Ah, Call of Duty: Blacks Ops – or as some have dubbed it, “Here we go again”. In case you’ve been under a stone all week, the Call of Duty hype mobile is in top gear for a repeat performance as the year’s most publicity-hogging gaming release. This time it’s developer, Treyarch and Call of Duty: Black Ops in the interrogation chamber for Activision’s money printing series. Was the hype justified? Read our Call of Duty: Black Ops review to find out.
The anticipation for Call of Duty: Black Ops as expected, went into overdrive in the months leading up to its release – yet at the same time there doesn’t seem quite the excitement that greeted Modern Warfare 2. Of course, Modern Warfare 2 is an Infinity Ward-developed game, but the story with gamers remains the same. After months of waiting impatiently, fans found Modern Warfare 2 to be a bit of a let down in some areas, most notably its story, and as fans later found out an extremely glitchy, hacked to bits multiplayer abounding with cheats. One Man Army? Flying players? Anyone?
However, not even the above could stop Modern Warfare 2 being one of the best first-person shooters around, with some of the most exhilarating multiplayer shooter action you’ll ever play on a console. We’ll happily admit to spending an unhealthy amount of hours ranking up to Prestige Mode and back again with the same enthusiasm we made that little achievement the first time around.
In case you haven’t already noticed, we’ve got a touch of the old déja-vu – this is more of the same. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because Call of Duty: Black Ops offers up some of the best first-person shooter action you’ll come across at present, in both single and multiplayer. But before we get flamed here, Call of Duty: Black Ops is not without its faults.
So as not to spoil things, we won’t delve too much on the specifics of the campaign mode, but the story starts off with you playing the role of Alex Mason, a Studies and Observations Group (SOG) operative who finds himself taken hostage and bound to a chair in a dark interrogation chamber lit by piercing lamps and bright television screens displaying your mug. You know something, and your captor wants to find out what, no matter how much you try to convince him that you’ve forgotten everything.
No amount of torture will, or can entice you to spill your mind. What ensues is a narrative dictated by a series of flashback events taking in events from the perspective of Mason and other characters, including Russian, Victor Resnov, who World At War players will remember. These events set the scene to be played out across a backdrop of landscapes taking in Vietnam, the former USSR, the Arctic Circle and Cuba. The latter is where things kick off as you attempt to locate and kill Fidel Castro (that’s not a spoiler).
Right from the off the action is unrelenting, as it is throughout. The very beginning sees you under enemy attack immediately, as a firefight spills onto the streets at night as enemy soldiers force you into fleeing down an alley and escaping via a conveniently placed automobile. Just under ten minutes into Call of Duty: Black Ops and you’re already taking part in its first set piece behind the wheel of a car. Those ten minutes sums up the Call of Duty: Black Ops experience to a tee.
Whichever of the locations you find yourself in, the action follows a pattern. Learn of your objectives, follow said objectives, shoot up lots and lots of enemies and then take part in either a vehicle-based set-piece, or slow-motion sequence of explosions, gunfire or brutal melee kills. Once again, we thoroughly enjoyed each sequence, but play along long enough and you get the sense that you sort of know what’s coming next.
Like Infinity Ward did with Modern Warfare 2, Treyarch has ramped up the emphasis on cinematics to drive the narrative. Thankfully the story, while somewhat convoluted at times, is much less so than in Modern Warfare 2. We’ll be honest, at times we weren’t 100 per cent sure what was going on, but a great effort has clearly been made to tell it better. The production, as usual is superb throughout.
Not that the story will come into gamers minds once in the thick of the action. An unfortunate by-product is that the gameplay pacing feels too quick. You’re almost always under siege as you’re lead from one set-piece to another. At times it feels like an on-rails title, yet Call of Duty: Black Ops isn’t quite. Maybe it’s the constant enemy respawns. Yep, that’s it.
To use an easy example, in a Halo game, once you kill and enemy they’re dead, no more reappear. In Black Ops enemies appear in a constant stream, until you go past a certain checkpoint, sapping the achievement of your sharpshooting skills. As usual, it’s quite possible to stand in once place shooting at enemies forever, but move ten yards and they’ll vanish. Unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty, it’s not exactly skill rewarding. Neither is the enemy AI. They will duck and cover, but in the same way over and over, unless you get really close to them. Though to their credit, they do lob the odd grenade at you. Of course this is all no surprise. We knew Call of Duty: Black Ops played that way. And we don’t hate the game for it. Far from it. Call of Duty: black Ops is great fun. But for those fans wanting a slightly different approach to enemy respawns (or no respawns) it’s not there.
