By whatisvisceral 40 Comments
Me and Call of Duty, sitting in a treeMe and Call of Duty go way back. Back to 2003, when the first Call of Duty game was released on PC, grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go until I finished it in one session. Since then I have played every Call of Duty game, and I've finished all of them in one session. Start the game and play through it from start to finish, that's the way I played Call of Duty. Most of the games only lasted about 6 hours so they would always be an awesome roller coaster of action.
Now, I am normally not the kind of person to write angry blog posts about games when I don't like them. I usually just shrug it off and finish it for the achievements or leave it because I don't need the frustration. I'm also not the kind of person who gets hung up on details like the developers not getting the rate of fire of an MP5 absolutely correct or crap like that.
I am, however, a game designer, someone who loves games and a big Call of Duty fan. Recently, the Call of Duty series has moved from intense close quarters battles to over the top action movie nonsense. I didn't complain, Modern Warfare 1 and 2 were awesome games and I enjoyed the hell out of them. Hell, I even played a decent amount of Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer and I've never played online shooters.
Call of Duty Black Ops though, is something different altogether. I've never been one to say Treyarch is a worse developer than Infinity Ward but they've really dropped the ball on this one. Before I start my 'rant' I have to say two things: I haven't even finished Black Ops and there will be spoilers. The spoilers are minor because I haven't finished the game and I haven't finished the game because it is already annoying the hell out of me (and I've only made it to the 4th mission). Oh, and I use some bad language, so... there's that.
The game is really into taking you by the hand and never letting go. It won't let you do things on your own at all and isn't that the whole reason why we play games in the first place? To feel like bad-asses who blow up entire bases with just an AK-47 and a pistol? Black Ops is weird this way because I get the feeling it doesn't trust me. It's annoying and weird that a big game developer made a game like this. And not just any game, a game in what might be the biggest franchise in gaming history. Below are my experiences with the first three missions in Black Ops. I know the text is quite long but I am trying to use examples for people who haven't played the game.
My issues with Call of Duty Black OpsThe Black Ops opening level seems really bad ass but it is linear and boring as shit. For most of the level you're following somebody around who is doing most of the shooting. In the previous Call of Duty games, the main draw for me was that you felt like you were part of a bigger battle. You'd fight your way through a level with other soldiers by your side and feel like you had crossed a massive battlefield by the time it was over. Now, it feels like they're not even trying that anymore. It feels like they are trying to be as ridiculous and over the top as possible and everything that gets in the way just gets skipped. Seriously, the first 'scene' ends with you and your buddies in a horrible car crash and then they skip to you zip-lining into a compound somewhere in the jungle. Hello?! Excuse me?! What the hell happened in between? It's like the game doesn't care. It's dragging me along and I have no idea what's going on. Your buddies Bowman and Woods are with you when you assault the compound and they do most of the work. Sometimes you get to shoot dudes, but always in some straight corridor while they hide behind boxes. Woop-dee-fucking-doo. And then you shoot Castro in the face. In slow motion. At this point, it feels like the developers are sitting next to me, screaming "HEY LOOK, IT'S FIDEL CASTRO! ISN'T THAT COOL! SHOOT HIM! OH DUDE, YOU JUST SHOT CASTRO! HOW COOL IS THAT!"
The next section, in true Call of Duty fashion, throws everything at you at once, people are screaming in your earpiece, you have no idea what's going on and you die. The game respawned me in a spot with 4 enemies surrounding me! FOUR! I died within seconds. This goes on for about 10 minutes and I keep dying because there is too much shit going on. Eventually, we get to an airfield and my buddies just fucking book it across the tarmac! I don't have infinite auto-run so I have no chance of keeping up. Already I feel like the game is getting sort of annoyed that it has to play around me.
Nex mission, I'm in prison. Somebody hands me a knife and the game tells me to stab dudes. Ok. I can do that. So I stab every guard in sight. Then I come to some prisoners fighting some guards so I try to stab them. I can't do that. I swear I've stabbed them for 2 minutes straight and nothing happened. Why do I have this knife and why are there guards that I can't stab? For the next 20 minutes or so, I follow some guy. I never get a moment where the game tells me 'Go there and kill everything', only 'Follow this dude'. The story also gets very dodgy in this level. It's all a bit too cartoonish and over the top for me and the voice acting isn't helping. I have a hard time buying any of this and it's not making the game very enjoyable. But the next mission really takes the cake.
