At this point you probably don't need us to tell you that Call of Duty: Black Ops is great, but if that's news to you then you'd better get your ass over to our Super Review to receive an immediate education. It's more likely, we'd guess, that you're curious to see how the Wii version stacks up against the big bad PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.
We were flabbergasted to find that in some respects, yes, the Wii version is actually comparable to the versions on the more powerful consoles. The main experience is intact, and the shooting gameplay is (except for perhaps Goldeneye) the very best available on the Wii. Almost all of the content available in the big-brother versions of the game is available on the Wii version as well. This is not a dumbed-down port, and for that it deserves commendation. The only downside is that its greatness is even greater on the other consoles. As a result, you'll want to play the Xbox 360 or PS3 version if you have the choice, but the Wii version is a capable substitute if you only have access to a Wii.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex Edition was a big step forward for Wii first-person shooters, but Black Ops takes things even further by offering all the more seamless control. Thanks largely to hefty auto-aim the Wii remote functions about 75% as well as a traditional controller (note: percentages pulled from rectum). That may not sound like much, but it's a hell of an improvement when you consider that older Wii FPSes were at about 25% at best.
Getting the controls right is at least half the battle here. We already knew that Black Ops had a wealth of great content, levels, set pieces etc., but the controls and production values are what most of us were skeptical about. The first of those two is solid, but the latter is borderline embarrassing. Wii has always been known to be a far weaker system than PS3 or Xbox 360, but Black Ops exhibits the ever widening graphics gap better than any game to date. Comparing the graphics on PS3 vs Wii is like comparing the Ridge Lake Junior Varsity baseball squad to the New York Yankees (or perhaps San Francisco Giants would be more apropos).
Picture a screenshot of Call of Duty: Black Ops, and then run it through a blender and try to reassemble the pieces with a glue stick. That should give you a pretty good picture of the amount of resolution this game is pushing. We can think of several last-gen games off the top of our heads that look far better than this version of Black Ops. Previous Wii games have shown that realism is far from the system's strong suit, and many games have survived embarrassment by eschewing realistic graphics for more stylized art. No More Heroes, MadWorld, and the Madden series spring to mind. Black Ops tackles realistic graphics head-on and embarrasses the Wii hardware in the process.
The presentation problems don't stop with the graphics though. The audio is actually pretty bad. That's not a knock against the soundtrack - which is just as average here as it is on other systems. Our suspicion is that the Wii port of the code didn't have audio optimized for the system. Voices are often practically inaudible if there are any sound effects going off, and turning up the volume doesn't help since the music is one of the reasons it's so hard to hear. It got so bad that two hours into the game we literally had no idea what was going on. We had to switch to the Xbox 360 version to act as a translator. In any other game it might not have been such a big deal, but one of Black Ops' main narrators is a distorted voice that is occasionally muffled beyond recognition. You can fiddle with the sound levels in the options menu, but the only way to get voices up to decent levels requires you to turn sound effects and music too far down.
Zombies mode is fully intact in this version, and it's a nice little addition to the game that will add a few more hours of gameplay to the whole package.
The most baffling thing we encountered during the review process was that competitive multiplayer simply doesn't work right now. After a quick look around the interwebs, we found many people who are having the same problem. Connecting over the network in Zombies mode works just fine and lag free. But try to connect to the competitive modes and you'll find yourself staring at the same screen waiting for a connection indefinitely. Activision is supposedly slowly ramping up the amount of people who are allowed to connect to the competitive multiplayer servers due to high demand, but there's no excuse for refusing service to your customers who paid $50 for this game. As of right now, people who buy Black Ops on the Wii can't be sure that they'll be able to play it online until Activision deems it time. You'll want to make sure this problem has been rectified before you lay down any of your hard earned dollars for this product.
Note: We were afforded a special opportunity to access the Wii servers so we could experience Black Ops' multiplayer for the review. We still strongly emphasize that you should wait until these problems are resolved if multiplayer is something you're interested in. Our impressions of this special multiplayer access are included below.
When Black Ops competitive multiplayer does work it's pretty great. It includes one of the most extensive multiplayer components we've ever seen in a Wii game, and it almost rivals the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. There are a few modes missing, but CoD's famous leveling component is fully functional and as addictive as ever. The only part we found lacking was the control. It will probably take you at least a couple hours to get used to using the Wii Remote in the fast-paced online modes. It also doesn't help that the controls aren't well optimized for this type of play. Auto-aim and hip-shooting should be much more prominent than they are. As it stands, it's actually harder to shoot from the hip in the Wii version than PS3 or Xbox 360, because the aiming reticule is far bigger. This means you'll have to learn to be even more accurate. It's not impossible, but it takes practice.
Even without competitive multiplayer, this is still one of the very best shooters available on the Wii. If the multiplayer starts working properly this will be one hell of a package, and it will be worthy of a higher score. Is it as good as the console versions? No, and the audio problems make this a hard game to recommend if you're interested in the story. Plus, even if the controls are great for a Wii game, they're still not as good as a regular controller. Ultimately, Black Ops on Wii could be a fun rental if you're interested in trying the other control scheme, but only if you've already played (or have no access to) one of the better versions.
Nov 15, 2010