With the “Modern Warfare” franchise established by “Call of Duty” handling the present, the “Black Ops” series opts to cover both past and future with a story that alternates between the Cold War and a global threat in the year 2025. Familiar faces from the original “Black Ops” flesh out the backstory of Raul Menendez, while the next generation endeavors to save the world from him. It’s a good story, if a bit convoluted, and offers ample opportunity to tweak its course with both morality choices and skillful gameplay. Sparing a life can change the course of the narrative, but subduing an adversary before he has the opportunity to burn evidence can also present you with additional plot points. You might find yourself wanting to replay the single-player campaign once you hear how your friends’ experiences varied from your own.
However, the real draw of the annual releases of “Call of Duty” is the much-loved multiplayer, and consequentially, little has changed. The currency system from the previous game has been scrapped in favor of a 10-point customization system, but this has little impact on the reliably frenetic action once you’re deployed on the battlefield. Also largely unchanged and returning for its third iteration is the fan-favorite Zombie Mode. While less claustrophobic than it’s been in previous installments, this is still essentially a “Horde Mode,” requiring you to withstand increasingly difficult waves of undead assaults. “Black Ops II” doesn’t do a whole lot that its predecessors haven’t done already, but it repeats itself with an admirable level of polish. And between a replayable campaign, a predictably addictive multiplayer and a meaty, zombie-blasting minigame, “Black Ops II” offers plenty to keep first-person shooting fans busy until the next installment of “Call of Duty” only a year away.
The flattest of Mario incarnations returns for more turn-based RPG-style combat in “Sticker Star.” As the title suggests, gameplay revolves heavily around stickers, which can be peeled from the environment and used in battle or to solve puzzles. But oftentimes, an enemy can be beaten or a puzzle solved only by a very specific sticker, which leads to some frustrating backtracking if you’ve failed to look under all of the world’s paper folds for those adhesive power-ups. On the bright side, Mario’s 2D storybook world has never been more charming and warrants the second look you’re sure to need.
Sony Computer Entertainment
As most adorable video game characters eventually do, Sackboy has landed himself in a kart racer, and in classic “LittleBigPlanet” fashion, that kart racer includes a robust assortment of level-building tools. Unfortunately, the non-interactive tutorial alone takes over an hour, and track creation isn’t exactly user friendly after the lecture is over. The racing mechanics are solid enough, with sustained drifts earning players extra boost, but the weapon power-ups are more useful defensively than offensively, leading to a game that’s disappointingly conservative rather than wild and crazy, as kart racers should be. CV