Review by Sain_of_Caelin
"Black Ops comes out on tops"
Disclaimer: I rate with a 5 being average, not 7. Beyond that, I grade fairly hard. Also, I'm going to try to avoid comparing Black Ops to the HD version (although I will reference previous Wii installments), as they are very similar and I feel it would detract from the actual review, becoming more of a comparative list than a review.
Like any good piece of writing, my review will start with an personal anecdote:
If someone had told me I'd be reviewing a Call of Duty game 3 years ago, I likely would have laughed in their well groomed face. Throughout my life I have never been a big FPS fan, nor an online fan. I grew up with Zelda, Mario, Crash Bandicoot, you know, the good ol' boys. But over a friend's house a few years back we ended up playing some Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. And you know what? It was fun. I didn't magically turn into some pink shirt wearing, keg stand doing, flip flop wearing frat boy. I just had fun. And so we fast forward to now. How is Black Ops you ask? It's fun.
Now onto the review itself:
FPS games are very rarely known for their stories, and Black Ops does not deviate from the norm too much in this way. The story is fast paced, and filled with it's fair share of epic moments, but at the end of the day, it's nothing to write home about.
In a way it is a progression for Treyarch's previous game: Call of Duty: World at War. There are some reoccurring characters, the Russian duo of Reznov and Petrov, the former being the best character in the game. Reznov is the good guy' Russian. He assists Mason, the lead character throughout the game, saving our ass many times. Reznov is often found rallying his men to glory and victory, and giving powerful narrative at some points. His characterization is the best of the story.
So while a little frat'ish in the epicness of it all, Black Ops has a solid and fun story. But unfortunately the early levels are better than the later levels, and level design falls a bit at around 2/3 through.
Visuals and audio are what I like to think of as magnifiers. If gameplay is the ice cream, the visuals and audio are the nuts and chocolate syrup. The visuals are impressive in Black Ops. The gun models look great, and have all sorts of little touches. Another thing to note is that weapon attachments look like they are part of the gun, as opposed to an add-on. Character models are a little lackluster, mostly online. But something I noticed is during the campaign the lead characters like Mason and Reznov have more detailed models than the background characters, which was a nice touch. Overall the game looks like a slightly more textured Modern Warfare: Reflex except with better looking guns.
The audio on the other hand is purely background. For the most part you won't notice the music. But the guns sound great. I don't know how true to life they are, but the sounds are solid. My only complaint is the main guns (assault rifles, shotguns, light machine guns) are a little quiet, but the pistols sound impressive, being much more manly and austere than their MWR counterparts. It's also good to note that there are a few slick moments with music from Eminem and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the later which helps create among the best scenes in the campaign.
Controls - 10/10
The controls are great, due to the great level of customization and the Wiimote aiming, which is great. The Wiimote takes a little getting used to, but once you get comfortable with it you'll be pumping Russians full of lead with no problems. The Classic Controller Pro is another option for gamers uncomfortable with the Wiimote, but if possible, go for the Wiimote.
You can customize pretty much everything. You can change your turning speed, dead zones, scoped aiming style, button layout, everything. There are 5 preset button layouts for the Wiimote, which vary, but can also map almost any function to any button, can't go wrong with that.
Gameplay (2 Sections):
I'll start out with the good. The campaign is the best from what I've played in the Call of Duty games (WaW, MW). This is speaking purely to the gameplay elements, not story or characters. One of the best parts of the Black Ops campaign is the scope and wide locales that the Cold War allows it. Throughout the campaign you'll be traversing a multitude of different environments: a Cuban cityscape, a Russian prison, the jungles of Vietnam, frozen tundra, and my favorite, on the rooftops of Hong Kong. It keeps the gameplay fresh, and it also helps that the campaign is split into flashbacks, which means you won't be going through a Cuban stage, then a forest stage and so on. The levels will intersect so rarely will you play a similar level one after another.
Another great aspect is again, related to the diversity that the Cold War gives the campaign. Throughout the campaign you'll be given a chance to use every gun under the sun, aside from the painfully under represented sniper rifles. Unlike the AK47 and MP40 prone campaigns of World at War and Modern Warfare, Black Ops' campaign has almost every gun in the multiplayer, in addition to some old favorites like the MP40 and unscoped Mosin Nagant.
Twitch shooters, in my opinion, have the worst campaign style of all the FPS archtypes. It's mostly a monotony of find cover, poking up to shoot or grenade, and then move up, pushing back the unlimited enemy spawns that this game unfortunately has. And it's no different in Black Ops on a basic level. It's a bit slow paced, and unforgiving at times for the average gamer. Two hills in the Vietnam levels had me stumped for a solid 30 minutes. But Black Ops does a good job of again, giving the player some diversity. Right when you might be getting bored of the mindless pushing back of the enemy, the game will toss you something unique. Whether it's the switching of perspectives to another character, the chance to pilot a vehicle of some sort (which aren't great, but break up levels nicely), or just sit back for a moment to watch your soldier unleash his roof hopping skills, the game makes sure you never get too bored, for the most part.
Some undeniably negative aspects are that the game does occasionally chop up the frame rate when there's a lot of action. It takes quite a chunk of action to trip the frames up, but it will happen. Also, a fair amount of players will find the game will freeze up once or twice. This is really unfortunate especially when one of the more common freeze points is during an important scene. Beyond those technical issues, the game also does drag on a bit at about 2/3s through. There are still some very good levels at that point, but the average level quality takes a noticeable dip.
