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Call of Duty: Black Ops Single Player Review

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Kob Monney

[Contains minor spoilers]

Reviewing Call of Duty: Black Ops is a much harder task than I had originally envisioned. How do you review a game that engages on a visceral level, is fun to play and yet is extremely violent, derivative and lacks anything that you would classify as being bold or innovative? Is it just an assortment of different modes put together in a (very) well done package or is it one that lacks a genuinely new or progressive idea in its locker? After giving Black Ops a look, it’s a bit of both.

As Tom referred to in his opinion piece on the Call of Duty series each release offers no more than a lick of new paint: some re-skinned textures, different locations, characters, variations on multiplayer modes and weapons. It sounds like a lot of changes but in essence its minimal, the underlying gameplay beneath that rarely changes. The enemy AI are the gaming equivalent of a pop-up book. The most that is asked of the player is to line the enemy in your iron sights and pull the trigger. Again and again and again. It is within that routine however that you start to develop a familiar rhythm and where the excitement of the games lies. As with all the recent Call of Duty’s, you are faced with a horde of enemies relentlessly advancing on your position and the excitement is derived from slowly advancing, picking off your enemies as they pop up out of the scenery.  It’s simple but effective.

The story is well done (for a videogame at least) but offers very little in terms of a fresh, new experience within the genre of first person shooters. It’s all been done before and Treyarch shows confidence in the way it handles the story and the gameplay but still cannot rid itself of the feeling that it’s highly derivative of not only existing Call of Duty games (the bullet time, hostage sequences) but films as well, especially from the seventies and eighties. I recall there being a slight nod to Terminator 2 early on in the game as well as references to The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now and probably some others that I have not yet seen. You’re not quite whether you want to laugh or nod your head disapprovingly as the game carelessly throws in these cultural artefacts.

It is also extremely linear to the degree where you wonder why they bothered decorating other parts of the game, sections that you would never interact with let alone reach. It’s a corridor shooter but in the three iterations since Modern Warfare (7 in all) you’d hope that they’d expand on it. It seems the developer is happy offering the same experience which makes for a rather constricting single player campaign. What’s worse is the degree of interactivity available in the game, despite offering a variety of modes some are disappointingly short and restrictive in what they allow you to do. The SR-71 Blackbird is a disappointment from beginning to end as your interactivity is limited to simply getting into the cockpit, pressing the right trigger to take off before being whisked off to the second pilot who commands a force on the ground by moving the cursor and clicking on preordained markers, it’s incredibly rote.

What it also lacks is any kind of restraint or subtlety when it comes to violence; despite a warning before the start of the game concerning player discretion for graphic content/historical footage the same does not seem to apply to violence seen within the game. Its attitude to violence is unsavoury at best. There are multiple scenes of torture; one involves shoving glass into a man’s mouth and punching him repeatedly. Call of Duty: Black Ops is all about spectacle, most of it exaggerated in nature and it’s hard to square that kind of violence within the parameters of the real world it exists in. Featuring JF Kennedy and Fidel Castro combined with some truly outrageous action Black Ops is an absurd slice of action gaming.

The best part of the game is the character Resnov (voiced by Gary Oldman) who is violent but charismatic enough that you’ll enjoy spending time in his company. It is with his character that you’ll experience one of several high points in the game as you lay siege to a German boat in Arctic during World War II.

Despite some superb set-pieces (the beginning in Cuba, a prison escape, Khe Sanh, WWII flashback, Rebirth Island) there are annoying parts to the game as well. The AI simply begs to be killed; friendly AI is about as helpful as a wooden gun. Interactivity as I pointed out before is limited, unless the game prompts you and is made worse in terms of the game essentially having to hold your hand as you progress while friendly AI lead you through the only available path and some barely audible dialogue which led to one section (Kne Sanh) where I had no idea what I had to do for thirty five minutes or so. The ending also rankles because like much of the game it lacks subtlety to the point where it’s overbearing. It felt much like “America saves the day, again” that had me thinking of Team America.

So in effect Black Ops is the game we all expected to be, a fun experience (but also short at about 5 hours on normal) that offers nothing new or revelatory in its single player offering. It’s fun but much like its forbearers, despite the variety there’s not enough meat on the bone to bring you back. Multiplayer may be a different case but whereas Black Ops campaign is far more enjoyable and less nonsensical that Modern Warfare 2, it suffers for being an all too familiar sight.

Copyright Kob Monney 2010

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