Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops

This has been the most eagerly anticipated Call of Duty game of all time!
The job of creating it was given to Treyarch, a gamble compared to Infinity Ward who really set the franchise off, but they've put the time and effort in and they're managed to emulate Infinity Ward's previous success reasonably well!

The Singleplayer

The story is new, fresh and innovative. The way the story works, you're being interrogated by the CIA, and through the interrogation as you start to "remember" things; when you go on a little flashback to that time, you get to play through it as though it was a memory. Pretty neat I think you'll agree!

You get to fight in all different warzones, ranging from the Far North in World War 2, to the jungles of Vietnam! Using all different equipment from each corresponding era! The gameplay is broad and interesting, close quarters, sniping, and of course using the Big Guns and heavy equipment; someone call in a Hind for close air support? I'm there!

The story is further improved by the quality of the video editting and cutscenes, they look fantastic, among some of the best I've seen. However some parts of the game it feels like you're in a movie, but in a bad way. It's calling for mediocre player interaction without much substance to it. "Press S to take off" for example. You hit S, you don't have any real control, it just starts the jet up and it takes off. I don't really see the point in this to be honest... It would have felt much more engaging if it was a really well scripted cut scene, rather than you sitting in first person mode and looking around a cockpit while not much happens. This happens a few times throughout the game, but thankfully not enough to make it a pain.

The levels, although generally linear are cleverly constructed and designed so that you don't feel you're being forced down a certain path. Nice open environments are inter-spliced with the more direct player shepherding. But yet again, a little hiccup. Some levels (The Vietnam ones) seem to suffer from unfathomable levels of respawning! You need to get from A to B, but there are so many enemies spawning it makes it an absolute mission, and not in an enjoyable way either. It gets very frustrating very quickly. Usually it's great fun cutting down ridiculously large numbers of enemies. But when they're shooting you to pieces, preventing you from moving to your destination, and by the time you've killed enough and healed to move on, they've respawn and the cycle starts again! What!?

The AI can be a bit soft too. You're quite often teamed up with a few other agents as it were, and as you're advancing on the enemy clearing rooms, it's pretty common that your AI team mates will walk past an enemy, ignore him completely, who then shoots you in the back of the head. In some parts, the AI team mates are rendered completely useless. They could even be considered to be a burden in some situations, getting in the way by blocking you, and rather kindly interfering with your line of fire too. Armed pacifists! I like it!

Graphically, the game is again very good. Although it doesn't look staunchly different from its predecessors, the work that's been put into it, particularly the texture work, is very evident and deserves praise. For example the sweat on the characters face is very well created and lit. There are a few errors here and there, like shadows not quite meeting the character's feet, but it's very minor. They've put all the work into making it feel atmospheric, the levels look and feel very believable, coupled with the excellent sound work, it's a winner!

However, it's a good solid single player game. You'll have moments where your adrenaline's pumping for sure! Things will pop out and surprise you without warning (That's why it's a surprise you see?) you'll find yourself leaning forward on the edge of your seat in anticipation on some of the missions! The overall story is sadly quite short, between 5 to 6 hours game time, which isn't a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but that's the sort of game length that seems to be around nowadays. You'll always have multiplayer and zombie mode to keep you entertained or infuriated though!

Zombie mode:
Does what it says on the tin. You + Guns vs. Zombies. Last as long as possible!

But! and this is a big BUT!
Whoever came up with that end scene (I won't spoil it) should get slapped with a wet fish. Americans doing what they do best... being arrogant. Further adding to the rest of the world's view on them. Keep your patriotism on a lead (Or should I say leash?) Uncle Sam, the rest of us don't want to see it!

Just a note though:
The single player is very violently graphic in some parts and the game does certainly need that 18 age limit. So maybe have a play of it yourself before giving it as a Christmas present. Some parents may not be particularly happy with it!


Now whatever someone says about Call of Duty, the most appealing part of the game is the Multiplayer. So, let's see if this one's up to the job shall we?

Bit of a back story first though. I played Call of Duty 2, and thought it was fantastic; I stuck with the franchise, and got Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which although fun got a bit boring after a while. Modern Warfare 2 got skipped, no dedicated servers!? What!? Maybe they've learnt their lesson now though giving us dedicated servers again.

