You’ve probably already skipped past the text I’ve just spent hours carefully crafting, taken a mental note of the concluding score and outright dismissed this review because I’m known to be something of a fan of the Call of Duty franchise which clearly therefore renders my opinion invalid right? RIGHT? But if you are one of the plucky few still reading, then I applaud your persistence and confidence in my abilities as a writer and hope to now justify both this score and your decision to read on.
This review is considerably later than I would have liked it to have been, what with the game having been out for almost a full week now. But I wanted to spend sufficient time with all of its game modes, Single and Multiplayer, in order to deliver as thorough and as conclusive a review as is possible. After all, it’s not really a package you can blitz through in just a few hours and write authoritatively about.
And while the very nature of the Call of Duty franchise’s Multiplayer means it will inevitably evolve and change over time as new glitches are found, new game modes added and weapons and killstreaks tweaked to infinity, but fundamentally and after a week and over 10 hours of online play I think I’ve just about played enough to deliver a reasonably definitive and informed opinion.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat, Black Ops is a not a revolutionary new entry into the franchise. The Single-Player campaign follows that tried and tested formula of funnelling you, quite literally in some cases, down a heavily scripted tunnel, leading you from one dramatic set-piece to another. Meanwhile, the Multiplayer builds upon everything that came before it, with a minor tweak here, a new perk or two there, but overall the kind of evolution and perfection that is afforded when you’re able to work on the same franchise year after year.
As ever the Single-Player campaign features four difficulty levels: Easy, Regular, Hardened and Veteran. On Regular you’ll complete the campaign in about 6/7 hours while Hardened and Veteran (where the vast majority of the game’s achievements lie) will take you a lot longer thanks to the murderous accuracy of your enemy combatants and the very occasional infinitely re-spawning enemies the series is so infamous for. But before you turn away in disgust, I only encountered this twice throughout the entire campaign, and in no way was it anything like as frustrating as it was in Call of Duty 4. And while the Regular difficulty doesn’t offer too much in the way of a challenge for seasoned first-person-shooter players – the old duck and cover while your health re-generates method will stand you in good stead – it’s actually the difficulty level I’d recommend you start on. You see, for all that Black Ops is a totally scripted and linear affair, the first time you experience each genuinely explosive set-piece is among the most exciting moments to be had in gaming. And going into the game with no knowledge or expectations of said set-pieces means you can enjoy them in all their glory like the best cheesy action-movies.
When reading other Call of Duty reviews, I always find it amusing just how many people use the word ‘bombastic’ to describe the game, and while I’ll stop short of using that word myself for fear of invoking memories of Mr Lover-Lover himself, its most definitely a highly appropriate word to describe this unabashed assault on the senses. It’s no paradigm shift though.
The game begins from the viewpoint of someone strapped in what appears to be a torture-chamber (all is revealed later) while a shadowy figure with a distorted Saw-esque voice shouts questions and demands at you. The game then unfolds via a series of initially seemingly un-related flash-backs and, in what’s again almost a Call of Duty trademark, soon devolves into a pretty incoherent narrative revolving around espionage, conspiracy theories, mysterious defectors and every Cold-War cliché under the sun. It’s ham-fisted and entirely forgettable but again like the previous games, it’s all about the journey as opposed to the destination. It’s not where you’re going it’s how you get there. And besides, how else exactly can even the best writer in the world string together a series of sequences in which you the player shoot lots of copy-cat enemies while simultaneously blowing lots of shit up?
You’ll take in a variety of vista and eras along the way from the hell-hole that is the rusty Vortuka prison, to the frozen landscapes of the Arctic circle, to the dense Vietnamese jungle. As ever there are numerous troughs and peaks with the action broken up every few levels by a vehicular or on-rails section. And actually, this time around they’re particularly exhilerating with the Apocalypse Now-inspired helicopter run down a Vietnamese river a real highlight. Being able to actually control the flight of, as well as the guns of, a devastating gunship adds a freshness to the series and makes you wonder just what Treyarch would be capable of given the time and resources to work on a more free-roaming and expansive game ala the Battlefield or FarCry series.
So with the Single-Player campaign done and dusted you’ll inevitably move onto one of the Multi Player modes. Unfortunately the option to play through the Single-Player campaign co-operatively is notable by its absence. But thankfully Black Ops sees a return for the Zombies mode first made famous in World at War.
Zombies is an up-to 4 player co-operative mode in which players must fend off hordes of Zombies for as long as is possible before eventually and inevitably being over-run by them. With 5 maps – some of which are reinventions from World at War, each level begins with all players in a single room with various windows, doors and entry points through which the Zombies can attack. Players must defend these entry points, reinforcing the protective boards in between attacks and using money earned by head-shots to unlock better weapons and ammo. Here’s the catch though. You can also use earned monies to open doors and access other areas of each map, but in doing so you also open yourself up to an increased number of points through which the Zombies can enter the arena. The game quickly evolves into a battle between trying to contain the infected and cover every available entry point while simultaneously trying to open up other areas in order to grant access to better weapons and power-ups, all of which is made more difficult by the increasing numbers of zombies as well as the vicious demonic hell-hounds which move much quicker than the typical slow and lumbering Zombies.
