Review by Exodist
"Treyarch move from being an underdog to being some serious competition for Infinity Ward."
Call of Duty has always been an excellent series (and don't let those people who hate on it because its a different opinion to the masses tell you otherwise), however there has been one problem with it. Activision, the greedy bunch they are, felt two years to make a Call of Duty game was too long for Infinity Ward. Cue Treyarch getting sent in to make a game to be released between these two years. Call of Duty 3 was pretty crap. World at War was pretty good but it was technically all ripped off from Call of Duty 4. However this time around, with a bit of experience under their belt, Treyarch have gone for gold in this attempt. After Modern Warfare 2 received a little bit of backlash (I still think its great myself, few problems here and there but still enjoyable) Treyarch listened to the fans of Call of Duty and have attempted to fix these for their own entry, with considerable success.
For me, although the multiplayer is my favourite aspect, I still enjoy a good single player campaign. Black Ops is, simply put, nothing new at all. What made Call of Duty 4 so ground breaking was excellent level design but more importantly, the storyline and the set-pieces. It was an emotional ride with characters you cared for and plot twists that will genuinely shock you. Such is the brilliance of the campaign even Infinity Ward struggled to top this with MW2, resorting to over the top hi jinks that didn't bode too well with a lot of players. Sadly, Treyarch seemed to miss this. The story itself isn't too bad, however for a lot of the game it doesn't really make sense. You play as Alex Mason, strapped to a chair, being interrogated about what the numbers mean, as you recall the different important events regarding the numbers (since for obvious reasons you can't remember). It starts very promising with a small team out to assassinate Fidel Castro but there isn't too much sense in the story. For a lot of the game you just zip from location to location and it can get a bit confusing as to what is happening when and also who you're playing as. Toward the end much more is revealed but the story is predictable and nothing spectacular, akin to your standard summer blockbuster. The ending is predictable and there aren't any standout story moments in the rest of the game (the ending is a bit cheesy also). The story is by no means terrible but it didn't particularly feel like Call of Duty, even MW2 felt more Call of Duty than this. Yes, the story was pretty different to how I expected it to be (I thought it would just feature different black ops across a time span with maybe a little underlying theme, not some massive narrative driven game), although I suppose the way they did it is better than what I anticipated.
The campaign itself is also pretty short. It took me about 6 and a half hours to beat, although this is very common now and something you just have to deal with. The level design is pretty decent with some great set-pieces. The Vietnam stealth section in particular is very enjoyable and there is a rather interesting part where you travel through a gas filled town, using heat sensors to shoot people whilst making sure your suit doesn't break to avoid getting killed by the gas. Vehicles also feature in the game which are instantly easy to use and pretty fun. These sections don't overstay their welcome either and you're back to the usual shooting pretty soon. One part I particularly liked though involved another stealth section, this time in the snow, but I don't really want to spoil everything. Nothing quite on the scale of Gillie in the Mist (is that what it was called?) but some decent level design. Unlike MW2 however, Treyarch did not remove the infinitely spawning enemies. They only come at certain points (still a lot, but hey, not at basically every section of the game at least), but I actually didn't mind as much as I did. Of course, I am talking about beating the game on Veteran. Treyarch's previous game, World at War, is infamous for its extreme difficulty on Veteran: the enemies were deadly accurate, spammed grenades and kept spawning and spawning. Here, there is much less grenade spam and although they're still pretty accurate and respawn a lot, the campaign on Veteran is pretty manageable. After the disappointing ease of MW2 (bit easy on Veteran), its nice to see Black Ops is harder, however only just. This does mean less frustration for those going for Veteran achievements, but at the same time the sense of achievement I got from doing CoD2 and 4 on Veteran is not matched here. One interesting thing to note is that Intel makes an appearance once again, however this time you can actually read it. It won't interest most players, granted, but it was a nice thought to making an otherwise dull collecting aspect of the game a little more interesting. Other than beating it, doing Vet, and getting all the intel, Treyarch have numerous level centric achievements for you to pursue. None of them are too hard but they're varied and fun, adding a little bit of replay value to the campaign, if you're the type to go after achievements.
