[b]REVIEW:[/b] As I sat down to play what feels like the approximately five-billionth Call of Duty game on the market, I couldn’t help wonder what this latest release of this very well-exploited franchise could bring to the party that had not already been done. This was something I have been skeptical about over the last few years: It appears now to be standard for publishers to simply milk a franchise until it is dead, dying or there is simply no more money to be made from it. Activision are’t the only ones guilty of this (although I am still waiting for Guitar Hero Banjo). EA and Ubisoft also seem to be following the trend. So how do you get more life out of these franchises, and even worse how do you review them? Do you compare the game to its predecessors, treat it as a new game or meet somewhere in the middle? Today, I’ve decided to treat Call of Duty: Black Ops as a stand-alone game.
The reason for this is because it really isn’t that much like the Call of Duty games before it. I mean yes, you play a character generally working with a squad via a fairly linear storyline, but hey I can give you a thousand games that do that. I can also give you even more games set in a warzone, and even more that include guns and fighting.
So here goes.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is set during the cold war of the 60’s, you find yourself – SOG operative Alex Mason – waking up strapped to a chair in an interrogation room surrounded by TV’s and being questioned about the location of the Numbers Station. As you continue, you start having flashbacks to events that happened in the past, leading up to your current situation. These flashbacks make up the gameplay, and take you to places such as Cuba, Moscow and even Vietnam. The storyline is fairly epic and because of this sometimes hard to follow. If it were a movie, half the audience would end up walking out scratching their heads. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, however some of the twists and turns leave you awfully confused and waiting a long time for things to make sense. Generally this can be good however some of these ‘teasers’ were done in average fashion and some just plain didn’t make sense.
The gameplay is what you have come to expect from a linear first person shooter, you have a set of queues waiting for you to reach the right location or trigger the correct action. Until you reach those points, your allies just appear to hang around, waves of enemies continue and that annoying guy telling you to pick up the rocket launcher keeps repeating himself (in some cases, over and over again).
Not setting these cues off does however give you a chance to look at the spectacular graphics the game has to offer. Treyarch have really excelled themselves on this one. Whether you are in a chopper over Vietnam, or in a ship in the middle of the Arctic Circle, the scenery looks awesome and largely remains true to the setting. Rope bridges in Vietnam, half-destroyed buildings in World War II – it is about as close as you can get to the place without strapping on an AK-47, a bunch of grenades and a pair of army boots.
Easy mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops is fairly basic, so you will want to crank up the difficulty and make it a real challenge. Even though someone’s now discovered you can get through a round or two without actually firing a gun, you will generally be challenged to keep your head down and away from enemy fire. Being exposed to the enemy will get you a bad case of death very quickly, and unfortunately where you spawn in some cases is no better for resettling. I found myself spawning staring straight at a couple of enemies more than a couple of times this however wasn’t the norm. Overall I found the difficulty of the game quite enjoyable, except for one or two places involving the Viet Cong and a big damn tank.
The weapons are all era-specific, and you will need to swap your gear throughout the game, depending on what flashback you are experiencing. It makes it a little interesting as the modern-day weapons appear to be more accurate then the dated ones but overall I didn’t find anything overly annoying about this. (I personally would have liked more sniper rifles, though, being the dirty camper that I am.)
One other thing I noticed is that I wanted the game to force me to swap weapons more often due to low ammo. It would have been a little bit more true to life rather than there simply being ammo for the default weapons lying just about everywhere, but really I’m just picking straws.
I’m not sure if all the hype for this title killed it a little for me or I just had trouble getting into it. I will however say overall I’m not a huge fan of linear first person shooters, I’d much rather be off exploring every nook and cranny on the way to my destination. This is something the Call of Duty series has never really allowed you to do, so I can’t really complain about it too much!
Overall, Black Ops is a pretty good game, but for me not as earth-shattering as some might lead you to believe. To me the cut scenes were just a bit long, I felt like I was watching a movie more than I was playing the game, and I think that made everything not flow as much as I would have liked. The game looks great and between cut scenes the gameplay is at the top-notch. If you are into the Call of Duty titles then this is well worth the purchase. For me though, after playing it… it was good, just not as good as the hype.