Your AI teammates haven’t changed much since CoD4. They’ll still advance and follow the level design about 90% of the time, but again they’ll only move forward when you do. As in Vorkuta, sometimes the story and level design disguise these AI problems better than previous games did, but seeing your ally take sustained fire for three seconds, stagger unrealistically and then empty a mag right back will get tiresome. I could ignore the dumb AI in CoD4 because the overall crafting of the experience was novel and overwhelming; now, after seeing the same issues for the last four years, I just roll my eyes. Squad-based commands would have been a huge improvement over the linear scripted AI; Star Wars Republic Commando pulled it off years ago on the Xbox, and in a similarly linear, scripted story mode. Why are CoD teammates still so static and stunted?
Most irritating of all, however, is that Treyarch hasn’t advanced the core gameplay beyond tedious attrition firefights. No matter how many clever scripted sequences they sprinkle throughout the campaign, most levels still degenerate into the tiresome routine of take cover, shoot, advance ten inches, take cover, lather rinse repeat. I was expecting something different from a game called Black Ops—espionage, wetwork, the kind of morally ambiguous MKULTRA Cold War stuff that makes the CIA really wish Wikileaks would shut the hell up. The flavor is definitely there in the story, but the gameplay is disappointingly typical CoD fare in comparison.
I commend Treyarch from trying to mix things up with a few changes, but these new kinds of gameplay aren’t terribly well integrated and come off as awkward. The biggest example was the late-game mission on Rebirth Island. The battlefield is flooded with the game’s Macguffin, the lethal Nova 6 toxin and your team quickly dons gas masks. As you take fire your faceplate cracks, and after a certain number of hits you suffocate from the toxin. With the blurry haze all around you it’s impossible to see five feet in front of your face, and all you have to spot the enemy is your rifle’s tiny infrared scope. So you’re stuck with limited, non-regenerating health for the first time in the game and a severely weakened ability to spot the enemy, avoid their fire or return fire. The level combines bad visibility with a fixed health system, effectively breaking the standard CoD gameplay without giving you any alternative strategies.
Other instances aren’t quite as controller-through-window frustrating but still, I’m surprised these short sequences weren’t integrated better. The SR-71 recon sequence, something I was really looking forward to, tries to replicate CoD4’s “Death from Above” mission and integrate it with simultaneous on-foot action. It’s a very cool concept but the execution involves a lot of trial and error, and I was glad to be done with it after the level was over. A subsequent rappelling sequence didn’t offer very clear instructions and had me splatting four times on the canyon below before I got the hang of the controls. Black Ops throws several of these split-second gear-changes at you but doesn’t plug them seamlessly into the gameplay flow, resulting in a lot of aggravating do-overs.
Of course, about half the people who play CoD don’t much care about the solo story. It’s all about the multiplayer, and the one in Black Ops is surprisingly competent for a Wii game. The only problem is there are better multiplayer FPS games on the Wii, and if you can get Black Ops on another console you probably won’t want to bother with the Wii version anyway.
I don’t want to unfairly knock the Wii version’s multi component. The meat of the experience is mostly intact, including the standard modes, the new COD point cash system and the accompanying Wager matches, the leveling system and the solo-oriented Combat Training. You can build your class with COD point purchases just like in the other versions, and yes it still borks the leveling system a little bit. The One in the Chamber and Gun Game modes are the highlights of the additions, but I’m sure longtime fans will continue to debate whether Black Ops is a superior multi experience to the ones in the Modern Warfare titles. In any case it’s very impressive that Treyarch could replicate so much of the experience on the Wii hardware, including voice chat no less.
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