Treyarch’s got some big shoes to fill. They’re no stranger to the Call of Duty
franchise, but the pressure is on them now that they seem to be the primary developers of the series unless Activision somehow revives Infinity Ward with an infusion of talent. Activision’s really putting on the advertising blitz with Black Ops so now that it’s out, does it have the goods to make it a worthy entry in the Call of Duty franchise?
For the single player portion of Black Ops, you’re in the familiar scenerio of taking on various characters during the Cold War. As the title suggests, these are going to be missions that are highly secretive. You’ll be presented with many wild scripted events that Modern Warfare is known for and the story spans many years through various locales.
Now, I thought the story in Modern Warfare
wasn’t bad but I thought the plot in Modern Warfare 2
was just horrible. There’re absurd elements in the Modern Warfare storyline but Modern Warfare 2 takes it to a whole new level. I didn’t mind the "No Russian" mission but man, I was just shaking my head throughout the entire time the story unfolded.
Black Ops’ narrative is so much better than the previous two, and I thoroughly enjoyed most of my time throughout the single player campaign. It does get a little muddled in the middle, but the game does a great job at tying everything together at the end. It’s got a nice little mystery feel to it as you are trying to figure out what really happened in the missions you partake as Alex Mason. Then, there’s the numbers that Mason can’t get out of his head, which reminded me of the numbers in Lost. What do they mean? Mason’s interrogation leads you throughout the past missions he’s gone through as well as CIA agent Jason Hudson and Russian soldier Reznov’s experiences as well. Thankfully, Treyarch did not include the overly used mechanic of dying as the character you played like in the previous Call of Duty game. I do question the final mission as would Mason be in good enough shape to even partake in it so quickly.
The missions are diverse and offer up some nice mixed gameplay modes. Yes, the motorcycle chase that’s part of your escape from a prison feels very similar to the snow mobile chase in Modern Warfare 2, but the rest of the vehicle levels are pretty new. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and fun it was to pilot the helicopter missions. By taking away the need to monitor the height of the helicopter and just concentrate on the forward, back, and sideways movement of the vehicle, you get a nice fast paced action sequence that’s low on the frustration aspect and more on fun. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to rain down on a bunker with missiles and machine gun fire. There’s also a nice little sequence where you control a squad in a RTS-like view, directing them to certain points on a map from overhead. What’s cool is that you’ll actually play some of the sequence as a first person shooter and it will switch back and forth a few times. Treyarch did a good job here at providing a fun and different mission experience as you play through the single player campaign.
There are some problems I had with the single player experience, of course. The AI doesn’t really scream "
as I’ve seen mishaps a-plenty by both the enemy and my squadmates. I’ve had my buddies just shoot at walls for no reason and the enemy stand out in the open without a care in the world. The missions also feature too many times when you are disoriented from a blast and struggle to get to your feet. In Medal of Honor, I got a little annoyed at the amount of times the sequence of someone pulling me up to the next area got used. The same can be said here for the the disoriented sequence as it just seemed too much. It seemed this happened every 10 minutes of the 5.5 hour campaign.
If there’s one thing I hate is game-stopping bugs and I ran into a few while playing the single player. On the SR-71 Blackbird mission, I had my cameras become unresponsive when trying to move my squad to an area in the RTS view. There was nothing I could do as any buttons pressed failed to produce any response so I was forced to reload the level. Another level saw my game hard lock and I was forced to restart it from the beginning rather than a checkpoint, which was odd. On the very last mission, I took down a Hind too quickly I guess, as I could activate the next scripted sequence for me to land my helicopter on a ship. I had to reload the checkpoint, wait for a message that the Hind was attacking me, and then take it down to allow for the activation of the scripted sequence to land the chopper. So, there were a few instances of game stopping bugs that marred an otherwise fun single player experience.
Oh yes, the single player campaign can be finished in under six hours, but at least I enjoyed most of the six hours here. It never got too monotonous and the story probably would’ve dragged on if it was any longer. I know there will be people that want more time in the single player campaign though and to those folks, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
On the PC, the game looked pretty good running at 1920x1080. The textures and colors used looked great and there are some very good designs and environments modeled. Lighting effects are used really well in highlighting or hiding various elements and levels in the game. Now, I think the people in the game still look a little too plastic and artificial, but that’s just me. What was really well done though was the facial animations. It’s one of the few times where the characters don’t look like emotionless zombies and offer up some real looking facial animations in the game. You can really tell in the eyes and the area around it along with the rest of the face
where the movements are pretty damn realistic.
