Call of Duty: Black Ops. Its been breaking all sorts of industry records this past week or so. Not only video game records, though, but also trashing the reigning king (in dollars and cents, at least) of the entertainment industry, the motion picture. But is it as good a game as the sales suggest?
The modern Call of Duty franchise is based primarily in their multiplayer gameplay, so that’s where I’ll be spending the majority of my time here. If you want my thoughts on the campaign, click here to read my previous article.
Also, by way of clarification, Activision owns the rights to the Call of Duty name. They had developer Infinity Ward make Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2. After the release of each of these games, the developer Treyarch made a historical version of the game using the same engine as the game before it. So, after the release of Modern Warfare 1, they released Call of Duty: World at War, set in WW2, and now after Modern Warfare 2 last year, they’ve released Black Ops, set in the Vietnam War era, focusing on the Cold War.
I’ll start with the maps. Like Treyarch’s other recent Call of Duty game, World at War, the maps are largely boring and unmemorable. For reasons not entirely tangible, the Treyarch maps just don’t have the magic that Infinity Ward’s maps do.
Other than the occasional novelty map, like Nuketown (based of that scene in Indiana Jones 4 where he finds himself trapped in a fake city with a nuke about to go off), all the maps just feel the same. Even in Nuketown, you’re barricaded within an area comprising a small section of street with a house on either side, filled with mannequins. It’s a cool map to look at, but playing in it is really annoying, because it is really small and one side of the map is inherently “better” than the other, a common problem in their asymmetrical maps.
In many gamemodes, however, this wasn’t be a problem, because most games give the side advantage to the defense. Team Deathmatch (or TDM) is the most common gamemode, and is just a regular slayer match, but with two teams. Unfortunately, most of the time you don’t even notice your teammates.
A flaw common to all Call of Duty TDM gametypes is a lack of teamwork, unless, of course, you have a couple of friends playing the same XBox (like a friend and I were). Mostly, it just feels like you’re flying solo, shooting the guys with the red tags floating above their heads, and not shooting the ones with the green tags.
Contrast this to games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (which I highly recommend, by the way) where each class fills a certain niche within the team: machine guns fill supporting fire, assault rifles provide the brunt of the attack, and so on. In Call of Duty, across all gametypes, the only effect gun choice has on how you play is, really, range.
Snipers stay at a distance (unless they have mastered the art of the no scope), ARs and MGs can get closer in, and SMGs had better use surprise tactics, and shotguns usually can’t even fire across the street effectively. The only appreciable difference between most ARs and MGs is accuracy and the number of shots in your magazine. There are a few assault rifles that don’t have full auto (the M16 and M14 in particular), but they are otherwise no real exception.
The biggest real multiplayer change from MW2 is the leveling up system. Normally, as you level up, you unlock certain guns, perks, and equipment. Now, you get a certain level of control over what you unlock by earning in-game cash to spend on whatever perks and equipment you like.
You still have to be a certain level to unlock some of the better guns in the game, but you can skip guns that you know you’ll never use, and spend that money elsewhere. If you aren’t making enough cash, you can make more by wagering it and completing certain challenges. If you fail, it’ll cost you a little cash, but if you succeed, you can potentially make a 300% profit. Not bad.
This is the biggest improvement Treyarch has made to the CoD franchise thus far. It gives you complete control over the perks you unlock (they all cost the same) and lets you get the equipment without having to complete an insane amount of prereq’s or using attachments you don’t like (I’m looking at you, thermal sight).
Another improvement they made was the final, utter, and complete removal of the Martyrdom perk (Hallelujah and praise the Lord!). It was a Deathstreak in MW2, but has now been completely removed, along with the Deathstreak concept. I’m not shedding a single tear, and I’m actually quite impressed that Treyarch made two such big changes to Infinity Ward’s tried and true method.
What is causing me no end of grief is the return of the “dogs” Killstreak bonus. It was a highly overpowered travesty in World at War, and is no better here. Not only that, but it met with such disapproval last time that I’m shocked that Treyarch even considered adding them to the game. Clearly, some developer at Treyarch is a dog person, and its bleeding into his professional life. It needs to stop.
The other endlessly annoying Killstreak bonus is the RC-XD. Nothing fancier than a remote control car with pounds of C4 strapped to it, it is endlessly annoying. They are way too fast, and make virtually no noise, so they blow up on you before you can even do anything about them. It was a good idea, but the most warning you get is a verbal message that “An RC-XD has been spotted in your area”. An easy fix, I think, would be to attach a siren, alerting people to its presence and at least giving them a heads up before they explode. We’ll have to see.
A caveat emptor, however: this game has been plagued with technical issues. Most have already been patched, primarily on the XBox, the game’s primary system, but the PC in particular is still suffering, especially if you got the game through Steam. An update was released on Friday for the Steam users, but just be careful: if technical errors endlessly torment you (especially when you’re trying to enjoy yourself), you might want to wait a while.
So what’s the verdict? To me, Call of Duty represents the average FPS. Anything worse should be ashamed of itself, and really isn’t worth buying. Anything better is a really good game, and definitely worth buying. This? If you’re a fan of the series, buy. If you don’t already own Modern Warfare 2, buy, particularly if you like shooters.
If you do own MW2, but you don’t much care for CoD games, don’t waste your money; it is similar enough that you’re not really missing anything. Sure, it makes some improvements (Martyrdom is gone!), but it also makes some things worse. Essentially, its just another CoD game.