Call of Duty: Black Ops, Mini-Review
Posted by Alex Jordan on
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood insisted on being tedious as hell, and Dragon Age: Origins instead on being bland as hell, so I decided to move on to a game that I knew would never, ever be caught within 100 yards of either of those two adjectives.
Frankly, I'm a little irritated that major gaming reviewers seem to have nothing better to do than heap plaudits on blockbusters games and look the other way completely on any of their flaws, so I'm just gonna go to another mini-review list of things I liked and thinks that made me want to saw into my wrists with a grapefruit spoon.
Things I Liked:
- The graphics are superb and the player gets to jump from Cold War hotspot to Cold War hotspot, which I found neat.
- The weapon selection is great, and I'm glad that Treyarch has decided to stick with Infinity Ward's penchant for having lots of gadgets on your weapons
- The plot has a great twist in the theme of paranoid Cold War-era movies that has actually seen a resurgence in the past couple of decades. It makes perfect sense when you figure it out, and better yet, like any good twist, it causes you to rethink moments earlier in the game where you realized that something odd was going on but safely filed it in a "?" box in your mind and continued playing without a further thought. That box comes flying open at the end of the game.
- The digital appearances (and impersonations) of JFK, Robert McNamara, Fidel Castro, and Richard Nixon are silly but still highly enjoyable
- The game experiments with a lot of new mechanics, including controlling an airborne helicopter gunship, which is very fun in addition to its handling being very forgiving
Things I Didn't Like (aka, the more fun list):
- The Call of Duty series still has the dumbest shooting mechanic of any modern shooter. I'm pretty sick of cardboard cutout enemies at this point.
- The developers have never heard of pacing. Going from one balls-out firefight to the next balls-out firefight, with little to no letup, means that they all start to feel the same. For instance, a highlight of the game should've been the desperate Battle of Khe Sanh. Thousands of Vietnamese hurling themselves at your perimeter defenses, screaming bloody burder, and then tanks show up??? That should've been epic. But because of the unrelenting over the top gunfights, it hardly feels different.
- Tonally, the game is like someone yelling "EXTREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEME!" at you non-stop for six hours. Even when the game tries for lighter moments, like chilling to CCR's Fortunate Son prior the Khe Sanh battle, the game doesn't let these moments mature. You get a sense of them, and then you're thrown back into "EXTREME!" moments with pretty much no transition.
- This game takes itself way too seriously. All the gritty screen effects and F-bombs turned me off to Prototype, and it turns me off here, too. For comparison, Modern Warfare 1 and 2 mostly seemed amused by their over-the-top, Michael Bay-esque approach to game design, as if the designers were chuckling at their own gall. Black Ops, on the other hand, seems humorless.
- On the subject of taking things too seriously, I don't know why Treyarch thinks the game has to be so gory. Aside from, say, "No Russian" and the Favela car ambush in Modern Warfare 2, Infinity Ward steadfastly avoided that route. So why do half the bad guys in this game get their throats slit, or their heads kicked in, or stabbed with a hatchet, or whatever?
- Sam Worthington's Australian accent occasionally comes through, and Ed Harris sounds even more bored than when he voices Home Depot commercials, which I didn't think was possible.
- The real-time strategy segment from the SR-71 was a great idea that was terribly executed, and I have no idea why. If the developers had committed to thinking about what they were trying to accomplish for more than five seconds, it had the potential to be great.
- Although Treyarch managed to avoid the "your player character dies every other mission!" stigma of Modern Warfare 2, it's still pretty exasperating to have half of your missions end with your character falling out of a burning helicopter, or an aircraft fuselage tumbling down a cliff, or a four-story drop, or a huge-ass cliff and still surviving each time.