Another adrenaline pumping, solid and action packed shooter, but an overly familiar feeling with this franchise has set in.
I really like the ratings battle Activision has going on with the Call of Duty (COD) Brand. Each year Treyarch and Infinity Ward studios release the best first person shooter games the genre has to offer and surely this can only be good for us consumers? Infinity Ward of course does the now legendary Modern Warfare series, but Treyarch produced the surprisingly fantastic WWII shooter, World at War, back in 2009 and has now attempted to beat the ludicrously popular Modern Warfare 2, with a new offering, Black Ops. Of course it must look to distance itself from Infinity Ward’s finest but ensure the action packed gameplay and vast multiplayer elements shine brighter, a tough call in a packed and hugely competitive market. So, is Call of Duty still the king of shooters and could Black Ops possibly be better than its close relative and rival Modern Warfare? Black Ops’ setting remains relatively historical, mostly being set in the cold war days of the late 1960’s. You take the role of several different characters, in a first person perspective, mainly from various Special Forces divisions that frequently go on clandestine military black operations behind enemy lines. The majority of the campaign is spent in the shoes of Alex Mason, an American Black Ops soldier who awakes in an interrogation room in 1968. He is interrogated by his captors and the single player campaign is played through Mason’s memories of missions of the last decade. Mason was originally sent to Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion to assassinate Fidel Castro, which he does (or at least he thinks he does) only to be captured upon escaping. He is then sent to Vorkuta Gulag, a prison complex in Russia where he is subjected to years of intense torture and strange experiments at the hands of several scientists, who are looking for a way to invade and take down the United States using an experimental nerve gas called Nova 6. How they plan to do this is a seriously complex and secretive method, where the remainder of the single player campaign is played out through Mason’s memories of the Black Ops missions that lead him to trying to stop such a plot against the free world. But as the story unfolds across various locations around the globe, such as Russia, Cuba, and Vietnam, things are not all they appear to be, as Mason constantly has a set of seemingly random numbers burned on to his mind, he starts to doubt who he is actually fighting for, who he can trust and even who he really is.
The expected action packed set pieces are the highlight of Black Ops. You spend the whole game going from check point to check point through the missions and the enemy will do their best to stop you. A lot of them though are on a fairly huge scale with many troops fighting on each side, particularly the Vietnam missions. There is also an equal amount of stealth missions, more often than not for infiltration rather than assassination, where taking down opponents silently and using their clothes for disguise for example, is the aim. Black Ops regularly differentiates itself from other shooters by often not necessarily being involved in a pitch battle between two forces but rather making your way through such a conflict using it as cover. This is obvious from the beginning in one of the first missions in Cuba where you fight through the Bay of Pigs invasion. Legging it across open fields while bullet ridden hell irrupts around you is something you will be getting used to. You will use machine guns, shot guns, LAW’s (Light Anti-tank Weapon), sniper rifles, jeeps armed with cannons, attack helicopters and spy planes to carve your way through this violent adrenaline filled action packed gun fight. The Vietnam missions stand out the most, especially as the first mission there is the most bullet ridden, explosive and brutal in the whole game, as Vietnamese forces invade the American base you are in and are hell bent on sticking every US troop on the end of a bayonet. You will also infiltrate through dense jungle taking out troops silently, which is literally like something out of Apocalypse Now, and you’re even forced to play Russian roulette after being captured by Vietnamese forces (aka The Deer Hunter). It really is like playing a summary of all your favourite ‘Nam movies and they really are spectacular (they are so good, I actually kinda’ wished the whole game was based in ‘Nam). Others don’t disappoint either, as the prison break mission from Russia, where you don a portable mini gun, is a real adrenaline pumper, as is infiltrating a Russian space rocket base and blowing a huge launching rocket out of the sky, as is piloting an attack helicopter as it launches and assault on a huge enemy freight ship. You will also fight through the roof tops of Hong Kong, pilot the Lockheed Martin Blackbird spy plane while picking out targets for troops on the ground, picking out targets for a helicopter gun ship whilst fighting through the streets of Vietnam (a particularly intense mission), escaping a mountain military base as an avalanche falls on it and even meeting John. F. Kennedy himself makes this a game of many memorable moments with big action, explosions, guns, knives and blood. The constant jumping around of locations, mission objectives, guns, vehicles and soldiers mean they have maintained COD’s ability to avoid things going stale and if you’re a fan of action or first person shooters, there is very little in this game that will disappoint.
