Are people fickle or just blinded by hype? I remember last year when Modern Warfare 2 was released that the whole world went crazy, reviewers were calling it the greatest game of all time and players were convinced of the same. But just a few months later the fuss had died down, in fact, people were complaining about the buggy and hacked multiplayer mode and a single player campaign that was too short.
Perhaps the whole Infinity Ward and Activision fall out distracted things a bit, or maybe it was that the two DLC packs were overpriced and didn’t deliver enough new content. Who knows? The hype train for Black Ops seemed to be even bigger this time around, can Treyarch outdo Infinity Ward and keep people interested in the game for more than a couple of weeks? Let’s hope so. I went into Call of Duty Black Ops with an open mind, I enjoyed MW2 in both single and multiplayer and like everyone else; was very impressed with the trailers for Black Ops. The only way to know for sure is to play it and that’s what I did.
Right from the menu screen things feel grittier than ever, you’re sitting in a dark room surrounded by monitors & your bloodied arms strapped to the chair. This dark torturous setting is quite imposing and one you’ll be seeing a lot of as you play into the single player campaign.
You take control of Mason, an esteemed soldier that appears to have been captured by an unknown enemy. A hidden stranger is bellowing questions through a voice scrambled intercom whilst you are strapped into a chair. Mysterious numbers keep flashing on the screens, the interrogator constantly asking what the numbers mean. Mason says he doesn’t know and the interrogator is not happy and promptly gives him a severe electric shock via the wires attached to his arms. Despite the struggles, Mason is in shock and is dropping in and out of consciousness, what one minute appears to be a dream or flashback is suddenly a reality as you’re thrown into control.
It’s the 1960s and you’re in a Cuban bar with two other operatives (Woods and Bowman), you’re given the details of an airfield by the barman. Suddenly the local police arrive and don’t seem happy with American’s hanging around, a gun fight awaits and you must escape before reinforcements arrive. Your mission is to kill Fidel Castro, first you’ll need to sneak into his lair whilst he and his forces are distracted by the simultaneous invasion going on near the South of Cuba.
Of course Castro is well guarded but it’s not long before you successfully give Castro what he deserves, a bullet to the brain. However, it’s all very well going around assassinating Cuban dictators but it’s probably best you got yourself extracted pretty quickly, Black Ops you may be but you don’t want to be there when the whole Cuban army come looking for you.
So the race to the airfield is on, a plane should be waiting for you in the hanger but the airfield is crawling with baddies. There’s no other option but to leg it across the field and into the awaiting plane. Problems soon arise when the plane’s escape is blocked, Mason selflessly jumps from the plane to clear the path letting Woods and Bowman escape. As you would expect, you’re soon captured and beaten to a pulp. When you awake Castro is standing there right before you, so you’ve been duped into murdering his body double. And so your journey begins, as Mason recaps his story in the electric chair you’ll travel from Cuba, Laos, Russia and Vietnam amongst others. Now you’ve probably already played and finished Black Ops but just to be cautious, I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers here.
Let it be said that the single player campaign is great, the intensity is perfect and the balance of action, stealth and set pieces. You’ll love everything from sneakily creeping around the Vietcong or escaping from capture in a stolen helicopter, destroying bridges and buildings as you go. That’s not to say there aren’t issues; Black Ops is still a heavily guided experience, there’s little reward for exploration and for the most part it feels you’re constantly running in a straight line towards the white marker dot. The maps certainly feel longer over those in MW2 yet unfortunately narrower at the same time, if you loved taking the long way around some of the levels in the previous game you might be disappointed by the more claustrophobic experience here. Another downer for me are the one or two areas with infinite enemy spawning, I happened to get stuck for around forty minutes in a situation where I was supposed to spill barrels of Napalm into a trench, however I wasn’t expecting the enemy to be constantly re-spawning in the same repeating pattern every thirty seconds. As it turned out I was just shooting waves of identikit enemies for nothing!
Having said all that, the multiplayer is where you’ll spend most of your time. If you’ve played any of the COD games since the original Modern Warfare you’ll know exactly what to expect here; a great selection of death-match modes and loads of great maps to play them on. Black Ops doesn’t stray too far from the winning formula here at all and that is actually a good thing, the multiplayer is almost (but not quite) identical to World at War and Modern Warfare 2. All the modes you know and love are here, my favourites of course include;
- Team Deathmatch
- Free For All
- Ground War
- Capture The Flag
You start off with a basic selection of loadouts and as you play and kill opponents you earn XP and eventually rank up. Previously each time you ranked up a level you would unlock the new weapons you’ve been craving for, this time however things are a little different. As well as earning XP you also earn call of duty dollars. Now you have to purchase the weapons, attachments, equipment and perks, not just unlock them.
It may sound confusing to earn both XP and dollars at the same time but there is sense behind the madness. Previously just playing the game for long enough would see the top players unlock everything and as soon as that happened, they would be unstoppable. Now we have a situation where it will take much longer to get every item and even more importantly, create half a dozen of those perfect custom loadouts.
So far this has resulted in a much more even experience, people don’t seem to be suffering from the instakill spawn syndrome associated with playing an FPS game with those who spend 24 hours a day doing nothing else. Of course this is just a delaying tactic, it shan’t be too long before the prestige kings will have absolutely every bit of kit but for now you have a chance of killing em, so take it.
One bummer regarding the Xbox Live multiplayer is the non appearance of Spec Ops from Modern Warfare 2. It was one of my favourite additions to the series and it’s so sad to see it disappear. Instead of Spec Ops we once again get to enjoy the Zombie apocalypse mode that originally appeared in World of War. In this mode you and up to three friends play against ever increasing waves of zombies in a first person rendition of Tower Defence. Yeah it’s fun but at the moment there just aren’t enough maps, I really do hope that more come via DLC very soon.
So to sum up, what’s good and what’s bad? Well of course the game looks absolutely stunning, probably the best looking game on 360 to date. I hear that on super powerful computers that the PC version really outshines the 360 but c’mon, it’s a five year old console and you can pick one up for under £200 – not all of us can afford to whack two grand on a 16 Core megabastard can we? The single player campaign is a little short for my liking, a few more missions and some levels that don’t just involve walking straight ahead would have been nice.
The multiplayer is just awesome and addictive, they’ve pitched it just right so that you always feel just one round away from levelling up or unlocking something cool. Again perhaps a few more maps might be in order, the ones that are here are great but you can never have too many in my opinion.
Call of Duty Black Ops is a great package, a fun single player mode which will really break your balls on Veteran. The multiplayer is what matters most and I can easily see three to six months of enjoyment here before we’ll need some DLC. Let’s hope Activision can do a better job this time around.
For providing a truly solid but a little too un-revolutionary update to the franchise I award Call of Duty Black Ops for Xbox 360 a rather good 8 out of 10.
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