Review by Wolfvie
"More of the same, not that that's a bad thing"
When that time of the year rolls around when the latest COD instalment is due out, all competition cowers with fear; and with good reasoning. Pushing back and forwarding release dates are just some of the ways that developers attempt to avoid the revenue stealing, juggernaut that is COD. With the yearly cycles between developers for the franchise, Treyarch have once again returned to the hot- seat with many anxious to see them correct the mistakes made by their predecessor. Black Ops, essentially three games in one, takes the series to unexplored territories with the Cold War era of the classified 1960's. From Cuba, to Nam to the Soviet Union, sure, Black Ops may be filled to the brim with content, but is it the step up the franchise needed or are Treyarch just living in the past? Read more and find out...
Similar to previous COD titles, Black Ops spans across multiple time periods with several different protagonists. It could come across as convoluted and confusing but the cutscenes that break up the missions do a decent enough job at filling in the blanks.
Taking place during the Cold War, the story primarily follows Alex Mason formerly Vietnam-stationed SOG operative as he is strapped down and interrogated by a group of mysterious captors. The game has you reliving the events of the troubled soldiers past, as he is bombarded with questions trying to decipher a series of unique numbers imbedded in Mason's mind. Meanwhile a war is being fought on a totally different front in Russia as you play as CIA agent Jason Hudson trying to discover to source of a deadly biochemical weapon known as Nova 6. As usual plot twists are a plenty. Some of which you'll see from a mile away, others not so drastically; unusual for a series that often relies on cheap cliches to develop a story. Still much improved over MW2.
Black Ops continues the COD yearly tradition of recycling and rehashing its engine and because of this; it's quite easy to draw similarities between Black Ops and its predecessors. Not that the game looks bad per say, it's just everything from the art style right down to the texturing is comparable to Modern Warfare 2.
That said, Black Ops is not without its fair share of minor graphical upgrades most notably with its improved lighting and particle effects (explosions in particular sending chunks of debris flying in spectacular fashion). Presentation-wise the game takes many of it's cues from COD4 featuring a much cleaner design to its menus and interface, which is a nice change when moving over from the overly gritty WAW and occasionally cluttered look of MW2.
In my time playing the game I have yet to have experienced any major (or really any minor) frame-rate hiccups so in that respect it has reached a series high (though it may just be my copy, the game seems to stutter slightly whenever a napalm strike is called in during the multiplayer component). The textures at times take a while to load which can lead to awkward sequences when objects (particularly shadows) are coming into full view. Black Ops like a variety of other recent releases has the capacity to be played in 3D but considering I have yet to have dropped some ridiculous sum of money on a 3D television, I was unable to test this feature. That said; in plain-old HD, it proved just fine.
Regardless, you'll find you can't help thinking that from a graphical standpoint it looks like the same game we were all playing this time last year. Although Modern Warfare 2 was an absolutely stunning game in its own right (so in that respect there's not much that could be done with the console's technical limitations in mind), it is a little disappointing to see minimal to no improvements on the overall visual-front this time around.
When it comes to audio, Black Ops is no pushover. The music both licensed and original is excellent and really gets your blood pumping in the most heated of action scenes. The voice-work is definitely top-notch with various high profile actors lending their as voices. Not convinced? Try Sam Worthington, Gary Oldman and Ice Cube as lead roles.
The sound effects while generally very good, often do struggle to match the quality of the rest of the audio. Particularly with some of the guns while definitely not lacking on the visual-front, do struggle to produce a sound that is of equal greatness and ultimately lack the oomph that you would expect from a weapon of that calibre (MP5K anyone?).
When it comes to gameplay Black Ops is mechanically very much the same as the last three Call of Duties. You aim, shoot, prone, duck, dive and well... you get the picture. The copied formula worked before you can bet that it works again. Not that this really matters, it's the content that really set it apart from previous entries in the series; without it most would struggle to tell the difference. Whatever your taste in shooters though, Black Ops has something to offer whether it be an engrossing single player experience or an addicting time sinker that is the multiplayer. Let's not forget about the return of four player co-operative Zombies.
Regardless of what you are led to belief, Black Ops is a full package and for the amount of content (all three main components in mind) on offer is of exceptional value. The multiplayer component on it's own for many is worth the price of admission (don't get any ideas Activision) and that goes to show the sheer scope of content Treyarch have crammed into their most comprehensive and complete title yet. Of course, none of this means anything without actual execution.
The campaign retains the same high octane, adrenaline rushing design, without straying too far from the foundations laid down by its predecessors. Unsurprisingly this take on design is a success and while the scripted nature of many of the game's scenarios may come as a bit of a turn off to some, the sheer intensity that these events have to offer will definitely warrant a replay or two. That said, the best single player experience of the year? Black Ops is most certainly not, the best the series has to offer single-player wise? it's quite possible.
The sheer number of different action packed scenarios the game throws at you is staggering and while nothing is yet to surpass, COD4's most climatic, action-fueled sequences, I am highly doubtful anything ever will. To reinforce its status as the hollywood action flick of video games Black Ops has it all. Stealth-based sniper missions set in the icy cold mountainous Russian alps right down to the obligatory jailbreak turned motorcycle chase (hello The Great Escape). Black Ops has seemingly exhausted every possibility the next Call of Duty has to bring something new to the table without things getting silly (*cough, cough* MW2).