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Speaking of killing enemies, Black Ops is as brutal as you’ve heard. The melee and torture sequences makes Modern Warfare 2′s controversial “No Russian” scene look like a Weekend At Bernie’s. From eye gouging to neck slitting and, shall we say, inventive torture sequences this isn’t one for the easily offended. That said an option at the beginning lets you switch off some of the nasty bits.
All that said, the single player campaign is still a joy to play. The gameplay remains easy to get to grips with, the attention to visual detail in the levels, weapons and characters is astonishing and you genuinely want to know where you will end up next in a campaign that will last you around 6-8 hours depending on how skilled you are. But it’s multiplayer where hardcore Call of Duty fans will really take to Black Ops.
We’re pleased to report that Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer is a mini revelation in the series. All the usual modes such as Free-For-All, Capture The Flag, Team Deathmatch, Sabotage and more remain. There are 14 brand new multiplayer maps in total: eight medium sized, four large and two small maps. There’s even combat training which is like online multiplayer, but with bots. You even get to choose which map you play. If you want to get a feel for each map, this is where you do it without affecting your player card. But it’s the new Wager mode where Treyarch has outdone itself.
Wager matches let you place bets using the new CoD points – a new in-game currency letting you complete extra challenges and purchase upgrades and new killstreaks. XP is still there, but it mostly unlocks the stuff you can buy, and gets you on the way to a higher rank as usual. The Wager matches comprise different modes: One in the Chamber, Sharpshooter, Sticks and Stones and Gun Game.
One in the Chamber gives players just one bullet in a pistol to kill each other. Fail to hit your enemy and you’ll have only your knife to kill other players. It’s the same for everybody else, often descending into frantic melee battles. Hit a player with a bullet and you’ll receive one more bullet. Each player has only three lives. Matches are naturally short.
Sharpshooter sees each player allocated the same random weapon in a regular free-for-all deathmatch, except that weapon randomly changes to a different one every 45-seconds. To even things out everyone has the same weapon. No complaining about camping snipers here.
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Sticks and Stones is a little more lacklustre, but still a challenge. You have three weapons: crossbow, tomahawk and a ballistic knife thing that shoots out an, erm, knife. The quirk here is that those hit by a tomahawk will have their score reset in shame.
Our favourite of the new modes by far is Gun Game. It’s a game of weapon progression. Every player starts off with a measly pistol. Get a kill and you’ll be rewarded with two pistols, then uzis, then a shotgun, then you’ll bag one of the assault rifles with each kill. Get enough kills and you’ll move up to sniper level, or a rocket launcher.
The first player to go through the entire cycle of 20 weapons wins the match. Kill someone with a knife and they’ll drop down a weapon. You’ll know who to look out for when the tooting of pistols is replaced by the crackling of RPG explosions. As we found, stabbing someone in the back back may spontaneously lead to you being accused of mother-loving. As multiplayer modes go, it’s one of the best we’ve ever played, as you have to constantly adjust your tactics with each kill you make. And you can guarantee nearly every player will be rocking a different weapon. It’s brilliant and inspired, and a mode we hope will become a CoD mainstay.
We haven’t even got onto the Call of Duty: Black Ops zombie mode. Unlike in World at War you can play this mode from the off, both online and in two-player split-screen co op where you face off against the undead. Expect more of the same as before: shooting zombies, repairing door barriers to give you time and rushing to power-ups and weapons in order to make it to the next wave. If you love shooting up zombies, you’ll love this. If there is a complaint, it’s that the feel of gun impact seems to be lacking when you shoot them. It’s as if you’re deafening zombies to death with your gun rather than filling them with bullets.
All the above makes Call of Duty: Black Ops one heck of a package. The single player campaign is certainly an improvement on Modern Warfare 2, but its frenetic pacing doesn’t better Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, where you got the chance to savour the game’s best bits more.
That doesn’t mean Call of Duty: Black Ops has a bad campaign by any means. It’s enjoyable all the way through. Sure you’re being taken from one set-piece to the next, but they’re so well executed you can’t help admire Treyarch’s efforts to ensure you’re always in the thick of it. There are plenty of vehicle and air missions too where you’ll be controlling bikes, cars, gunboats, helicopters and something else we won’t spoil in a rather inspired air and ground mission.
Add a fantastic multiplayer section to the mix and you’ve got hours upon hours of gameplay. There aren’t too many games that’ll have you still playing it until the next edition. You’ll be playing Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer long after its release. Possibly until whatever Call of Duty hits next year. How many games can do that? Barely any. For that alone Call of Duty: Black Ops is still a worthy addition to your collection.