I've managed to pull myself away from playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. Hopefully long enough to write something coherent, and maybe walk the dog. Don't get me wrong, this isn't the best game I've ever played; it is however the best paced Call of Duty game since the original Modern Warfare, in terms of both single and multiplayer offerings (at least so far).
The series, whether in the hands of Infinity Ward or Treyarch, has never been known for its storytelling prowess; Black Ops continues the tradition of almost nonsensical quasi-realistic narrative, and that's just fine. What sets this particular instalment apart from its predecessors though, is the breakneck speed with which the action progresses. Frequently, interaction is kept to a minimum, and the steadiest aim is no longer a requirement; you just keep running and gunning, spraying and praying, and it works. No longer does it take several hundred retries to progress past a harrowing firefight, and your AI-controlled companions have now been empowered to actually kill enemy combatants. The series staples (read: cliches) are all present in Black Ops however; including the five to ten times your progress is interrupted by a concussive blast and a teammate helps you to your feet, the epic set pieces, slow-motion breaching and grenade/explosion indicators. The addition of the under-barrel flamethrower, crossbow and incendiary shotgun shells serve to freshen up the soon-to-be stale CoD formula, as well as effectively dispatching your enemies. There are enough familiar elements here to make series loyalists comfortable, but the drama has been toned down a (tiny) bit and the action flows more naturally than that found in the woeful, persistently frustrating, Modern Warfare 2.
The quality of the presentation is a bit hit-and-miss. The visuals for the single player campaign look spectacular, with brilliant lighting effects and wonderfully articulated facial models for the central cast. The environments are varied, if a little dull from a colour perspective, and there have been some truly spectacular sequences involving vehicles, rockets and support weaponry. The multiplayer though falls just short of ugly. Everything looks a little washed out, and the palette is even more dreary than that found in the campaign. The voice work is a little inconsistent, with Sam Worthington unable to decide whether the protagonist Alex Mason is American or Australian. Ice Cube also stars, and his work in the single and multiplayer portions is awesome. There's something magical about him pronouncing "Enemy spy plane inbound!" I can just imagine this sample being mixed into an upcoming Hip-Hop classic. The score however is a completely derivative mess, riddled with power chords and cliched licensed tunes. At the commencement of every multiplayer match, my ears bleed ever so slightly.
The multiplayer portion plays the same as it always has, however the progression system has been changed so that it is more accessible to n00bs like myself. While you still earn experience points for kills and challenges, levelling up doesn't automatically entitle you to a greater array of equipment. Levelling up instead earns you CoD points which you can then use to purchase equipment and perks. This enables players to use the tools that best suit their style of play, and means that I no longer need to play online for 14 hours before I can use reasonably effective assault rifles.You can also earn CoD points by fulfilling contracts (which have an initial purchase fee), and by participating in Wager matches. I'm not game enough to gamble my hard-earned CoD points just yet, maybe one day I'll grow the requisite stones. I should note however that core action is largely unchanged, save for the removal of the some of the more exploit prone perks and killstreaks. Unfortunately, attacks dogs have made a return, and my favourite weapon from MW2, the riot shield has been removed. At least the new maps are all of consistent quality and are sufficiently varied. You've got to take the good with bad I guess.
While I've enjoyed the 6 or 7 hours I've spent with CoD: Black Ops so far, I can't imagine that I'll remain heavily invested in the game upon completing the single player campaign. While there are some new additions, I can't help but feel as though I have played, and paid for this game several times previously.
What are your thoughts on Black Ops? Anyone playing it yet?