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Over the last handful of years it's seemed like new editions of Activision's Call of Dutyfranchise were as certain as a new edition of EA Sports' Madden. Like Madden, the growing criticism is that it's just the same old game over and over again. With this year's Call of Duty: Black Ops II, developer Treyarch proves that another CoDdoesn't have to be simply another CoD-- it can be one of the best military shooters of the past five years (at least).

In previous CoDgames, the player character (PC) always played the Johnny All-American good-guy. In Black Ops II, that's not quite the case. Sure, the PC is still fighting for truth, justice, and the American way; but exactly how he goes about it doesn't always put him in the right. Or, it could.

You see, it depends on how the player goes about things. Rather than giving players a point-to-point storyline following a strict script, Black Ops IIcould end a number of different ways depending on how the PC acts and what he does and doesn't do. This type of branching storytelling is something that's been seen here and there with RPGs, but it's something new with FPS games; and in Black Ops II's case, it's one of the main features that sets it apart from previous CoDgames -- not only because it adds to the story's intrigue; but also because it greatly extends the single-player campaign's replay value. Kudos not only to Treyarch, but also to screenwriter David Goyer who wrote the game's captivating storyline that spans two completely different, yet connected time periods (the 1980's and the year 2025).

Outside of the game's impressive single-player experience are two variations of multiplayer: traditional and zombies.

The latter is a slight expansion over the popular zombie feature found previously in Call of Duty: World at Warand the original Black Opsgame. Now featuring eight-player multiplayer, as opposed to the four-player support of the previous games, zombie gameplay offers a nifty off-kilter CoD experience. Its novelty, however, wanes rather quickly and those wanting to shoot it up multiplayer-style should find lasting satisfaction within the game's varied traditional multiplayer play.

With a good selection of lobbies for a mix of players (including those just wanting to hone their FPS skills), one might say there's nearly too much available to do in Black Ops II's traditional multiplayer. Options include two- and three-team deathmatch, free-for-all, capture the flag, and a myriad of others. In short, there is a great deal of multiplayer content. Making things even better is the lack of a need for an online pass to enjoy the action (take that, EA!).

The Activision-published Call of Duty: Black Ops IIshattered numerous sales figures even before the game came out on November 15, and it looks like it wasn't for nothing. While there may be a growing number of people moaning about the seemingly annual editions of CoDgames (nevermind the fact that many of those moaners still bought this latest one), the innovations and overall experience gamers will find when they play Black Ops IIshould be more than enough to keep them satisfied....

...for now.

Final Game Guys grade: A

(Activision provided a Xbox 360 copy of this game for review.)

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