Let me just say that I realize that we're nearly a week removed from the initial launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops. I've spent a long time with the single-player and a long time with the multiplayer. I've finally felt like I've reached a comfortable area with giving you a full range review of one of the biggest titles this holiday season.
Let's see if all that time with the game paid off.
Call of Duty has returned and this time it has Treyarch leading the way to bring the goods. The question here is, could they really duplicate the magic that Infinite Ward crafted with MW and MW2? The answer is yes and no.
Dear readers, as you have learned in the past with my writing I enjoy starting with the positives before I dive into the negatives. So, with that said, let's talk about the single-player mode.
Call of Duty: Black Ops doesn't pull any punches in the single-player mode. They come in storming with what seems at first an intriguing story and they don't apologize along the way. You start out by playing Mason (Sam Worthington), who is captured and interrogated quite rudely, while he flashing back to recall events for an unknown captor. Besides struggling with his Australian accent, Worthington's Mason is also struggles with recalling certain events through his military stint and staying focus without jumping around too much. Taking on the role of Mason is a trip; no literally it's like tripping. You find yourself playing very disjointed missions that jump around, similar to the style of Call of Duty: World at War and engaging you first-person skills to eliminate the likes of Cuba's Castro, stopping a missile launch, escaping a Russian prison and flying in an SR-71; and other things of course. What's interesting about this style of play, and all of this jumping around, is that the game continually and without apology moves forward and you somehow like it. It's an interesting way of doing things and it does progress the story along, although you can't really figure out what the hell is going on until a little bit later.
What this type of storytelling also does for Call of Duty: Black Ops is it doesn't have to connect the plot points at all. It allows for Treyarch to basically do what they want with each mission. If they wanted to send you up to destroy the moon they could certainly fit it in there, if they wanted to because Mason getting tortured is a device that pretty much leaves the door open for every possibility. Much like his captors you won't be able to tell if Mason is creating this in his mind or if its really already happened. It's a brilliant way to tell a story, but again it does remind me a lot of how World at War told its story, which was slightly disappointing. Modern Warfare 1/2 had brilliant, very connected plot points that produced strong stories. This one seems to be surgically put together, even though you'll still have a blast.
All in all the atmosphere is built fine, but it may not be completely built properly. Of course, all of this is moot because you'll be in love with the scale of the presentation and the intense moments Treyarch has put together for you. For example, when you enter Vietnam for the first time you're immediately thrown into a massive bit of combat. The environment is epic in scale and detailed as hell. You'll find dust filled explosions around you, shouting enemies, endless landscapes and enough war to make anyone with a strong stomach feel very uncomfortable. On top of all this, you're put into situations that are more than a bit challenging for a single-player to handle. Sticking with Vietnam, you're put into a situation where you have to take back an ammunition depot and storm a trench at the bottom of the hill, while being attacked brutally. The shear size of this mission on regular mode will take you at least 30 minutes to complete. There's a lot ducking, a lot of thinking and a helluva lot of restarting. The mission is massive and difficult and it's perfect to keep the atmosphere of the game intact.
Outside of the sharp visuals, and some great audio (if you have a 5.1 - 7.1 system you're going to be in love with the way the audio is structure), you also get some variety in terms of what you can do in the war. Sure you get the typical 'pick up gun and shoot' method of doing things in Call of Duty: Black Ops, but it wouldn't be a CoD game without some different modes of war. For example, you do get to experience what its like in an SR-71 helicopter. Unlike Medal of Honor, you get a bit more control over the beast of the machine and it works a lot less clunkier. You also get to get on the back of jeep and fire guidance missiles at oncoming tanks. Once the missiles are fired you actually get to control the suckers with your analog stick. It's definitely a lot tougher than it sounds. Anyway, much like previous CoDs you get a large variety of different ways to play the game and it works well.