When it comes to the game's multiplayer; in short Black Ops delivers. For some that's all that really needs to be said (it's COD: go out and buy it already). That is to say for others, if you're looking for a substantial revamp to the series formula (ala COD4), you will probably be disappointed. It's COD through and through and its clear Treyarch have taken the same if it aint broke don't fix it approach reinforced since Modern Warfare originally shook up the competition back in '07. That said what you do get is possibly the most refined and most definitely the most fun multiplayer experience the series has yet. The new inclusions are definitely very much appreciated with Camera Spikes, Explosive-tip Crossbows and explosive-strapped RC-Cars now at disposal (among many other welcome additions). Arguably the biggest change of all though is how Treyarch have handled the game's rank up system.
Done away with is the traditional ranking system, and in its place a system where success on the battlefield awards you with credits or COD Points which in return can be used to kit out your soldier with all the essential gear, perks and of course, weaponry. Customisation plays a fairly large role in all this as Treyarch have done their best to supply the tools necessary to individualise one player from the next. Players can select preferred facepaints and skins as well as modify gun sight, reticules and even sketch their clan tag into the side come the appropriate rank.
All the favourite game types return from MW2 with the added bonus of Wager Matches; four unique free-for-all variants that allow players to gamble COD Points in hope of perhaps doubling their previous amount granted they earn a place in the top three. One in the Chamber, gives players a pistol (loaded with a single one hit kill round) and three lives. Miss your shot and you'll have to resort to your knife, land a knife and hey presto an extra bullet. Sticks and Stones, while it doesn't quite offer the same tactically rewarding style of play that OITC excels well in, can still be quite fun dashing around with the oddball weapons of the game (Crossbows, ballistic knife and tomahawks). Sharpshooter, equips players with the same randomly picked weapon and cycles between it and several other weapons for the duration of the game. Despite it's fairly interesting concept is for some reason neglected by the majority of the community and is often difficult to find a game in comparison to the other game types.
Gun Game the clear favourite of the four, while not only a complete rip off of the popular custom game type of the same name in Counter Strike, is also a lot of fun. If you're unfamiliar with the premise, players cycle through a non-changing set of various weapons ranging from the easy to use pistols and submachine guns to the high risk-high reward special weapons (ala crossbow/ballistic knife). Score a kill with a weapon and you'll cycle to your next gun, knife a foe and you'll demote them to their previous weapon but be well aware; the same thing can happen to you just as easily. There's even a barebones playlist that strips away the perk/kill streak system to replicate the primitive styling's of pre-COD4.
Perhaps the most welcome addition though is the new Combat Training mode, designed a means to support newcomers the new bot-supported mode serves as a great introduction for the stray one or two human beings out there who are yet to delve with the franchises ever-so-popular multiplayer component. Not only that; it also makes for great target practise for series veterans. The stat boosting perks' first introduced in COD4 have been further balanced now all of which, when in use by a capable player, can equally effective regardless of combination.
Speaking of balance; you need not worry; Treyarch definitely know their stuff. Modern Warfare 2 was a good game turned bad due to a combination of various different issues, namely with balance. Infinity Ward would spend the weeks preceding the game's release fixing various balancing issues and errors only to find a completely new set of exploits had already been discovered and abused. This repeated process went around in circles before eventually Infinity Ward just all out gave up on support completely when things got completely out of hand only a few months into release. Treyarch know this and are fully prepared to make sure this does not happen again. The game has been out for a little over a month and the game has already received equal if not more balancing patches than MW2 received in its lifetime (not to say Black Ops wasn't already well balanced). In fact, straight out of the box Black Ops (prior to aforementioned patches/updates) was more balanced than MW2 was at its peak.
Back by popular demand, as I mentioned earlier in my review the walking dead have made the jump (or more accurately put, stumbled) over to Black Ops with three completely new maps and a new set of weapons. If you're unfamiliar with the Zombies mode, previously featured in WAW, it plays out like a one-four player round-based co-op survival mode (try saying that one five times fast). Slaughtering waves of the relentless unread awards you with points which then can be used to purchase new and more powerful weapons in hope of perhaps surviving for just that little bit longer. It's fun, fast and seriously addicting and it's return to Black Ops will be definitely appreciated.
The first of the two new maps, Kino der Toten (translating to Theatre of the Dead) will have you running around a large WWII era German theatre, complete with war era footage blaring on a projector screen in the centre of the level. The second however, without giving too much away, sees you playing as four rather socially dysfunctional historical figures from the cold war era. It is unlocked after completion of the campaign. Additionally there is a bonus map that comes in the form of Dead Ops Arcade; a top down twin-stick shooter that plays like a mesh up of Smash TV and Zombies Ate My Neighbours.
After literal days of play if one thing is certain with my overly extended time with the game in mind; what Black Ops does, it does very well.
Control-wise there have been minimal (if any) changes to the formula established in prior COD titles and therefore retains the highly responsive, simple to learn-hard to master configurations of it's predecessors.
Now for a quick revision
+ Story takes a welcomed new direction (this time with twists you won't see from a mile away).
+ Visuals still very nice and overall presentation is a definite step up from previous titles.
+ Music and voice acting are both top notch (even if Sam Worthington is completely worthless when it comes to American accents).
+ Single player is short, but never lacking when it comes to excellent set pieces.
+ Multiplayer; highly addicting like earlier titles with an added layer of balance and refinement.
- No significant changes to the formula and/or mechanics.
- Sound effects are a mixed bag.
Treyarch were definitely the right choice as the successors to continue developing Infinity Ward's giant and Black Ops comes as a necessary improvement after the slight misstep that was Modern Warfare 2. Definitely worth a look if you have played and enjoyed the series in the past and the perfect place to start if it sparks your interest.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 03/02/11
Game Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops (US, 11/09/10)
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