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Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

I’ve never owned a Call Of Duty. I’ve played lots, I’ve completed several. But this is the first COD I’ve owned. It’s mine and I’m going to cherish the experience.

Lights off. Volume up. Do not disturb. All too often I have only had half my attention on COD’s of the past, the other on my mates. Opp’s I died, your go. No sense of story, no immersion. Just fun. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly not how I play Dark Souls or Mass Effect, games with difficulty or story that demands my full focus.

Playing from the perspective of Alex Mason the game begins with you strapped into an interrogation,
‘What do the number’s mean!’
You’re crashed back in time as you play through Alex’s flashbacks, but what they have to do with numbers is beyond me. As with past titles, levels are mostly corridors with set pieces along the way. Black Ops doesn’t deviate, that’s not to say it’s not impressive, it’s just not different. Notable levels appear early in the game, assassinating Fidel Castro and a brilliant escape from a Soviet prison lead by the charismatic Victor Reznov (voiced by a superb Gary Oldman). Vietnam segments later are enjoyable, but don’t live up to the memories of Platoon or Full Metal Jacket that Black Op’s so desires to emulate. Using 70’s music and swimming through a swamp doesn’t automatically create the atmosphere that Hollywood’s finest have tired over. And cue Black Op’s downfall.

More bang for your buck?

The Cold War, Vietnam, even WW2 appear throughout the flashbacks, but none of them with enough impact to feel meaningful. Unlike the Medal of Honours and COD’s of the past, when advancing up Omaha Beach meant a step closer to Berlin, visiting every major conflict of the 20th century devalues the journey, rather than heightening it. As opposed to WW2, Vietnam was a conflict with blurred battlefronts, but I was unsure not just where I was, but who I was fighting and why for the majority of the levels. If it moves shoot it, if it fires back shoot it again. But for no reason, no sense of winning a conflict, no feeling of revenge, no desire to save the men around me. Just dumb shooting.

The levels are flimsily head together with duck tape scenes that are supposed to be progressive, but vanish once the bullets start flying, and are mostly filled with a distorted voice asking probing questions to the response of ‘I don’t know,’ from a constantly irritated Mason. He’s stuck in a chair, with bad dialogue bombarded at him, who can blame him!

Designers, Treyarch, have attempted to vary the pacing with stealth sections, but we all know it’s going to end in more bloodshed and an explosive set piece. The big FPS have gone down a path of big exciting, movie style gameplay that seems to be limiting their excitement. My most thrilling memories of any FPS dates back to Modern Warfare: the sniper mission, hiding in a ghillie suit as a patrol walks inches past me, to survive undetected and fire a single bullet from a mile away the moment the wind died down. With Black Op’s the formula is: explosion, abseil, boat ride, explosion, helicopter ride, explosion, explosion. There are memorable moments, the best being the prison break, but not because it’s got the biggest bang, but due to the fact it’s a self contained story. I know what I’m doing, I know who I’m with, and there is a sense of urgency that is maintained from the first blow to the final escape. However the rest of the game fades away like the episodic memories that Mason tries to conjure for this captors, only to fail to recollect the why’s and how’s: the details.

'Excuse me Major, have you seen any number's?'

For players seeking excitement, multiplayer offers more tension that the single player campaign. Endless hordes of Vietcong don’t match up to seasoned players. And players there are. Recently announced to be the second most played Xbox online game after Modern Warfare 3 in 2011, the community is still fighting strong. I was able to find full matches throughout my gaming in January 2012. Unfortunately those players are either silent or outspoken teens, resulting in team matches being less of a coordinated attack and more of a mass gathering at choke points. If the level of cooperation seen in Left for Dead was encouraged in Black Op’s it would make for a very interesting experience. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable, and I certainly feel grateful when a teammate revives me, but the fast pace means that’s a flash in the pan.

Kill streaks add to the excitement, rewarding you for 3, 5, even 11 kills in a row. Turrets, napalm, attack dogs are at your disposal should you earn them. The thrill of getting your first kill streak reward of a spy plane, continues up until the manning the attack helicopter for the 10th time (or I imagine so, I’ve never got to pilot it once, but certainly the 10th time you get a rolling thunder). A tactical element is added by limiting the number of kill streaks to three possible options, so it’s advisable to pick according to match type and map.

And there is a great deal of variety in match type: death matches, domination, capture the flag all appear, as do demolition games, as you attempt to defend bombs or blow them up around maps. Treyarch have added novelty with hard-core game modes, removing HUD’s and regenerating health. But most original are the Wager Matches, in which you bet on winning with currency you’ve earned via multiplayer awards. ‘One in the Chamber’ gives each player one bullet, a knife and 3 lives. Last man standing wins the pot. ‘Sticks and Stones’ provide you with a crossbow and knife and sets you against each other. Matches are tense and fun, there is a serious atmosphere to the games, perhaps because in certain modes if you are killed early you are forced to watch the surviving players battle for the cash. A lesson that less really is more.

Multiplayer still has a lot of fun to be found. Explosive fun.

You are rewarded for your time in multiplayer in many shapes and sizes. Classes are gone, meaning you decide which weapon you wish to purchase. Kill streaks, perks (such as body armour) and gadgets are also bought. Aesthetic customisation options are also available, from decoration of your weapons to face paint and the option to modify your gamer tag: unfortunately this has resulted in more cocks and arses than creativity. But these incentives and a level up system from past COD’s encourage dedication, tempting you that the next level will unlock the China Lake to rain down havoc on enemies.

Maps offer a great variety, and with the money spinning multiplayer releases on offers there’s been enough to keep players happy this long. Certain maps are better for certain game modes, and after 30 hours online I’ve played Nuketown hundreds of times and other maps very rarely. But players seem to prefer the familiar, so much so that a Nuketown only mode was introduced.

And Black Op’s is the familiar. The same great multiplayer that kept me hooked. And the same explosive single player. Sadly giving my full attention to Black Ops highlighted its downfall for me: there isn’t much to focus on. Certainly no story, just impressive bangs. There is an attempt to create coherence between sequences, just one that is forgettable even when it’s trying to be dramatic. At the final twist rather then my jaw dropping, I simply didn’t care. If you are going to enjoy Black Ops approach it is you would an action film: it’s not going to change your world or make you feel anything except satisfaction that you’re in the comfortable hands of the familiar.

A safe 7.

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