Call of Duty: Black Ops Review
Black Ops provides an excellent community experience along with a disappointing campaign
Call of Duty: Black Ops is perhaps one of the most anticipated titles of the year and with good reason, Treyarch has big shoes to fill and many are watching with anticipation to see how the studio delivers in its finest hour. Since the release of Call of Duty 3, I've always been a fan of Treyarch's Call of Duty titles as they tend to focus a bit more on the personal side of the story as best as a Call of Duty game can. Unfortunately, many of the elements that made Treyarch's titles standout and break free of the Infinity Ward mold aren't present here.
The story is primarily told through the perspective of Alex Mason, an S.O.G. operative who is interrogated about his experiences throughout the game. The game largely focuses on the Cold War but also adds further closure to World at War. The game does an excellent job at cutting between story elements and gameplay and the overall delivery of the story is pretty well done. The story itself however is not as great and in certain ways, a big departure from your traditional Call of Duty storyline. Instead of focusing specifically on war and winning battles, the title focuses on covert ops with a back drop of war.
You really have to wonder what was going on when Treyarch began working on the story behind Black Ops, not only does it throw the "feel" Treyarch had with previous titles out the window but it gives the impression that very little research was done. The game even goes as far as depicting a POW Russian Roulette scene, an obvious homage to the film "The Deer Hunter" than fact since, as of writing, little evidence exists to prove such events occurred during the war. The storyline is riddled with ridiculous action sequences that will leave you scratching your head at times, one particular scene involved an enemy NPC with a belt full of grenades "blowing up" mere feet from you with the main character remaining unharmed. Other more questionable actions such as the slow motion firebombings of populated areas while you watch NPC's jump in slow motion to safety with the intent of looking cool and achievements like "Raining Pain" that partially describe themselves with "Rack up a body count of 20 NVA..." can be seen.
Various storyline inconsistencies are also littered throughout the game such as the depiction of various NPC's and the role of certain characters or organizations like Spetsnaz relative to the game when the main antagonist is essentially rogue according to a friendly NPC.
Dismemberments have also been reduced and are sometimes unusual in their representation. With World at War, the depictions in certain cases were pretty graphic and it definitely stirred debate among many. Black Ops is more strict when it comes to dismemberment making it pretty rare to come by. The ways in which they are triggered is also unusual, a direct hit with a mortar might not dismember an enemy but shooting them with a revolver will, similar can also be said about soldiers reacting to imminent death. Overall I found this disappointing, World at War did a pretty good job with depicting war with more realism (albeit with certain obvious counter arguments in mind) yet Black Ops borrows little of this.
These issues aside, the campaign did have some memorable moments, particularly the WMD mission which has you control an operation from the air and almost immediately play it out on the ground. The end of the Project Nova level was also pretty memorable and will resonate with those who played the Russian campaign in World at War. The story itself had some interesting plot elements to it but overall it wasn't something I could get behind. The story could have been decent or perhaps good with the right changes, but the need to essentially imitate blockbuster action films sends it over the top and far beyond the realm of credibility.
The engine runs smoothly from start to finish even in the most intense moments and the visual quality won't disappoint but might not impress either. World at War had certain segments that essentially made my jaw drop due to the graphical prowess the scenes showed, I can't say Black Ops had any similar moments. Black Ops was quite the opposite, there were quite a few in game cinematics, specifically those taking place in the US, that looked as if they suffered from low production values, such scenes really don't do the game any favors. The engine fares far better elsewhere and many facial animations are certainly worth praise.