Review – Call of Duty: Black Ops

Review – Call of Duty: Black Ops
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Game Name: Call of Duty: Black Ops
Platforms: Wii, XBox 360, PS3, PC
Publisher(s): Activision
Developer(s): Treyarch
Genre(s): First Person Shooter
Release Date: November 2010
ESRB Rating: M

This ain't your daddy's Snow Job

Call of Duty Black Ops has you taking control of Alex Mason (among others), a special forces operative with memory loss and takes you across multiple continents through a storyline as varied as the environments. During the course of the game, Alex recovers memories that unlock the ongoing plot.

In your search to uncover the truth behind how a series of numbers connects to a chemical weapon called Nova 6, you visit some pretty cool environments: Cuba, Soviet Russia, Laos, and Vietnam through different time periods (frozen World War 2-era Russia and Viet Nam war to name two).

Graphics

Call of Duty: Black Ops looks really great, better than any COD game before it. Backgrounds, explosions, and textures feel very true to life, including all of the shadows in the stealthy Rebirth stage.

It also runs smoothly with the only slowdown I encountered being when I ran into a bug (on PS3), one when I got a trophy for using the dragonbreath shotgun rounds on 10 VC soldiers, cleared a room and triggered NPC dialogue at the same time. The visuals locked up on me, echoing the blast of my shotgun about 30 seconds before it figured out what was going on and set me back in the action.

Gameplay

What're you waiting for!?

The gameplay is one area where I always find COD games lacking, not because of controls or weapons – those are all great – but because of the way the game itself plays. I get so frustrated when your teammates shout, “Mason! Run up there and get the MM45092-J and block that sucker up!”. I have no idea what they’re talking about and usually spend one or two rounds running through a hail of bullets looking for the next checkpoint that moves the story along. This is even worse on Veteran difficulty.

Either that or I hit an issue with the audio where someone is shouting at me and an explosion causes me to miss half of what they’re saying. So I have no idea what to do and the teammate isn’t moving ahead, but waiting for me to go do what I was just told to do. Often, the character will shout a follow up like, “Mason! What are you waiting for!?” which is super helpful.

An example of this is later in the game when you’re tackling Vietnam and complete a tunnel mission. You’re supposed to run down a hill and take out enemies but all I heard was, “Okay marines, you sit tight. We’ve got this!”. At which point there was no “we”, but “me”. I crouched next to Frank Woods (your teammate) waiting to find out what to do and or watching for him to make a move but he did nothing at all. For about four minutes, I was popping up and was shooting guys coming up the hill towards me and doing nothing but wasting ammunition. It was only until I was annoyed with Woods that I took off down the hill and cleaned out some houses that Woods actually followed me and the story took off again.

This issue was in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and is back again. So many times I said, “What?” to the screen, waiting for some indication as to what I should be doing. It is frustrating to play a game on Veteran difficulty (which is often one bullet, one kill) with the added difficulty of lack of notification as to what you need to do.

Another scene that got ridiculous fast was the one right after the Russian Roulette scene. In the ensuing battle, I was in the thick of a lead rainstorm and instinctively hit the grenade button. I had one! I actually had all you could carry, plus a knife. I’m assuming you pick all of your gear up from the guy you kill at the table but it never really comes to light. It was funny to think for a moment, “Wait – if I had these the whole time, why didn’t I use them  to escape earlier?”

Get to the choppa!

Anyway, in addition to the normal FPS “grenade and go” faire, there are also vehicle piloting segments that have you piloting tanks, boats, choppers, and even a car in Cuba. There is even a segment that has you acting as the eye in the sky from a Blackbird jet overhead calling shots and commanding your team to move or duck into cover. The game actually does a pretty cool job of swapping back and forth between the two rather than the sequence feeling too contrived.

Multiplayer

In addition to the regular multiplayer game mode, there is a zombie mode that has up to four players fighting off invading hordes of zombies ala COD: World at War. This time, players take control of John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, and Fidel Castro as they attempt to repel wave after wave of zombie invaders in the Pentagon. As soon as you finish the single player campaign, the game goes straight into this mode.

Kennedy, Castro, Nixon, and the other guy

The game features all the standard multiplayer modes of the Call of Duty series including capture the flag, team deathmatch and more. The perks system is still in place letting you level up your character’s loadout to exactly what you want it to be, not a sequence of pre-ordained powerups.

Another cool system the multiplayer has added is Wager Match that lets players place bets on how well they think they’ll do before a match begins so gain more XP and currency to buy items like face paint and other upgrades.

Final Word

If you’re a COD fan, chances are you’ve got this game already. It’s a worthy addition to any Call of Duty gamer’s collection and features some welcome concepts like wager matches and even more globe trotting than before. It’s definitely got some bugs that need to be worked out, but it’s all around a pretty great experience.

Having said that, it does feel like it might be the end of the line for really unique gameplay ideas and I think it’s really up to Treyarch to come up with some innovative ideas on the (inevitable) next version.

In the end, Call of Duty: Black Ops is a great-looking voyage into the dark places of the world that while nice to look at and sporting some clever plot and multiplayer ideas, does nothing to solve some of the confusing parts of standard COD games.