Call of Duty: Black Ops Single-Player Review
By -- Richard Jacklin
After a massive surge in popularity, it was decided that the Call of Duty franchise would release new installments yearly. In order to make yearly deadlines, the series has been split between two developers: Infinity Ward and Treyarch, who alternate years. After the bashing Call of Duty 3 from Treyarch received and the success Call of Duty 4 from Infinity Ward received, Treyarch has been perceived as the lesser developer by gamers. I used to feel that the negativity towards Treyarch was unfair, but after playing through Call of Duty: Black Ops, I'm starting to side with the negative side.
Black Ops has you stepping into the shoes of SOG Operative Alex Mason. This is a welcome change of pace from previous entries in the series that had gamers playing as multiple characters. The game has Mason tied down to a chair going to flashbacks of his life from 1961 - 1968 where he did dirty work for the CIA. This has the player completing missions from the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba to the war in Vietnam. In Modern Warfare 2, the campaign was riddled with over-the-top action scenes that broke up the plot and far removed the player. Black Ops doesn't go quite as far with the over-the-top action scenes, but tries to tie its characters into history in ridiculous ways. Another folly of Modern Warfare 2 that Black Ops adopts is an overly confusing story. Personally I was lost to the story through most of the campaign and had to read the plot online in order to realize what I really experienced.
The gameplay in Call of Duty: Black Ops is a mixed bag. The FPS genre is pushed to the limits and shows how beautiful, entertaining, and satisfying shooting NPCs can be. Each of the guns are well designed and weighted. The weight of your gun decides how fast you will be able to move and adds on a coat of realism. Silent kills with knives work the same as always and are equally as vicious and satisfying. Black Ops starts to fall apart when vehicles come into play. There are only a few vehicle scenes, and each one keeps the player in first-person perspective. The vehicles control nicely and aren't over-used, but the scripting of the vehicle scenes make them terrible.
The first vehicle situation occurs early in the first mission. Playing as Mason, you must jump into a car, reverse, then turn left and escape. Jumping in the car is an automatic scene that can't be controlled, and reversing is done by simply holding the left-trigger (Xbox 360) until another quick scene takes over. This scene shows the car turning left, and then allows you to take over and escape with the car. At this time you are given much more control, except you can only slide left and right a few inches and you can't stop or back-up. It's scripting like this that tries to engage the character more, but ultimately ends up removing the player from the sequence. Another vehicle scene has you driving on a motorcycle and shooting at passing enemies. This segment gives you the illusion of having more control than in the first one. When I first played it I was moving the thumb sticks for turns, but on my second attempt discovered that the game was actually guiding me through the turns. Treyarch needs to decide on either removing vehicle segments from their Call of Duty games, or giving the player more control. As it stands now, vehicles segments that are over scripted just don't work.
The overall gameplay is ruined by the hand-holding, interactive action movie Treyarch tried to set the game up as. Every type of eye-rolling, over-the-top scene from Modern Warfare 2 is present in Black Ops. During my playthrough I:
- Saw a perfectly aimed bullet hit a NPC in slow-motion
- Watched Mason jam a knife in a NPC in slow-motion
- Controlled a near-dead Mason as he shot an enemy NPC that is almost killing an allay NPC.
- Escaped a helicopter while it was fish-tailing to the ground
- Shimmied down a large surface with a rope
- Broke through some windows in slow-motion
- Nearly escaped death by a massive object while in a vehicle
...and the list goes on-and-on. All that was missing from this game being Modern Warfare 2+ was a terrorist attack scene and a "dowsing people with gas and burning them alive" scene. These over-the-top gameplay scenes are also much more heavily scripted in Black Ops. During most of the campaign missions there is no room for exploration and everything is confined to a straight path with a "whole lotta nothin'" surrounding it. While Black Ops rewards exploration by players with the typical Intel package collecting, it also punishes them with difficulty curbs. When following the path Manson can take a ton of bullets -- especially if him staying alive without breaks helps to tell the story better -- when not following the path, Mason can take barely any bullets. If that isn't enough to deter you from not following the beaten path, there are many videos you can watch online of people who have managed to avoid the game's script and end up really messing up the missions.
What Black Ops doesn't mess up is the graphics. Well, for the most part at least. The guns and environments look beautiful. The character models and Facial animations are also done quite well, especially when you are looking at in-game versions of historical figures like JFK and Fidel Castro. Unfortunately, some graphical glitches stop everything from looking excellent. There were multiple times when I would be snug too close to a wall and have my character half-way through a wall, or my gun in a messed-up position. During these problems the camera goes a bit haywire. These are small problems overall and will not ruin anyone's experience with the game.
When it comes to audio, Black Ops is once again a mixed bag. The soundtrack of the game has some clever songs, but usually ends up feeling like the cliched soundtrack to a war hollywood blockbuster. Hearing CCR playing as I exited a tent in Vietnam had me rolling my eyes. Treyarch was heading in the right direction with this soundtrack, but needed to be a little more original. The voice acting in the game is quite well done, but does have a few faults. Hearing the voice-over for President Kennedy wass great, but hearing Ice-T voice a comrade didn't quite have the same impact. I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but once again Treyarch was heading in the right direction, but couldn't quite nail it.
When the dust had cleared on my playthrough of Call of Duty: Black Ops, I knew I wasn't a fan. Modern Warfare 2 was almost too "action movie-y" for me last year, and now Black Ops has gone ahead and beaten that horse dead. Overly scripted missions in a FPS ruin a lot of what made the genre famous long ago. To alleviate the pain of the single-player game, the game does feature some great graphics and visuals. If you are a die-hard Call of Duty fan, you don't need to read this review to know that Black Ops is for you. But to all of the other gamers, Black Ops does not live up to the hype that was built up for the game. Treyarch had one goal: create a game better than Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2. What they did instead was copy what they thought made Modern Warfare great and added in their Treyarch flare. While that may be the perfect formular for sales, it is far from a formula for perfect gameplay.
- Interesting story
- Great combat
- Beautiful graphics
- Good audio
- Story can be hard to follow
- Scripted gameplay is terrible
- Some graphical glitches
- Cliched soundtrack