The Bottom Line
We’ve left World War II behind, but we’re still a long way from what you might have come to expect from Modern Warfare.
It wasn’t a love of Wold War II or shooters or tactical game-play or basically anything else that forced me to indulge in the Call of Duty franchise. It was the multi-player, and the necessity of playing with friends that initially sucked me in. Much like Halo, it seemed like I was on the outside looking in if I refused to play whatever the latest “hot” shooter was. As a person who is primarily interested in partaking of these games with friends, the particulars from shooter to shooter often don’t matter. I imagine there’s more than a few people reading this review who feel the same way.
Well, if the particulars of your shooter aren’t as important as playing the latest title with your friends then fear not; Call of Duty: Black Ops is a shooter. It’s more or less what you’ve come to expect, and your friends are going to play it anyway.
If you’re curious as to whether you’ll truly love this shooter, however, feel free to read on. It presents a significantly different experience than you are used to from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Some people are going to love the changes presented by Call of Duty: Black Ops, and some people are going to hate it. I earnestly suspect that few people will feel lukewarm about it.
The big differences? Well, Black Ops does its best to eliminate the practice of “quick scoping”, and reduces both the power and accessibility of kill streak rewards. Combined with faster access to the best weapons, and Black Ops basically wants its players to have the best of everything quicker, more easily, and to less ultimate effect than its predecessor. If you enjoyed the advantage of quick-scoping with your sniper rifle, or the fact that some of the strongest weapons were not available from the start, then you may have trouble adjusting to the new environment in Black Ops. Your sniper rifles aren’t going to be as strong, and your run-and-gun types are going to fare better. Submachineguns are going to be stronger than ever.
Interested yet? If so, buy the game, play with your friends, and love the fact that your franchise is going to churn out a game every year. Not everyone has that luxury!
The Big Question
Tell me how often we can re-play the same shooter before we get bored. I, personally, am tired of Halo. Is this inevitable for Call of Duty as well? The weapons are different, and the feel is earnestly different from Modern Warfare 2, but these games share so many themes that it’s inevitable that we ultimately tap this resource out. How do we proceed from here, and in what direction? Do the players prefer the Modern Wafare feel where the killstreaks actually diminish player importance (even as they make you feel like a badass) and low-profile sniping wins the day? Or do people prefer running and gunning with aging machine guns, destroying a host of foes on the move, while killstreak rewards, while powerful, are not always going to be game-changers?
Overall Game-Play: 8.5
Well, the control scheme for shooters has been established. We know that we have to learn what guns we’re best with, and what strategies counter dangerous weapons well. In other words, the formula for shooter controls is well-defined, and it’s not particularly wise to branch out. Maybe we differ on what button B and button X should control, but I think we’re going to agree on the function of the sticks.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is eminently predictable in terms of its control scheme, and you’ll have to work hard to convince me that’s a con. Why deviate from a scheme that has produced so many hours of pleasure?
You won’t be astonished by the single-player campaign. Of course there are twists and turns in the story. Of course, it’s competently told. But if you’re looking for innovation in level design or game-play, then you are definitely looking in the wrong place. The game-play is tight, and the story is fine, but I can’t necessarily recommend Black Ops if you’re not intending to partake of the multiplayer modes.
The single player campaign follows the adventures of Alex Mason, a CIA Black Ops guy from the 1960s, and begins in no place other than Soviet-allied Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion. From there, you’ll battle through the typical assortment of urban and exotic environments while battling with a variety of (mostly) similar opponents. The game does throw a few curve balls in terms of the enemy selection, which is nice, but I doubt that you’ll be blown away by the foes you’re battling.
The story hook is, to my mind, significantly better than for some of the previous installments of Call of Duty, and it does use at least one significant character from World at War whom fans will remember. I have already heard rumblings that the game plays more like a rail shooter than a truly interactive experience. If you’re looking for an open-ended style of gameplay, then games like Far Cry 2 or Mass Effect (or even Battlefield: Bad Company) may suit you better. Call of Duty is a basically linear game where you’ll spend most of your time on foot or in vehicles following the lead of other characters, shooting a number of baddies before moving up to the next checkpoint. The major differences come in the fine details of these sequences, including the weapons at your disposal.