So now I have escaped prison and I'm working for the CIA. Never mind how that happened, the game spends about 10 seconds explaining that so you shouldn't give it a second thought. Because I am a bad-ass (at least, that's what the game tells me), I get to go to the Pentagon! Nice! Now, let me describe what happens in this 'mission'. I arrive in a helicopter, get in a limo, go to the Pentagon, walk through the Pentagon, meet John F. Kennedy and get the mission to kill some dude. First of all, the game doesn't let me control my character! He walks on his own in first person perspective. Not for a little while, no, for the entire mission! Ok, so they don't want me to go off-script and want to keep the immersion going. But then, they cut away from the first person perspective to show THE LIMO DRIVING DOWN THE FREEWAY! What? That was cool enough to break the first person perspective in a Call of Duty game for THE FIRST TIME EVER? Then, they show my character walking around in third person! At this point, I am about to cry. This makes no sense. The whole walk through the Pentagon is in first person and I still can't control my character. Why, in the name of Kotick, did they do this?
There must have been concept art for this level, then somebody made 3D models for it, those were unwrapped and textured, put in the engine and lit. Programmers and animators made sure everything looked alive. This probably cost weeks to create and all so the game can rush me through it in 5 minutes without even letting me control my character? WOW! You know what's cool about games? Going to places you never get to go. You know where none of us is ever going to go? The motherfucking Pentagon!!! Why can't you let me walk around in this fictional version of the Pentagon for a while? WHY?! It could have been fun, you could have put in some Easter Eggs and people would have said "Dude, did you find the Playboy magazine in the bathrooms at the Pentagon in Call of Duty Black Ops? Man, that was cool!". Nope. 5 minute first person walk with no control over your character and no breaks. Awesome.
Nope, guess again. Next mission: I get to follow Woods around again. Seriously, if I am the best soldier the US has, then WHY THE HELL DO I HAVE TO KEEP FOLLOWING THIS DUDE AROUND?! Because, again, the game doesn't trust me to do things on my own. I like poking at games to see how far I can go but Call of Duty doesn't let me go at all! And when I follow Woods around in this mission, everything I do breaks the game. I shot my gun, the helicopter saw me: instant failure. Next section: it won't even let me shoot. Sometimes the game stops and Woods tells me to do something.
You know what, Woods, I don't feel like it. Fuck you, do it yourself! But he never does and the game just stays in that state until you finally do it. At one point, I get to shoot down a rocket going into outer space with a stinger missile. That was kind of cool. So I'm standing there, looking up at the rocket exploding. Looks cool. I look back down and everyone is gone! Everything is quiet and my buddies are waiting for me down the stairs. It's really, really quiet but the second I reach the stairs everything starts exploding! I could almost SEE the hitbox the level designer placed there. More following, more corridor shooting. Sometimes I think the game just throws in these corridor sections to make me feel like I'm at least doing something but it's not helping. Corridor shooting sucks! Woods, Bowman and some guy I don't even know are also in the corridor and they randomly charge forward and jump in front of my gun. Remember: we were pretending to be Russian soldiers so they're dressed in the same fucking uniforms as the enemies! They got really angry when I shot them. Well, don't stand in front of my gun. I'm not moving, you are, idiot!
At the end of the mission, we apparently failed to kill the dude we were supposed to kill. At no point in the mission was it clear to me that we were there to kill a dude (or shoot rockets out of the air, for that matter). The game hardly ever tells you what you should be doing. Anyway, we failed. And now the main character has the balls to say 'we searched the entire base and he wasn't there'. Fuck off, we didn't search the entire base, that thing was massive. Woods just dragged us from point A to point B! So I'm getting sick of the following, the vagueness, the story, the corridor shooting, everything having the same goddamn color and most of all, Woods.
My breaking point
The next mission is in Vietnam. Yeah, Vietnam! I like Vietnam movies (two of my favorite movies: Platoon and Apocalypse Now) so I was psyched about the Vietnam missions. So who shows up: WOODS! AAAAAAAARGH! The game takes control of my character and walks me to a Jeep and I don't even get to walk around the camp we're in. Now Woods starts briefing me again and I'm done. I don't care anymore. I've now played an hour of Call of Duty Black Ops and all I've done is follow two dudes around and odds are, that's what I will be doing for the next five hours. The game won't let me explore, won't let me do things on my own and won't let me mess around. Fuck it!
So I turned it off. And you know what I'm going to do now? I'm going to play Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. There is a massive open world there where I can do all kinds of things. That game does make me feel like a bad-ass, like the person who should be liberating Rome. It trusts me enough to open the world up, fill it with shit to do and say "Have fun, dude!"
Get to the point already!The point I'm trying to make is this:
Black Ops has a huge boner for how awesome, bad-ass and cool it is as a game. But this boner is preventing the game from doing what it's supposed to be doing: making ME feel like a bad-ass! I, the player, am living the experiences the game is giving me through this character. If the game doesn't trust me to be that character and holds my hand the whole way through, then what am I doing? It's the gaming equivalent of being an intern: they give you shit to do, but it's never the good shit and somebody's always looking over your shoulder to see if you're doing it right. And you have to make the coffee.