For audio, Treyarch did a great job at making each and every weapon sound impressive. Explosions from grenades sound like they have some real power to them. The voice acting from top notch actors are also great. The use of music is also done well and I really got into the boat mission when the Rolling Stones "
Sympathy for the Devil"
started playing. Watching the many helicopters fly overhead while "
played really helped draw me into that scene of the game. It also helped that the amount of things happening in that scene was pretty impressive, but the music really pushed it to the next level.
Single player is just half of the Call of Duty equation though as Treyarch offers up two multiplayer modes. First up, the zombie mode from World at War
make a return in a nice way. While Modern Warfare 2 had Special Ops for the co-op mode, here you and up to three other friends can take on zombies in a horde mode. Points are used to open new areas or purchase weapons and ammo and you earn points by taking down zombies and fortifying openings that they can come through.
There are some objectives that are thrown in such as turning on power. As you move to other areas of the map, more openings are exposed for zombies to come at you but you’ll also have access to better weapons to purchase. You really need to work together to last the rounds and communication is also key to let others know what’s going on as zombies can sneak up on you quickly later on. All it takes is a few hits to bring you down, but at least your friends can revive you to help continue the fight. If all four are taken down, the game ends.
Zombie mode is a nice co-op experience and I had a lot of fun playing this online. For the future, I hope that we get more maps in DLCs as I can see myself playing this more often than not when I need to take a break from the normal multiplayer experience.
Now, let’s move onto the multiplayer area of Call of Duty. I played a ton, and I mean a ton, of multiplayer Modern Warfare 2 so I’m pretty familiar with how it all works out. Treyarch has changed things up a bit though which for the most part, I enjoy.
Let’s start with the COD Points system. Whereas you would unlock perks, weapons, and upgrades by leveling up in Modern Warfare 2, you now have to purchase these by the points you earned when playing multiplayer. In a way, I enjoyed knowing what I was working towards in Modern Warfare 2, but I do see the benefits of letting you upgrade what you want by purchasing them with the points you earned. Lord knows I didn’t use a few of the weapon attatchments that were granted to me in Modern Warfare 2, so here you can at least upgrade to what you want. Just about everything has to be purchased, even the pro modes of the perks so you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to earn points towards your purchases.
Treyarch included contract and wager matches to help you try to get COD points faster than just playing the multiplayer matches. Contracts are goals you purchase that have time limits. Completing a goal such as getting X number of kills with something will net you a nice pay out but you can lose the points you lose when purchasing the contracts if you fail to complete them. It’s a nice little risk versus reward system to try and net you points at a quicker pace.
Wager matches will probably be dominated by the better players out there as you bet on being in the top three of the leaderboard at the end of the match. It adds a nice little gambling element to the game and if you’re really good, this is an area that you can prove to the other players as well as earn some points doing so.
There are some other new gameplay modes that add some interesting twists in the mutiplayer area. One in the Chamber gives you a single bullet that you have to use wisely. Use it up and you’re left with just your knife. Kills with a knife will earn your more bullets though and each bullet is an instant kill. It’s a fast paced, high adrenaline game mode that’s a nice addition to the multiplayer modes.
Gun game is a rather interesting wager match where you start out with pistol and move your way up through the 20 weapons in the game. Each kill nets you the next weapon in the series while getting knifed drops you back a step. First player to get a kill with all 20 weapons wins. It’s kind of cool to see who’s proficient with all the weapons at hand and really makes you practice with each of them in order to do well in this gametype.
As for the rest, the basic gametype modes such as demolition, search and destroy, team deathmatch, and others return so you really do get some nice additions to multiplayer besides what was in the previous game.
The killstreaks have some changes such as the RC-XD which is an RC car that you can drive around and explode on command. It has a timer so you can’t drive it around continuously at least and it’s pretty fun to set it off amongst a group of players at a capture point. Mortars are also kind of fun as you can designate certain areas of the map to be bombarded. Thankfully, the nuke is now gone so we shouldn’t have many instances where one team’s gaming the system to earn that game ending killstreak. Overall, I like the killstreak changes and the the fact that the kills you receive from a killstreak don’t go towards your progress to the next one. It was rather cheap to have chopper gunner kills or harrier bombing kills included in the count towards the next killstreak in Modern Warfare 2.
Deathstreaks have been removed and I’m not one that’s going to miss them. They were OK in Modern Warfare 2 in my opinion, but I know some people are going to wish they were included in Black Ops.
