Black Ops enters the FPS market with huge expectations being the follow up to the massive 2009 hit Modern Warfare 2. But do Activision have a title that’ll live long in the memory or fade away in time as World at War did. This is the spoiler free TUS review of Black Ops.
Switching from controversial developers Infinity Ward, Activision have opted for Treyarch who’ve previously developed such games as Spider-Man 3, Quantum of Solace and NHL 2K3. Already selling well over 7 million copies worldwide and beating the previous record holder Modern Warfare 2, should Black Ops be regarded as an automatic shoe-in success or is there more than meets the eye.
Black Ops depicts the story of Alex Mason, a member of the Studies and Observation Group (SOG) a highly classified US covert special operations unit. This gritty new atmosphere that’s thrust upon the player is clear from the get go as even the Main Menu functions as a branch of the on going storyline. Black Ops will bring you back and forth from the Jungles of Vietnam to the depths of an icy Russian Gulag. Along with the jumping to and fro of locations is also the jumping back and forth from timelines. This can be quite confusing considering that it can sometimes be incoherent in the way the story pieces together and given the content of the plot, rather than be immersed it can be easy to feel detached and unconnected to the main protagonist.
This is I feel one of my biggest gripes with the game, there just isn’t the same connection I felt when playing Modern Warfare 2. Aside from the constant repeating of “Reznov” every other minute, it was a struggle to really care for any of the characters not to mention even remember any of their names. The pains and the struggles the game attempts to put across simply don’t convey properly and compared to MW2 it’s definitely a very linear plot rather than an actual experience. MW2 had an epic storyline and more importantly characters with actual charisma; Roach, Makarov, Soap and of course the icon that is Ghost. Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting of Sam Worthington, Ed Harris and Gary Oldman are just some of the many great voice actors involved that definitely give the characters a realistic edge.
Aside from the character flaws, the plot although complex and a little convoluted never really hits a high point. Some people will be pleased with the conclusion of the game, some will be left disappointed. Personally I felt the climax never quite lived up to the hype and the game feels much more like a series of levels rather than a rollercoaster of a story. There aren’t any real wow moments and although there are enjoyable individual scenes, that aren’t many that stand out enough to make you want to play them again.
In this edition of Call of Duty, Treyarch have definitely expanded on the gameplay option available to the player and that’s definitely a plus. Piloting the helicopters and boats through Vietnam feels solid and the weapons have a significant sense of power about them. There is a Stealth bomber section which although is a cool idea in theory doesn’t execute well as it’s both too short and lacks polish. In many ways perhaps Treyarch wished to mimic the “Death from Above” level from MW2 where you man the gunner position in an overhead AC-130 as you quite literally rain death from above, however this new level in Black Ops simply doesn’t come close to the level of enjoyment felt in the original.
Weapons in Black Ops feel solid if a little dull. It appears that AK-47’s are dominant through every time era and they look and fire pretty much the same wherever you go. Some of the guns however do sound rather pathetic in comparison to the same model weaponry in Medal of Honour (2010) and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (which in my mind sets the standard for superb sounding weapons). Perhaps the way I play first person shooters in the style of double tap to the chest with single shot enabled on an M4 Carbine for example doesn’t suit Black Ops. You’re better off running head long towards the goal spraying ostensibly like a Labrador in heat. The SPAS-12, a familiar shotgun in most video game FPS’, is far and away one of the most entertaining modifications of a weapon when you add “Dragon’s Breath Incendiary” slugs. It never gets tedious to watch you one hit kill shot and incinerate enemies.
Black Ops is though what you’d expect from these Call of Duty games in that it’s a very straight forward and absolutely linear game. You get told an objective and you head towards it shooting and powering your way through, there are no puzzles or anything to think about and if that’s what you want from an FPS then great, this is just the sort of game for you. The game holds few surprises so fans of the franchise will undoubtedly enjoy Black Ops much as they’ve enjoyed previous Call of Duty’s.
Bugs. Bugs. Bugs. All games have bugs and Black Ops is no exception. I definitely came across a number of bugs from the obvious clipping issues, AI standing around frozen while you pop them off from close range and doors preventing enemies from spawning into the game whilst the muzzles of their AK’s clip through the door like some virtual glory hole. Although these certainly aren’t the hyped game breakers that other bloggers might insist they are, they do show a lack of polish on the game which can only be a negative thing.
Other minor qualms I had with the game involved when you sprint. Other video games such Kane and Lynch 2 as well as Modern Warfare 2, hold a strong sense of realism when you’re moving from place to place. The sprinting in Black Ops feels more like you’re playing the multiplayer side of the game and unless I’m not mistaken unless you’re superhuman, nobody runs that fast up stairs and through entire levels of the game. A minor irritation but an irritation nonetheless.
Black Ops looks good. Not amazing but it does look good. Treyarch haven’t changed the formula very much from Modern Warfare 2 and some people will say this is a good thing whilst some would say that it needs a little uplift from last year. I didn’t find anything wrong with it per se but I did come across many performance issues. Even in quiet moments of the game, there’d be significant lag where there shouldn’t have been and tuning the graphics levels down did little to help the issue. Doing a simple search revealed that this has been quite a widespread problem with a number of players so perhaps a future patch from Treyarch should fix it.
The soundtrack for Black Ops is strong, a little less dramatic than Modern Warfare 2 but is suited to what’s going on in the story. Directed by composer Sean Murray, and featuring a full 80-piece symphony orchestra, the soundtrack features the appropriate “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones during Vietnam which appropriately sets the scene.
Call of Duty Black Ops has it’s flaws and gripes but it’s a good game and a decent addition to the franchise. Many people will be hugely impressed with the direction Call of Duty have gone in and certainly a trawl through the big game review sites will show that they’ve given Black Ops the full five star rating. Rather than just add to the praise that other reviewers have given it, I’ve focused more on the flaws of the game than the positive aspects. I’m not sure what it is, whether the lack of focus in the storyline or the lack of polish in the presentation but there’s something lacking in this edition of Call of Duty. It’s still however a very good game and all fans of the series should give it a chance if they can.
TUS Rating: 88%