The graphics are smooth and fluid, and the loading times extremely bearable. In a game that is perennially most anticipated for its multi-player mode, there’s not much else to ask. I compliment the level design in both the single and multi-player modes. Still, fans of the series (and, particularly, Modern Wafare 2) are unlikely to be blown away by the graphics. They show the expected improvement on the same platform (in this case, the tangible differences are few), and not much in the way of unexpected innovation.
The score is as forgettable as the previous title in the series. But that’s not why the sound receives such an underwhelming score. The voice acting leaves much to be desired. Predictably, the lines are well-acted, and the accents are convincing, but whether by design or no, the game features far too few lines to comment on game-play. This is most notable in multi-player modes, where the game’s announcer fails to reveal critical information about game objectives anytime that it is even slightly inconvenient to do so. I can assure the developers at Treyarch that every single player in multiplayer modes would prefer to hear repetitive lines every few seconds if it meant an auditory acknowledgment that game objectives were in jeopardy. Considering that the voice actors obviously have lines recorded for any game-play situation, it seems like a debilitating oversight to simply [i]fail[/i] to play acknowledgments in key situations.
Well, the game is built to be a multi-player juggernaut. From this vantage point, there’s not much to complain about. Did the match-making initially suffer serious problems? Yes. Could the game use a few more maps; particularly those geared toward one objective type or another? Absolutely. But we’re a few patches in by now, and most of the technical bugs in the match-making system seem to have been resolved. Still, since multi-player is one of the biggest points of contention on this title, let’s break things down, shall we?
- The level design is tight and features few discernible bugs or exploits. Although we always hunger for more maps, the ones the game ships with provide a reasonable variety of terrain and encounter types.
- A new multiplayer feature, Contracts, provide yet another way to show your skills without interfering with level, prestige, or challenges. Completing contracts affords the player more in-game cash to spend on the latest equipment as well as aesthetics like emblems.
- Treyarch seems relatively responsive to potentially destructive multi-player issues so far.
- The kill-streaks, although noticeably less game-changing than in Modern Warfare 2, still manage to feel powerful and useful to the player.
- The performance of most kill-streak rewards shows some improvements. The attack helicopter is noticeably more lethal than before, the napalm strike provides an interesting and mostly-reliable option for map control, and the SR-71 (the natural evolution of the Spy Plane / UAV) is one of the most powerful kill-streak rewards we’ve seen yet, even if it lacks flash.
- Although the kill-streaks are powerful – and period specific – they lack the raw potency of the Modern Warfare 2 equivalents. There is no equivalent to the Tactical Nuke in Black Ops. In the main, I feel this is a positive step for the franchise. I always felt that the overwhelming power of the Modern Warfare 2 kill-streaks encouraged boosting and camping to a degree that diminished my enjoyment of the game. If you loved those aspects of Modern Warfare 2, then you will likely be unhappy with the high-end killstreaks available in Black Ops.
- The customisable emblems provide an endless opportunity to express yourself. This can sometimes be a con as well.
- Long-range combat is, for the most part, a thing of the past. The weapons, perks, styles, and maps all lend themselves toward a closer range of combat as compared to the Modern Warfare games.
- Although the kill-streaks remain powerful, they definitely lack the allure and “badass quotient” of the kill-streak rewards available in Modern Warfare 2.
- While some players will relish the closer and more intimate combat, the game lacks quick-scoping and long-range weapons that define the modern firearm age.
- Despite some improvements, the multiplayer spawn system is still unacceptably flawed. Some of the spawn locations (particularly in objective-based games) are poorly chosen, and the spawn timing will sometimes have enemies spawning right behind you with no rhyme or reason.
- As mentioned before, the in-game announcer is mailing it in this time around. You should pay careful attention to the situation, because you can’t always rely on the audio to warn you about game developments.