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Old 01-08-2011, 03:08 PM   #1
Li-Ion
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Please rate this review: Call of Duty: Black Ops

It's been a while since I tried to write a review. After reflecting on my time with Black Ops I thought this might be a good opportunity.

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Review: Call of Duty - Black Ops

Now I wanna be your dog.

High: Ich bin ein Berliner.
Low: endless respawning enemies that turn the whole game into a high-tech whack-a-mole
WTF: I torture a guy and seconds after he is on my side?

Sometimes when walking through the park and seeing dog owners with their pets, I wonder how dogs feel when they are being walked. Restricted by a leash which is sometimes shorter, sometimes longer and disappears for a while at certain occasions the owner sees fit. Luckily I now know how it feels. This is thanks to the latest and greatest first-person shooter extravaganza Call of Duty: Black Ops. Black Ops follows the story of a handful of operatives during the cold war era. The player assumes control over different soldiers, mostly Captain Alex Mason. He remains pale as a character, similar to the other people involved, despite the voice talent that has been hired. Only Gary Oldman as Reznov is able to shine with his performance. However: in the shooter-genre, a genre that seems riddled by fan-fiction written by paranoid NRA-members, the overarching story can be considered well above average.

Alex Mason mainly follows orders. That is where the dog-simulator comes into play. Alex is getting ordered around constantly and never allowed to walk astray from his handler at any given time. Most of the game is spent running around a character sporting a yellow dot with the caption ‘Follow’ and doing whatever they say. The experience is streamlined to convert the whole world into one seemingly endless corridor, hemmed in by invisible walls and scripted sequences. To prevent the dog (player) from noticing his limited options, the game throws around sticks in form of explosions and vehicle sections with outlandish controls. Judging by those controls it is no wonder almost no helicopter manages to land intact during the campaign. In the course of the game I can only recall one helicopter on either side of the conflict to perform anything other than a crash landing. And even that helicopter was severely damaged.

Controls for other vehicles are also of questionable quality, but they fare much better than the more frequent helicopter sequences. The ride on a motorbike for example is simply too enjoyable to criticize the physics-defying handling in that section. The stream of explosions, gunfire, smoke, blood and missing limbs hardly ever ceases. Because of this all those effects loose their effect pretty quickly. It is difficult to feel awe when crashing with yet another helicopter. Most games have deliberate downtimes, where the action comes to a halt. Not so Black Ops, where even the loading screens are a cacophony of pictures, sounds and video clips that never allow the eye or mind to rest and reflect on the things that just happened. In retrospect it is difficult to even remember where the action took place and in which sequence the missions were. Only close to the end of the single-player campaign I noticed some sections that were slower paced.

This might sound negative so far, but Black Ops definitely has its strong points. When my mind was able to filter out all the explosions and dismemberment, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. Running, aiming, shooting and reloading feel natural and the controls never obstruct the enjoyment. I still wonder why in times of analogue sticks a button for sprinting is necessary but this would be nitpicking. I played some parts in a trance-like state. In these occasions all the elements come neatly together and deliver an experience on par with or even surpassing the best of the genre. Unfortunately I was never able to stay at this sweet spot for long.

Frequently I was pulled out of the experience like Truman Burbank in The Truman Show. Reasons for this were mainly the invisible walls and the endless stream of identical enemies. It adds a comedic element to shoot at wave after wave of soldiers that look absolutely identical. One might imagine a factory for those clone troopers just across the hill, beyond the invisible walls. Factories that suddenly stop working, as soon as I reached a certain spot that triggered the next event. A certain level of frustration comes from badly distributed checkpoints in combination with the endless respawning enemies. A lot of scripting and endless waves of enemies were always part of the Call of Duty-franchise. After seven years of sequels this approach to level design is becoming archaic. The mission objectives are usually simple, however: at times it isn’t really clear what Alex Mason is supposed to do. This can be nerve-wracking when enemies continue flooding in.

Criticisms on level design do not apply to multiplayer, where Black Ops truly shines. Unfortunately I don’t play much multiplayer. But even I found myself enjoying browsing through the sheer number of different multiplayer modes. For fans of multiplayer this game is a good option to spend some time with, but there are better ones out there. I find it hard to recommend for its singleplayer campaign alone, which is infuriating at times due to aforementioned problems. This installment of the Call of Duty-series is, as usual, a well made shooter with high production values. It has a great audiovisual package, excellent controls and a story that is surprisingly good for a shooter. What it is lacking is progress. One of its predecessors, Call of Duty 4 - Modern Warfare, was a landmark game and Black Ops is on par with it. But being on par with a previous iteration is not enough for enduring success. In the end it feels like the same Call of Duty I played for the last two years already. I loved the game two years ago, but now it's starting to get stale.

6/10

Disclosures: This game was obtained via [retail store] and reviewed on the [PlayStation 3]. Approximately 6 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 2 hours of play to multiplayer modes.

Parents: Extremely graphic violence including dismemberment, one interactive torture scene and regular use of profanities. This game does not belong in the hands of children.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The game has subtitles for all dialogue.
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Last edited by Li-Ion; 02-05-2011 at 08:08 AM. Reason: updated, this is the most recent version now
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