Wrapping up the single-player mode positives, the game handles really well. You get some minor tweaks in the controls that make any Medal of Honor nut smoothly transition into Call of Duty: Black Ops. Single-player mode brings about 6-10 hours of gameplay and it does have some replay value thanks to an extremely difficult 'hardcore' mode. Hell, regular mode is difficult enough; hardcore mode is nearly impossible. Still, you'll want to at least give that a go before you decide to start your mission, as the hard work is rewarded.
With every good there is an evil. With every positive there is a negative, and Call of Duty: Black Ops does have some negatives to it.
One of the biggest, glaring negatives to the single-player mode is the complete lack of AI in both friends and enemies. Having played Medal of Honor for a good two months, I've come to expect my FPS soldiers to help me in a jam. I've also come to expect my enemies, again thanks to Medal of Honor, to not just focus on me and not to repeatedly show up in the same area over and over again. Call of Duty: Black Ops is plagued with AI issues, as you will get virtually no help from your teammates. For example, going back to Vietnam you team up with another soldier to storm the hill I was talking about previously. You work with this guy to go down to the trenches of a hill and go up with him to storm the enemies on top of another hill. Well, on the way down this guy yells at you the entire way to man a gun and clear a path towards the trench at the bottom of the first hill. You do this, but something interesting happens when he gets to a stopping point; he begins to selectively start shooting in a massive enemy invasion. Imagine that you're pinned down with this guy and you're almost to your checkpoint. When my character looked over to his character, during the heat of this particular battle, he was standing completely upright and not firing or reacting to the shitstorm of bullets around us. Funnily enough, he wasn't getting killed either.
Interesting, eh? That is one example of more than a few where friendly AI has completely failed. It's as if you don't have any help and you are truly a one-man army.
Well, it also works on the enemy side, too. Throughout the game you will be pinned down by enemies. Again, staying with this particular Vietnam scenario, no matter how many times you would kill an enemy in a particular spot another one would crop up in the exact same place. On top of this you would also have enemies who would go through repetitive patterns of popping their head up and firing. There was a moment in this mission where a line of enemies decided to charge up the first hill at my guys' blazing set of guns. They were mowed down each time and without breaking from their pattern. Folks, this is a portion of the game that needed to be improved. Not to keep bringing it up in a CoD review, but Medal of Honor had some strong AI and I know it's possible for that type of AI to live and breathe inside of a first-person shooter.
This series has been out for a while, and it has had two outstanding versions of it with the last two outings. This AI oversight makes the game a little underwhelming and causes the series to take a step back from where Modern Warfare firmly stood. Don't get me wrong; I understand how much fun it can be to recognize enemy patterns and feel like a badass in an fps by taking out a lot of guys with authority, but that wears thin quick. You'll want help in this massive game where the war scenarios are a lot more intense than in previous Call of Duty games. Getting pinned down and reloading in a heavy situation requires friendly fire to take up the slack and put down some enemy troops. It just honestly didn't happen enough in Call of Duty: Black Ops and it hurt the fun of the game; you no longer felt like you were a part of a cause, rather you were more like Rambo. Your enemies were more like the enemies in a Rambo film.
Anyway, that's my first gripe. The second gripe is a spotty one. There were times in the game where I didn't have properly placed checkpoints. I'm not talking about towards the end of the game; I mean it was spread out in places here and there. There were times where I would go through a mission as normal and die, regretfully as normal, and find myself respawning perfectly at a checkpoint I didn't realize I crossed. There were other times where I would play through a very tough mission and die three-fourths of the way through, spending 15-20 minutes getting to that point, only to find out that I had to start all the way over. Frustrating? Yes. Can I forgive it? Yes, but only because I'm a sucker for impossible challenges. Seriously though, while it didn't happen all the time there were missions were the checkpoints were incredibly unbalanced and improperly placed. That's not a huge deal, but it's enough to be annoying to point out.
