One of the strangest things about Black Ops is that even though it’s beaten Modern Warfare 2 and become the most successful entertainment product of all time, the buzz surrounding it has died down tremendously. A year ago, Activision were releasing regular statements to harp on about how MW2 had sold a gazillion units, but this time, they’ve remained quite tight lipped about the success of this year’s COD installment. After the very public war of words with the now-former heads of Infinity Ward (MW’s creators), Activision’s credibility has taken a bit of a bump, so perhaps it’s a wise move to let their COD-centric studio Treyarch get on with wowing the world for them. Their latest baby, Black Ops has already sold a buttload of copies, but is it worth all the fuss?
Off the bat, the campaign is one of the most personal you’ll find in the COD series. You take control of SOG operative Alex Mason in 1968 as he’s strapped to an interrogation chair reliving memories from the past decade in an attempt to stop a nuclear threat on the States. You’ll shift between different perspectives and shoot the hell out of various locations including Cuba and Vietnam, but perhaps the biggest difference is that your character actually talks and responds during battle as opposed to being mute. Little things like seeing Mason in cutscenes and hearing his voice during fighting makes you more connected to the story, and it makes you wonder why the hell this hasn’t been done in any of the other recent games in the series.
Without delving too deeply into the plot, it’s worth noting one rather large fault with the campaign; well, there’s an explosion, then another one, someone dies, a lot of bad stuff happens, then another explosion……are you seeing a pattern here? COD has prided itself on dramatic set pieces for years, and there are certainly some pretty spectacular moments on offer, but there’s barely any pacing to speak of. Sure, the campaign is involving and intense, but it seems to be afraid of losing your attention so it bombards you with action every two seconds. A bit of pacing never did anyone any harm, Treyarch. It’s also worth noting that Blops features some of the most violent scenes the series has ever seen, and when you take Modern Warfare 2 into account, that’s saying something. The violence is linked in well to the desperate tone of the plot, but it does go a little overboard at times.
There’s little point in mentioning changes with the gameplay, largely because there aren’t any. COD found an effective, exciting formula for first person shooters a long time ago, and to be honest, it isn’t really getting old. The biggest changes come from the multi player with the introduction of a points system that rewards your achievements in battle with currency to buy new guns/equipment etc. You can also complete contracts such as getting a certain amount of kills in a game to further your character, which is another nice touch. Largely, this is the same multiplayer experience that players have been blitzing since Modern Warfare, but again, it didn’t necessarily need a massive overhaul, so a few tweaks are welcome. Nazi Zombies also make a return, along with a quite fantastic arcade zombie shoot-em-up entitled Dead Ops, which is stupidly good fun. In short, there’s enough to get your teeth into here once the campaign is over.
All in all, Black Ops represents what the COD series has turned into; a familiar yet refined experience. Nothing about the way this game plays will surprise you, so it’s left to the campaign’s plot and its setting to keep you interested, which it just about manages despite that poor pacing. Multiplayer’s still great fun, but you’re left to wonder where the hell the series can go from here. It’s in something of a comfortable rut at the minute and you can’t help but think if this’ll be the same case with the next installment in the series.