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Think James Bond, only throw out parkour in favor of carpet bombing and gadgets for gunplay. That's Treyarch's fictional take on the Cold War with Black Ops as it drops players into the shadows around the world to fight the Soviets.
It also has a lot of expectations to live up to following Modern Warfare 2. Taking the player through the fractured memories of its main protagonist and keeping the story cohesive enough to follow have paid off with one of the more compelling reasons to dive into its sadly single-player only campaign. While ignoring it in favor for its multiplayer is the only reason many will be chucking their wallets at this game, it's also packed with moments of brilliance – if not controversy – for the secret history it writes.
Multiplayer, especially, has gone through a few changes and depending on how much you love Modern Warfare, may be either the most refreshing part of the game or fulfill your expectations on why Treyarch should never have handled it. On the whole, though, I couldn't help but keep jumping back into both the single and multiplayer parts of the game for more Cold War hijinks involving high explosives, ruthless Soviet generals, and mind game conspiracy theories.
But as much as I like it, it's not perfect. So here's another list of ten reasons why I found myself loving and hating this game.
Five Reasons to Hate Black Ops
1) Linear Levels
Whether they're disguised by furniture clutter or parallel corridors, let's face it: Black Ops typifies the kind of FPS design that is becoming something of an epidemic in this generation. Gone are the wide open spaces of yesteryear. Though counter-arguments will say that it's to support the narrative, playing through many of its levels, scripted door kick downs, clown car spawns, and locked doors still feels a lot like being funneled to the inevitable cut scene. Kind of like this:
2) Glitchy Campaign
Though your AI friends are smarter this time around, don't be surprised to see them ignore certain enemies when they forge ahead leaving you in the dog house. Or the occasional enemy spawn from behind after killing everything in your wake. Soviet super science? In one area, a mission marker was also misplaced leading me to believe that I should stay in one place and carpet the field with bodies until I decided to venture out and run around like a madman before stumbling on the correct side of the battlefield.
3) Glitchy Graphics
We've all seen textures blur before our eyes before resolving into sharper blood spatters or panels covered in buttons, but it's a lot more pronounced in Black Ops. Respawning after a checkpoint on one map introduced me to Wii-fidelity textures for a few moments before I turned my head and looked at something else, seemingly kickstarting the engine to realize that I was playing it on an Xbox 360. At least the blood looks a little less like jam this time around, though not all of the areas look as good as some of the later ones.
4) Multiplayer: It's not Modern Warfare 3
Stealing someone's kit upon dying is gone along with nukes and certain choice perks, like Juggernaut. Modes are still locked down until you reach certain levels limiting the options to new players and it does have a few glitches such as suddenly opening up comms to everyone in the lobby. Then there's when it simply dumps you out into an empty one when it fails to connect to a game – after loading it. Though these are likely growing pains on release, some of the gameplay and weapon changes won't make every MW2 fall immediately in love with Black Ops. Fans of Special Ops mode will also find that Treyarch hasn't given them any love here, either.
Forget the Berlin Wall, this is how it was meant to be – at least for everyone else not on a PC, apparently
Even though I have the Xbox 360 version, I also have a PC and wanted to read up on how that version is doing and whether Treyarch have lived up to their promises for it. But from what I've read, it seems to be a lag-tastic fest that has made it unplayable for quite a few outspoken posters on various forums. Youtube even has a few captures to prove their point and even though a patch has been released that has eased some of the issues, not everyone is singing its praises quite yet.
I remember playing COD 2 and the hours spent in 32 – (modded) 50 player matches without so much as the kind of online hitches that the newer games seem to be struggling with. On one hand, I feel a sense of relief that I picked the version with what appears to be least amount of problems. I also wish I did the same before picking up the PC version of Wolfenstein.
On the other, it shouldn't have to be this way. Period. Not when other games ranging from Crysis, Bioshock 2, to Team Fortress 2 apparently pull it off without as much drama.