At the end of the day with the single-player mode you get most of what Treyarch and Activision promised with Call of Duty: Black Ops. There is ultimately a good storyline produced with a series of device driven plot points. You get some solid visuals that put you in ungodly gorgeous levels. You get a variety of different ways of completing certain levels (outside of picking up a gun and shooting). Most of all you get one of the most intense Call of Duty games that Activision has published. The AI does hamper the overall gameplay, though. If you can look past that then maybe this experience will be even better.
Now, let's talk about multiplayer side of things for Call of Duty: Black Ops.
(written by Jonathan Hall)
Plenty of good butter on this bread....
Folks, you are in for a treat when it comes to Call of Duty: Black Ops online. Everything you've read about the game is pretty much faithful to what you get online.
Call of Duty: Black Ops brings a lot of changes into the Call of Duty universe that were not seen in MW2. From the start up you get a lot more options than in the previous versions. Here are your choices:
Three out of the five of these options brings new challenges and experiences. However, the first option, the 'Player Match', is the tried and true game mode that makes Call of Duty so popular. The matches consist of four tiers of play, each one being reached at a certain skill level. Every player starts off with core, where they will level up their soldier. As this is done, new styles of gameplay will be unlocked. Of course, all of the favorite game modes for player match are back. Team deathmatch, free for all, capture the flag, demolition, headquarters and all of the rest have returned. In addition to this you also get the hardcore mode unlocked at level 19 (good luck with that one). Sadly, one feature I found missing in the multiplayer was mosh pit. This game mode was one of my favorites and Call of Duty: Black Ops was devoid of any hint of it. However, Treyarch more than makes up for this oversight with the numerous other game modes and choices.
Once level 16 is achieved you get barebones mode opened. If you’re not familiar with barebones it is a completely stripped down game mode. You play without perks, attachments, equipment or contracts. This adds a real spice to the fighting and matchups. After Barebones, comes hardcore. As one might imagine, hardcore is a huge jump in difficulty from core. Like in MW2, Call of Duty: Black Ops ' hardcore takes away a lot of the unnecessary additions for a more realistic feel. There is no stock mini-map and there is increased damage, including friendly fire. Once hardcore is reached, the next level up is Prestige Mode, which you'll want to discover the goodies that lie in that basket; they are a trip.
Getting back to matches, one of the most amazing new game modes added to Call of Duty: Black Ops is the 'Wager Matches'. These are the supreme test of a players' skill, and pretty fun to boot. In a wager match a player puts up a number of Call of Duty (CoD) points on the table to gamble that he or she will be in the top three players for the match (later on I will break down the CoD points for you, so you understand what else can be done with these suckers). Wager match is a unique game style in comparison to the standard core modes thanks in part to four new random modes for a player to face in the wager match.
The first mode within wager match is titled 'Gun Game'. This is a pretty interesting mode where the player starts the match with a pistol and with every kill is given a new tier of weapons. The round is over when a player gets a kill with all 20 weapon tiers. The next mode in a wager match is called 'One in the Chamber'. In this mode each player is given a pistol with one bullet in the chamber, and the ol' trusty combat knife. With every kill the player receives one more bullet, so be careful to shoot straight and true or it will be down to a knife fight. What's also interesting about this mode is that every player is only given three lives, so this encourages players to think a bit more about their strategy instead of going in guns blazing. The next mode is called 'Sharpshooter'. In Sharpshooter each player is given the same random weapon and every 45 seconds these weapons will cycle to another randomly assigned weapon. What's neat about this particular mode is that it really tests a player's skill with various weapons; gotta love that. The final mode experienced in Call of Duty: Black Ops' wager match is titled 'Sticks and Stone'. In this mode, every player is given a crossbow, a ballistic knife and a tomahawk and sent out to kill each other. As an added twist, if a player manages to kill an opponent with the tomahawk , the dead player is "bankrupted".
The wager match is a very welcomed addition to the list of matches offered by Call of Duty: Black Ops and one that I found intriguing and fun. Treyarch did a fantastic job with this match and should be commended for their efforts.
