wasting screen space and it totally works, usually without any graphical hiccup. During the campaign there are no Wii U specific features outside of controlling the options menu and being able to display the game on the GamePad if you want that HD mobile experience or if someone else needs the TV set. In multiplayer however, the GamePad comes with new exclusive features as players can change their load out, look at the map, or call in Killstreak rewards from the GamePad’s screen on the fly.
While the Wii U GamePad is light weight and features the control scheme and twin sticks the Wii lacked, it’s design does not lend itself as well to fast-paced FPS titles. The ABXY buttons are practically out of reach during gameplay due to their below-the-right-stick positioning and players will never have time to look down to the GamePad’s map in multiplayer. For that reason, serious players looking to play online will need to invest in the Pro Controller, as recommended by Treyarch. It does also support the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, but that’s a death sentence in competitive multiplayer.
With the Wii U, buyers of Black Ops 2 are getting what amounts to the same game the PS3 or Xbox 360 players, but that’s not necessarily the best thing. It’s great that the Wii U finally lets Nintendo-only players experience a Call of Duty game – and all of its modes – with legitimate dual-stick controls and optimal graphics, but what about newcomers to the franchise?
By porting over the identical game, Treyarch fails to construct game modes and menus that are friendly to new players. It’s easy to assume the same people playing the Wii U game are those who play every year and that the audience knows the game, but that’s not the case. From building a custom class, to hosting a custom game with bots (more on that later), the menus are not new-user-friendly, and this may make the biggest problem of Black Ops 2 on the Wii U even worse.
The biggest problem may (or may not be) the most shocking of all: there’s no community. The day after the Wii U hit store shelves, with the network and update issues mostly out of the way, we found only 600+ players online in the multiplayer for the entirety of the evening, and the day after, nearly 500 with the majority of the playlists having zero players in them. This is a serious issue because matchmaking relies on a large pool of active players and right now, the console doesn’t have that for the best-selling game of the year. At the moment, players cannot play most of the game modes because there’s no one in them.
There’s a partial solution available in that players can create custom matches with up to 11 bots, but that still doesn’t allow for the larger online game types and bots are not the same as playing against real players. With the original Wii console unable to grow an online community or embrace online multiplayer, Treyarch is essentially starting from scratch with the Wii U in community building. The simple fact is, Call of Duty has such a massive and loyal fan base that the vast majority of year-to-year players have already picked the game up for the consoles they’ve been playing the game on for on the regular. The Wii U won’t win over Xbox 360 or PS3 COD players so it must make the best of what it has, and while the numbers aren’t quite there, Black Ops 2 is a step in the right direction for growing the Call of Duty target audience.
Hopefully this holiday sales season will rectify this issue by growing the player base, but for newcomers to the franchise and for players who’ve not experienced the Call of Duty series in a long time, the Wii U version of the game and its corresponding online community are for you. Just reading through the Black Ops 2 community posts in the Miiverse, it’s abundantly clear that with the Wii U, Call of Duty is expanding its audience, and it’s refreshing to seeing pleasant, fun, and genuinely happy Call of Duty related message threads online (for the opposite, read our main Black Ops 2 review). There are players talking about this being their first Nintendo shooter or the first COD off the PC, players looking to join their first clan, people amazed by a Nintendo console’s visuals – players who’ve not been following the series or perhaps don’t have a PS3 or Xbox 360.
While the Wii U version amounts to being the same game – with significantly less multiplayer options due the the number of players – it does ship with more bugs than its counterparts. Players who don’t have the latest update may experience crashing when accessing saved files and starting up the game will require a lengthy (or at least, slow) update. Too many times did the game freeze and the only way to fix it is to unplug the power cord of the Wii U console, wait at least 10 seconds, and plug it back in and restart. It seems to be a common issue according to Miiverse community messages. There are also more in-game bugs, from objects getting stick in environments where they’re not supposed to be, floating objects, NPCs moving against script, players getting stuck coming out of in-game cinematic event, NPC mouths occasionally not moving while talking, etc., but those are minor surface details and not frequent.
In the end, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a hardcore title the Wii U needed to qualify as a console that truly play the third-party games available on the PS3 and Xbox 360. For newcomers interested in a shooter, Black Ops 2 is an easy recommendation and they’ll find a large amount of content and fun in the game’s campaign, zombies mode and multiplayer. The GamePad is sufficient for a quality gaming experience, but for competitive play, a Pro Controller may be required. It’s a pretty game with the same high-end presentation values the series is expected to deliver, but for hardcore/veteran players, there are reasons to not make the switch from your current platform preference to the Wii U.
Note: At this time we haven’t been able to get the home button to work with the game on, meaning there’s no way to take screenshots or… exit the game. We’ve emailed Activision and will update.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.