Addictive, near-perfect multiplayer; interesting story concept.
Nothing particularly new or groundbreaking; levels overly linear.
Those of you waiting with bated breath for Activision’s fragile, sequelitis-ridden empire to come crumbling down, know this: It won’t be happening this year. Call of Duty: Black Ops is another solid entry in the publisher’s absurdly popular war-shooter franchise. And yet, for all that it is, it could’ve been so much more. Black Ops’ single-player, especially, falls short of its lofty ambitions, leaving us to sigh and ponder what could have been.
We’re pretty sure the word you’re looking for is “ouch.”
See, the central idea behind it is really quite interesting: You awake strapped to a chair in a dark room with a very loud man spitting questions in your face. Turns out, you’re being tortured. Mr. Doesn’t-Know-How-To-Use-His-Inside-Voice wants answers, and he wants them now. What follows is a whirlwind trip through your memories, which include—among other things—being imprisoned in Russia, fighting in Vietnam, and attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro.
On a conceptual level, it’s pretty neat. The story weaves its fictional conspiracy into the very fiber of one of American history’s darker periods, making for something far more compelling on paper than Modern Warfare 2’s hokey mess of an invasion tale. Unfortunately, the story’s execution is an entirely different, well, story. It jumps all over the place, makes no effort to develop its characters beyond “Biceps! Stubble! Gruff shouting!” and comes off as a flimsy justification for your globe-trotting, time-traveling murder vacation.
The levels are decent, but if you’re hoping for a cascade of water-cooler moments to spice up your chats around the ol’ watering hole, you probably ought to look elsewhere. Sure, there are a few instances where you’ll pause the game, wipe sweat from your brow, and utter an awed “oh wow,” but all too often when a level feels like it’s really building to something special, it abruptly ends. As a result, most of your time is spent inching your way through stultifyingly linear corridors while picking off legions of infinitely respawning, generally stupid enemies. And when we say linear, we mean it. Once, we took five steps off the beaten path and our character dropped dead. Not from gunfire or grenades, but rather because it was the developer’s way of rolling up a newspaper, thwacking us on the nose, and sternly muttering, “No! Bad gamer! Bad!”
“Oh, my gun? Yeah, I decided to take the understated route.”
Multiplayer, on the other hand, really shines, and may well be the series’ best yet. Granted, there’s nothing dramatically new or different and it was unforgivably glitchy when the game first launched, but Treyarch has patched away most of the problems. Among the new features, COD Points are especially handy, granting more leeway with your unlocks. There are also Wager Matches, which allow you to bet COD Points on the outcomes of some really inventive game types. For instance, “Sticks and Stones” hands everyone a knife, crossbow, and tomahawk that bankrupts anyone it kills, resulting in timing-intensive matches where you have to earn every kill. We also really enjoyed “One in the Chamber,” which gives players three lives and only one bullet. Kill someone with said bullet, however, and you’ll gain another bullet. Again, skill’s the name of the game here. Those with itchy trigger fingers or tingly grenade-lobbing arms need not apply.
At the end of the day, Call of Duty fanatics can’t go wrong with Black Ops—assuming, of course, that they haven’t grown tired of the series’ aging formula. However, if heeding the call previously left you feeling decidedly “meh,” then Black Ops certainly won’t change your mind.