Just as we can point at a Halo title nowadays and say “It plays like Halo,” we have arrived at the time when we can point at a Call of Duty title and say “It plays like Call of Duty.” This is not a game where you will be leaning carefully from cover and picking off the enemy one by one until the way is clear. Instead, you will be pulling headshots as fast as possible to advance through levels and avoid being pinned down. The weapon selection is all era-appropriate, but in the end Call of Duty weapons tend to blend together for me, with the notable exception in Black Ops of a crossbow with optional, explosive-tipped arrows that’s good for a laugh and some mayhem.
Treyarch flavors the traditional Call of Duty FPS gameplay with a few on-rails machine gun moments, giving us the helm of a heavily-armed riverboat, and plopping us into the gunner’s seat of an iconic Soviet Hind helicopter gunship that any Red Dawn fan should instantly recognize. We even get to guide a black ops team in Russian territory from the cockpit of an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.
The graphics in the Call of Duty games are almost becoming a victim of their own success. They no longer impress, but one has to appreciate the continuing attention to detail these games put into their environments. When you walk into a room in Black Ops you’re walking into a fully-dressed set, not just a room which looks kind of like what it’s meant to be. There’s never a shortage of things to look at here, and these dense environments are used to spectacular effect when grenades and other explosives go off in confined quarters. Chairs and desk lamps spin, books fly apart in flutters of paper, computer banks explode and spark, etc.
The character models continue to slowly improve in the Call of Duty games, though the proportions have always been a little cartoony and stout compared to other military shooters’ models. The sound design is as loud and dense as we’d expect from a frenetic military shooter, the soundtrack is excellent, and the voice acting is top notch.
I experienced some appreciable bugs during the campaign, however. There were more than a few occasions where characters’ mouths were moving even though nothing was being said. There were often distinct stutters before scripted events. At one point during a mission, a squadmate was shooting a Soviet guard in the face over and over again, and the guard just didn’t fall down. After laughing for a few seconds I proceeded through the level, and then suddenly and mysteriously died with nary a guard in sight. I reloaded from the checkpoint, and again was killed by some mystery assailant. On the third try I reloaded and quickly turned around. The guard who my squadmate had been shooting was standing there, his face still a bloodied mess, arms held in the position of cradling a weapon even though he wasn’t actually carrying one, and he melee’d me to death with his nonexistent gun. He kept following me from the reload checkpoint until finally I gave up and restarted the level.
My squadmates were often entirely useless. They would get stuck in doorways during a breach and get me killed as I couldn’t get inside and into cover, or they would be covering a doorway and fail to shoot guards that came flying right through said doorway, brushing past my squadmates’ gun barrels. My squadmates didn’t always bound from cover to cover when I opened the way, or clean up behind them when they did move. The original mantra of the Call of Duty series was “No one fights alone.” I found myself thinking more than a few times that I might as well have been, and I had no choice but to abandon Veteran difficulty by the time I hit Vietnam or I never would have been able to finish the campaign in time to write this review.
The wraparound plot involves a special forces operative named Alex Mason (voiced by Sam Worthington) being interrogated by persons unknown who want to know the meaning of a series of numbers being broadcast over the radio. The game levels are flashback sequences of operations that Mason, or his handler Special Agent Woods (voiced by Ed Harris), have led in the recent past. I appreciate something different being added to the Call of Duty formula, but I still expect certain, traditional elements like coherent, uninterrupted levels. The Black Ops narrative crashes jarringly into gameplay on multitudinous occasions throughout the first half of the six hour campaign.
I also didn’t really feel like the campaign had anything to do with the Cold War and the CIA’s black operations that took place therein. We were sold by Treyarch on the wealth of fresh story ideas they discovered by digging into a rich period of American military history that hasn’t been really covered n video games…but by the end of the Black Ops campaign I felt like I was playing what might as well have been a third entry in the Modern Warfare series. The Call of Duty games began as gritty, cinematic depictions of actual military conflicts which took place during World War II. They then moved into Tom Clancyland with outrageous fictional, near future conflicts. Treyarch has tried to sandwich themselves somewhere in the middle, and I don’t think they achieved either goal particularly well.
The multiplayer portion of Black Ops is all many of you might care about, so let’s cut to the chase. It’s awesome. I have about twenty hours into the multiplayer between all the available game modes, and have been spending a lot of time listening to my squadmates who have three to four times that amount of time put in. I’ve only heard two complaints so far: the sniper rifles are weak, and the RXCD remote control car armed with explosives is a pain in the ass.
I’ve never been a sniper, and am not going to pretend to be for the purposes of writing a review, so I can’t speak to the power of sniper rifles, but I can’t recall having been sniped so far. That’s not to say it didn’t happen, but that I can’t remember being annoyed by snipers at all yet says something about their diminished role in Black Ops. Replacing the general annoyance of sniping is the RXCD remote control explosive car. It is an easy killstreak reward that is assuredly a pain in the ass. Sure it’s funny the first couple of times (and it made for a nice real-life pack-in for the $150 Black Ops Prestige Edition) but it’s also incredibly difficult to counter. You’ll be told when the enemy has deployed an RXCD, and can listen for the sound of its little motor, but only a few times have I had a shot in hell of killing the stupid thing before it blew up under my feet, and fewer times than that have I actually made the shot. If the RXCD vanished from the game tomorrow, I doubt many people would shed tears or feel rage over it.
If these are the only complaints I can report from the multiplayer, however, that’s extremely high praise considering some of the issues that World at War and Modern Warfare 2 presented us with. The perk selections finally feel balanced versus being loaded with exploit potential. I haven’t found an overpowered weapon or piece of equipment. If there are glitches to be found I haven’t seen them, nor have I heard anyone complain about them.
I won’t argue that Call of Duty is the premiere multiplayer shooter experience because I think it’s representative of one flavor of multiplayer shooter gaming, whereas games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Medal of Honor provide a complementary experience such that there’s room in my schedule for all three. I’d say that when it comes to infantry-centric, twitch-based FPS gaming, Call of Duty does rule that roost. The level of customization for weapon attachments, equipment, and perk builds makes it easy for any player to quickly tailor CoD veterans into their favorite and familiar tactics.
The number of available match types, including the new Gun Game, always gives us something appreciably different to switch off to if we’re getting tired of Deathmatch. The new Contract and Wager systems add a whole new layer of optional competitiveness for the hardest of the hardcore, who may spend most of their time in Deathmatch. When new shooters come out I can usually count on some selection of my gamer friends buying in such that I’ll have at least a small, constant squad to play with. When a Call of Duty game comes out, I stop having room to for everyone on my team, even for Ground War. Call of Duty did not rise to this level of prominence for no reason. If you like your multiplayer a little more strategic or sedate, Call of Duty is not for you. If you like fast-paced, twitchy, competitive online shooters, then you’ve found your new home for the next few months, at least, if not well into the Summer.
Zombies mode will be receiving a separate editorial here on Gamer Limit, but let me say that it’s an extension of the final Zombie map packs from World at War, which is to say if you liked Zombies there, you’ll like it here.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is one of those games that I feel entirely comfortable telling you to pick up if you haven’t already. Quite frankly, if you’re a shooter fan this has been in your collection for a week, so consider this my agreement with the wisdom of your purchase.
The dense environments of the Call of Duty series always impress.
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It's classic Call of Duty - if that's your boat, you will not be dissapointed.
Good voice acting and soundtrack leave little to complain about.
With three distinct game modes, Black Ops will be entertaining well into Summer 2011.
The multiplayer outweights the campaign, but the total package is undeniably worth the asking price.