This Thanksgiving millions of gamers all around the country will show their thanks by tossing a grenade at their fellow man (or woman), and then screaming that the lag is BS and that the game cheats. With the annual release of Call of Duty coming in early November, the Thanksgiving week is traditionally a time of heavy CoD online gaming – as any gamer that has suffered the dreaded delay of trying to find a game during the heavily trafficked hours can attest.
But typically this has been something that has been the providence of Microsoft and Sony console owners. There have been plenty of Call of Duty games on the Wii, but they are shadows of their 360 and PS3 cousins, with online traffic to match. That may change this holiday season though.
With the Wii U now available on shelves (or at least on eBay), Nintendo fans will finally have the chance to experience all the rage and disappointment highlighted by moments of sheer gaming ecstasy that the rest of their gaming brethren face as Call of Duty: Black Ops II heads to the Wii U.
For the most part, the game is the same as the version on 360 and PS3, complete with all the highs and lows. Some of the flaws that affected the game, most notably the lack of innovation, may actually be less of an issue for those that have stuck by the Wii only and missed the last few years of CoD games, but that is subjective.
The graphics in the Wii U version are somewhat odd. The majority of the time they are identical (or near enough) to the other versions, but there are a few exceptions. In some instances the animations and design noticeably better, especially in some of the facial expressions and designs of characters, as well as the the particle physics in smoke and light. In other instance like dense foliage, there are some slight degradations and anti-aliasing issues. It balances out, but the highs are a bit higher than the lows.
The real difference though, is of course the GamePad. It’s what sets the Wii U apart, and Treyarch has found a few good ways to incorporate that into the game.
While the default has the GamePad act as just a controller, leaving the touchscreen display unused, the Wii U version also allows you to play the entire full, HD, console quality game on the GamePad. Being able to plug in headphones and play the full Black Ops 2 campaign away from the TV is an excellent feature.
While playing the multiplayer, the GamePad has two options for you to cycle through. If you like, you can play the game itself on the GamePad. It’s actually easier to follow and see enemies than you might think. It can’t quite make up for a giant TV, of course, but it is a good way to settle the arguments of who gets the TV. It’s a fantastic feature. The second choice displays all the options you can normally access by hitting the start button, including a map and all your loadouts (which you can select on the fly and have them ready when you respawn next). This is a great idea in theory, especially when a UAV comes and highlights the opposing players. But glancing down at the GamePad at the wrong time is a habit you don’t want to get into, and one that will cost you. You’ll need to train yourself to use it very sparingly, and more as a general reference to lead you to a place where your onscreen HUD can guide you.
The GamePad also allows you to play splitscreen minus the splitscreen. Where playing with two people at once on other consoles halves the screen, the GamePad becomes a second display, allowing much easier play for two players.
Black Ops 2 also highlights a slight problem with the Wii U in general: the chat options. For Black Ops 2, you can turn the chat on or off in the display screen. While on, the GamePad acts as the mic, while it and the TV both broadcast the voices of other players. The odds of you being able to hear the voices clearly on a consistent basis are slim. Your better bet is to purchase a separate headset and mic, either a universal one or one of the few headsets specifically designed for the Wii U, and plug it into the GamePad – assuming you want to use the GamePad at all.
The GamePad is a solid and ergonomic controller, but Call of Duty was designed for a more traditional controller scheme – the entire engine was designed for use with a standard controller. A keyboard and mouse are easy enough to map buttons to, but the Wii U is just not designed for this type of twitch gaming.
Now, that said, this criticism is very much coming from someone that has put serious hours into Call of Duty on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, so I highly encourage you to take that criticism with a grain of salt. It can be a difficult transition, but like most things, probably just a matter of getting used to. Still, it feels a bit more imprecise than a smaller controller. Of course, there is always the Wii U Pro Controller, but that peripheral does not come with a headphone jack, so you will still need to use the GamePad as the source of your chat. That’s not really a bad thing though, since it gives you a second pad filled with info in front of you while playing.
So far there is also a serious lack of online competitors. While the 360 version is pulling in half a million players across all game modes regularly, the Wii U version rarely has more than a thousand. This may quickly change as Christmas approaches (and soon after), but for now it is worth noting.
All of the above is also true for playing zombies, where communication is an essential method for surviving. If you can get used to the GamePad, you’ll be fine. If not, you’ll need to use both controllers at once. Playing it all on the GamePad is again a highlight.
In all the important ways, the game is the same as its counterpart on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, just with the GamePad, the occasionally heightened graphics, and the Wii U’s chat issues taken into account. The ability to play on the GamePad is outstanding, but the GamePad itself is a bit of a handful for this manner of gaming. It probably just takes time to adjust, and the less experience you have with this game (or style of game) on other consoles is probably a boon. The chat, something that is so vital to any good online play, is just a feature Nintendo didn’t put a great deal of effort into and instead left it up to the developers. In time, this will likely find a good balance, but for now Treyarch did the best it could with what it had. But if you are hoping for the Call of Duty experience for Nintendo’s new system, you now most certainly have it.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Wii U using a copy provided by the publisher)