Dead Ops Arcade
There’a also another Multiplayer mode hidden away called Dead Ops Arcade which is a Smash TV-inspired over-head arena shooter with up to 4 players against facing off against the Zombie hordes. This time the action takes place from a different perspective and each player has the ability to shoot in 360 degrees as well as the option to drop bombs and dash ferociously across the screen obliterating all who stand in your way. It’s a fun little extra and much like the games it’s inspired by features plenty of powerups and loot to collect.
In order to unlock Dead Ops Arcade you need to alternate between the trigger buttons to break from your shackles, the once free, access the old-fashioned computer in the corner of the room and using the on-screen keyboard enter the commands CD DOA. Et voila. An awesome little co-op twin-stick-shooter you didn’t know existed.
And finally we reach what for many is the meat and two veg behind the Call of Duty franchise. The reason many people like myself have continued to play each instalment in the franchise all year round, stopping not due to boredom but only because of the release of a new one.
Black Ops’ Multiplayer again follows what’s been tried and tested before it with all of your favourite modes present and correct. Team DeathMatch? Check. Domination? Check. Headquarters, Sabotage and Capture the flag? All present and correct. Initially there’s nothing much that stands out, the changes are all very subtle and nuanced. But perhaps the one thing that will catch your eye early on will be the myriad character customisation options with just about every little thing you can imagine configurable. Want your clan-tag engraved on your gun? Want to design and create your own unique emblem? Want to choose from a lengthy list of target reticules? Want to choose the camo-type, face-paint and colour of your weapons? It’s all entirely possible. And as you’d imagine, the CoD community stays true to form with plenty of gamers somehow managing to incorporate an ejaculating penis or two bumming gorillas into their emblem.
But in addition to the traditional game modes, Treyarch has also added Wager Matches. As well as earning XP, players also earn COD points which are used to purchase weapons, attachments, perks, equipment and emblem elements. Instead of having to wait until the higher ranks before you can unlock certain items you now simply save up your COD points and just buy them when you want them. Wager Matches let you gamble earned COD points in order to win big and it’s these new game types that have been the biggest drawer for a lot of people.
One in the Chamber is a moder where each player has three lives, a pistol a single bullet and a knife. Kill an enemy with that bullet and you get it plus theirs back and they lose a life. Miss with that bullet and you have to rely on getting up close and personal and stabbing them in the face.
Stick and Stones equips each player with a Crossbow with explosive arrow heads, the ballistic knife (a projectile blade), the standard knife and the Tomahawk which is a single-use lethal throwing-axe which has to be retrieved after use. Points are earned for kills but successfully finishing an opponent off with the extremely difficult to use Tomhawk bankrupts enemy players and zeroes their score.
Gun Game is a race to 20 points with all players starting the game with the level 1 pistol. Earn a kill and your weapon is upgraded to dual pistols. Earn another and you’re rewarded with shotguns then sub-machine guns, machine guns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, grenade launchers before having to finish by earning Crossbow then Ballistic Knife kills. Knife a player to relegate them back one weapon.
Sharpshooter is like the standard Free-For-All game mode but with everyone’s weapons randomising at set intervals..
Treyarch has also listened to its community and taken notice of the unsavoury elements that spoiled the online Multi-Player of Modern Warfare 2. No longer is it possible to ‘quick-scope’ thanks to the inability to use Sleight of Hand with scoped weapons. ‘Quick-scoping’ is a technique used by snipers who abused the Sleight of Hand perk to quickly aim down the sights of their sniper-rifle and use the game’s auto-aim to quickly lock onto players for annoying instant kills. ‘Drop-shotting’ has also been eliminated as holding crouch while in the middle of a sprint now makes your player dive to the floor unable to shoot for a second or so while he gathers his composure. ‘Drop-shotting’ refers to when players during a fire-fight quickly hold the crouch button to go prone meaning their opponent is often left shooting fresh air, while they use this element of surprise to quickly counter.
It’s also now much more difficult if not impossible to abuse the tactical insertion perk as it’s no longer available in Free-For-All games. And finally, kills earned from killstreak rewards no longer count towards other killstreak rewards. To give this some context, in Modern Warfare 2 it was possible to use an Air-Strike, Predator Missile or Attack Helicopter to help you earn a Chopper Gunner or Tactical Nuke which led to a prevalence of camping or ‘turtling’ as players would employ increasingly devious tactics in order to maximise their kill-to-death ratios.
The fact that I’ve already run over 2000 words shows that I could quite easily talk about this game and series for hours and there’s so much more I could tell you about. For instance there’s also a whole host of other new additions like the ability to re-position Claymores, the inability to re-stock Claymores using the Scavenger perk, the addition of the Camera Spike which lets you place a fixed infra-red camera and see what it sees in a small on-screen window. And while these changes are numerous, they all appear to have been play-tested to death and can easily be countered. At this point in time nothing seems overpowered or like it will upset what seems a perfect balance.
So in conclusion, Black Ops is an epic package of 4 game modes in one. The Single-Player campaign is a thrilling theme-park ride with plenty of variety and thrills and spills galore. Sure the story is lacking but at no point does it ever bore you or obstruct your progress too much (unless playing on Veteran). Zombies is a great co-operative addition and playing as JFK while trying to defend an underground bunker is a particular highlight. Dead Ops Arcade is a neat little extra but it’s the Online Multi-Player where you’ll lose days/weeks/months of your life. Wives and girlfriends beware, CoD rage is back.
And for those of you doubting the quality of this release, can 5.8 million purchasers on day one all be wrong?