Call of Duty: Black Ops
Hurray! Finally a Call of Duty where you can somewhat follow the story which succeeds to actually interest you from the intro to the hardly original – but decent nonetheless – final endscene. Just like in many moments during the game the devs steal from all kinds of movies and TV shows to immerse you in a world of ultra-secret missions that determine the course of world history.
As Black Ops is set during the Cold War we get influences from We Were Soldiers, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Tour of Duty and the brutal Platoon. One source of inspiration is a bit easier to spot than the other, but who cares if the end result is like a “Best Of”. The same can be said about the gameplay and missions themselves: the most memorable moments from previous episodes got a new spray of paint and things are still very much alright with the basis of running, taking cover, aiming and shooting.
In the singleplayer campaign (which can be finished in one long Saturday afternoon) you do get the feeling you’ve played it all before and you’ll quickly conclude that the surprise and originality of the first Modern Warfare is still a level higher than Black Ops. The solution the fast learners at Treyarch found for that is pushing the button for action and spectacle in overdrive, and blind you with pure entertainment. (like Michael Bay?, ed.)
And for the largest part they succeed. From start to finish the immersive story is an excellent guide through all kinds of locations and completely different settings. From a cold and gruesome prison camp to a space rocket launch base, over the jungles and rivers of Vietnam to the labs and hideout of Castro on Cuba. We also shouldn’t judge to fiercely as there are quite some climaxes like fighting your way through a deadly fog with a mask on, the graphics, the sound effects and the much improved and varied animations of opponents. There are new and powerful weapons, the feeling is still perfect and you won’t get bored for a minute. One of the best shooters of the last couple of years.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t any downpoints. The campaign is as linear as a ruler and the opponents act like cardboard signs that pop up in a shooting range. The AI still isn’t anything to write home about and the many vehicle sections are despite their abundance in explosions and spectacle a very limited version of what they could have been. Especially the flying with helicopters and boat sequences are examples that bring some variation but at the same time limit you too much in freedom to want to do them over again once you’ve finished. Luckily they’re too short to worry about and five minutes later you’re impressed again by the next adventures the makers throw you in.
what many of you are waiting for more is of course the multiplayer. Here Treyarch all but disappoints. Without the successful basic concept and gameplay being touched we do find enough innovation so that most experienced veterans won’t feel cheated. Thanks to XP, points and RPG-like levels (also attainable for beginners) you can now unlock, buy, build up and personalize even more outfits, gear, face paints, perks and weapons. Almost infinitely.
Before you’ve thought of and perfectly built out your own class you’re weeks further and then there’s hundreds of other combinations possible for which you can again start gaining XP and points. All kinds of seperate challenges you can do for extra experience bring more depth and variation and make each playing style possible for success. New weapons, new killstreak rewards, new maps, and of course new modes are present.
An interesting one is the possibility to gamble your hard-earned points on your next match. You put in a certain amount, then go to work in new game types like one where you each time have to make one kill with a specific weapon before getting access to the next and do this in a specific order, each time getting closer to victory. If you end up in the top three you get a lot of points as rewards. Fail and you lose the amount of gambled with.
Similar and maybe a bit more accessible are the contracts. You pay some points for a contract and stipulate what you need to do in the next game. This way you for instance get the assignment to realise a certain amount of headshots. Succeed and you get a multitude of the points you gambled with depending on the difficulty degree of your task. If you don’t succeed you lose the cost of your contract. Both the betting of points and the new game types bring a fresh new wind and will deliver experienced players quite some excitement.
And there’s more. The zombie mode is back and here you can get going with up to four players, contrary to the campaign where the heavy scripts and linearity probably made co-op impossible for the devs. The zombies can be killed in ever increasing numbers but of course you also get increasingly more powerful weapons and ammo. Good as a snack and ideal for some humour, especially seeing the new characters and seting of this mode in Black Ops.
However, there’s another extra treat. Combat Training allows to play multiplayer against bots and there’s also an arcade game hidden in which you get to play some sort of topdown shooter. Something that you would easily have to pay five or ten euros for on Xbox Lve or PSN and although it won’t keep you behind your screen for hours, Treyarch should be congratulated for the large amount of content.
All in all there’s little new under the sun. When you evaluate Black Ops in the genre of FPS games as well as when you put it in the Call of Duty series we only get to see polishing of the linear gameplay of the campaign and more production added than ever before. That results in a story that constantly blows you away and that you’ll love to finish and maybe even play again, but makes only an average impression when it comes to gameplay. The very decent multiplayer is still very tight thanks to the experience sysetm and the excellent basic mechanics but also here the innovation is found mostly in the margin.
In short an excellent game and in all aspects a big blockbuster for any shooter lover. Something you shouldn’t miss but won’t make history books as unforgettable. Critics of fine art won’t put this near games like for instance the first Modern Warfare, let alone Half-Life 2.