Review by Das_Regal
"Black Ops is both formulaic and deviant at the same time, but succeeds in all it sets out to do."
It's a vast understatement to say that expectations were high across the board going into the launch of Black Ops. While hype often creates an atmosphere where a game cannot possibly reach the bar that it sets for itself, I took my time with the game to get an accurate picture of what it has to offer. This review is written after a full play through of the single-player campaign, a couple of zombies games, lots of wager matches, and entering prestige mode.
Graphically, the game feels like a step down from Modern Warfare 2 at first. The HUD isn't as pretty, levels don't seem to use as nice of textures, and the FPS has a hard time staying high at times. These sacrifices are made in exchange for customization in multiplayer, but there's little to no excuse for them in single-player. I have to say that the cutscenes and in game special effects that are utilized in single-player more than make up for it however, and the customization in online play is mind-blowing.
Sound-wise the game is done incredibly well. The music isn't especially memorable, but the voice acting is top notch, gun sounds are perfect, and subtle sound effects add serious depth to the presentation of the story. I absolutely loved the inclusion of several period songs in the campaign as well.
I'm going to just come out right away and confess that I'm not a fan of the single-player offerings that Call of Duty typically brings to the table. I found the stories of Modern Warfare 1 and 2 convoluted and trite, and World at War was simply mind-numbingly boring to me. I wasn't expecting much when I booted up Black Ops on the storyline front, but what I saw blew me away. Not only does Black Ops have a coherent story, but it's compelling enough to keep you playing. From the very beginning Treyarch sets up a great deal of intrigue, which only becomes increasingly complicated before Black Ops excellently foreshadowed final act.
The story actually features characterization for its cast which helps strike an emotional chord to the unfolding events that previous Call of Duty titles utterly failed to deliver. Even better is how Black Ops' historical fiction contains popular concepts, songs, and famous people from the era that are immediately recognizable to just about anyone who's taken a basic history class. Treyarch made a brilliant setting when choosing the Cold War era as the backdrop for its story.
Single-Player Gameplay: 7.5/10
For as excellent as the storyline is, the gameplay itself doesn't feel radically different from the campaigns in any other recent Call of Duty title. It borrows a lot of ideas on how to handle vehicle segments from Modern Warfare 2, and sticks to the tried and true formula of killing wave after wave of mindless enemies with precise controls.
I found the AI to be lacking all around. Allies would sometimes sit there and do nothing of worth while enemies would often ignore my AI allies guarding the doorway and rush right at me hiding behind a crate several feet away. It just didn't seem right. Their sayings got quite repetitive during dug-in firefights, especially in the second half of the game where you're fighting alongside allies you've spent quite a bit of time with.
I personally find it hard to get absorbed into gameplay that lacks the depth of a progression system or persistent inventory. Given that you don't even carry over weapons and items between stages (and thus there is no need to conserve), there isn't really much to aim for other than completion and achievements while you go through the game. If you like a bare-bones FPS campaign experience, you'll probably enjoy the single-player campaign's non-story offerings: I just don't care for its lack of depth. I simply cannot see myself ever playing through the campaign again now that I have once. It's not bad by any means, it simply fails to differentiate itself from previous titles or the FPS standard fare.
The storyline is good enough to keep you playing to its conclusion at least.
Black Ops delivers a slightly slower-paced version of multiplayer compared to its predecessor, but it's still plenty engaging. There aren't a lot of completely new weapons (to the series), but there are a lot of new gadgets and attachment options that fundamentally change tactical options for the better. Motion sensors and camera spikes give players a new way to detect opponents while decoy grenades let you confuse your enemies into thinking there's someone on your team shooting at them randomly for a good thirty seconds.
Beyond those changes however, Black Ops feels quite a bit like all the other games. It's considerably more balanced than Modern Warfare 2, but this comes at a loss of some features. Thankfully new customization options (emblem, red dot color and style, and even some limited character appearance options) allow you to experiment with how other players perceive you.
Gone is the completely XP-reliant system of unlocks, it's been replaced with a system where you earn money as you earn as you earn XP, and every time you rank up, to buy equipment with. Guns are still unlocked for purchase at certain levels, but you do not automatically get them. At the beginning of the game you're given a small pool of funds to purchase what you want, and the game begins with every perk available for purchase.
A key component of this money system is the new Wager Match mode, which is a set of playlist variants which put players up against each other for cash prizes. The variants themselves are quite creative, and the fact that there's money on the line (if you don't finish in the top 3 of 6 you will lose your buy-in amount) ratchets up the intensity a few levels.
Starting over via Prestige seems to take less time than it used to now that the cap is level 50. There's also more incentive to do so, now that you can use a different unlock path along your way to the top. Each time you play through you can choose a different way to spend your money, ultimately giving the game a lot more replayability.
Zombies from World at War also makes a return with a few refined features. Now you can upgrade your weapons with the pack-a-punch machine, plus characters have voice actors. When you finish the game you unlock the zombies map "five" where a bunch of unlikely allies (diametrically opposed well-known political figures) struggle to survive the zombie apocalypse in the ruins of the Pentagon.
There are also two "hidden" games: a Zombie Apocalypse (the download title) like game and a classic text adventure title.
In all the ways that matter to me, this game really delivers. There's a ridiculous amount of content that is worth experiencing even if you've played through the previous Call of Duty titles as I have. The twists on the multiplayer experience are enough to keep me interested, while the campaign actually delivers a good storyline for once.
The only people I wouldn't recommend this game to, are those who are sick of Call of Duty or are disinterested in playing a slower-paced version of Modern Warfare 2 with the features I've described.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/17/10
Game Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops (US, 11/09/10)
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