But one thing I'll never understand. Removal of key factors. Why cut the maximum number of players down to 18 compared to Modern Warfare? The game doesn't look graphically that different, so I don't believe it's anything to do with increased computer workload limiting the number of players. The player cut-down's also affected the gameplay more than thought, not only are there less players to "pwn" but with fewer people, the maps don't need to be as big. However, they seem to have downsized the maps a bit too much, especially for 18 players. This leads to a pretty cramped warfare environment. "Great!" I hear you say "Up close and personal with the enemy!" well yes, but it tends to procure itself with a swift "Spawn'n'Shoot" - Usually you're on the end of the "Shoot" part.

The maps are just too small to allow safe spawn zones. Whatever the distribution of players is, when spawning, especially in Team Deathmatch and Free for All modes (Although every game mode suffers), you will always be just around the corner from an enemy... Or as previously stated, you'll have spawned around the corner as someone's peeking around behind you about to say hello; and trust me, chocolates don't come in 7.62 calibre...

The kit build and personalisation is the same as previous titles, but souped up somewhat. You can:

- Kill people with Explosive Crossbows!
- Kill people with Ballistic Knives (Yeh... I've never heard of one either. It's essentially a jack in the box... But a sharp stabby thing pops out instead of "Jack")
- Kill people with a pack of ravenous dogs!
The works!

It sounds good fun and it is, it's another rendition of one of the most popular shooting franchises ever made! But just because the series has a pedigree, doesn't necessarily mean every installment will live up to expectations, which this one hasn't sadly. The gameplay issues are compounded by the...

Technical issues. The game is somewhat riddled with them. It can run like a legless dog on the highest end of systems, and perfectly well on sub-spec ones; it doesn't make sense. The largest problems are to do with frame rates and stuttering. Frame rates can drop to 3fps at random making the game unplayable, and most annoyingly it seems to happen every time you have the drop on someone. Leading to the inevitable exclamation of displease - Expletives are commonly implemented here. The stuttering and frame rate aren't the only problems though. Fatal errors are all too common as well, along with crash to desktops and from personal experience crashes that are so bad task manager can't even load up and the PC has to be manually restarted. It just wreaks of shoddy coding...

The game is in the patching process, which although good that they're taking action, it somewhat detracts from the point that they've an unfinished game. If the game is going to be a straight-up console port, at least make sure it works before releasing it guys. You've got more people willing to partake in a public BETA than most other developers, so why not use them? Save yourself time in the future, and keep the public happy!

All doom and gloom so far eh? But here's a ray of sunshine to brighten your day, they've brought in a bit of innovation! Normal game modes run in tandem with a new bunch of "Wager Matches" - Stick ya money where your mouth is punk!

Buy In. Game On. Pay Out.

Come in the Top 3 of any Wager Match, get your 500 Credit bet plus a bit extra.
  • Sticks and Stones - Crossbows, Ballistic Knives and Tomahawks Galore!
  • One in the Chamber - 1 Bullet to kill your oponents. Kill 'em, nick his bullet, kill more. Kapisch?
  • Gun Game - Start with a handgun, and with each consecutive kill, gain the next gun in the chain. Complete the chain first and win!
  • Sharpshooter - Weapons swap every 45seconds. Every kill gets the player a perk. More kills, more perks, more points!
Nice little break from the norm I think you'll agree; and I can tell you, it doesn't half get the adrenaline going. As well as you doing the optimistic "Look around the corner" when it's you shifting your head. Useful when looking at a 2D screen I think you'll agree...

You'll find the multiplayer frustrating at times, especially with the current spawn and performance issues, but I can promise you you'll find some sort of satisfaction out of it. Got a favourite kill you'd like to relive and revel in your own awesomesauce? There's a theatre mode of recent games for you to watch, download, and save snippets from. And for those arty types, there's a massive gallery of pictures to create your own personal Player Card to show off!

The game has massive potential even though I've down written it in many parts. Sort the spawning out, and the performance issues, and you're onto a winner. Until the bugs are ironed out, I'd suggest stick it out a bit longer before buying it. Don't buy it now and become bitter with the bugs; give it a bit of time and enjoy it for what it should be like.

One last game flaw to end on though. Cynic I am. Anyone who's played it will be with me on this one. What's with the knifing?
Enemy player hits V (Knife button) and their arm seems to fly at hypersonic speed, such bending space-time, that their arms elongate by a good 3 feet and skewer you like a kebab from across the room! Eh!? We're not playing against Orangutans here!

[Score: 80/100]

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