Though not modern, there is still some serious and inventive fire power. One thing the COD franchise seems to nail perfectly is guns, and the sheer quantity of them. Black Ops of course is no exception. It doesn’t have the same technology as its Modern Warfare brethren, it’s the 1960’s after all, but still has some cool unique weaponry. There is of course the expected assault rifles with grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, shot guns, sniper rifles and missile launchers, but some of the highlights where, for example, a cross bow that fires explosive tipped arrows. Lots of vehicle destroying and maiming fun is to be had with such a cool weapon. There was also a ludicrously powerful shot gun called dragon’s breath that not only blows limbs clean off enemies but sets them on fire as well (as if having them bleed to death through limb loss was not quite enough). Another excellent one was remote control cars rigged with explosives, that you drive up to the enemy and blow them to pieces (sadly only available as a kill streak reward in online matches). Vehicles play a much bigger role in Black Ops as well as you will frequently be in control of motorbikes, helicopters, jeeps, cars, boats and jets, and you have full control of the helicopter and boat missions, not just the guns but movement as well. As always with COD games it’s a gun nut’s heaven.
Treyarch certainly know how to make their games more brutal, bloody and violent than its Modern Warfare rival. This game is real tester of your stomach as not only does it have the copious amounts of blood you would expect, its how they are delivered that really makes you wince. Within the first few missions you are garrotting someone to death with wire or jamming a knife in the neck of an enemy to severe their spinal chord, and the hand to hand kills you make in the ‘Nam missions are horrific. Grabbing some poor unsuspecting bastard from a raft, pulling them underwater and literally sawing their throat out with a knife borders on the disturbing. You will also pull the pins on people’s grenades and watch them get blown to pieces and brutally torture suspects whilst trying to gather information, and “yes” you are in full control of the torture, it’s not a cut scene. This is added to the fact you blow limbs off people with more powerful weapons, such as shot guns and watch as they slowly bleed to death. It fully deserves its 18 certificate.
The multiplayer stuff is vast and, at last, accommodating to all. The single player campaign is only a portion of the experience in Black Ops as most people will get the most enjoyment out of the online battles. This includes all the things you expect, team battles, mercenary battles, death match, capture the flag etc, with an addictive upgrade system. The more you play the more experience you earn and with that you unlock weapons, weapon customisations and perks. You can add a grenade launcher to your favourite assault rifle, throw C4 explosives instead of grenades use dual magnum pistols as a secondary weapon and pretty much become a multi weapon wielding instrument of death. You also have a list of perks, such as making you run faster, able to take more hits, taking a last stand with a pistol after being killed and their are rewards for kill streaks. This is basically when you kill several people in a row, without dying yourself, you get a reward which ranges from deploying a few remote control cars with explosives mounted on them to drive round and blow up people instantly, calling in a spy plane to reveal enemy positions, deploying an automated turret machine gun and piloting an attack helicopter that circles round the level mowing people down with a mini gun. Where Black Ops stands above others is that it accommodates all players with all skill levels. It uses a ranking system that is based on how much you have played how many you have killed etc and sets you up automatically against opponents with similar stats, so you will never be thrown in the deep end and simply spend your online gaming dying and respawning constantly. I’m not a fan of online multiplayer stuff at all, but even I liked the one offered by Black Ops. It will probably annoy the elite COD veterans initially, but I’m sure you will get ranked up soon enough (it’s not like you have jobs or girlfriends to worry about ayy), but for everyone else this is one of the best yet.
