Review – CoD: Black Ops

NERDS!

That’s my warning to those of my friends not so inclined towards nerdery … Beware, o ye who enter here!

Now, on to the nerding!

Black Ops is the newest installment in the money-printing Call of Duty franchise, and it seems like Activision-Blizzard has finally caught a lucky break! Because after playing online for an hour last night, I can assure you that every racist, homophobe and 11-year old in America got a copy of this game this week, and online play has never been a more horrifying illumination of the disconnect between myself and the rest of America.

But first, the single player campaign…

In the breakdown of COD games, there is a ping-pong between two developers, Treyarch and Infinity Ward, who share assets and engines and each put out new games every two years. This year is a Treyarch year, their previous game being COD: World at War, a WWII jaunt through the pacific and the Nazi assault on Russia. It should be noted that I count myself to be in the Infinity Ward camp, as their last two entries have been Modern Warfare games, which revolutionized or at least defibrillated the FPS genre and moved it out of the whole World War rut in which it had been mired.

And while BO certainly has its charms, its starting to feel like Treyarch is attempting to compete with their more talented older brother, and in trying to find original ways to impress and appease the masses, a lot of the qualities that have marked the COD series on the whole are now being chipped away to present a new concept – off years and do-not-buy COD games.

Which is not to say we’re there yet… but it will happen soon enough if Treyarch keeps along this trajectory.

The sad thing is, BO presents a wonderful concept, an original time period for COD, and a psychological aspect not before seen in the series. BO is firing on all cylinders from the get-go, as the team of main characters (one voice by Canada’s favorite son, Ice Cube!) enters Cuba during the Bay of Pigs Invasion and attempts to assassinate Castro. Events fall into place, storylines merge, yadda yadda yadda… which is not to say the plot was not as thrilling as ever before, but I certainly don’t want to spoil anything. I will promise, things get interesting right away and stay so as the characters end up all over the globe in 1960s Cold War covert battlefronts.

But the problems here are a combination of insecurities and sequelitis on behalf of Treyarch. The insecurities manifest in constant shout-outs to the Infinity Ward Modern Warfare games… remember the slow-mo finales of MW? The shocking deaths of masses of people, or even main characters? Black Ops has these things in spades, especially the slow-mo and the concussion moments. Sure, these things have been around since the original COD games, but COD had a knack for using these sorts of things sparingly. Black Ops ordered an entire buffet of “great moments” and more frequently than you’d believe the game turns from intense to “groaner.” One moment of attempting to capture the magic of MW comes during a mission where a ground team is infiltrating an enemy base, and the player switches between the role of the infantry and a pilot in a stealth plane above the action, guiding the team using infrared radar. Sounds kinda great, sounds kinda like the bombing run mission in MW, right? Well for some reason, the BO team gives you a momentary taste of this tactical gameplay, and then takes it right away. Done flawlessly, this section amounts to possibly 3 minutes of airborne control, never amounting to much besides “they made it! Woo?” Such schizophrenic pacing and lack of clearly developed content makes BO seem at times like it was rushed, or that its simply trying to show off every single trick it can think of so you’ll walk away and say “well, MW did it first, but BO did like 50 different kinds of it!” Only as usual, quality would be preferred over quantity. It’s a shame, because without these unnecessary overdone moments, Black Ops stands out with its own unique and wonderful world. Also Ice Cube!

The sequelitis idea is really takes hold when you’re experiencing your 5th slow-mo moment within the first 10 minutes of the game. Or the overdone explosions. Or the inclusion of an exploding crossbow. Or the even more explosions. Or the more slow mo, and crashes, and concussions, and the graphic de-limbing (with grin-inducing gore effects reminiscent of Akira). It all culminates in an Eminem song during the rolling of the credits, and then a “twist” in the post-credits ending that even know makes me a little embarrassed for the whole company. But it’s all here, and more! Additional unlocked modes including a Zombie Attack mode, an additional and different overhead zombie mode similar to Smash TV, and the inclusion of a full DOS version of Zork (so I am told).

And yet, I still highly recommend this game. In addition to the gameplay remaining fun, and a whole new time period (and weaponry) to explore, the story is well told and the action, though frenetic, is intense and driving. The multiplayer is everything you expect from COD, and remains a perfect example of implementing player ideas with wonderful utility. Just expect the occasion N-bomb or glitchy lagger.

COD for me has always been about the realistic portrayal of the horrors of war. As realistic as a game can be, anyway. They were often morose and brooding, and never celebrated so much as attempted to accurately portray the morality of people caught in the middle of terrible decisions, not of their own making. Black Ops, on the other hand, likes to make shit go boom.

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