The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
You can’t keep Black Ops out from under the microscope
after the high-profile departure of the creative minds that drove the
Call of Duty franchise at Infinity Ward earlier this year. Can Treyarch
come through with a blockbuster hit in the vein of Modern Warfare, not
just a by-the-numbers off-year title like the studio has churned out in
the past? Yes and no, but Black Ops is the best game Treyarch has made,
and a hell of a good time no matter how you slice it.
has always hung its single-player hat on creating spectacular moments
that players remember for years. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t
remember the name of the faceless Army Ranger you’re playing as, because
oh my god they just dropped an EMP on the White House! Black Ops
flips this equation around. The story is coherent, and the characters
are more than cardboard cutouts. I wanted to keep playing to find out
how the plot ends up, not just to see what crazy situation is around the
next corner. On the other hand, as Black Ops makes gains in
characterization and storytelling, it loses spectacle. Outside of the
excellent prison break level, the “wow” moments fall flat. Even blowing
up what appeared to be half of Vietnam with an attack chopper failed to
elicit much of a response from me beyond making me swear at the
controls. Far too much of the roughly seven-hour campaign is spent
running through the same pop-and-shoot motions we’ve been doing for
years. At least my companions were less interested in running directly
into my line of fire this time. Be sure to stick around after the
credits, though – the best bit of the game is hidden there.
campaign puts players neck deep in the close-up brutality of combat.
Limbs shatter disgustingly as bullets rip apart flesh and bone. Gore
flies in all directions as combatants are popped like meat balloons by
the vicious weaponry of the ‘60s. In one uncomfortable sequence, the
player has to torture a restrained prisoner. This is an emphatically
mature game (in the ESRB sense, anyway). Everyone should make their own
judgment on what they are comfortable with, but Black Ops crossed my
personal line in its bloody depictions of violence, particularly the
torture sequence. I wasn’t able to compartmentalize it as enjoyable
cartoon violence like I have with so many games over the years. Call me a
wuss if you want, but the realistic gore is distasteful in the absence
of a discussion of what should be a careful decision to employ lethal
force. I realize that Treyarch isn’t trying to put on a morality play
here, but Black Ops pushes the lines of good taste.
None of this
carries over to online play, where the faster pace fosters a certain
detachment from the violence. For my money, Treyarch has crafted the
finest Call of Duty multiplayer game to date. The maps are fantastic and
offer great variety in size, aesthetics, verticality, and paths. The
core design is largely unchanged; it features the same modes, perks, and
a similar arsenal to Modern Warfare. The action is as responsive,
technically impressive, and engrossing as it has been since Infinity
Ward pioneered it three years ago. However, Treyarch has made a ton of
improvements in the margins. Unlocking new perks in the order you want
rather than a pre-set sequence is just the start.
exist parallel to the standard XP-based progression. These lethal
six-player free-for-all matches are throwbacks to the old days of Quake
deathmatches in a lot of ways. All of the game types (each of which has
unusual rules that work exceptionally well, like forced weapon cycling
or one-shot kills with extremely limited ammo) put a huge emphasis on
each kill. This breeds an intensity I haven’t felt since playing
free-for-all railgun-only Quake. The titular wagering of the in-game
currency that you use to buy weapon attachments, perks, and emblem
elements only adds to the tension. The only knock is that wager matches
are by nature incredibly lag-sensitive. If you get stuck with a bad host
or your connection is being Comcastic, get ready for some frustration.
are unlocked early on, and allow you to purchase a challenge that
remains active for a certain amount of time while playing. A simple
contract might ask you to knife a dude in the back, while a more
expensive, higher-level one might call for a dozen headshots with a
specific pistol. Succeed and you can triple (or better) your money; fail
and those points are gone. Treyarch will regularly cycle the pool of
contracts available for purchase, and you can only take a shot at any
given one once in a specified time period (in the case of the contracts I
tried, one real-life day). I have mixed feelings about the system. On
the one hand, the new challenges spice up the gameplay and encourage
players to try different tactics. That said, I’m going to blow a gasket
when my team gets torn apart because half of our players are gunning for
some dumb contract instead of trying to win the match. Did we learn
nothing from the Halo 3 online achievement debacle?
fan-favorite Zombies mode returns as well, with players cooperating
against the undead hordes on two vastly different maps. It works well
enough, but Zombies is far down on my co-op FPS list. The objectives and
strategies are so far removed from making intuitive sense that I can’t
get into it, though segments of the community obviously feel
differently. I do love the secret zombie-themed minigame – Geometry Wars
with zombies, more or less – and its four-player online co-op, though.
can’t wait to see what the community creates with the new theater. The
ability to save matches, review them from any point of view, detach the
camera for free-flying shots, edit clips together, and then share them
as a movie all from within the game is incredible. This is a great
learning tool as well, since you can see your accuracy chart on a paper
doll as well as the heat map of deaths overlaid on the level.
tough to hate on something as skillfully executed as Black Ops. Call of
Duty remains the smoothest, most approachable first-person shooter out
there, and I had a blast playing it. On the other hand, it’s
disappointing that Treyarch’s much-hyped huge-budget entry in the
franchise feels like Modern Warfare 2.5. Activision hasn’t Tony Hawked
Call of Duty yet, though, and I’m happy to get a refined update. This