Ever since the corporate bigwigs at Activision realized that they could fatten their wallets a lot more if there was a CoD every year, Treyarch have been developing every second game in the franchise.
Their two games before Black Ops are not regarded as holding a candle to the ones developed by series creator Infinity Ward, but the pre-launch hype for Black Ops has hinted at that this might be a significant improvement to their previous effort. Some have gone so far as to say this will better last year’s Modern Warfare 2.
And in some ways, it does:
Modern Warfare 2 had nonsensical plot-twists and characters that were only there to look cool on magazine covers (I´m looking at you, Ghost), while Black Ops sets a milestone for the series with a plot that dares to stray from the “Bad guys, kill them”-stories of military shooters past.
You are the Sam Worthington-voiced special ops dude, Mason. Strapped to a chair in a dingy interrogation room in 1968, you are tortured and questioned about your past missions. You then play these missions as flashbacks, taking you from the streets of Havana to the jungles of Vietnam.
It´s rare for through-and-through shooters to have a brilliant plot, but Black Ops certainly does. It´s suspenseful, you care about the characters, and it keeps you guessing until the end.
Modern Warfare 2 may have botched the plot, but it did other things brilliantly:
One, the feeling of firing a weapon was the best, in any shooter, ever.
Two, the pacing was near-perfect, no section ever dared to even get close to dragging.
Three, it knew exactly what the player was doing, when, where and how. One would arrive at doors just as fellow soldiers were booting them down, one would naturally look in the right direction to see helicopters crashing in front of you, and so on.
Black Ops keeps the fantastic gunplay, but lags behind in the two other aspects. The pacing is not bad, but there are far to many shootouts that feel the same. Sure, you might be popping baddies in the jungle one second and in the snow the next, but there is rarely any proper gameplay variety. In MW2, the favela level´s firefights were completely different to the Oil rig ones, here, almost every infantry-encounter is the same. To it´s credit, Black Ops also includes vehicle sections, but these are short and don´t serve as proper meat on the gameplay bone.
The game also suffers in the third place where Modern Warfare succeeded: I often found myself waiting for my trusty allies to open doors I knew I was entering. And when they did get there it was followed by them comically shouting “MASON, THROUGH THE DOOR ON THE RIGHT!”.
But at the end of the day, I´m nitpicking here. Even during similar gunfights, the game never failed to entertain me. Black Ops is definitely a very exciting game, even if it is partially because of the gameplay conventions set by Infinity Ward, rather than Treyarch’s creativity.
But while people might come for the campaign, they will stay for the multiplayer, and naturally Black Ops comes prepared here too.
There is little new to speak of though: Perks have been re-balanced, some new weapons and game modes have been introduced, there is a Halo-style theater mode, class customization is altered, but the game is not good because of any of these changes, it is good because it deviates little from the multiplayer formula started in CoD 4. It is definitely a viable option for matchmaking thrills, but the it´s hard to shake the feeling that it´s last years game on slightly inferior maps.
At this point, you´d be forgiven for thinking Black Ops is an underwhelming experience, but thanks to the brilliant trick up Treyarch´s sleeve this is not the case. I´m talking of course about the cooperative Zombies mode. The mode first introduced in World at War is present here, and boy does it rock:
The premise is simple, four comedy WW2 stereotypes gang up and defend against infinite waves of Nazi Zombies. As you gather up points, you open new areas and purchase new weapons. Like stated, the premise is simple, but the execution is anything but. coordinating four players who all need ammo, new weapons, and reviving regularly is a nail-biting affair, but beat your previous best and you are gaming kings.
There is a funny intentional B-horror movie feel to it all, from the zombie´s glowing eyes to the one-liners spouted by the characters (“I DRINK YOUR PAIN!”), and this makes the mode not only fantastic from a gameplay perspective, but hilarious as well.
At the moment, there are only two maps available (the latter of which sees said WW2 stereotypes replaced by caricatures of 60´s political figures) but there are undoubtedly more on the way. It would be a crime not to support this mode with DLC, as, dare I say it, it is the best Black Ops has to offer.
The CoD formula might be getting tired in a few years, but Call of Duty: Black Ops, like most games in the series, is some quality Bang for your Buck.
A great campaign, a good, if a little tired, multiplayer and a “bonus” mode that, had it included more maps, would be worth the asking price alone.
4 out of 5.