We live in an era of shitty rip off sequels, abandonment of genres, remakes and of course, the crown jewel in the death of virtual creativity, franchises. I don’t mean creative franchises like Blizzard Entertainment who at least mix up the gameplay to an acceptable level every game. No I mean companies like Nintendo or EA who literally remake the same game every year and slap a new number on it and this has gone on for so long that when they finally try something new, they realise their creativity is all gone and we get games like Metroid: Other M in to drive a stake through the heart of the series. However, there is one franchise which, despite its bumpy history has managed to surprise me several times especially with its most recent incarnation and that is the Call of Duty series. Yes Call of Duty has gone through a long history of both good and bad and maybe I should give a rough summary of my opinion of the series before I continue: 1+4 were good, Modern Warfare 2 was a clone of its predecessor and 2,3+5 I honestly did not give a shit about.
Now comes a new year and with it we get Black Ops which is neither the old man World War 2 era or the moody adolescent Modern Warfare era. Instead it is more like a young child prodigy taking place somewhere around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and such so still has plenty of room for controversy in case parents need to make sure they can kick up a fuss after giving it to their 12 year old as a baby sitter. Black Ops manages to balance gameplay and plot very well which is something I really have to admire about a franchise game as they usually find that sort of thing too much effort. Anyway I suppose I better break this review down into the various elements that make up the game.
One thing that stood out for me more in this game than in Modern Warfare 2 is that I actually liked the character I was playing as more than my team which I had a real hard job doing in Modern Warfare 2, possibly because they kept getting killed off. When playing as protagonist Alex Mason I do genuinely find him to be an interesting if rather confused individual while in Modern Warfare 2 I was too busy swearing at Sheppard for executing Ghost than I was lamenting my own characters’ deaths. As I always feel plot and characterisation is very important in a good game it was a nice surprise to find myself actually admiring the characterisation of some of the protagonists.
The plot itself is a twisting knot of secrecy, cover-ups and conspiracy theories all culminating to an exciting conclusion which I must admit, I didn’t predict which is another point in the game’s favour. The gist of the plot is you play as a special undercover agent performing the most secret of Black Operations so the American Government can have full deniability. After all, the wake of destruction and mutilated corpses left behind you after the mission is done probably won’t be noticed by anyone. Yes parts of the plot are a bit silly and a stealth game may have better suited but its Call of Duty, if it wasn’t an action-packed, cocaine-induced, shooting extravaganza it might lose sales which would be the end of all life as we know it. There is also another plot line about your character being involved in some massive conspiracy involving a set of mysterious numbers so the game flashes back to Mason being strapped to an interrogation chair while a mysterious voice demands the same thing over and over again to no avail.
Gameplay has been lifted virtually unaltered from Modern Warfare 2 except now you can do a sprinting dive in order to feel more awesome when running for cover. The guns of the game of course reflect the guns at the time; a load of shit. Some of them are laughably bad while others like the Olympia shotgun just look so awesome when they shred a guys hand off in a lovely visceral display. Yes there is dismemberment but only to the extent of one limb per person which isn’t very fun when you hit a rebel with an RPG only to see him sink to his knees clutching the stump of just one arm but I can’t say I expected much more.
Zombies mode has returned but as with its ancestor back in World at War the thrill dies after about 2 games although all my friends seem to find it so enjoyable for hours on end. Maybe I am just boring in that regard but it really doesn’t entertain me for more than a few attempts especially when you have to put up with the characters spouting off the same cheeseball catch phrases every 2nd zombie kill.
Multiplayer is a big improvement from Modern Warfare 2′s although still has the problem of too much grind, not enough fun but then some people feel its a status symbol to be on max prestige or whatever so Activision are just accommodating the angsty mainstream community while grind in most other games is to accommodate the angsty shut-in community. There are new modes such as a wager mode where you gamble in-game currency on unique and extremely entertaining matches. There’s the standard Call of Duty multiplayer experience with a more advanced and better designed load out customisation and, for the first time in the series, the ability to take a split-screen guest online. While I have never used it I personally feel it is an extremely useful feature because not only does it give you and your mate something to do but it also reassures you to know that there are other Call of Duty players who actually have real life friends and not just people they met online.
All in all the game is considerably better than Modern Warfare 2 which was just a coat of polish added to Call of Duty 4. It appeals to the demands of the community hence the online guests and zombies mode. The plot may not be the most realistically conceived war plot but its execution more than makes up for it. Easter eggs are abundant throughout the game giving the real nerds something to enjoy. The unimportant things like multiplayer and visuals are done to a good standard so overall I am happy and can happily say that this is the best instalment in the franchise besides obviously Call of Duty 1.