The zombie level is a big laugh. World at War had Nazi zombies, which was a strange but fun addition to the multiplayer, where wave after wave of zombies will try and get into a house your defending, each wave intensifying, and you simply have to last as long as possible. It was daft but really good fun and an excellent addition to the multiplayer aspect as you can take it on with mates. The Zombies return for Black Ops and it is practically identical, with the exception there is a maximum of four players, its set in the Pentagon and you play as (no joke) J. F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro or Robert McNamara. As I said, stupid but fun.
It’s pretty much a total clone of the last three COD games. The thing that bothers me most about Black Ops is that it is literally an identical clone to the last three COD games. You infiltrate the same snowy mountain bases silently, fight through the same streets picking out targets for a helicopter, land on the same freighter boat and work your through the ships bowels, fight to take the same enemy stronghold, defend the same base with explosives, take out the same anti air craft guns etc etc. It’s just all the same, literally exactly the same. It just feels too familiar now, like a slight update to Modern Warfare and if you have played said Modern Warfare or World at War, there is nothing here you won’t have done before or is executed any better. It is literally a clone and if you’re a big fan of the previous titles, and still play them, it’s hard to find a reason to recommend spending more money on Black Ops.
Eternally re-spawning enemies continue to infuriate in Black Ops. Why, for the love of god why, do Treyarch persist with this idea? They did it in World at War and despite the heavy criticism, they decided to ignore everyone. It’s an issue so heavily criticised that Infinity Ward got rid of it for Modern Warfare 2 and was better off as a result. For those not in the know, this game (like all older COD games) will constantly spawn enemies forever and ever and ever until you advance past a certain invisible line or check point. Or run out of ammo and die. It is interminable! It doesn’t happen for every mission (they don’t re-spawn for stealth missions) but it does happen a lot and is just as infuriating as ever. There are often so many enemies constantly re-spawning, no matter how many you gun down, and you are expected to sprint towards the hundreds of machine gun wielding troops simply to cross an invisible line that will stop them from appearing. It’s just stupid and on the harder difficulties it becomes ludicrously difficult, as one shot kills you. Plus you have to do all the work/advancing as your AI pals will just sit there for an eternity until you advance. The first Vietnam mission is the pinnacle of this as you have to run down a hill with a million heavily armed enemies at the bottom, in order to push over some barrels of flammable liquid, and they will not stop or pause at any point no matter how many you kill. Whenever one is killed he is instantly replaced and you have to spend an eternity edging down this hill millimetre by millimetre. I hated it! Treyarch, why do you do this? Just stop it! It really does put a downer on the whole experience.
Your AI pals are the most infuriating and irritating team mates ever. A criticism of World at War was the retarded nature of your AI comrades and it’s sad to say I think they are even worse in Black Ops. Every mission in the single player campaign has you working through levels with computer controlled partners, often loads of them, and they will constantly drive you mad. They bungle around the level totally disregarding where you are at all times as they will try to run through you if you are in the way of their pre-designated path. They very rarely kill anything despite the fact they blast away constantly and will not advance in anyway whatsoever until you have done all the work. Often they will completely ignore an enemy hiding round a corner, run straight past him, and as you follow, assuming everything is fine as your AI pals only advance when everything is dead, the enemy soldier shoots you in the back. To make it worse they will push you out from behind cover if you happen to be in the way and being fired at, get stuck on you ceasing your and their ability to move, particularly annoying when a grenade explosion is imminent. You try and escape the blast radius only for a moronic computer sprite to run into you gluing you to the spot. They will leap in front of you when aiming down the sites of a sniper rifle, steal really good places of cover leaving you out in the line of fire and generally be of no help at all and really irritate constantly. You will frequently wish they would all simply commit suicide as doing the whole game on your own would be considerably easier.
The enemy will target you and only you. It’s hardly surprising that the enemy is only after you considering how your AI pals offer no threat whatsoever, but this was another frustrating flaw in the single player campaign. Basically all enemies on screen, even if there are a million other people shooting at them will fire at you and only you. It is ludicrous as often they will charge in a kamikaze style towards a flank of your AI pals just to get to you sitting at the back behind cover. It is utterly preposterous. There’s nothing worse than being in a line of 50 troops and all the enemy on screen are shooting at you.
