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Review

Review: Call Of Duty: Black Ops

Duty calls.

Call Of Duty, the mere mention of those three words divides public opinion almost more than any others. On one hand there are 25 million players battling it out over billions of man-hours. On the other, there is a sense of bemusement at how ‘just another FPS’ can be so popular.

On first starting the game up you are greeted by a Graphic Content Warning which lets you know that player discretion is advised. Although the title doesn’t feature a set piece like No Russian it does feature gore in the form of neck stabbings, throat slitting and a torture scene. The most controversial aspect however, is the use of real world characters such as President John F. Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and even a mission to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Once you’ve made your mind up on seeing the graphic content it’s on with the action.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops is the seventh title in the franchise, it’s the first time the Cold War has featured in the series and, as the game’s title suggests, the story centres around the CIA’s ‘Black Operations’. Just like Modern Warfare 2, you take on the role of several characters but this time visiting Cold War hot spots such as Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong and the now-obligatory snow-filled Arctic level but unlike Modern Warfare 2 the narrative is tied strongly together.

The lead protagonist Alex Mason wakes up disorientated, strapped to a chair in an interrogation room. He’s being questioned by a shadowy figure in another room, talking through a voice-changer, demanding to know about previous operations, this triggers the flashback where you play through that operation neatly tying together all the locations and various characters, clever huh?

Starting in a Havana bar in 1961 Cuba, the game holds your hand as you get to grips with the basic tasks such as aiming, shooting and melee attacks. As is usual for a Call Of Duty game, the controls feel light and responsive, helped in part by the higher than normal framerate.

As well as being responsive, the controls are instantly familiar, with the left shoulder button aiming, the right firing and the face buttons mapped in the now standard way that just makes sense. Once the initial hand-holding is out of the way it’s on with the action. Enemies come running at you like cannon fodder, with a few of them doggedly hiding behind cover but its nothing a well aimed grenade can’t sort out.

The enemy AI seems a bit dumb in comparison to some games, on the easier difficulty levels they often stand around waiting to be shot or are blindly firing at you from behind cover. However, on the higher difficulty levels anything less than doggedly sticking to cover yourself and only progressing once you’ve mopped them all up will see you die, lots. The level design is broad enough to give you an opportunity to try and outflank enemies as you to find your own route to navigate from cover to cover picking them off.

This highlights a problem, because no matter where you are, there is always a yellow arrow beckoning you to walk towards it and whenever you approach it it moves to the next disappearing point in the near distance. Whilst you’re getting to grips with the game, this cheat’s form of level signposting isn’t a problem but as soon as you’ve settled in and are enjoying the action, it becomes an annoyance. It’s not even like there’s bad level design which requires this form of help.

Thanks to the flashback style of knitting the narrative together, the locations are extremely varied. One minute you’re on the terracotta rooftops in Cuba, the next you’re breaking out of a Soviet prison camp, piloting a helicopter through Vietnamese jungles, running across Hong Kong skyscrapers and even a river cruise with a difference in Laos. This provide’s one of the most atmospheric moments in the game as you lay waste to village after village with missiles and machine gun fire with the Rolling Stones’ classic Sympathy For The Devil on the radio. Certainly it’s a bit distasteful but it is the title’s stand-out moment for capturing the feel of the era, it’s akin to the Hollywood Vietnam blockbusters with trigger happy troops causing carnage in the jungles and villages.

The game certainly doesn’t make any pretences that it is anything other than a CoD game, the action feels firmly CoD-like and there is the sense that, despite the new setting, you have seen it all before. That’s not to say that Treyarch haven’t attempted to make bold strides into new territory. The bold strides are of course relative as we’re talking about an FPS mega-franchise, not an experimental indie digital download title.

As you visit the various locations, Black Ops adopts a variety of tactics to keep things fresh. Searching an abandoned ship armed with nothing more than a pistol and flashlight, it feels more like a survival horror than anything the CoD universe has thrown at us so far. Later you take control of a SR-71 Blackbird soaring up to 85,000ft to command a unit RTS-style, its very basic, but it is fabulous and leaves you wanting more, perhaps a Call Of Duty RTS game, please Activision?

