Call of Duty: Black Ops review »
FERDY CHRISTANT - NOV 22, 2010 (05:57:50 PM)
A few weeks ago, I asked the question "Will the best game in the world finally become playable?", referring to the much anticipated release of Call of duty: Black Ops, the successor to the awesome, yet troubled Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
I downloaded the game on the night of the release day, which was a thoroughly long wait due to the enormous bandwidth spike caused by gamers all over the world. Upon actually trying the game, I was frustrated as hell, as were many gamers. This had to be one of the worst PC game launches ever, a disgrace to the entire industry. The game basically was launched in an unplayable state. It wasn't just the lag in multiplayer, the game itself was full of obvious bugs that should have never passed the test phase, including broken menus (how can you screw that one up?), random crashes, a broken server browser, stuttering gameplay due to CPU spikes and no/inefficient GPU usage, and even errors in the reputation system: My online character needed minus(!) 133400 XP to go the next level, with a progress bar stretching the entire screen.
I wanted to write a crushing review, but decided to wait. All the forums are full of dissapointed gamers and such a review adds nothing. The situation has improved now. Some bugs are fixed now, the lag and availability problems are decreasing by the day and the team seems to be working hard on further updates. With trust that these issues will eventually be resolved, hereby my review on the actual game, minus the problems:
Graphics & sound
Given a good atmosphere and playability, the graphic quality of a game is not crucial to me, yet it should be said that it is at the level of WM2, not any better. This is a slight dissapointment given the new possibilities and the level of graphic quality illustrated in other games. The sound effects are weaker than in MW2, they are OK but lack any depth. Treyarch can learn a thing or two from Medal of Honor here. Like I said, this does not hinder the gameplay much.
I don't care too much about the singleplayer campaign but did try it for a few hours. It tells a nice story and has some fascinating action scenes but is way too scripted, more like a movie then a true game.
Back to multiplayer, the reason most people play this game. The good thing is that we have a server browser, where unlike MW2, you can choose a server of your favorite game mode and map, and of course the server closest to you (best ping). What's also great is that we have dedicated servers, where MW2 was entirely user-hosted. You can favorite servers and you can also play on unranked servers, which allows for fun mods. Another great advantage of dedicated servers is that cheaters and hackers can be kicked or banned.
I would like to add that the wait time in joining a server and between matches has been reduced drastically. There is also no host migration, less failed connections and less people leaving in the middle of a game.
A short ping and a minimal lag are a primary condition to play a multiplayer shooter. Since the launch, the lag problem has been improved a lot but it is still there, even on servers with the lowest ping (20ms). How does this affect gameplay? A simple example: On my screen, I ran into an enemy and fired three shots at point blank yet die. I then get to see the killcam which shows how he kills me through his point of view. On this cam you would expect to see me firing 3 shots before I die. Instead, you see the player firing whilst I did not fire at all. This is lag in action and will often leave you feeling robbed: you think you deserved the kill but the network decided differently, whilst it should have been my skill or lack thereof that decide.
On top of the network problem, there is also a slight control lag. It could be just a few ms but it feels the controls are less responsive than MW2.
New maps mean new stuff to learn. Without detailed knowledge of the maps you don't stand a chance in this game. There is a nice variety of maps which I am sure will be extended with paid packages. The out of the box maps differ greatly in size and openness, and all breathe the atmosphere of the cold war. Overall, I found the maps to be original yet quite small, even the largest map really is not that large. I like it that there are few sniper maps, because I hate snipers with a passion :)
Weapons, equipment, perks, customizations
The Call of Duty franchise is best known for its wide variety of weapons which can be customized into great detail. Black Ops further extends this feature. Again, there is plenty to choose from, yet the system works differently. You can still unlock weapons by leveling up, yet you need to actually buy weapons, attachments and such using COD points, a virtual money that you earn by playing the game or doing contracts. In practice it hardly matters, because you need to play the game often to level up anyway. COD points only force you to make more considerate choices.
Weapons can be customized more than before. You can design a player card that uniquely identifies you and stamp it on your gun. You can customize your face point, weapon camo, lens color and lens hit marker. There are now also hidden weapons, which only unlock after you get all the previous weapons.
There's some new interesting equipment and grenades that further enable tactical multiplayer gameplay. For example there is a mini camera which you can place anywhere to monitor an area. A jammer, that disables enemy equipment in a certain radius. A distractor, that simulates gun fire to atrract enemy attention, and much, much more.
Overall, the balance in weapon selection has been improved as well. For example, you can no longer select a shotgun as a secondary weapon on top of a powerful primary assault weapon. You also cannot combine a grenade launcher attachment (tuber) with certain other attachments, such as the red dot attachment. Instead of being able to combine all the best weapons, you are forced to make hard choices.
The Pro Perks are now made more exclusive, which is good. For example, you will not get the Marathon Pro perk, which allows for unlimited sprint, by just leveling up. You require 10 "First blood" achievements and 15 flag captures to win it.
Killstreaks are a much debated area of Call of Duty. In MW2, some of them were overpowered. Black Ops includes some awesome new killstreaks, including a radio controlled cart that you steer to an enemy and detonate and a rocket launcher of which you control the rocket. Killstreak kills do not lead to new killstreaks, which is good. Overall, the killstreaks are more original and more user-controlled, yet balance is again lacking. It only takes 3 kills to get the radio controlled cart, 2 kills if you have the hardened perk. In a typical team deathmatch these carts are all over the place because they are too easy to get, and too deadly to give away so soon.
Again, pretty much all air-based killstreaks are too powerful. Whilst there is an anti-air killstreak and you can choose perks that make you undetectable, they still ruin a lot of gameplay if you ask me. If you hate killstreaks with a passion, then you can play the hardcore game modes, which disables allmost everything except plain gunfire.
Despite this inbalance, other areas of balance are greatly improved. Quick scoping is no longer possible, as is the dive and shoot strategy.
New game modes
One of the best new features in Black Ops are the so-called Wager matches. You bet 500 COD points in joining the game and the best 3 (out of 6) will be "in the money", meaning you get paid out COD points. There is a game mode "One in the chamber", where all you get is a gun with one bullet and a knife. My absolute favorite is "Stick and Stones", where you get a crossbow, a melee and an axe. You earn points by killing other players and try to get to the top three (within a very limited time set of a few minutes, which puts a lot of pressure on it), yet you can lose it all (get bankrupted) when somebody hits you with an axe. It is a stressful adrenaline rush that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
As for the other game modes, Black Ops does things right by keeping all the good game modes of earlier games, including FFA, TDM, SAD, DOM, etc.
Despite some remaining lag problems, bugs and areas of slight inbalance, Black Ops is an insanely fun multiplayer shooter with enormous replayability due to the customizations, dedicated servers and fun new game modes. This is not a shooter that shines in graphics or realism, yet a shooter that tries to improve on the already awesome COD series with restored playability, new content and more tactical gameplay. Given the remaining problems I would not call this the best shooter just yet, but it certainly has the potention to become it.