The check points mid mission are way to far apart. A minor gripe would be that the check points on some missions are too far apart. About half the game is set on saving your game after every action set piece, as expected, but the other half of the levels demand you go through at least three or four, which on the harder difficulties is incredibly difficult and takes a very long time. Starting pretty much from the beginning of each level every time you die, which you will do a lot on Veteran mode, is anger inducing stuff. Again it’s just further unnecessary frustration.
It’s too hard to control a vehicle and shoot from it at the same time. A further minor gripe is that I didn’t like having to control the vehicle your in and shoot at the same time. Possibly more a reflection of my skills, but it did seem a bit overwhelming. Its hard enough having to pick out a hundred enemies with a machine and rocket launchers at the same time, whilst avoiding incoming RPG rounds and other enemy vehicles. The majority of vehicle stages are based on the computer players driving and you shooting, as in Modern Warfare, which is simply better as far as I am concerned and putting you in control of everything is a step to far.
It goes to show how spoilt we are as game fans at the moment, as a title as good as COD: Black Ops is just a bit unimpressive. The single player has issues, such as retarded AI pals and the infuriating respawning enemies, but it is still the action packed bullet blazing brutally violent romp across the globe fans will want, the online multiplayer is as robust as ever and now more accommodating to newcomers and you can slaughter zombies with your mates, yet it just doesn’t blow you away. This is Black Ops’ biggest problem, that an overly familiar feeling has crept into this game and it feels too much like your just going through the motions, like some DLC for another COD game. Please don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid and decent game, but in the same way World at War was excellent but not quite as good as the first Modern Warfare (which I still think is the best shooter ever made), Black Ops is very good but not quite as good as Modern Warfare 2. If you’re a fan of said Modern Warfare 2 and still play it, which I am sure is a hell of a lot of people, there is not really any incentive to hand Activision another £50 of your cash. The single player isn’t quite as entertaining, the multiplayer is just as good/identical (with the exception of Black Ops being friendlier to newcomers) and the zombie level is not as entertaining as Spec Ops mode (the two player levels) in Modern Warfare 2. Considering Black Ops has already broken all sales records I have no doubt it will sell in ludicrous numbers so my opinion is utterly irrelevant, but I maintain, despite how good it is, and it is really good, unless your completely new to the franchise/genre, I cant think of many reasons to buy it. CA.
Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 9.5
Everything is simple and easy to use and the control scheme is the same as all previous games, perfect and instinctual. Getting online is a piece of cake and you are set up against similarly ranked people automatically.
Is the story any good? – 8.0
Its told in a epileptic fit inducing way, far too many flickering images and flashes, but is otherwise interesting, fast paced and full of unexpected twists.
How does it look? – 8.5
Very good if a bit un-noticeable. Character animations are vastly improved, especially facial features and general movement, and all levels are teeming with detail, especially the ‘Nam missions. Not quite as eye popping as slightly better visually awesome titles, such as God of War III or Vanquish.
How does it sound? – 10.0
Background music always suits the action and the character you are playing, especially the Rolling Stones in the ‘Nam boat mission. Gary Oldman provides voice acting again, and his Russian is as good as ever.
Is it good to play? – 8.0
Action packed, gun blazing, brutally violent and explosive. The COD experience to be expected. Online multiplayer is as vast and addictive as ever and more accommodating to newcomers. Eternally respawning enemies, very unaware and stupid friendly AI and a few other gripes make the single player not quite as excellent as perhaps it should have been. It’s not quite as good as Modern Warfare 2 in general.
When will I get bored? – 8.0
Single player doesn’t take too long (around 6 to 7 hours), but the online multiplayer and zombie levels will keep you playing for a while, especially with addictive ranking and upgrade system. A general feeling of “I have done all this before” is very apparent however and interest is likely to not last as long as previous titles.
OVERALL – 8.5
Review created by C. Armstrong.