Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

Call of Duty: Black Ops (Available on PS3, PC, and Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: M
Players: 1-18
Genre: FPS
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Release Date: November 9th, 2010
PC/PSN/Live: Online Multiplayer

Parent Talk:

The ESRB rates Call of Duty: Black Ops M for Mature, and for good reason.  It’s a war-time first-person shooter.  There are depictions of horrendous acts, cussing and all manners of adult-themed content.  Do not let the kids play this.

You’ve read a ton of reviews by now.  We’ve had the game for weeks, letting the big boys have their fun.  We didn’t bring early coverage, and figured to do something completely different.   We don’t have one opinion on Black Ops, not even just two, but three!  Three COE staff members chime in with their thoughts on the biggest release of the year.  What other website offers that level of coverage for one title?  Sit back and enjoy one of our most interesting reviews ever.  You can join the chaos by leaving a comment below.  We’d love to hear what you have to say.

The Great:

If anything stands out about Black Ops, it’s the story.  I know most media outlets have complained about it, but I think it’s more enjoyable than MW2’s.  I like how the plot jumps from one moment in time to another.  I was also intrigued by trying to put the puzzle together and solve the riddle of “the numbers.”  Every flashback is a new, well-thought-out stage.  You start in Cuba, only to be suddenly whisked away to ‘Nam or somewhere in Russia.  Coming full circle isn’t as shocking as I had hoped, but it’s thrilling enough to earn top marks in my book.

The Good:

+ Bang for your buck.  What other $60 product offers enough content for you to waste a solid year on?  A solid, well-rounded campaign, check.  Fantastic online multiplayer, check.  A 16-bit arcade game, check.  Zombies, check.  Wow!  Consider what your typical videogame offers and triple it; that’s what Black Ops is about, quantity.  It doesn’t doesn’t skimp on quality either.

+ Modernizing the past.  Treyarch has been stuck in World War II since Call of Duty 3.  When Infinity Ward released Modern Warfare, we knew it was only a matter of time before that changed.  Finally we’ve entered the 60s.  It was a time of peace, love, and the Vietnam War, well a portion at least.  This time period hasn’t been explored much, and Black Ops excels because of it.  Weapons are more modern and the environments are more in line with MW’s, though we’re talking a good fifty years in the past.

+ Great locations and machinery.  From Cuba to Russia and Vietnam, there’s no shortage of globetrotting.  Along with new terrain comes new vehicles of destruction.  From a HIND helicopter to a military assault vehicle, players get behind some of the most powerful machines the world saw.  The Eye in the Sky is one of the coolest missions.  If you show your friends Black Ops, they won’t believe how far Treyarch has come since Call of Duty 3.

+ Great pacing throughout.  From launching an airstrike on unsuspecting enemies to fighting down a trench or through a rat hole, Black Ops maintains your interest by constantly offering new content.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Treyarch pulls something else out of its hat and challenges you in a new and exciting way.

The Bad:

– A bit short.  Having finished the campaign on Veteran, like Steven, I was surprised to have done it in just a few sittings.  If you play on Normal, expect to be done in about five hours.  Disappointing, no?  I even think Veteran is a push-over with the exception of two areas that gave me trouble.

– Been there, done that.  Treyarch is a great developer, and I give them props for stepping up to what IW did last year, but the solo missions are still very similar to MW’s.  That’s expected given how many excellent CoD games have hit the market to date.  For the next installment I want an expansion of sorts.  They need to take more risks and push the campaign to new heights.

The Ugly:

Have you seen me play Zombies?  Well, it’s a new experience.  Actually, you should see me online, particularly team deathmatch.  I’m always the perfect team member if you’re looking to laugh.  An example happened the other night while in a game with Steven.  I was shot, but not killed, and a someone jumped over me.  I unloaded an entire magazine into the guy thinking I was protecting Steven, who was in front of me.  Turns out the guy dude was a teammate.  The guy spent the rest of the match killing me every chance he had.  Needless to say Steven enjoyed himself at my expense.  Ah yes, the joys of playing online with Jarrod.  If anyone wants to witness my epic skills in action, my handle is Rockman1974.  Invite me, if you dare!

