Most negative reviews can either turn into too much of a rant or become so general that they are unhelpful (ie: this game sucks!). I am going to attempt to write an intelligent and helpful review that will be almost entirely negative because of the flaws and problems I see in this game that are central to the experience of the player. My review will focus entirely on multiplayer since that is all I have played and, if we are honest, it is why almost the entire community purchases the game at this point.
Now, to earn a little clout with those reading this review, I have been playing Call of Duty since the very first title released for PC back in 2003. I have played every single release since. I made the change from PC to XBOX when World at War came out. My experience with World at War was challenging because I no longer had my mouse and keyboard. After a few months of playing World at War I got my groove and have had a good experience with every release so far. Up until the release of Black Ops 2, I enjoyed World at War the most with MW2 and MW3 coming in second place. The first Black Ops suffered from poor spawns and irritating lag compensation, but it was still somewhat enjoyable to play. Also, keep in mind that for MW2, MW3, and even the first Black Ops I had a steady k/d of about 1.20 and a good win ratio, ranging from 5.00 to as high as 9.25 on MW3. So, needless to say, I became an above average player that won quite a bit more than I lost. My k/d was never very high because I preferred objective game modes over camping in team death match. This is why my win ratio is high and my k/d is average.
Fast forward to today. Black Ops 2. Where to begin?
First, lets start with the look of the game. The movement, frames per second, and textures are, in my opinion, a step up from the previous Black Ops. It seems smoother and brighter, and the HUD as well as guns look better. This is just my opinion, but I do think most people would agree there is a smoothness to the game that feels nice in comparison to the first Black Ops. Now, this is about as much as I can say that will be positive about the game. I also really like the new class building system of 10 slots for whatever you want and think it's a huge step forward for multiplayer, and I hope future COD titles include it. You want 4 perks instead of 3? Go for it!
Second, lets talk about the overall feel of the game. At first, the smooth frames per second and better aesthetic made me think the game was going to run better than the first Black Ops. I quickly discovered I wasn't just wrong, but that it was actually worse than its predecessor. I play with some very skilled players, some that make me look amateurish with their immensely high k/d, and even they have barely been able to maintain even k/d in this game. Why? What's the problem? What's so different about this game versus all the other Call of Duty releases up to this point? Two words: LAG COMPENSATION. Because they have kept an ultimately unhelpful auto kick for team killing in Hardcore you are forced to play Core unless you want to get kicked from games for simple accidents or teammates running into your score streaks. Why am I talking about Core vs Hardcore when I just said the problem was Lag Compensation? Because Core requires a high amount of bullets as well as accuracy to kill efficiently. And when Lag Compensation takes over, you are basically at the mercy of everyone else's connection and will find it very difficult to land a kill.
Essentially, this is how Lag Compensation works: John has a fast connection but Billy doesn't. John's experience is therefore altered to make up for his "advantage", which in turn gives Billy a fair shake. So when John starts to shoot Billy, there is a delay, and Billy has a few extra milliseconds to react. How this plays out when you are in the game is this: You round a corner, have the jump on a guy, start shooting him, and then you drop dead. You watch the killcam, and it turns out you only shot maybe one bullet before dying, not the 3-5 you thought you did. What happened to you was Lag Compensation. The player that killed you probably had a slower connection than you, so he is given a slight advantage. This is why some games you can feel like an unbeatable god, and others you feel like you're playing against wall hacking aim bots because all you do is come around corners and die. For those of us with faster connections, our experience is almost entirely the latter.
Now, there are people who defend Lag Compensation, saying it isn't fair to give an advantage to those with faster connections. While this may be a valid point, it is not a convincing one. Why is it not convincing? Because you are just changing you gets the advantage. And not only that, you are hurting the experience of any player with a good connection. When I played Quake 3 on my crappy old 786 PC with slow internet, I just figured out how to play with my disadvantage, and actually I got quite good. I didn't suddenly expect everyone else to be nerfed or slowed down in order that I could get as many kills as them. Changing who has the advantage in this situation is also unfair because you are going against what every gamer in existence is used to. Players with slow connections know and expect to have a tougher time. And Black Ops 2 should be a safe haven for them right? A great experience? Wrong. All it's doing is making those of us with fast connections stop playing, so the goal posts are just going to get moved. So now the guy with a mediocre connection is suddenly the guy with the best connection, and he is going to start to have a worse experience. In other words, there is always going to be someone with a slower connection and someone with a faster connection. So the experience of all players will be ever changing. There is no consistency, no standard, no constant. This is what makes the game so frustrating to play. You go from having a good experience and feeling like your first 3-4 bullets actually hit, to feeling like a worthless player, shooting blanks, falling to your death around every corner.