With this being a Treyarch Call of Duty, Zombies is also included in the package. The zombies seen here is much more sophisticated than before. In the original World at War it was fun but also very basic. However before I get ahead of myself I have to admit I have little experience with World at War, so Black Ops was actually my first time with zombies. Zombies actually has a lot of depth to it and is crazy fun when playing with three mates. I was actually really surprised and can safely say Zombies is much more fun than Special Ops, the mode Infinity Ward came out with for MW2 because they wanted to compete with zombies without quite ripping it off completely (not from the lowly Treyarch, heaven forbid). There are two main maps in the game: Kino Der Toten or something like that, and Five. My level of choice is Kino, the theatre level. If you don't know already, zombies works as thus: enemies spawn each round and players must defeat all the enemies to proceed to the next round. Points are gained which can be used to open new rooms and buy new guns. Its a simple setup but has an incredible amount of depth (if only proved by the achievements). The fun is exploring and finding stuff out yourself.
I first started playing it with a friend (just me and him) who had never played zombies before either. Advancing further and further and exploring more of the theatre is really fun and satisfying. You unlock new rooms, explore new areas and find new things out. There are loads of things you can do and buy, find rooms to hide in, find the mystery box to buy special weapons, buy perks and powerups, new weapons, use the teleporter to find a machine to improve your guns, there is plenty to do and see in this mode. Its challenging, fun, intense and very well made. I'm not a big fan of Five but the theatre level is very well made and its a mode that's sure to have you and your friends occupied as you try and get further and further, exploring more of the level and learning new tricks about it. Also, the menu for the zombies mode is pretty sweet.
This leaves the multiplayer, and what a beast it is. The multiplayer is essentially MW2 version 2.0 with a few added bits here and there. The game looks and mostly feels the same but at the same time, it feels really different and fresh. The concept remains pretty much the same: play in playlists, earn XP and customise your character, advance up the ranks, then if you so wish, prestige and do it all again. This time around, there is a huge emphasis on customisation. The emblem and callsigns introduced in MW2 (lovingly borrowed from Street Fighter IV, unless that game stole them too) are back but this time you can completely customise your emblem. I don't know what Treyarch were thinking but so far I've seen plenty of animal related activities in emblems and a few obligatory genital emblems (lets not be rude here). If I am perfectly honest, its not entirely for me. I don't care about it much and I'm not too creative, so I honestly prefer the pre-created emblems in MW2. This is two main reasons. Firstly, I'm not too creative and again, not bothered about what it looks like. Mine is a flower, go figure. However I will admit I have also seen some brilliant emblems so kudos to those who make effort with them. Secondly, one of the things I liked about MW2 was that the emblems and callsigns, apart from being an aesthetic feature, were also unlocked by doing challenges. You could prove to people you had done different stuff by what emblem and callsign you had. Now you just unlock them all by leveling up. The callsigns aren't too great either, there are some good ones but they're very different to MW2 too. There is also more customisation in the class aspect of the game. You can put your emblem onto your gun (no thanks) or your clan tag (a little bit more acceptable), and also change your aiming reticule (I hoped some would help but its purely for cosmetic reasons) and you can buy any camo you want too (again, losing sense of showing off since there's no blue/red tiger and fall camo anymore) and even some face paint if you fancy it. Oh and the blue perk changes what your guy looks like.
Treyarch have made a massive attempt to balance things. The perks have changed a lot. The bad ones are gone, stuff like Commando (although it feels like everyone just has it by default now, seen some real commando lunges online) and One Man Army are nowhere to be seen. The fair ones remain, stuff like Scavenger and Warlord, and even some like Stopping Power have disappeared, deemed not worthy by Treyarch (but its okay guys, they kept Last Chance/Second Chance). The perks in the game are good, although tier 3 perks are pretty lame I felt (just go Hacker of Marathon really). There are no real exploits here though and the pro versions are also fair, this time unlocked by three challenges. Its a good idea but its a bit annoying when Marathon wants you to play Capture the Flag which is terrible. Another major difference which I surprisingly don't like, is that your secondary weapon is restricted to either a handgun, launcher or two 'special' weapons, the crossbow and ballistic knife. I honestly loved going around with a Shotgun as secondary (SPAS-12 was beast, but it has the worst ion sight ever now) or even a machine pistol, and with the exception of one handgun attachment for one gun, they're just not here, with Shotgun returning as a primary weapon. A lot of people will like this but I just preferred having something different to a pistol as a secondary.
