A game of two halves. Now that’s a phrase that is more suited to sport rather than a First Person Shooter, but it’s exactly how I’d sum up my feelings about Call of Duty Black Ops single player campaign. The sit-rep of the review event sees me hunkered down in a hotel with twenty or so other reviewers, which means we had the ideal environment where we could share our opinions with each other over lunch, booze or while spooning each other into the night.
Once in my room, free to play alone in my pants, I played the initial half or so of Treyarch’s first non-World War 2 CoD on absolute auto-pilot. A slo-mo breach here, a Vietnam bunker run there and I’m back in familiar territory and still waiting to be blown away. The chance to finally show the world that they can make a compelling almost modern FPS was being pissed into the wind.
Above: "Yo, Soap, wait up! We gotta get to the ski-doos". "Wait, what? This ISN'T the same game?"
Devices found in Modern Warfare 1 and 2 weren’t only being replicated but they were being done with such frequency that any impact lost all meaning. Fuck sakes, Treyarch “THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE YOUR BIG MOMENT” I shouted into the ether. But as the preamble unsubtly suggests, the second half finds its feet and suddenly Black Ops is amaze.
I don’t want to ruin the impact of certain missions, but after being plonked into a Vietnamese river for a blast of a mission with a shit-ton of carnage I immediately rang a fellow reviewer to share in my excitement. We both agreed it was a beautiful touch and the start of a turnaround. Boo-yah!
Above: The guy with the itchy trigger finger is Woods, Alex Mason's buddy and chief hater of Vietnamese troops.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What you want to know is whether Black Ops is better than Modern Warfare 2, right? Well, unhelpfully it is and it isn’t. The story – for my money – is better told here than in either Modern Warfare. You’re Alex Mason - a Cold War operative who's been captured by some mysterious group and is being tortured/interrogated while strapped to a chair and plugged with enough volts of electricity to light up a small village. As a nice touch, this area provides the hub for the entire game.
Who are the shadowy silhouettes barking at you and what is Nova 6? What does that mysterious number sequence being repeated over and over again mean? And why can’t we discuss this over a nice cup of tea rather than syringes full of truth serum? All is revealed in time as each mission is played out in the form of flashbacks.
Although the plot is more compelling in Black Ops, if we had to pick certain key characters out of a line-up we’d struggle…
Above: OK, maybe one stands out in this line-up. But the cookie-cutter characters are disappointing
They’re not as memorable or compelling as Soap or Captain Price from Modern Warfare and their contributions just act as another sound amid the rampant gun-fire. Cameos from Fidel Castro, President Kennedy and Viktor Reznov – the vodka soaked Russian from World at War – help to add spice to the story though.
Black Ops plays out over 15 missions that take you from an assault on a stronghold in Cuba through Vietnamese towns and jungles and even a quick soiree in the Pentagon. Each level feels significantly different to the last which ensures a fresh area to conduct mass murder as you progress.
Above: Not only a campaign setting, but this epic stage is also home to a multiplayer map too.
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