Black Ops also seems to have made dying in multiplayer a little bit harder. I’ve found myself unloading more of my clip on the enemies and making sure I keep my aim on them a lot longer. There were many times in Modern Warfare 2 where I could unload on a group with a weapon and take them down before my clip was done. Here, you’re more apt to pump many rounds into someone before they go down. For me, it actually makes it a less frustrating experience as you get a better chance to run away when being pounded on from behind or the side. It also helps that the stopping power perk has been removed. You’re still going to get the occasion of going down quickly or taking out a few folks with a clip but it seems to occur a lot less in Black Ops.
While Prestige Leveling didn’t mean too much to me in Modern Warfare 2, I’m glad to see Treyarch gives something besides emblems if you do.
At certain Prestige levels, you get an extra custom class slots, which can come in handy.
I know could’ve used a few more back in Modern Warfare 2, so seeing that you can grab some more by Prestige Leveling gives me a little more incentive to do so.
As pointed out to me and from me not remembering, you can get extra custom classes when you Prestige in Modern Warfare 2.
The hit detection still needs a good deal of work though. Many times I see myself running into a building while being shot at only to see my death animation when I’m clearly in the clear. Watching the deathcam, I saw many instances where the person is firing in the open space behind me and it’s registering a hit. Of course, it’s more prominent when your connection isn’t at four bars but it still happens nevertheless in those cases. It’s also taught me to continue to fire even if the person is out of site because there’s a chance the game will think I’m hitting them when the visuals tell me otherwise.
On the PC, the return of dedicated servers is great as now I don’t get the dreaded message of server migration during the game when I’m on a server with a good ping. Now, I get uninterrupted multiplayer gaming and it’s something that Modern Warfare 2 should have had. The problem now though is that PC multiplayer gaming is broken. Even on great machines, the experience can get very laggy because of some bug in the game. I’m running Black Ops on an i7 860 with 4 gigs of ram and a GeForce GTX 480 video card and still experience stuttering at times. It really brings down the multiplayer experience and makes playing multiplayer on the PC very disappointing. I know Treyarch’s working hard to fix it but it shouldn’t have been released in this state in the first place. It’s rather sad to have to wait for for a patch a few days or weeks after the release to fix this since quality assurance should have caught this early on.
Also, the integration with Steam should’ve have made it easier to join friends in games. With various other games, right clicking on a friend in the Steam friend list would let you have the option to join their game. Why this is missing with Black Ops is beyond me but the hooks should be there for Treyarch to make joining friends easier from the desktop without having to get into the game.
Treyarch’s added some really good statistical tools to Black Ops that I found myself spending a good deal of time checking out what I’ve done and where I’ve died a lot on maps. I also found out I like to shoot at an opponent’s crotch, which means I’m either aiming really well, or that I need to raise my sights a little more while I play to get headshots.
One of the cooler things that Treyarch has added is the Theater Mode whereby you can watch past matches, save them for later viewing, and create custom clips to share. There were many times in Modern Warfare 2 where I wanted to save some of my better moments to view but now, it’s really easy to do in Black Ops. It’s also a nice learning tool as you can watch how others play and learn some tactics a well.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is a good follow up to Modern Warfare 2 and offers some nice features in both single and multiplayer. The game doesn’t look that much improved though and there are some horrendous bugs that need to be addressed quickly. Some of my friends can’t even boot up the game without crashing on the PC side. Also, the PC multiplayer experience needs some work to get it up to speed. Some bugs shouldn’t have even appeared in it such as the care package glitch that was fixed in Modern Warfare 2 early on. If you can overlook some of the issues plaguing the game, it’s a fun ride. Shooting zombies with three others can be fun and I know I’m going to spend a lot of my time on the multiplayer part of the game. The single player is pretty short, but you’ll get more than your moneys worth if you invest the time in multiplayer. Treyarch’s succeeded in fixing some of the multiplayer issues of Modern Warfare 2 making it a little more fun for me. Now, the real test will be what the next game in the series is like and if Treyarch can deliver without an Infinity Ward title in between. Let’s hope so as I think they’re a solid company and Black Ops proves they can deliver a solid Call of Duty experience.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Call of Duty: Black Ops does many things right on the PC such as dedicated servers and high resolutions, but it's just really buggy. I shouldn't be experiencing lag or performance issues with the computer I have, but it's there. Let's hope Treyarch fixes them up quick. If they do so, the PC version does warrant a higher grade, but right now I can't give it a better grade for the product that's delivered to me.