One change they made to the game which I don't see much point to is the introduction of a currency system. This means you have to buy everything. It hardly makes an actual difference though. You earn plenty of money, by the end of my first prestige I had 90K points when I prestiged. Everything is cheap and there's not really much you want to buy when you have your setup. But it basically means when you unlock the gun, you just have to buy it... whats the point? The main difference here is you can buy any perk you want from the start, which I like, and that when you buy a gun, you can buy any attachment you like. These two things I like, but I honestly didn't mind the old system either. Its nice that Treyarch have tried to spice things up a bit but I see this as mostly pointless and don't really think it has much of an effect on the game. You've always got money to buy stuff so its like normal anyway, you can just get that red dot sight or the insanely awesome dual mag attachment as soon as you buy your gun, rather than later. Of course this does lead to the introduction of the Wager matches. They're okay but not as good as I was expecting. As mentioned, you rarely need money so you never want to gamble it to earn more, so you're playing purely for the game types. Gun game is pretty cool but the snipers (more on this later) are absolutely awful, but I guess that is the whole point. One in the chamber sounds awesome on paper but kinda sucks in practice and isn't nearly as tense as you'd hope. I'm also going to admit that's all I bothered to play because the mode just didn't interest me. I got my 5 wins achievement and haven't been back since. They've also added a contract system into the game, but I don't think much of this either. You can buy three contracts which give you challenges to complete over the next 40 minutes. Do it, and you earn money (more than what you paid) and in some cases XP. The challenges, changed every so often, are really easy and reward you with barely any money or experience. 500 XP? 250 more cod points? Great, don't care. They do add something to the game certainly, but they offer low reward so I never find myself compelled to achieve these easy goals because in the end they barely make a difference.
Very briefly also, an awesome theatre mode was added. Remember that game from 2007... whats it called, oh, Halo 3? Yeah, that had theatre, and its taken this long for Call of Duty to finally add it (I honestly thought MW2 was going to have it but apparently not). Its not quite as good, because campaign and zombie games are not recorded, and sometimes your matches just disappear which is pretty annoying (awesome Tomahawk across Villa, game doesn't appear in theatre, fml), but it generally works. You can spectate everyone, take screenshots, zoom around the map, record clips and upload them onto a fileshare for your mates to see. It does exactly what it says and is a welcome addition.
The last thing of importance for multiplayer, to me, are the actual guns and the maps. They're not great and this is a big turn off for me. Out of the 14 maps in the game, I can honestly say I only like 2 of them, the rest are okay, and a few are terrible (Nuketown sucks, seriously stop obsessing over it in the votes). The maps are generally unimaginative in their design (yeah, lots of destroyed stuff, great) with Nuketown being the only real great aesthetic design (the actual map design is awful). So the maps aren't all that to look at, and they're just not designed that well. There are quite a few different paths to follow for objective modes but the maps just don't really seem to favour every type and a lot of maps have sections that just seem really pointless. The back of Villa (the side where the villa isn't), coincidently one of the two maps I like (the other is Firing Range if you need to know), why is it there? You spawn there but its absolutely massive for a spawn. Maps like Crisis feature a big ass beach which is just poorly designed but pretty pointless too (awful, awful map). I don't like the guns much either. In MW2, you had players using pretty much all types of guns. Black Ops is all about assault rifles and sub machine guns. There are loads of rubbish SMGs there (MP5K and AK47u, do you really need anymore?) and the assault rifles are generally terrible. It doesn't help that the guns look bad, but the likes of the M16 are truly awful now. Taking at least three bursts to kill people the majority of the time now, it doesn't help because everyone else kills you in about 2 hits with their semi-automatic guns. Burst fire is awful now and its all up to you having a fast gun and aiming at the other guy first. For example, walk around the corner, there are two enemies. In MW2 if you were quick and had good aim, you could possibly take them both out. Not in Black Ops. It just feels like most of it now is just shooting the other guy first, rather than skill, get shot from behind you're unlikely to turn around and kill him now. The guns have loads of recoil which doesn't help too. You may be saying I just suck at the game and don't like it now because it takes more 'skill' but I disagree. I'd say you had to be skilled at MW2 to do these two things I mentioned, and in BO I just feel limited to moving around the map really slow and camping in areas in order to be able to obtain killstreaks now.
