Reviews - Multi Platform
Written by Ryan Farrenkopf Sunday, November 21 2010 12:00
Call of Duty has been Activision's bread and butter for sometime now. After three games with same formula, the series reinvented itself in modern times with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. With Black Ops being the fouth game using the new formula, has the series gotten old? Or does the modern shooter still hold its place?
Platform: Xbox 360/PS3/PC/Wii
Black Ops is Treyarch's first break from the typical WWII shooter. Their last game, World At War, had me underwhelmed as I couldn't shake the "been there done that" feeling. The gameplay in World at War was too linear, and while the story was driven by historical events, after playing relentless amounts of WWII shooters it seemed stale. At first, I thought Black Ops would suffer the same fate as its predecessor. But this was not to be case, as Treyarch managed to create an intriguing and original story out of the context of the Vietnam War era.
The majority of the game is played as Alex Mason, a Special Forces Operative for the US Government. You start the game off in an interrogation room where you are flashed images on monitor while you hear a series of numbers being repeated. Your interrogator is a disembodied voice who quickly loses his patience, giving you a debilitating electrical shock .It is clear that your faceless interrogators need to extract vital information from you, but you don't understand what. Your interrogators have you relive your mission to try to gain the knowledge that they need. This mechanic is what drives the story in Black Ops; it brings you from mission to mission, always revisiting this room. At first, it seemed as if this would get old and that the game will be doomed to a fragmented story. It's really not until half way through the game that things start to click and I started to appreciate this method of story telling.
The missions in Black Ops are extremely diverse, which is what finally sold me on the game. The first mission has you behind the lines in 1961 Cuba, during the failed attempt to invade known as the Bay of Pigs. You mission is to infiltrate and assassinate the Cuban leader Fidel Castro; without giving too much away you are then captured after helping your team escape. This lands you in a Russian work camp where you befriend a Russian ex-soldier Victor Reznof, Who helps you escape during a prison riot. Reznof becomes a recurring character who shows up to push the story forward. The game revolves around a trying to uncover and stop a Soviet attack on the U.S., using a nerve gas known as Nova 6. The player is thrown from mission to mission by the unforeseen interrogators in an effort to extract information from Mason about the details of the plot. The story is strong and filled with action, sometimes too much to really be realistic. There are only so many times that the main character can barely make a jump to a helicopter/roof before you think he's doing it on purpose.
The story teeters on Bond territory a few times, especially when they have Mason and his team infiltrate Soviet soil to destroy a Soyuz II rocket, which in the mist of the Cold War, would have probably caused WWIII. There are a few out of place moments in the game, one in particular being a mission in which you pilot a PT boat in Vietnam. What makes this out of place is that during this mission the game plays "Sympathy for the Devil" from the Rolling Stones. While I personally love this song, it just didn't fit; nowhere else in the game does it do this. Not to mention, this isn't exactly the high point of the game.
All nit-picking aside the story is strong and carries the action forward. It definitely will keep the player engaged to the resolution and even after that. The ending to the game, however, is probably its weakest point. While the story resolves, it doesn't really have an ending; no big boss battle or big interactive cut scene. It feels somewhat tacked on, like they didn't exactly know how to end it. The final shot backs this up, as it looks like Treyarch was trying to put as much testosterone on the screen as possible.
The gameplay is what Black Ops is all about. It's what has kept this franchise going. Black Ops takes what the previous Call of Duty's have done and runs with it. In short, if you liked the gameplay in other COD titles, you will feel right at home. Where the game does mix up the formula is in the vehicle missions, or really in that there are a lot more of them. The game does a good job pacing them so you don't tire of it too fast. You still will spend most of Black Ops on foot, infiltrating or fighting your way through the game. Treyarch has made a few tweaks to the formula, most noticeably to the ally AI. Usually, this is the part of the review where I'd complain that the ally AI is useless, but not with Black Ops. Here, I get to complain about how the Ally AI is too good (weird huh?). Many parts of the game have you following the leader, to the point where you spend so much time doing this that you start to wonder if you're even the main character. Many times I found myself having to wait for the AI characters to catch up to me before the game could progress. Since you can spend most of the time following, you actually don't have to do anything, some levels of the game including the Bay of Pigs can almost run on auto-pilot. This can only break the game if you let it. It's a simple problem that can be fixed simply by ignoring it. They game still is plenty challenging, and will keep you on your toes.
Multiplayer is what sells Call of Duty games and this is no different with Black Ops. Treyarch obviously knows this as well, seeing as they didn't change much. Multiplayer is almost the same as in Modern Warfare 2, but with new maps. However, this isn't entirely a bad thing, because this is what the Call of Duty audience wants. The only things that have changed other than the maps are the weapons and killsteaks. The weapons only really just changed to mach the time period, although they stretched it a bit for things like reflex sights. The Killstreaks system remains the same, they just changed up the rewards a bit; the most noticible is the RC-XD, a small remote controlled car carring C4 which can be used with a three killstreak. This little device is great at keeping everyone on their toes, especially campers. Because of the RC-XD, camping is not as big of a deal in Black Ops as it was in MW2. Treyarch Has also brought back everyone's favorite killstreak from World at War, dogs. This is propably the most unbalanced killstreak in the game, as all the dogs need to do is touch you and you are dead; no longer are you given the chance to fight them off.