With all that said, have you ever felt the need to practice and hone your skills before getting back into the onslaught of multiplayer, especially after reading about the new wager mode? Well, in Call of Duty: Black Ops now you can. Treyarch has added a game mode called ‘Combat Training’. It is the same as playing in the public match, without actually going against real live opponents. There are four different difficulties present in combat training, each perfect for testing one's skill and sharpening reflexes. This is the mode to choose for learning the maps, guns and feel of Call of Duty: Black Ops without having the fear of being dominated or judged by other players since every opponent is the AI (it’s always nice not to be cussed out online – so take a break with this mode). I know what you are thinking, with the AI description from the campaign mode, combat training will be easy. Uh, yeah no. I played this mode on veteran and got a spanking. I have played Call of Duty: Black Ops, and before it MW2 multiplayer for hundreds and hundreds of hours, and I can honestly say that combat training is just that, combat. It puts you to the test and truly is a 'training' simulator just like advertised. For newbies coming into the CoD universe for the first time this is a great way to get your online feet wet and a great addition to the franchise.
The final noteworthy feature in Call of Duty: Black Ops is the Theatre mode. Here a player can watch, or learn how to upload videos to the Call of Duty community. There are options to watch films, clips or see screenshots from the player's recent games, as well as items submitted by other users. This mode is an all-inclusive way to show off a players’ skill or without needing FRAPS and Youtube. Here the Call of Duty: Black Ops players can also rate the media, which adds a nice sense of competition to the multiplayer experience.
Moving on, let's talk about points and perks...
Just like in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops let’s the player "Create A Class". Once the player unlocks this option, he or she can customize the load out of their soldier. Each player starts out with five slots, but gains more at different levels of prestige. Here is where the changes begin. Treyarch instituted a new currency called CoD points that a player uses to upgrade the gear, playercard, weapons and other features. These CoD points are gained through completing levels or just participating in the games. Like in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 a player has to achieve certain levels to unlock weapons. However, in Call of Duty: Black Ops the player then must purchase the weapon with the CoD points. While this may be seen as a detriment to some, the introduction of CoD points allows for the purchase of different grenades, equipment and perks from the beginning of the Create A Class options. As a level 10, I had my ninja and my ghost perks. Speaking of perks, the perks have been revamped. There are still three classes of perks, but the specialties of these perks have greatly increased. Treyarch has gone to great lengths to allow the player to design a character to fit his or her style from an early level.
This customization continues with killstreaks. As in the previous Call of Duty: Black Ops provides killstreaks when a certain number of kills in a row are achieved. In Call of Duty: Black Ops, there are period specific killstreaks such as a spy plane, mortar team or napalm strike. However, a few additions have been made to ‘up’ the cool factor. There is no nuke anymore, (thank goodness), but there is the RC-XD a small remote controlled C4 car that blows up on proximity to an enemy. Let me tell you being on the receiving end is a lot less fun than the giving end. It’s a neat feature and one that is welcomed. What’s also interesting about this little C4 car is that not only can you gain points by killing an enemy with it, but you can also gain them by blowing up the cars if one is speeding after you or one of your teammates.
Another new feature in Call of Duty: Black Ops is the Contracts option. In contracts you can buy into certain challenges. If you manage to secure the "contract" then you are awarded both experience and CoD points. One of the interesting features in Contracts is the time limit placed on every Contract. You have to achieve the objective from the contracts within forty minutes to an hour and a half of map time. Map time is the time spent "feet wet", in the blood and mud of the maps. There are three different styles of contracts, each one a specific and specializing in a different style of play. Once again, this is all about customization and allowing the player to choose his or her style of killing to contract out.
So, is all of this good? As a whole, Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer was a great first person shooter, and lived up to the quality and performance expected from a Call of Duty title. In conclusion I was quite pleased with the job from Treyarch. It was nice to see a thoroughly thought out amount of worthwhile additions and upgrades to this beloved series.