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SummaryCheck out your windows; pigs may be flying. I actually liked this one!
- Entertaining, stylish, and clever story
- Keeps the trademark of having big set pieces
- Nice attention to detail and high performance makes up for aging graphics
- Zombies mode is fun with a friend
- Slightly more variety in setting
- Still fairly shallow online and off
- Lengthy battles get repetitive very quickly
- Not much replay value
- Graphics are starting to age and colors seem washed out
- Buggy online net-code
- Zombies is no fun without a friend
- Favorites list and friends list is broken
The Bottom LineI'm hardly a fan of the Call of Duty series. I don't necessarily despise them; they're far more playable than some of the utterly generic and worthless shooters that get dumped on the market, but they just never truly appealed to me and I've never understood their appeal to others, including my wife who almost always shells out for the new releases.
I'll grant the original Modern Warfare some merit, it had some genuinely fun sequences that didn't just feel like I was watching the game play itself through its many scripted sequences. Its sequel, however, rubbed me the wrong way. I'm fine with games that have a serious or dark tone; hell, the one I'm about to review is pretty bleak at times, but Modern Warfare 2's campaign was far too oppressive for me to enjoy and other than the level early on where you were ice-climbing and then the sequence in a darkened Washington DC I simply didn't feel compelled or satisfied.
Anywho, on to Black Ops. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. It doesn't really stray far from the formula in that it's essentially an interactive movie that lets you shoot stuff for a bit as you get to the next scene. Naturally with a formula like that - you need a compelling "movie." Thankfully, Black Ops delivers. It's no master-work of fiction, but it absolutely drips with style and atmosphere. It's a genuinely creative and compelling political and psychological thriller - yes, psychological elements are introduced here.
You are Alex Mason - a renowned black operative with an impressive resume. However you are a bit tied up right now and are being interrogated in a dark and dingy room. An endless repetition of a string of numbers is giving you a headache and your captors demand their meaning; however, to do this, he has to go back in his past to piece the mystery together. It all begins with the Bay of Pigs uprising and the assassination attempt on Castro. You manage to kill a double, and are soon captured by the real Castro who hands you over to a Russian Terrorist named Dragovich as a present to signify their new partnership.
Dragovich takes you to Russia and imprisons you in a hellish labor camp known as Vorkuta, where you meet Viktor Reznov. Remember this name - Reznov is not only my favourite character in the game, but he is also an indispensable character in this plot who is just as crucial as Alex or even Dragovich. Anywho, you quickly befriend Reznov and formulate a plan to escape Vorkuta and free its prisoners.
You succeed and escape, and return to America with new orders; but you did not escape Vorkuta the same, but the truth behind that is something I'll let you find out by yourselves.
The story's patchwork style works in various advantageous ways for the gameplay. Not only does the story flow into the gameplay more smoothly, it allows for more variety in setting and objectives. You can argue that most of the game takes place in Russia with Vietnam coming up second; but what you do in both places is varied when you go back to them.
For the most part you play only as Alex, however in a couple segments you play as a different character. One mission has you playing his fellow Operative Woods and later on, you play as his Operator Hudson in order to gain clarity during one of the games more revealing moments. You also get a brief chance to play as Reznov and go back to World War II, to find the origins of Dragovich's plans.
The gameplay is pretty much more or less the same as other Call of Duty games. You often have to push your way up to progress, and engage in tough firefights. Like games before it, the highlights are a variety of big set pieces. In one mission, you get to blow up a space rocket. In the Vorkuta uprising, you get to Harpoon a helicopter and use a makeshift slingshot to blow up guard towers. My personal favourite though is a sequence where you are kidnapped by VietCong soldiers and after an intense sequence of the classic Russian Roulette torture, you escape and capture a helicopter to deal out some death. There is also a memorable moment where you are surrounded by a deadly nerve toxin and to survive, you must prevent your hazmat suit from being cracked. You can only take 3 or 4 bullets here, and your suit doesn't repair itself meaning that once it cracks open, you are toast.
One of my problems with the Call of Duty formula though is it gets repetitive. I often found myself getting tired of standing in the same hallway as an unending number of enemies come by. I also hate how there is almost always only one solution to a sequence. The first Vietnam level has a part where you have to make your way down a hill blanketed with VC soldiers and machine gun emplacements. The only way to push forward is to go in a nearby bunker and find the grenade launcher.
I was also punished in a later level where I didn't want to carry the crossbow, and then it killed me because I came to a part that required it. I don't mind having big battles that require a mix of brains and brawn to overcome, but you spend too much time standing in a small area firing at about a thousand enemies and waiting for them to be thin enough for you to move and you die a lot if you miss a seemingly exact quotient of baddies. I actually kept count one level I was stuck on. I killed exactly 149 soldiers, moved up the cramp corridor, and then got killed by a group that randomly spawned in without any support since my buddies wouldn't move. I replayed the sequence, and until I killed at least 154, I kept dying. The game wants so desperately to be fast paced, but you spend far too long in certain areas even if you aren't losing.
At least there are some fun toys, like a Spas12 shotgun loaded with Dragon's Breath rounds that cooks and maims at the same time and while the weapons are still mostly a parade of generic real life guns, they sound great and the gruesome death animations at least make them satisfying to use.
The multiplayer is fun. Once again, it doesn't really change the formula. I'll be honest and say that I never felt the experience to be "Deep" like a lot of people do, to me a deep multiplayer experience would be something along the lines of Battlefield. To me CoD multiplayer is more of a suite containing fairly routine multiplayer modes with a tiny pinch of spice, not unlike Quake 3 or the like.
Black Ops does improve the multiplayer from last entries though. I understand that this is something that people like about the MP, but I personally never liked the way you had to grind your way to get things. Sure - Battlefield has you rank up and you get new stuff, but it handles that system differently. In Call of Duty, it always annoyed me how you had to strive for specific achievements. In Battlefield, you got pins for those achievements but the weapons and upgrades came naturally instead of forcing you to get a specific amount of special kills. Black Ops still keeps that system, but there's one majour improvement: Call of Duty points.
You earn money that lets you unlock stuff. Some weapons still won't be available until you level up, but when they unlock you can buy them and you don't have to earn special achievements to unlock their attachments. If you have enough points, just buy them. It allowed me to get into the MP more, because I simply don't have the time to waste to get "50 kills with the red dot sight" just so I can unlock the next upgrade for my gun. I can just pick the one I want at any time, which is nice.
Black Ops isn't a masterpiece, but surprisingly - I enjoyed it. It is the first Call of Duty I would actually recommend to people like myself who aren't huge fans of the series. The story is entertaining and creative and multiplayer is an alright time waster. I would recommend only renting it if you just want to experience the single-player, as it is still short and beyond difficulties and finding intel it isn't very replayable. But regardless it is worth checking out.