The Lowdown:

Black Ops delivered.  Its single player campaign is fantastic, the multiplayer is of the most robust around, and that doesn’t even include the arcade game, zombies and tons of other elements.  If you play just one FPS this year, Black Ops should be it.

Steven Lacroix’s Thoughts:

What I like

+ An enjoyable campaign.  I rank it ahead of MW2 and a bit behind Call of Duty 4. There’s not a memorable mission like “One shot, One kill” from Modern Warfare, but the variety ensures a blast from start to finish. Don’t listen to Jarrod; it’s the perfect length. First-person shooters should last around 10 hours. Any longer and it starts to grow repetitive. Plus, who plays this on Normal? Play it on Veteran. The challenge is more balanced this time. Two missions will pull curses out that you didn’t even know you knew, but the rest proves too easy for my desires. Still, compared to earlier Call of Duty games, I’ll gladly take the break. I wish there were a few more ‘Nam missions however; it reminds of the Halo 2 debacle .

+ Online.  If you played Modern Warfare 2, then you know what to expect. There are tons of minor improvements though, and I’ll list a few.  Battle aircraft have been toned down, which evens the balance.  You now don’t die as quickly as before.  Killstreaks can no longer be gained with the benefits of previously gained killstreaks. You have to earn them.  Also, that stupid noob tube is still present, but people use it less for some reason.  Thank goodness.  Finally, I like the new Exp system. Instead of unlocking a gun’s attachments by using it, you now purchase everything with money accrued.  It’s not as tiresome as MW2, which forced you to play with attachments you might not like to upgrade.

+ Killing zombies is fun!  Killing zombies with friends is even more fun!  Killing zombies with Jarrod: priceless.

What I don’t like

– No co-op. Seriously….why couldn’t Treyarch include it?  I like playing alone, but everybody knows it’s always more fun with a friend or two. It seems nowadays if Halo or Gears isn’t in the title, it won’t support co-op. Modern Warfare 2 at least featured Special Ops, which wasn’t a full-fledged campaign, but might as well have been one.

– The RC car. Not only is it frustrating to be killed by it, but think for a second. Would you really consider strapping C4 to an RC car and guide it towards the enemy in the middle of a gunfight? I don’t mind mixing reality (in a fictional way) with some goofiness (big MGS fan), but c’mon. I felt insulted every time I saw one of those.  It’s dumb and removes the epic nature of some dogfights. Plus, you only need three straight kills for it (two with Hardline).

– More Zombie maps. Give me more….. now.

Ahmed Mosly’s Thoughts:

I’ve never liked current-gen FPS campaigns, which has put me off the genre for a long time. The last one I played and enjoyed was Metroid Prime. Since then, we’ve moved from the World War II fad to the ‘modern times’ one seamlessly without raising the bar. There have been a few diamonds in the rough (BioShock), but to me it’s just one more-of-the-same phase after another. But here I am, playing this brand of games as I’ve openly criticized them, starting with Modern Warfare 2, my introduction to the long-standing Call of Duty series. Am I just a cynical, angry videogame nerd who lives on terrorizing the internet with hateful comments? Or has something special genuinely caught my eye? Well, it’s the latter. Did I have to say?

Multiplayer, multiplayer, multiplayer! Call of Duty: Black Ops continues that tradition, yet with series’ annualization, one fears a drop in quality. All eyes have been on Treyarch since Black Ops’ announcement. Does it surpass Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2? I’m not the guy to ask when it comes to single-player campaign comparisons for reasons I just explained, but I’m happy to offer in-depth multiplayer analysis.