The internet has been alive with chatter about Black Ops’ graphics, but having been through the campaign twice and thoroughly got to grips with the other game modes, I honestly can’t fault them. Everything looks fantastic despite the sub-hd resolution which shows that there is far more to an image’s quality than resolution alone. The cut-scenes driven by the game engine look fantastic with great textures and are a generational leap over previous endevours in the series. These cutscenes also show off the great voicework carried out by all the actors including Garry Oldman, Ed Harris, Ice Cube and Sam Worthington, however no amount of great acting can prevent the script from sounding clichéd, perhaps it’s lost in translation on its journey across the Atlantic and sounds different to American ears?

It’s no surprise that many people look forward to Call Of Duty for the multiplayer action, and as you’d expect Black Ops doesn’t disappoint, Treyarch have really gone to town and listened to the community to improve on everything that has gone before. Out of the box there are 14 maps available, encompassing small, medium and large sizes which offer very different experiences, ranging from the frenetic action of Nuketown lending itself to deathmatch style modes to the snow-swept wide open spaces of Array and of course everything in between.

As you’d expect there are a multitude of game modes ranging from the normal deathmath, team deathmatch, capture the flag, domination and more, but this time the multiplayer modes have been enhanced with the addition of CoD points, an in-game currency which can be earned though completing contracts. These are time-limited challenges such as earning x amount of kills with a particular weapon, or coming top in a particular game mode. These CoD points can be gambled in wager matches which themselves bring a whole roster of game modes, your winnings can then be spent on customisations.

Treyarch haven’t stopped there however, all multiplayer modes are possible with splitscreen, enabling users to take their local fun online and for the first time in the series they have added bot matches and a fantastic theatre mode which automatically records the multiplayer action enabling you to edit it, take screenshots and upload them to video sharing sites. The theatre mode has the added benifit of being able to catch glitchers red-handed, providing an incentive to play fairly.

Although Black Ops doesn’t feature a MW2 style Spec-Ops mode, the co-op fun is provided by a Zombie mode which sees gamers fending off wave after wave of Zombie attack. Although things start off leisurely its not long until you’re surrounded and the action hots up and although it can be played on your own, its far more fun buddying up and kicking zombie ass together.

Still, even that’s not all as Black Ops contains an unlockable twin stick shooter called Dead Ops Arcade, very much in the mould of the classic Smash TV, although this is a great Easter Egg, it seems far more than after thought as easily it’s one of the best examples of the genre I’ve played. Even that’s not all though as there is even a fully working version of the classic text adventure, Zork. All things taken into account there is one hell of a package on offer here, and rarely if ever is any of it anything less than great.

Pros.

  • Solid campaign with fantastic story driven action
  • Genuinely does attempt to break into new territory for an FPS
  • More multi-player maps, modes and customisations than ever
  • Dead Ops Arcade is a gem of a twin stick shooter
  • The theatre mode is great.

Cons.

  • Sometimes you just wish the yellow arrow would go away and let you find your own way from A to B
  • When the game does attempt to break into new territory, it pulls back from the brink to follow the familiar FPS well-trodden path
  • Although the story is great the script is clichéd

Call Of Duty: Black Ops features an exhilarating campaign mode, arguably the best in the whole series with a compelling narrative. At times Treyarch do make genuine attempts to break new ground with the addition of the RTS and the almost survival horror section, it’s a shame these don’t go on for longer, perhaps they hint at a future direction for the franchise? Longevity is provided by hunting down and collecting intel, the increased difficulty levels with the insanely hard veteran mode and of course the most popular multi-player action around. With Zombies, Dead Ops Arcade, Zork and the multiplayer additions of bots, contracts, CoD Points, Wager matches, theatre mode and a great community sharing system there is more content than ever before to enjoy, and enjoy it you will.

