Call of Duty: Black Ops Campaign Impressions

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Hey, guess what? Call of Duty: Black Ops is out. Did anyone notice? Oh, I’m sure you did. The game only sold something like five to six million copies within the first 24 hours alone, and with those kind of sales numbers, I find it rather pointless to do a standard review here. So I won’t bother.

But instead of dissecting the entire game, I’d simply like to share my thoughts on the single-player campaign and, if anyone out there would like to comment, hear what you have to say about the game.

I’ve played the zombies mode and toyed around with the multiplayer, but honestly, they are both of little significance to me. The whole zombie invasion motif that seems to be in every game now is beyond played out, and the online play, while another excellent update to the existing Call of Duty online model from what I’ve played, is still basically the same thing it’s been for three previous games, so I don’t have the drive to sink much time into it. I do appreciate the new offline boot camp mode, though. Having the option to play against bots and practice different tactics and such is something far too many multiplayer FPSs lack.

I really only care about the story, and after finishing off the customary ~6-hour campaign last night I’ve come away with mixed emotions. Actually, I am more conflicted over the Black Ops campaign than any of the other Call of Duty titles.

Overall, the Black Ops campaign is remarkably uneven, I thought. I was locked in after the first couple levels, but from there through roughly half of the campaign I almost felt like the game was on autopilot and I was being dragged along for the ride – and I really struggled to build up a strong motivation to continue playing. But then around the halfway point the missions began to open up more and the story started to take off for me, and I was once again focused in to see how the plot would finish up. From then on, I couldn’t stop playing until the credits began to roll.

Unfortunately, the payoff didn’t turn out to be quite as satisfying as the endgame build up led me to believe it would be. But all things considered, Black Ops’ storyline grabbed me more than either of the Modern Warfare games. Gary Oldman’s reprising performance as Sergeant Reznov made the game for me, and other actors like Sam Worthington and Ed Harris are great, too. I found the whole black ops premise of the storyline intriguing as well. Playing out the flashback missions of a special forces operative being tortured into cracking a mysterious code only he can crack really made for a diverse range of mission settings and objectives, and I enjoyed trying to put the pieces together on my own before the final twist was revealed.

As much as the story captivated me, though, the game as a whole felt lazily designed to me. There are quite a few powerful, standout moments in the game – heading down to Cuba to assassinate Castro for one, as well as this mission later on in which you command a special ops team from a stealth aircraft sort of like a mini-RTS and seamlessly transition into and out of FPS play as the team moves into action scenarios (too bad this mission lasts no longer than five to ten minutes). But too often the game seemed like it was trying way too hard to recreate memorable scenes from previous games rather than establishing its own identity, and at times a feeling of déjà vu set in that I just couldn’t shake.

Parts of this game are also scripted to a fault. Far too many missions have you following an AI teammate through an objective, and if you deviate from their path in any way, the game strikes you down. I remember one time early on I had to run through a field being bombarded with enemy fire. If I ran too far to the left or right of my ‘guide’ I was gunned down almost instantaneously, almost as if I had moved outside of an invisible bubble surrounding a set path I was supposed to be following. As long as I stayed directly behind and ran in a straight line, though, I was fine.

These ‘guide’ allies also like to get in the way, repeatedly crossing into your line of fire so you can’t see and shoot the enemy (which often causes you to die), and sometimes the scripting alone gets you killed. I’d run behind cover sometimes, only to have an ally run to the same cover point and push me out of the way and into the open. Obviously I would die when this happened – and it was frustrating as hell.

When the game isn’t so rigidly scripted and you get to lead the charge into battle, you get stuck in these endless shootouts with respawning enemies that only stop if you push ahead. On the easier difficulties, this isn’t a problem. But on Hardened and above, there are missions in this game that, to me, were impossible to beat. I tried for over an hour to clear this one mission in Vietnam in which I had to charge down a hill swarming with enemies to reach an objective marker, but as soon as I’d pop out of cover the enemies would home in on me and I’d immediately have to duck back down to regenerate health. Then when I finally did clear the way enough and attempted to push forward, enemies would respawn from another side of the battlefield and kill me before I even knew where I was being shot from. Eventually the game offered to drop the difficulty down to Regular since I was failing over and over, and once I finally decided to switch I ran down the hill on the first try without breaking a sweat. This type of imbalance is startling.

But for all of these noticeable flaws, Black Ops is still a fun ride, as Call of Duty games always are. The hectic pacing rarely gives you a moment to breathe, the missions are unpredictably diverse, the game’s weapon arsenal is new and exciting, and for roughly six hours you will be entertained, no question about it. The game as a whole just seems so rushed and slapped together without much care or thought, and the Modern Warfare engine is definitely showing its age, and mostly on the gameplay front. I don’t mean to knock Treyarch, but there is something about Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty games that just feels ‘right.’

I did enjoy it, but overall Black Ops is one of the weaker Call of Duty campaigns on my franchise pecking order, and it is deeply flawed in ways that I find unacceptable for such a high profile production. I just think it’s sad that a game like GoldenEye for the Wii shows more modern FPS design polish and evolution than what’s on display in this game.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!