Call of Duty: Black Ops: review

  • Format: PS3 (version reviewed), 360, PC, Wii, DS
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Players: 1-4 (offline), 2-18 (online, including splitscreen)
  • Site: http://www.callofduty.com/hub

World at War was a bit of a mess. Offline, grenade spamming; online, the unwise inclusion of tanks and a few unpopular maps – all wrapped up in an over-familiar WWII dressing. Can Treyarch really have done much better with Black Ops?

What must be said before anything else is that, in all fairness, the developers have put some real effort into giving you value for money. The campaign could last you up to twice as long as that of Modern Warfare 2; Zombies make a welcome return; there are two hidden games (twin stick shooter Dead Ops Arcade and text adventure Zork); and joining the CoD classics such as Team Deathmatch, Search & Destroy and Free for All are brand new online modes with some great ideas. Unfortunately, the fresh new ideas seen both online and off are in the clutches of stale old problems.

The solo campaign is presented for the most part as a series of flashbacks. Kudos to Treyarch for capitalising on the opportunity to give the player a decent variety of environments and missions; yes, you’ll be running down streets, through corridors, and across battlefields with a gun in your hand. But you’ll also be piloting various vehicles, taking part in semi-interactive cutscenes, playing stealth sections that are actually fun to play, and more often than not working closely with allies rather than acting as a one man army. There are even a few historical figures thrown into the mix. At its best, the Black Ops campaign gives you a feeling of being in the middle of a big-budget movie (albeit a dumb yet fun one which makes little sense if you stop to examine it). Sadly, the highs are outnumbered by the lows.

In a bid to emphasise this Hollywood atmosphere, your character has been given a voice and a large chunk of the script. However, all the American characters’ voices and personalities instantly meld into one homogeneous blob, making it almost impossible to tell who’s saying what without the (error littered) subtitles. Of more concern is the AI – or rather, lack thereof. Friend and foe alike are completely unable to cope with unscripted behaviour. Allies will often lean into your line of sight, and keeping your distance in the interests of a better shot can lead to comical situations; enemies will sometimes rush forward to get closer to you. On rare occasions an enemy and an ally can be taking cover around the same object, firing their guns in opposite directions without being aware of one another.

Challenge Anneka goes hardcore for the 21st century.

Grenade spamming is not an issue, but the equally undesirable boil of infinite enemy spawning is. Only a handful of such instances exist in the game, but these instances will sometimes force you to run forward into enemy fire. On Veteran difficulty, where two shots or sometimes just one can kill you, this is completely unacceptable. It’s a cheap and lazy way to lengthen the experience that we shouldn’t be seeing in 2010. On a related note, the invisible tripwires that activate finite spawn points are sometimes poorly placed. On three separate occasions, we saw enemies pop into existence before our very eyes – twice just a few feet away. Perhaps there are details of a molecular transporter hidden somewhere in the intel…

Of course the majority of players will spend most of their time with the multiplayer modes and again, it’s a mixed bag. CoD staples, deathmatches et al, don’t make the transition all that smoothly. The gameplay is still recognisably and immediately CoD, but the guns don’t feel as varied as those in both Modern Warfares, nor do any of them feel like they pack the same punch.

Worse still are the graphics. They’re noticeably inferior to MW2 and while this shouldn’t matter, it does. Firstly, the lack of sharpness makes spotting enemies from a distance harder than it should be. Secondly, the dull and limited palette shared amongst player models and environments can often make stationary adversaries (i.e. campers) difficult to see immediately. When you combine that with the fact that each map is crammed full of corners and hidey holes, we can imagine Black Ops deathmatches becoming as much about camping as a Graham Norton simulator would be.

Hope is promised in the overhaul given to the online modes in other areas. The ‘CoD Points’ which you earn alongside, and in a much lower proportion to XP are used to ‘buy’ weapons (as usual, unlocked as you level up), attachments and perks (all immediately available for purchase once you’ve unlocked Create a Class). They also buy ‘Challenges’ which can earn you more if, for example, you get a certain number of kills with a specific attachment within a limited amount of accumulated playtime. These points are also used to buy your way into ‘Wager Matches’, which is where the biggest changes are apparent.

Tag, you're i - er, woops.

The basic premise is: six player deathmatch – the top three players get winnings, the bottom three nothing. The game modes here are completely new, our personal favourites being Sharpshooter and One in the Chamber. Sharpshooter gives everybody the same weapons, which are changed every 45 seconds (weapons in each match are random). In One in the Chamber players are given a pistol, a knife, one–hit kills and just three lives. You only have one bullet per life, but one kill means one more bullet. These brand new modes are more than welcome, and great fun – but just six players? Free for All only?

As for the playercards (customised by spending CoD points) which represent players in lobbies…ugh. Even the best ones look like something a small child cobbled together with a cheap Crayola set from Poundland.

Black Ops is not a bad game by any means. It’s a good game. However, when the inevitable comparisons with Modern Warfare 2 are made, this falls just a little short in almost every way.


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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you’ll find something he’s written in there.

Luke doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

2 comments

  1. at first i fort the online play was not that good but as i got in to it i started to like it. i really only got the game for zombie mode. i have to say the game is worth getting just for zombies alone i got to round 36 on solo yesterday check my gameplay videos out here http://www.justin.tv/ikillzombies

  2. Yes, after falling way short of MW, in sound, visuals, gameplay, and even the assortment of guns seemingly dull, there is still a terrible mess more wrong with it. The brilliant decision to remove “quick sniping” ruins all sniping options online. No defuse sound effects on search and destroy. Very inaccurate guns and what seems like lag shooting further ruining sniping and the M16 (weird) This is a terrible game, sticking to Mw2 and Dota. I want my money back. @.@

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