Score: 9/10

79 Comments
  1. Mikiyaru
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    Nice review. Glad the comparisons to Modern Warfare arent always there. After all its not a direct sequel. I just got to wait till Christmas to play it…

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:03.
    • wonkey-willy
      Member
      Since: Jan 2010

      for me this is a very expensive map pack
      nothing new here its the same old cod just a different story.
      the multiplayer is confusuing as hell.
      just dont get it how when you unlock a gun you then have to buy it.
      just spent a s**t load of credits on a gun just so i could add a red dot and buy a launcher.
      this wasnt much differnent to the standard class??
      but hey its not bad just not grrrrrreat.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 22:00.
  2. icuyesido
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    It’s a very good game, working on the plat at the moment, Veteran is really difficult. Online is fun, although I’m awful.

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:04.
    • theberzerka
      Member
      Since: Dec 2009

      Yeah good job there’s plenty of checkpoints, just got the cold warrior trophy it’s my first play through and i thought i’d give myself a challenge.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:25.
      • UKZ-N3M1515
        Member
        Since: Aug 2009

        SPOILeR WARNING (i think)

        i got a a level when you start killing enemies on a hill, moving through a trench, till you go down a man hole, when your at the end of the man hole and there is a hill you have to get down, with infinite enemys coming at you, i got really frustrated, its so insanly hard, i get to a bunker with a turret, and i still cant get anywere from there, even with out of 20-30 attempts only 1 grenade i see by my feet, so they fied the grenades, but its no easier, i guess ill go down to hardened soon. but im glad its going to be a good 10-15 hours of campaign to go through, CoD’s usually are more 8-9 hours for me

        Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 22:02.
      • wonkey-willy
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        mate done it in 5 straight run on easy
        no intel just ran through.
        now for the harder challenges.

        Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 22:05.
      • mynameisblair
        hisnameisblair
        Since: May 2009

        You have to push the barrels down, nemesis.

        Comment posted on 13/11/2010 at 00:05.
  3. DrNate86
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    A fair review, I am really enjoying it, though admittedly have only played online so far. One thing I would say is that online at least, the graphics really are poor (in my opinion of course). The textures are poor, the models are poor, the whole thing looks instantly and noticeably worse than MW2. This of course doesn’t affect the gameplay or enjoyment, but it is an observation that might matter to some people.

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:09.
    • rht992
      Member
      Since: Apr 2009

      i’ve heard a lot of people say the same thing

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:37.
    • ico
      Member
      Since: Aug 2010

      To say ‘poor’ is perhaps a bit steep. I played countless hours of MW 1 and 2 and have played a little BLOPS (can’t decide if I like that acronym!) and while I appreciate it may be inferior I think to say they’re really poor is a little unjust.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:56.
      • tonycawley
        Pint! Pint!
        Since: Feb 2009

        Blops isn’t technically an acronym. More an abbreviation.

        Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 19:00.
      • ico
        Member
        Since: Aug 2010

        At tonyc – Damn you literate lot. I did an English degree don’t you know (not very well mind as spent most of my time playing Final Fantasy 7 and Porsche Challenge on the PS1)? Fair point though.

        Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 20:05.
  4. gazo69
    Member
    Since: Forever

    Nice review cc, fully agree with you.

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:10.
  5. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    Great review, I’m currently loving the story. I love the fact that the single player story spans such a wide time frame, it adds even more variety.
    I don’t agree with your cons though, the yellow arrow doesn’t bother me and I don’t see why sticking to the generic FPS path is a bad thing. The 1 thing I don’t like about the story is the way it’s told. The interrogation feels a lot like SAW, and it’s super confusing. I’d prefer the simpler cutscenes like in MW2 where the story is told simply.
    The online is great, but I feel that I preferred MW2. I love the concept of the customisation, but I think is too in-depth, especially with the CoD Points, I’d prefer you to just level up and unlock guns, rather than buying them. Overall, it still is a great game, and definitely deserves its praise.

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:13.
    • tonycawley
      Pint! Pint!
      Since: Feb 2009

      I put a reply to this comment but for some reason it went to the end of the comments section. Not the first time that’s happened when replying on my phone. Anyway, i said i take it you’re joking about the Mw2 story telling. It was horrendous. I still don’t get the story to this day. And neither do a hell of a lot of other people.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 19:25.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        Nah, I loved the MW2 story. It was ridiculous, but it was so much fun, and I really connected with the characters. I completed Black Ops last night, and I’m still confuzzled about the story, and I can’t even remember the main characters name.