The problem with the guns is that they've eradicated sniping from this game, and this is not a good thing. I'm no expert sniper, but sniping is fun right? In MW2, it was quick and easy to do. Plenty of people could snipe and it was a nice distraction from playing with normal guns. It was also made just right so that full time snipers could do it on basically every map. Firstly, the four snipers in the game are largely rubbish. The WA2000, like before, is rubbish, and the scope on the PSG is awful. The bolt fire sniper rifle is decent enough, and I can't even remember what the other one is, but generally they're not too hot. The problem is the maps are poorly designed for sniping. There are a few spots here and there but they're way too obvious and very few. You can't snipe properly in most places, and Treyarch's attempt at taking quick scoping out of the game has actually made it worse. You see, when you aim your scope, it wobbles a bit so you can't pull off a shot instantly, in order to get rid of quickscoping. Firstly, who cares? Quickscoping was a legit game feature and it was fun, and gave snipers a chance to defend themselves at close range. It was hardly overpowered, was it? I've taken out many snipers who have tried to quickscope me at close range, it wasn't overpowered, it wasn't unfair, it was just a fun tactic to add an extra element of fun and strategy to the sniper rifle. Secondly, this wobble makes it really hard to pull off shots in the game. This basically means to snipe, its the boring type of sniping. The one where you just have to prone in the same place, aim in an area, and just shoot someone suddenly when they come into view. No running around the map and pull shots off at a distance but still close enough for the enemy to shoot you (like you can in MW2). Yes its more realistic but its boring and none of the maps are designed well enough for these long range sniping shots anyway. Simply put, sniping is very difficult to do and I can imagine a large amount of sniper centric players will go back to MW2. Poor show, Treyarch.
The killstreaks also got changed and its actually a good one. Now, you have to earn them from entirely your kills, no killstreak help. The killstreaks seen are mostly the same as before, with a few additions. The SAM turret is a good idea but pretty useless. Its really easy to destroy, so by the time an enemy aircraft appears someone on the opposite team has knifed it with considerable ease. The attack dogs return as an 11 kill streak and are awesome. Its a much more fair system but the chopper gunner and gunship still absolutely destroy you so be prepared to get killed at spawn all the time.
Did I mentioned the spawn system is absolutely atrocious? In MW2 there are a few rare examples where you spawn a little too close to an enemy but in BO it really takes it to a new level. You'll frequently spawn, turn around the corner and see three enemies almost instantly, see enemies spawn behind you on killcam, and have both teams spawned in the same area. Nuketown is a particular offender for this. The system is awful and extremely annoying and unfair and needs to be fixed.
Its with all these points that I ultimately say, I actually prefer the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2. I find it more fun, I prefer the guns on it, and I prefer the maps. There are plenty of things in Black Ops I can say are definitely better. The secondary weapon change, although one I don't like personally, is a good change to the game, along with the new customisation options, and the killstreak changes. I just never found MW2 broken in the first place. The killstreaks could be annoying but its really easy to shoot them down, and despite a lot of exploits and loads of noobtubes (been killed by noob tube maybe twice in BO), I still find MW2 to be pure fun and after playing BO, I can see myself still playing MW2 a lot. Its interesting to note before BO came out, I saw MW2 averaged around 150K players online. Playing recently, it still averages this amount of players easily, so if you're like me, you can still play MW2 with ease.
At the end of the day, I still quite like Black Ops. Its got a decent campaign, zombies is very fun and there are some very welcome changes to online. However I just can't quite have as much fun with it as I do playing MW2. There is going to be a big divide. Evidently loads of people prefer MW2 because it still has a huge amount of players (Im sad and also check, a lot of people on there have BO in their game list), whilst a lot of people claim MW2 is a disgrace and BO is one of the best Call of Duty games out there. It is, truthfully, and this is just my preference. I can accept a lot of features and changes in BO are better, but at the end of the day I still prefer MW2 so hopefully this is something you can all understand and appreciate. As a Call of Duty player, Black Ops is essential, but don't be surprised if you find yourself going back to older games in the series.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/30/10
Game Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops (EU, 11/09/10)
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