With some of the holiday's biggest video games upon us, we put together a little challenge between the two giant releases of the week, Microsoft's "Halo 4" and Activision's "Call of Duty: Black Ops II." We've divided up the competition into four categories.
In "Halo 4," which is exclusive to Xbox 360 for $60, Master Chief faces the familiar Covenant aliens while trying to keep his virtual partner, Cortana, in one piece (her batteries are fading quickly). He also confronts a new enemy named the Didact, part of the galaxy-dominating Forerunner clan.
Meanwhile, in "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" (now available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and coming Nov. 18 to Wii U, also at $60), Alex Mason, the main hero of the original "Black Ops," returns for some story segments taking place in the '70s-'80s, while others focus on his son, David, in the year 2025. Both find themselves pitted against vicious techno-villain Raul Menendez, who has a score to settle — and decides to use the United States' automated military tools to do so.
Both stories provide several twists that keep things interesting, but Master Chief's has a bit more focus, and also leaves a strong cliffhanger for the sequels that are already in the works — it's part of a trilogy that starts with this game.
If you're looking for action, the "Black Ops II" storyline is just as suitable, and sets the stage for various wild action pieces, including a thunderous battle with a futuristic Los Angeles in ruins.
Winner: "Halo 4"
With "Halo 4," you can compete against friends in various modes through the War Games campaign, where teams of Spartan soldiers take each other on in "friendly" competition, whether on foot or in vehicles.
If you prefer working together, you can also try the Spartan Ops' missions: separate campaigns in which a team of up to four soldiers completes objectives by defeating enemies and reaching certain checkpoints. The downloadable missions are free.
" Call of Duty: Black Ops II " has a number of multiplayer options. You'll find plenty to do across 15 maps and various modes (including Capture the Flag, Domination and Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch.) In addition, various "Call of Duty Elite" options are offered free, including the ability to broadcast live gameplay through YouTube and watch "best of" clips from other players.
There's a co-op mode as well, titled "Black Ops II: Zombies." Here, you'll work with three others to fend off hordes of zombies across multiple areas while unlocking new weapons and areas of play – including a moving bus stage, "Tranzit."
Winner: "Call of Duty: Black Ops II"
"Halo 4" features a variety of military and Covenant weapon technology, whether you hop behind a laser-powered turret gun or climb into a space vehicle, shooting enemies or simply running them over. Getting around on foot feels great as well, and you can snag everything from a plasma pistol to a super-powered sword to finish enemies off.
High-powered weapons dominate "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," between using various assault rifles and rocket launchers and calling in air strikes. You can also take command of any given soldier in the battle area through the "Strike Force" missions, while directing the other AI-driven soldiers to objectives on a map. These stages give you the option to jump into various well-armed vehicles, such as a walking tank or a fast-moving gyrocopter.
"Halo 4" has the best graphics we've seen in the series to date. The futuristic landscapes on each planet have astounding detail. And the animations are superb, whether it's the smaller Covenant aliens making a run for it or bigger enemies just waiting to be brought down. The cinematics, featuring Master Chief chatting with Cortana, are fun to watch, too.
"Black Ops II" moves at a much faster pace, with very thrilling set pieces (including riding on horseback while carrying a rocket launcher – no bayonet here). There are times some of the details can be lost in the heat of battle, but the game still looks great overall. The voice acting is equally stellar, with actors including Sam Worthington and Michael Rooker in the top roles. But Kamar de los Reyes, who portrays main villain Raul Menendez, steals the show, giving his character an excellent amount of depth, and even humanity.
Winner: "Halo 4"
Both games are outstanding when it comes to adding quality titles to your game collection. However, "Halo 4" has a slight advantage in the visual department, while "Black Ops II" has more to offer for multiplayer-oriented game lovers. No matter what you choose, though, the holidays just got a lot more exciting.
"Halo 4": 3.5/4
"Call of Duty: Black Ops II": 3.5/4