        Comment posted on 13/11/2010 at 14:18.
      • SpikeyMikey23
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        im with gazza with this one, I liked how random it was, didnt really bother me that it didnt make a lot of sense, i just enjoyed the set pieces as they came

        Comment posted on 13/11/2010 at 14:51.
    • tonycawley
      Pint! Pint!
      Since: Feb 2009

      I put a reply to this comment but for some reason it went to the end of the comments section. Not the first time that’s happened when replying on my phone. Anyway, i said i take it you’re joking about the Mw2 story telling. It was horrendous. I still don’t get the story to this day. And neither do a hell of a lot of other people.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 19:25.
  6. kahana95
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    Really the MW2 story was simple- why the hell was that general destroying his beloved america???

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:19.
    • Daywalker
      Member
      Since: Jan 2010

      Dude, spoilers.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 23:14.
      • tonycawley
        Pint! Pint!
        Since: Feb 2009

        Spoilers? 12 months down the line? Surely spoilers don’t apply after around 6 months-ish (i know we’ve had this debate on here before)

        Comment posted on 13/11/2010 at 00:09.
      • Daywalker
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        But still, there Re people

        Comment posted on 15/11/2010 at 18:16.
      • Daywalker
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        But still, there are people that don’t want to know. Won’t get into that debate shin though :P

        Comment posted on 15/11/2010 at 18:16.
  7. Burgess_101
    Member
    Since: May 2009

    im not a fan i played it for a while and i just find the whole game rather boring i do love the menu screen bit when you break out of the chair go on the computer type in commands i can play zork for longer than cod also dead ops i would buy seperatly i love that but the sctual game just kinda points to the same ol’ same ol’ the fps’ i cant wait for are killzone 3 and brink which i hope take the crown from COD in particular brink because its a rather orignal take on the becoming tired genre of fps’ hopefully breathing new life into it

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:22.
    • cc_star
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Forever

      Yes, Dead Ops should be a game in its own right

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:38.
      • Burgess_101
        Member
        Since: May 2009

        im surprised activision or treyarch (excuse the spelling if thats wrong) didnt pick up on that and release it separately ? considering they are selling black ops again at a inflated price didnt think they would take a 2nd look at another opportunity to make some more money unless they thought people would discard it and just play the actual game instead but either way its not like the advertised it being in the game

        Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 19:36.
  8. Mike
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    9/10?! WTF?! Clearly biased!!! ;) Nah, it’s a fair review and agree with the score. It’s an unmissable game but has its flaws. Good job cc.

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:22.
  9. rht992
    Member
    Since: Apr 2009

    call of duty is one of those games i hate to love but man this one sonuds really really good.
    i’m propable going top be told off for saying this but the BF:BC map pakc does come first :/

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:24.
  10. Grey_Ghost13
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    I’ve found something I don’t agree with in a TSA review!

    It may be my TV but I think the game looks pretty bad, screen tearing, poor textures and I know I shouldn’t but it looks allot worse then MW2 did.

    Good review as usual and I agree that they should have extended the boat and flash light bit as well as the blackbird level. My stand out moment of the game which definitely should have lasted longer!

    Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:33.
    • BIGAL-1992
      Member
      Since: Jan 2009

      It’s not your tv. I’ve had the exact same thing happen to me.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 18:50.
    • muse88_James
      Member
      Since: May 2010

      I’ve not had any of these issues, graphics are fine. No screen tearing or poor textures, looks way better than MW2, both online and offline.

      Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 20:16.
      • UKZ-N3M1515
        Member
        Since: Aug 2009

        i found that at first glance, it looks good, but when you look deepm its all flat, i looked at the mud on a jeep i was taking a ride in, and it was very pielated and flat, just blocks of colour, and when a bomb went off, the mud that flew up from the ground was like brown balloons, but its all fine, as it dont effect the enjoyment. this was on a full HD 32″ sony bravia, so top TV.

        Comment posted on 12/11/2010 at 22:08.

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