Is there really any point in writing an introduction to a review for the fastest-selling videogame of all time? Odds are that if you haven't bought it already, you're waiting for Call of Duty: Black Ops to hit the bargain bin (good luck with that). Another reason, perhaps even more unlikely, is that you have no interest in this lastest instalment at all? Still, there may be some of you who are on the fence; some of you who are wondering whether Treyarch have been able to bring balance to the multiplayer suite, or even create a singleplayer storyline bereft of controversy, with more effective pacing? With this package, I'm happy to report in the affirmative. The latest offering in this storied money-maker of a franchise has fixed many of the problems that presented during Modern Warfare 2. That is not to say that Black Ops is a perfect game, or an essential experience for that matter; as the formula that millions were first exposed to back in 2007 is now starting to feel cliched, even stale.
Once more, with feeling - While the script can at times rely heavily on curse words, the voice talent articulating the narrative have managed to create a sense of drama and atmosphere atypical of most First Person Shooters. James Burns, who lent his voice to regular companion Sergeant Frank Woods is the real standout, however Ice Cube, Ed Harris, Garry Oldman (man-crush) and (for the most part) Sam Worthington all contribute to one of the most compelling CoD campaign I've ever played through.
Still hot - While this is solely in reference to the single player campaign, it must be said that Blacks Ops is quite the looker. There are scores of wow moments within this game, and, they aren't limited to explosions. The environments each look fantastic, and, some of the scripted sequences are simply breathtaking.
Are you OK with this? - Black Ops contains some of the most gruesome sequences in recent memory; more stomach-churning (but nowhere near as questionable) than the airport sequence in Modern Warfare 2. I've heard quite a bit about a particular torture sequence, but, I felt that it paled in comparison to some of the contextual melee hits that are scattered throughout the missions in Vietnam. What is fantastic about this brutality is that it need not be experienced if it is beyond your comfort level: Treyarch have included an option to tone down and, in some cases, nearly remove the gore of specific sequences, and I thoroughly appluad their efforts to cater to wussbags like myself.
Go your own way - The thoroughly popular, and overly familiar Call of Duty multiplayer suite returns; however, now players are able to decide (for the most part) how they progress, and what perks, weapons and equipment they use. I've explored this previously in the post "Blaze of Glory," so I won't dwell on it for too long. However, the freedom you are afforded allows for you to develop effective strategies well before you reach higher levels. The new Contract system works well enough (however, I must admit that I lack the skill and confidence to make proper use of it) and presents even more opportunites to acquire COD points and unlock more weapons, attachments and various other personalisations. There is even the option to play against bots, and when you tune your opponents to Veteran difficulty it can prove to be an unforgiving, albeit necessary, introduction to the mechanics of CoD multiplayer.
Tour of Duty - Black Ops features an impressive array of expertly designed maps that suit the CoD formula of play perfectly. There are plenty of places to camp; however, run-and-gunners are able to flourish as well, as no spot on any map is unreachable. The balanced Killstreak rewards also add substantially to the strategies that players can develop and then employ. I can't recall a single instance where I felt cheated by the new or returning rewards.
Promising start - The first two hours of the campaign are a blast, and at times even break from the action typical of previous instalments. The first mission especially, is so frenetic in pace and execution that I genuinely thought the series was embarking in a refreshing new direction. Some early sequences don't even demand that every enemy be dispatched. A chase is always more exciting than a rout.
Black Ops Arcade - Unlockable from the main menu (check the video below if you want to know how, beware the swears!), Black Ops Arcade is an addictive and humourous twin-stick shooter. Not a reason to buy the game by any means; but, still a value-added Easter Egg complete with weapons, power-ups and precious treasure.
Ugly cousin - I am wondering whether this is specific to the Playstation 3 version, but the multiplayer game looks washed out when compared to the singleplayer portion. I can understand that animations and details need to be scaled down when dealing with 16 players, each employing their own dynamic strategy; but some competitors feature just as many players, and look far better (Battlefield: Bad Company 2 anyone?).
In English please? - Once again, Black Ops carries the fine tradition of employing a whole dictionary of military terminology that goes unexplained. I hope to fill the gaps in my vocabulary with subtitles, but they offered no elaboration on the various acronyms, jargon and code you're exposed to throughout the adventure.
Empty additions - The new Wager Matches are a novelty at best, and while they do serve to offer some new experiences they are, ultimately, unnecessary. This may be sour grapes on account of losing a few thousand at the proverbial track, but, the matches I played were not overly enjoyable. One in the Chamber quickly devolves into a knife fight, while Sticks and Stones is the foremost venue for opponents rage-quitting. Gun Game and Sharpshooter are fun enough for the casual crowd, however, the lack of depth had me returning to standard matches very quickly.
Unstable - For every solid match you'll find online, you'll have to endure two with spotty and, at times, unplayable connections. Even after a post-release patch, I'm still finding that matches end prematurely, or lobbies close as I get tantalisingly close to a match beginning. Not a game breaker, but, frustrating nonetheless.
Same old - The multiplayer offering has been refined to the point of near-perfection, but this is essentially the same game I've been playing for over three years. It still managed to engage me for a few hours, but, after less than ten hours of play, I can advise that I am happy to put it bed. I may return to it sporadically. however, if you've played any CoD multiplayer game since Modern Warfare, you know exactly what to expect here.
Tired - While lacking any civilian slaying controversy, the majority of Black Ops plays like every other CoD singleplayer adventure. There are usually three kinds of scripts for any given level, involving corridors, large set pieces in exterior locations, or, simplistic vehicle sequences. While the narrative tying these sequences together may be different, and the settings and context have been changed; I can't escape the feeling of deja vu I've experienced since as far back as Call of Duty 2. Black Ops looks fantastic, and plays well enough, but so did World at War; so did Modern Warfare. The recently rebooted Medal of Honor only exacerbates the situation; Black Ops may be a better game, but, since MoH is a CoD rip-off, the feeling of deja vu is stronger still.
Convoluted yet predictable - For its every attempt at misdirection, the final twist in Black Ops was in no way a surprise. I didn't pay too much attention to the credits, but it would not surprise me if M. Night Shyamalan was called upon by Treyarch to write this bumbling, time-hopping period piece.
Zombies - I am f&$%ing tired of zombies in videogames. Zombies mode makes its return in Black Ops, and it is just as uninspiring as it was in World at War. Zombies mode is no substitution for Special Ops, and Black Ops is a weaker package without a proper co-operative mode.
8/10 - For anyone who has somehow been living in a gaming cave, and hasn't played a Call of Duty game: you need to play Black Ops, for it is easily the most enjoyable and refined instalment of the franchise. However, all the quality voice acting, progession systems and map design in the world can't save this from feeling like a loaf of stale bread, fresh from the CoD bakery. This would be the best entry point for anyone who is yet to properly engage with series; a statement which holds true for both the single and multiplayer offerings.