The reason I mentioned being "forced" to play Core, is because Hardcore would help with some of this. Because you have to shoot a player so much in Core, Lag Compensation can make it seem impossible to get a kill. If you are on the bad end of Lag Compensation, you will be helpless to change anything. In previous titles, if I was having a bad game, I could make alterations. If I'm not getting the jump on players, I'd switch to an SMG. If I am getting the jump on players but not killing them fast enough I might switch to a high damage AR or maybe the same SMG with rapid fire. I tried all my usual audibles when having a rough time in Black Ops 2, but it doesn't matter. Everyone I play with was saying the same thing, "There is nothing I can do."
Now, before moving on from the topic of Lag Compensation, there is one final thing I'd like to say about it. There is something inherently wrong with altering the experience of a player purely because their internet connection is better. The nature of online gaming has always been one where those with slower connections have to deal with their lot in life. But nobody is actively giving them a disadvantage, it is just the result of varying connection speeds. Actively giving someone an advantage over another player is, in one sense, cheating. And in a even greater sense, it is more unfair than just letting the chips of connection speed fall where they may. Many have said that Lag Compensation is present in all of the COD titles. While I have the "I swore I shot first" experience from time to time in previous titles, it is basically every gun fight in Black Ops 2. So something is dramatically different.
Third, lets talk about spawns. When players start complaining about spawns and getting shot in the back they are usually met with a response like this: "It is very difficult to have consistent spawns with how much people move and change location." Okay, that seems like a fair response, except it's a cop out that hopes to excuse a bad spawn system. If you want proof for how broken the spawn system is, play Nuketown, against Bots, and camp on one side of the map. My buddy and I tested this. It was just me and him versus 6 bots, and we never crossed over to the other side, in fact, we never went past the school bus. And still, without fail, the game would consistently, at random times, spawn a couple enemies behind us. This is why you can get caught in a spawn cycle where, even though you are spawning in different locations on the map, you take a few steps and get shot in the back. This little Nuketown experiment should make it crystal clear to any skeptic that the spawns are poor. Not to mention that almost every map the spawns are incredibly easy to control, and many games turn into "who can spawn trap the other team first". No creative ingenuity has come to the realm of spawning in any of the Call of Duty titles, so this isn't necessarily just a Black Ops 2 problem. However, it is quite frustrating to have the same problems persist in every release.
Now, to conclude this little review. The question has to be asked: How could it be this bad? How could they make a game with so many problems, so many flaws, and so many complaints after having 2 years to make it? The answer is: I honestly don't know. People blame the deadlines, claiming that having to make a game every two years is too short a time to iron out all the bugs. But we aren't talking about bugs and glitches (I haven't even had time to notice them) We are talking about a game that is essentially broken. When a 10 year veteran like myself cannot go positive or equal with k/d in almost every game I've played, then something is wrong. I did not suddenly become a terrible player. All of my 50+ friends that play this game did not suddenly become horrendously bad at this game. They have changed the very core of the gameplay and just like the first Black Ops, have turned many people away. Not because we don't like the maps, the guns, or the gadgets, but because we are defeated before we even start. Our fate is determined not by our strategy, skill, or in-game decisions. It is determined by an arbitrary "compensation" that ultimately decides who will win and who will lose.
And if you read this and think I'm crazy or think all of us who are complaining are off base, think about this... Why do they push so hard to motivate people to pre-order? Why do they push so hard to get you to purchase a season pass for the DLC? Why are they seemingly more concerned with getting your commitment and money prior to any reviews or consumer feedback? Could it be because they know the game is sub par and most people are going to spurn the DLC? Could it be because, just like the new Medal of Honor, negative reviews actually keep people from purchasing?