The Great:

+ Customization: with the introduction of shopping, many of Modern Warfare’s frustrations have been eliminated. Remember how it took forever to unlock simple attachments?  You had to grind like crazy.  This is much more streamlined in Black Ops. In-game currency allows you to buy weapons, add-ons, perks, and accessories that best fit your play-style. Of course, EXP is still around to keep you in check. You can’t be too capable too quickly; weapons progressively unlock as you gain levels.  You can even customize your weapons’ appearances now.  Want a FAL that’s camouflaged with red tiger stripes and sporting a green yin/yang-shaped red dot sight? Consider it done if you have the cash for it (it’s relatively cheap to customize). This example just scratches the surface of aesthetic possibilities encountered in Black Ops. Can you say face paint and decals? People who have a lot (and I mean a lot) of free time can create personal artistic emblems. I’ve seen plenty of quality ones online, which use shadows and shading. It blows my mind how much thought goes into emblems, since your inventory consists only of pre-determined shapes superimposed on one another.

The Good:

+ Rebalanced perks and killstreaks: I’m glad Treyarch successfully toyed with the formula to retool Modern Warfare 2’s offerings. Perks and their Pro counterparts aren’t quite like MW2; a bunch have been scaled down and given more logical operation, ‘Hardened’ being the prime example. Killstreaks are especially well-thought-out this time. Rewards from earlier killstreaks no longer count towards the next, which makes obtaining them challenging, yet fair. Good riddance to that broken Tactical Nuke! My favorite is by far the Napalm Strike, a great idea with good execution. The Blackbird is incredibly useful in team-based games. Showing everyone on the map for a limited time and what direction they’re facing is a surefire way to score 11 kills and obtain the highest two streak rewards: Attack Dogs and Chopper Gunner. About the RC car, I’m quite fond of it (unlike Steven). I understand why he hates it, but being a cheap way to score kills is why I like it. Despite being ridiculously overpowered for an early streak reward (three kills), it’s not completely invincible…but it constantly catches people off guard, which makes it even tougher to keep your streak alive.

+ Colorful maps: Modern Warfare 2’s combat zones, while well-designed, generally have that barren, generic, washed-out look we all love to hate. Oh, look at me, I’m in a war zone with dilapidated buildings, debris and scrap everywhere! How unique. Black Ops mixes things up with a variety of themes and scenery. We finally have a night stage! Launch is my favorite thus far because of the rocket that randomly takes off during matches. Prepare to be burned alive if you’re near the launch site!

+ New weapons and equipment.  The crossbow is just as I imagined when it was shown in early trailers. I like how Treyarch expanded the concepts of tactical grenades and equipment as well. It’s about time we had more tools place on the ground other than claymores and tactical insertions. Every gadget and weapon has its place in Black Ops.

+ The new wager matches.  I’m reminded of the good ol’ days of fun-driven FPS competitive gaming.  You simply relax and enjoy these bouts for what they are by betting very few CoD points, or enter the high roller servers to raise your stakes to the max. Your customized classes aren’t welcome there, and rank doesn’t matter.  It’s always the top three people who win something, not one. Hats off to Treyarch for coming up with a set of unique ideas for each scenario…‘One in the Chamber’ being the neatest because it’s an evolution of GoldenEye 64’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.

+ Simultaneous splitscreen offline/online multiplayer: about freakin’ time! While it’s limited to two players and plagued with black borders, it’s always fun to enjoy online with a friend nearby. Xbox 360 gamers can even sign in to their own Live accounts, gaining accolades separately from each other. Sadly, due to the PS3’s limitations, your friend must be a temporary guest who doesn’t gain permanent EXP or CoD points. On the plus side, Treyarch made the best of a bad situation. The guest starts off as an exact mirror of the master account: unlocked weapons, perks, and achievements. Your friend can gain his/her own EXP and CoD points and create new classes separately. As soon as the PS3 is turned off though, the guest resets.

The So-So:

Contracts: mini-achievements with time limits that grant you more points and EXP? Count me in! You can pursue up to three at a time. The only downside is the repetitiveness of the objectives and not having enough to begin with. I’m surprised Treyarch didn’t follow Halo: Reach’s way of handling this content.

