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Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

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On 12/17/2010 at 11:53 AM by Stanton Daries

So much action even Michael Bay feels overwhelmed.

For anyone looking for a solid FPS multiplayer experience, and important if you play online as most people will have moved over to it.

I honestly didn’t see how Treyarch could have kept their promise that the next Call of Duty game, Black Ops, would have more action than the previous two Modern Warfare games. After all, people can only see so many nukes go off before it starts to seem mundane; however, I think even Michael Bay would have to take a breather while playing this game. In spite of all Activision’s recent troubles, Blacks Ops ensures that Call of Duty will continue to be a video game goliath, stomping through gamers’ hearts and minds.

The Black Ops story takes place during the Cold War era, specifically the 1960s, and will have players visiting various well known trouble spots during that time, such as Cuba, Russia, and Vietnam. Throughout the game you will take on the role of Alex Mason (we really need to get more original tough guy names), an elite covert operative for the United States. Turns out, he is actually strapped into an interrogation chair for most of the time, being forced to recount various missions, or black ops, he went on in the last five years in an effort to identify what a seemingly random collection of numbers mean. While this method of storytelling isn’t original it is executed very well and keeps the narrative of the game in focus throughout the incredibly varied missions you undergo. You will find yourself drawn in a little more each time a new piece of the puzzle is revealed to you and things come together in a very satisfying way.

Thanks to this flashback method of storytelling we are not forced to follow time or geography from episode to episode which allows you to jump straight into the action. I still find the opening set of missions in Cuba and Russia the most entertaining, but there is no strong fault with any particular one in the short campaign. The environments are well-rendered and there is a nice mix of traditional FPS with vehicle combat to keep things fresh, although there are the occasional bugs, with most of them centered on your NPCs. Their dialog is a bit annoying as well. I really think we need to have a cap on repeat lines in games - there are only so many times I can hear some form of “They are in the trenches!” exclaimed in a short period of time before I try to gun my ally down in a fit of rage. Additionally, you will sometimes find yourself perplexed at the abrupt cut-offs some of the missions have, as if the writers were not sure how to continue the mission without another explosion.

A very annoying issue to me is the on-rails nature of the campaign; this is demonstrated multiple times on YouTube, in which you can advance through the story as nothing more than an observer. I tested it on the opening Cuban mission, not firing a single shot except during the three slow-motion scenes that require you to act. All other times I just simply had to take cover and move as my allies more than adequately handled all opposition.

Maybe this is intentionally tied in with the nature of the flashbacks, but the action scenes in the campaign are definitively over-the-top and go beyond the realm of believability in certain areas, something easily forgiven with the “wow” factor that each mission achieves. This over-the-top nature is evident also in the varied weapon load you encounter, ranging from Molotov slingshots to remote controlled C-4 cars. The campaign is also very short, clocking in around six to eight hours in length.

Obviously, people are not buying this game for the single player campaign but for the multiplayer action that has become the standard for online FPS in the last three years. Treyarch has done their best to improve upon this established style of play and for the most part, they have succeeded. What can be considered the biggest change is the use of currency in the online battles. Experience is still in existence, being awarded to you based on your actions and achievements during a battle. The points allow you to level up and gain access to new equipment and perks. However, a new addition exists with Call of Duty Points. These points are awarded to you in the same way as experience, but you instead use these points to buy yourself the equipment your level has unlocked - so even when you reach the correct level to unlock an item, you won’t get it till you shell out the necessary points. This would theoretically give you a certain unknown when fighting someone as you can never be sure what they spent their money on. In practice, however, there are certain items too good to pass up that mostly everyone will be equipping.

Contracts, otherwise known as the game’s gambling system, has also been included in Black Ops. Here, you pay some of your hard earned money into an objective and if the objective is achieved, you get a return on your investment with money and/or experience. This allows some nice challenges for veteran players to rapidly level up with by doing things like getting five headshots without dying, which costs 250 points, but nets 3500 points and 3500 experience.

Expanding on the Contracts is something called Wager matches where you pay a fee of points to get in and engage other players in a very unique match setup where the points are split amongst the top three finishers. One example of a wager match - everyone has a pistol with one bullet, and three lives.

The final multiplayer experience is the mode you either love or hate, Zombies. With up-to-four player co-op, you’ll find yourself barricaded in a building trying to survive wave after wave of undead. Between each wave you can reinforce barricades and upgrade your equipment.

Combat Training, another new mode, allows you to set-up a map with various bots, and practice for multiplayer matches. This is not necessarily a realistic training exercise, as the bot difficulty seems to go from “drunken drone” to “head shot across the room with a pistol,” with no real in-between. Regardless, it does allow you learn the maps you will be encountering online, which is always helpful.

A video editing feature rounds things out, allowing you to review your old matches and make collections to share with your friends online. This is a great time killer as you can watch some hilarious and/or awesome fight scenes. Unfortunately for me, most of my scenes were of awesome ways I killed myself.

The campaign may be short and have some odd bugs but the online play is as well put together as ever. Call of Duty: Black Ops may not be a monumental leap from its predecessors, but it is still an excellent game for the online shooter fan. It will be the title of choice for this genre until the next installment of the series becomes available or they make another Halo.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Nick DiMola Director

12/17/2010 at 12:23 PM

I really enjoyed the single player campaign of this game, but still haven't had a chance to take it online. It seems like it's a bit different from MW2, so I'll probably have to check it out at some point, though I think I'm a little worn out on FPS online experiences for now.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

12/17/2010 at 01:29 PM

"the bot difficulty seems to go from “drunken drone” to “head shot across the room with a pistol,” with no real in-between"

Really? I must play that mode again, but when I did before it was played at what seemed to be a middle ground, not too easy, not too hard.

I have to say that the PS3 version is a shabby effort in development. It does not render at a similar fashion as the x360's. The online game-play mechanics are still plagued by instances of WTF moments, mostly when knifing because with shooting it's not that hard to adapt.

The problem I see is that why doesn't the server create match playlists with people with similar upload speeds. If I have 1Mbps[UP], and my opponents have .5Mbps[UP], is it not to their advantage because they will see me first before I do them when it should be the other way around? That's why I was thinking of similar upload speeds to be fair for everyone.

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