So you want to know about Call of Duty: Black Ops? Well, I could
tell you, the then I’d have to kill
you. Actually, AusGamers was privileged enough to be able to attend a specific review event for the game ahead of release, and we’ve been champing at the bit to actually fill you in on the finer details ever since.
First of all, the AusGamers quote that you see on the back of the PC/Xbox 360 box saying “very, very awesome” rings true. Call of Duty: Black Ops is excellent. It’s Treyarch’s best work to-date, and a worthy entrant in the halls of the Call of Duty experience. As an overall product, you’re essentially getting what has come before - a solid, blockbuster of a story (with slightly more length this time) along with an equally solid and fleshed-out multiplayer experience.
What’s evident with Black Ops is that the series has very much come into its own. Infinity Ward certainly sparked the shift from WWII shooter dominance to the Modern Warfare platform, but Treyarch have regressively pushed the genre forward here, in that, by bridging the gap between modern warfare shooters and WWII shooter with an epic yarn, they can rely on modern weapons and largely alien settings (or plot points), while maintaining their stance as the best in the biz at capturing the ‘old school’.
The game is definitely a split affair with single-player offering up a gripping story that breaks the Call of Duty mold by giving you, the player, a voice. AusGamers’ previously broken story about Sam Worthington voicing the main character of Mason is true, and despite the odd hiccup here and there where he clearly left his American accent at home, he does an incredible job. So does the rest of the cast too, with the likes of Ice Cube, Garry Oldman and Ed Harris filling roles; fleshing out a reasonably deep and complex narrative that spanned, on Hardcore for this player, some seven to eight hours of frustration, engagement, despair and fulfilment.
The other side of the coin is in the multiplayer, which probably should have been locked up for excessive *insert random act of societal defiance here
*. Seriously, in terms of the sheer volume of content and change here, Treyarch have put together the absolute best multiplayer experience the series has seen yet, and even when I thought they couldn’t possibly give us more, they did.
Multiplayer offers up a very similar experience to the Modern Warfare games (no tanks here), with a host of added modes. The usual affair of Team Deathmatch, Free For All, Domination, Headquarters et al, are in place and just as addictive as ever. But new options such as Theater, Wager Match and Combat Training add so much to the fray, they could be a whole new component on their own, without the older stuff. Then on top of the new modes is Treyarch’s trademark Zombies, which yes, offers anyone who finishes the single-player campaign a chance to play as Castro, Nixon or the man himself, Kennedy. Finally, Dead Ops, which could have been an XBLA/PSN title of its own, just adds to the myriad modes on offer, and also works as a great distraction to the intensity of everything else on offer.
Continuing their tradition of breaking the mold though, Treyarch have also introduced a monetary system to multiplayer, which adds insurmountably to everything else on offer. So, while you do level up and gain in rank; unlocking new items, modes, perks and more in the process, you also earn money which you can use to deck out your character or buy attachments, perks and more. This works because ultimately, you can give yourself a slight headstart with a new attachment (say a Grenade Launcher) early on, so you don’t feel so far behind waiting to unlock better equipment as you go.
On the money front though, you can also create Contracts, which give yourself in-game challenges to complete, with an actual time-limit (40-minutes in-game, for example), and doing so awards you more cash, and if you’re not overtly worried about decking out your character and want an excuse to get rid of the money you’ve been earning, Wager Matches will help you scratch that certain itch. In this mode, you essentially play with no perks or customisation; instead adhering to a set of rules with five other players (six in total) to attempt to come in first and win the big bucks. Each person can also elect to Double Down at the start of a match (therefor earning more money), or you can even enter a high stakes mode with a buy-in in the thousands. While these matches mifght seem exclusive, or even hardcore, they’re among the most fun options of the game (Sticks and Stones or One in the Chamber, are excellent).
We reviewed the game on the Xbox 360, so can’t offer any words on PC play, or dedicated servers, so we’ll be touching on that a little post-release in our own dedicated feature, but for the console owners out there, there is still the option to search for Locale or Locale Only servers, keeping connection searches a little longer, but with the added bonus of a more stable connection in the longrun. There’s also a heady set of tracked stats now, which should cater to the more OCD players out there, while minor changes such as voting for
maps now, and not against them (two on offer, with Random as a third option), make the game just so much better.
The whole interface is much easier to manage and navigate now, while the team have also stolen a few ideas from Bungie; offering up a map showing all current multiplayer activity around the world, along with an insanely deep (yet easy to use) Theatre Mode, which allows you to go into any one of a massive list of the last games you played and watch, record or edit your way through. You can create your own highlight reels, screenshot galleries and more, and upload them all to your profile, which is accessible from your menu, to then share with your friends or the community as a whole.
Really, in a full three days of access, I had barely scratched the surface of the multiplayer which, on its own, would garner a score of 9.5 from this reviewer, but this is a product with varying parts, and while the single-player component is fun, engaging and often thrilling, it also feels like it needed a few more months in development, with particular chapters lacking in variety and direction. The way in which the story is told now works better for the series on the whole, and the actors they brought on board are excellent, but at times it felt disjointed and rushed. Almost like they’d worked too hard on some section, and just not enough on others (the arctic mission with Reznov, and its outro is a prime example of this). None of it is game-breaking, but if I were reviewing only the single-player component, it would struggle to enter the 9s.
Which brings me to my conclusion, which is that as a product that will deliver countless hours of fun and engagement; that isn’t just a rehash of what we’ve been seeing the past few years, and offers a gripping and well-told story of a lost, or buried era in history, Call of Duty: Black Ops delivers, and delivers in solid measure. Does it suffer in parts? Yes, and we won’t know how fully until the game has been out for a while, but the sum of its parts make a great whole and in terms of investment, you’re definitely going to get a lot of life out of it. It’s Treyarch’s best work to-date, and possibly the most jam-packed competitive multiplayer offering on the market, with an awesome story thrown in for good measure. Very, very awesome.