5) Fewer co-op opportunities
After their co-op work with World at War, it's dropped here for reasons that have to do with how they want to tell the story. The loss of Special Ops and the co-op it came with only added more salt to the wound. It's something of a missed opportunity to improve on something that more than a few co-op fans liked, especially in view of what titles such as Splinter Cell: Conviction had done in providing players with a wholly separate story to team up on when the main campaign didn't accommodate partners.
Five Reasons to Love Black Ops
1) The Cold War
For nearly half a century, the world was locked at the edge of nuclear annihilation between the USA and the USSR. It's a history rich with real-life secret deals, spy missions, and clandestine ops. But instead of tuxedos and Astin Martins, heavy arms, rockets, and team assaults from the shadows fill the action in Treyarch's take.
The Soviets were on the verge of perfecting satellite HD decades ahead of everyone else until a certain Black Ops team mistook the test site for a military comm station.
Treyarch's story also relies heavily on flash cuts, strobe distortions, and headache-inducing white glow to make its point and it has a few holes that are hard to ignore, but on the whole, the missions push players into very dark corners of history while letting them blow them apart with whatever they can get their hands on. Coupled with intel extras that can be found in the game to “de-classify” fictional reports and dossiers to add more reading meat for players that can't get enough and it's clear that Treyarch's attention to their own narrative for Call of Duty is a setup for stretching their own creative legs into it with potential sequels – though hopefully without relying on too much MTV-esque SFX from the 80s the next time out.
2) Fantastic presentation values – for the most part
Though the visuals can tend to be a little bland in places, Treyarch's artists have managed to funnel in enough Cold War aesthetics to make it one of COD's best atmospheric experiences. The voice acting is also top notch, whether it is the alarms in Russian or Gary Oldman's turn as a Soviet hardcase, though some of the characters can come off as unintentional caricatures on occasion. But when it comes together such as when you're sneaking through the snow, visiting the Pentagon, or the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the set pieces provide fantastic – if not pretty – backdrops to the often harrowing action.
3) Multiplayer is different but fun
It's not a carbon copy of MW2's fast paced nuke-em-all, but the same can be said for Medal of Honor's. Both are fun in their own way but Black Ops bolsters MW2's formula with plenty of new additions such as wagers, contracts, and a more balanced feel to its perks and weapons. There's even a mode for practice against bots compete with ranks (though none of it carries over to a live game) along with split-screen support for online matches in case a friend wants to jump in. Familiar play modes, such as Barebones and Hardcore carried over from MW2 for those that want to go even more basic, along with a new set of maps based on Cold War theaters (Hanoi) and nuclear armageddon (Nuketown) round out the package.
Treyarch decided against vehicles in multiplayer this time around but added in a few new things to keep multiplayer exciting – except for hiding in the fridge and surviving a nuclear explosion.
4) Call of Duty's economic stimulus package
Call of Duty “points” (think “cash”) replaces automatic perk and weapon unlocks allowing players to purchase the upgrades that they want with more becoming available as they rank up. It also provides an additional incentive in between levels to do more than simply earn experience. The points can also be used in Wager matches as well as to purchase contracts (such as stabbing a number of players in the back) for extra experience. A large number of customization options are also available to buy allowing players to change their look, COD card, weapons, and even edit the logo that they carry into combat to irritate their enemies, almost similar to what Halo Reach has also done.
5) Big Brother is watching – and playing with everyone else
Another big addition is the included playback feature covering all of the online matches played in the last few days. This also comes complete with a video editor enabling you to share your best moments and most embarrassing fails making multiplayer even more social, or antisocial, than it already is. Players, and clans, can also use it to review matches from the perspective of anyone in a chosen match making it useful for learning the maps and exploring new tactics, answering just how that player had managed to get the drop on the entire team with one RC car. Or if they're boosting.
Black Ops isn't the kind of seismic shift for the series that the first Modern Warfare was – at least with its multiplayer. But at the same time, it doesn't fail on the kind of epic level that ruins the franchise to the point where no one cares – at least for those that haven't encountered some of the problems that PC users have posted about. Still, more of the same set in a different period of history isn't so much of a bad thing when it manages to deliver enough of the right shots with every lead-filled punch to keep it entertaining – and include Zork as an easter egg.
Suddenly, millions of graphics whores cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.