Onward to the online section! Was there really a reason to read all that other nonsense?
To get straight to the meat of things, yes, the online is very much improved over previous Call of Duty Wii ventures. I was surprised to find that even a week into the game, with 7,000 players online, there is little, if any lag. As I found out, this makes rushing a lot harder, and will result in dropping of k/d in more aggressive players, but once you configure yourself to the glorious laglessness of it all, it's undeniable that the change is for the better. A strange aspect to this, and I don't know the exact details, is that instead of the host getting a perfection connection and everyone else getting subpar connection, it's the opposite. The host is most likely to get the worst connection, while the other users get the superior connection. Now this is good in the thought that 9 players get a better connection, while only 1 gets a subpar connection, but it may lead some hosts to quit games early.
The general outline of the online is vastly changed. It will seem overwhelming at first, but so many options have been added, it's by far the best showing of online on the Wii so far. Like other Call of Duty games, it's run off a leveling system. You kill enemies, complete Challenges (explained later) and play objectives to level up, which doesn't affect your stats, but allows you access to new guns, gametypes, and gun camouflage. But unlike previous games, you don't automatically obtain these items, but you have to buy them using CoD Points, which are a monetary system. You get them in matches just like you get experience points. This is a great new mechanic in that you can pick and choose which guns/perks/camo/etc you want. You could try a little of everything, or stick to a core gun group and trick them out with scopes, extended magazines and supressors.
Another huge addition to the online is the first step in the abolition of friend codes. You are still assigned a 12 digit code that friends will have to type in to request being your friend, but beyond that, they have no use. And most importantly changed from previous Wii installments is that if you see a player online you'd like to be friends with, you can request him just by clicking his name and highlighting the Add friend' option. Makes adding friends and rivals much easier.
You have your normal Create-A-Class (abbreviated CaC) menu; start with 5, with an option to get up to 10. But the new CaC changes things up a bit. You pick your perks, which have been changed up, most noticeably getting rid of Stopping Power and Juggernaut (perks that increase damage or health) and adding pro perks, which are advanced levels of perks you get by doing Challenges. You can then choose your guns (with attachments like suppressors and scopes to name a few of many), lethal grenades, secondary grenades, and equipment, like Claymores, UAV Jammers, etc. There are literally billions of options.
The gun balance is good for the most part, no gun is ridiculously overpowered, but the main problem is the redundancy of some guns. When you have two guns that do the same damage but one has a bigger magazine and shorter reload time, it's an easy decision. But I do respect that they're at least giving us more guns, which is never a bad thing, clones or not. And to my great glee, gun camouflage is not only back, but it actually looks good now. The drowned out colors of Modern Warfare Reflex are gone, replaced with vibrant patterns, from solid colors to standard jungle patterns to orange and black tiger camo.
Most gametypes are back as well, in addition to some new ones, the classic Capture the Flag, and Demolition. The game types incorporate all sorts of FPS skills: capturing and return flags, holding points from the enemy, killing the enemy, blowing up targets, defusing bombs, there's a lot of variety. And with these gametypes come a slew of new Challenges. Challenges are extra things you can do to get extra Experience. Some examples: get 50 assault rifle headshots, capturing the flag 10 times, get a long range kill. There are tons of them, and the game lists them in an easy accessible menu.
There are 14 maps as well. They range from great to pretty bad, in my opinion there are 8 above average maps, 4 average, and 2 bad maps. However, the spawning system isn't great and tends to spawn you a bit haphazardly and it's easy to push spawns, which makes some Domination games confusing. Sniping also does not lend itself too much to the maps. Using a shorter range ACOG scope is okay, but long range sniping is pretty hard on many maps.
But Sain, you say, these online players are too good, I just wanna practice and get used to the controls, but campaign isn't helping. My friend, the developers were way ahead of you. This game has a mode with bots. It's doesn't allow for more than 1 human player, but it's so great I don't mind. It's called Combat Training and it's beautiful. There are 4 difficulty settings, and although none will truly prepare you for human opponents, it's great practice for getting to know the maps and guns. You use the same online profile in the bot matches but you have a different set of stats, meaning you level your Combat Training and Online separately. The two main positives of this mode are learning the maps, and trying out possible purchases before you decide to buy them online. The downside is that you most still be connected to the internet to play (but this allows you to invite online friends for a little comp stomp' action), and only Team Deathmatch and Free for All are supported.
And for the more social online gamer, the game supports the PDP Headbanger Headset. So for the first time on a Wii FPS, you can talk to your fellow gamers using a headset.
Early on there were many users that had at least one kind of online trouble, whether freezing, not being able to get online, or being unable to connect to games and hosts. That trend seems to have recently gone down, possibly to a micro patch that Treyarch didn't announce, although that's only speculation on my part. But Treyarch has confirmed patches for the Wii. There are still some online hiccups thought affecting some people with a LAN connection, and general connecting troubles. Likely to be solved, and I haven't personally experienced it, but it's worth noting.
+Amazing control options
+ Great characters
+ Interesting plot twist
+ Some great songs and epic moments in campaign
+Supports a bot mode
+ Tons of customization and freedom
+ Little to no lag
+ Wide variety of maps and gametypes
+ Gun camouflage
+ Headset compatible
+ Promise of future patches
- Classic twitch shooter campaign faults
- Campaign does get stale near end
-Some online bugs
Final Score: 8.4/10
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/19/10
Game Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops (US, 11/09/10)
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