The Bad:

– Broken spawn points.  This flaw almost breaks the game.  You can’t just have an opponent spawn from behind the moment you kill him/her. That’s just plain stupid design.

– An unstable engine.  Black Ops most glaring problems are frequent screen-tearing, slowdown, and delay of texture loads. You’d think that Treyarch used MW2’s engine, but no, it seems like their outdated World at War one. What a bunch of snobs. I know you guys want to prove yourselves, but at least accept Infinity Ward’s help.

– Team Deathmatch is the focus.  The other modes’ ideas are there, but most just don’t fit this fast-paced and intense gameplay. Tactical modes don’t work in a game like Black Ops, hence why a minority of participants play them. Matches with ‘capture the area’ objectives get cluttered with opponents so fast it’s simply hard to keep track of everything. I’m surprised that these modes were simply ported from MW2 without any retouching.  Oh well, at least wager matches are a welcome addiction, right?

– Unfair requirements to unlock Pro Perks.  Some force you to play other modes. It’s a smart way to have fans branch out of TDM, but won’t win anyone over anytime soon.

– Bare-bones offline splitscreen multiplayer. Why can’t I create custom match types as in the game’s online private matching? I want to play One in the Chamber offline with my friends!

– A few other nitpicks. Despite my general praise of balancing, you may encounter a few odd design choices. For example, shotguns as primary weapons instead of secondary compared to MW2 is crippling at best.  It may be more challenging to use a shotgun now, but the shorter range labels it as underpowered compared to other weapons.  Also, the Gas Mask the most useless element. Only one equipment can kill you via gas poisoning (very, very slowly), so why a whole perk devoted to that? Finally, Nuketown is a terrible stage. I like its concept, but it’s too small and unfair with its random spawn points. It’s impossible to have a decent, well-paced match there, unless you’re a camper by living.  That’s apparently the case too, because it constantly ends with the top vote among players. Talk about paradoxical.

The Ugly:

Terrible matchmaking!  I don’t remember many problems with MW2’s launch period. Sure, connections weren’t always perfect, but I didn’t struggle with lag, and the host migration was sublime.   Unfortunately I can’t say the same about Black Ops.  Though the recent patch slightly improved connections, you can’t deny frequent drops, inability to scan for matches, and host migration that almost never works. These blemishes are particularly noticeable with the PS3 version. I know Xbox Live employs generally better servers than PSN because you pay to access the former, but that’s no excuse since MW2’s performance was at least on-par across the board.

9 thoughts on “Call of Duty: Black Ops Review”

  1. I will send you an invite, mine is ManuOtaku, and i suck big time with this franchise, but that doesnt mean i will not try, and i think if we play together laughs will be plenty, 8D

  2. Cool review with a lot of opinions! I like the online mp much more than MW2 as well. Haven’t gotten to the story yet…

  3. Yeah man great review!

    Terrible matchmaking is totally right Ahmed! That’s the reason why I always hated COD’s multiplayer.

    1. Yeah, man. It’s hard to believe that Black Ops has it a lot worse than MW2. You have no idea how many times I had to soft reset my PS3 because of online freezes and stupid transmission glitches. The upcoming patch looks to address the issues I’ve mentioned in the review, but as Jarrod says we must review what’s been given to us.

  4. True enough Ahmed. Although I must admit that I have had next to no problems with matchmaking on the 360. There’s been a few lags here and there of course, but nothing as redundant as your case.

    1. Yeah I’d imagine that some users like yourself are having a lot less problems with the 360 version. From what I’ve been reading though, the same issues of the PS3 are present in the 360 version only much less frequency. While no online system is perfect, MW2 was at least superior at launch.

  5. Yeah well these things are expected. No matter how good the servers, there will always be people with bad connections. Especially when you’re playing against people all over the world.

  6. It’s weird that I’ve heard so many issues online but while playing I haven’t seen or hear any problems at all. I’ve only played the 360 version though but if you both had issues than clearly something is up.

  7. Pingback: Call of Duty: Black Ops Review | Black Ops Theater | Game Call Of Duty

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