The biggest change to multiplayer comes in the form of in-game currency, which you earn from winning matches, finishing challenges, ranking up, finishing contracts, or wagering on via the games betting system. Pretty much everything you do in Black Ops' multiplayer gives you credits. So what do you spend all this credit on? Almost everything. While you still need to be a certain rank to unlock guns, you then have to buy it along with any attachments instead of just unlocking them. The credit system goes a little overboard, as you really have to buy everything; perks, attachments, camo, and even everything used to make your playercard. Bought an attachment for one gun? Well you have to buy it again for another. While some may like the credit system, to me it's just a way to get me not interested in checking out new weapons.
Zombie Mode is back! While World at War couldn't keep my attention enough to even unlock zombie mode, Black Ops has, so I can now enjoy the fun.
Unfortunately, it really isn't all that fun. Zombie mode requires a lot of strategy, as most defense games do. However, that's one thing you rarely find when playing with strangers online. I imagine it would be more fun with friends, but seeing as how my normal collections of Xbox Live friends haven't picked up Black Ops yet, and it doesn't support four-way split screen, I was unable to test that theory. While this may sound more like a complaint mainly with the community (which it parttially is), Treyarch could have easily remidied the problem. All it would really need is a difficulty setting. Currently, if you take two hits you go down, and "last stand" is almost useless with your pistol. The most fun that I got out of zombie mode was from (SPOILERS) hearing the one-liners in the "Five" Map where you play as either John K. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, or Fidel Castro (/SPOILERS).
If there is one version of Zombie Mode that is really worth your time, it is the Dead Ops Arcade, which you can only unlock by breaking out of your chair in the main menu and typing "DOA" on a computer. Dead Ops Arcade is similar to Smash TV, and I had more fun playing DOA than the rest of Zombie Mode because it can be played single player or with strangers.
The atmosphere of the game attempts to draw you into the era and story; in some ways it does in other ways it fails. Throughout the game you constantly feel a sense of impending action, even when there is none to be found. During a cut-scene where you are in a limo on the way to the Pentagon, the game tries to create suspense when there is none, as if Treyarch was afraid to take a short break from the action. The level design in Black Ops is what you'd come to expect from a Call of Duty title. The levels really bring you into the game and make it believable, and the diversity is great. It's hard to compare it to something like the destroyed Washington D.C. level in MW2, but it comes close at times. Sound design is not much different from previous titles. Guns sound heavy, explosions are loud, etc. But when it comes to the music, it is too similar to Modern Warfare 1 and 2, and doesn't try to match the era of the game. While it drives the action, it doesn't pull you in. It is the same with voice acting. All the voice actors in Black Ops do their parts beautifully, but they just don't immerse you in the story. The biggest example is Fidel Castro; the voice actor doesn't even sound Spanish, let alone like the Cuban Dictator. But the biggest thing that kept me from being immersed in the game was the fact that almost everyone speaks English. From the Russian prisons to the Vietnamese, if you need to understand them, they speak English. Which is a shame, thinking of how much it could have pulled me in if they spoke Russian or Spanish or Vietnamese, and used subtitles instead.
Now before you complain about not liking subtitles or that this isn't that type of game, think about this: action movies do it all the time. The atmosphere in Black Ops is great, but it just feels like a waste that Treyarch didn't try to pull you into it more.
Graphically, Black Ops is virtually identical to Modern Warfare 2, and in some cases MW2 looks better. Case in point; the snow. MW2 has some of the best snow I've seen, complete with footprints and drifts. Black Ops' snow looks flat and static. I have also noticed more texture issues and glitches than I noticed in MW2. I have seen several textures simply not load to the higher res versions, and this is especially true in multiplayer. Black Ops has a few more glitches, such as the invincible enemy solider glitch we found here. While I can't say the game doesn't look beautiful, because it does, it hasn't advanced graphically in the way we'd expect at this point.
A quick note about violence. I want to say that Call of Duty: Black Ops is probably the most violent video game I have ever played, and yes I've played Gears of War. So why is Black Ops so violent, more so then a game where you cut open the heart of a giant worm from the inside? It is because Black Ops has the most realistic violence, and sometimes goes too far (In my opinion). Black Ops features bodily dismemberment, and horrific scenes of torture and killing people. All this violence is not on the undead, or some alien race, it's on humans, which can make it hard to watch at times. This is especially true when your character carves into the throat of another human being, instead of just slitting it. War is violent, I know this and Treyarch did a great job of capturing it, but at that point they may have taken it too far for my liking. Now all this is a moot point because when you first boot up the game, the option to turn off the gore is given. And I definitely would not recommend this game for minors, after all it is rated Mature. I want to finish this by stating that I did not dock any points from this game for violence, it's a stylistic choice of Treyarch's and it adds to the realism of the game, but many people may find it to be a little much.
All in All, Call of Duty: Black Ops is a great addition to the franchise, and it's great to see Treyarch moving into the spotlight instead of playing second fiddle to Infinity Ward. The story is great, gameplay is solid (if only a little stale), and the multiplayer is what you want. The games does fail with pulling you into the atmosphere, and the graphics are great but haven't improved from MW2. What this all boils down to is that if you were a fan of Modern Warfare 2 then you will be a fan of Black Ops. If you don't like the series, than this probably won't convince you.
83 out of 100