Black Ops Review
What saves Black Ops’ singleplayer campaign from falling apart into a nasty, ugly mess is partly the moment-to-moment fun of killing bad guys (which is smooth enough to survive the bloat of the narrative) and partly the sheer quantity of tricks that Black Ops has up its sleeve. It only took us five hours to complete Black Ops, but it felt far longer (in a good way) due to the marvellous variety of settings and ideas.
It’s here that Black Ops clearly betters Modern Warfare 2
, by providing a diverse range of battlefields and unique mechanics rather than just some snow and desert levels interspersed with brief city stints. Black Ops simply refuses to commit to a single theatre of violence; there are battles in tropical trenches, frozen tundra, barren wastelands and across night-blanketed rooftops. Mason and Co. fight on land, on water, in the air and beneath the oceans - the constant movement from one to another is enough to partly compensate for the enormous plot holes and occasional dud levels.
Then there’s the multiplayer portion, obviously. It’s impossible to judge any multiplayer component as certainly as singleplayer campaigns, as even terrible titles can be saved by playing with the right people (and vice versa). Still, our general impressions are positive, if not profoundly so.
Don't let Castro confuse you, the first mission is dross
Cosmetic changes abound, such as the switch away from formalised experience to a more direct COD Point system, but there are whole new modes too – the biggest of which are Wager Matches. Here players can gamble accrued points in some wonderfully anarchic match types, our favourite of which is ‘One in the Chamber’. Here all players start with one bullet, three lives and a knife, gaining an extra round for each kill and creating some brutally tense battles.
Other modes are equally inventive, such as ‘Sharpshooter’, where all weapons change randomly every 45 seconds and players earn perks for killing enemies.
Multiplayer level design is sadly not quite as polished as Modern Warfare veterans might expect and, while there’s a variety of map sizes and settings, a few are notably lacking in polish. Multiplayer battles can quickly start to feel confused and bewildering due to the number of angles that players are forced to defend from, though changes to the Killstreak system means you don’t need to fear death from above quite so regularly.
The returning Zombie mode is the final feather in Black Ops’ hat, though that unfortunately suffers from level issues too as players team up into groups of four to hold off advancing undead hordes. It’s not the map designs that are the problem here, but simply the fact that there’s only three levels to play through. Individual levels are actually quite expansive and brimming with secrets and tactical possibility, but the cynic in us bitterly worries that Activision may have only shipped three levels as part of a plan to sell us more later, for a premium.
Even though it only has three levels to it at the moment though, the Zombie mode is still our favourite element of the Black Ops package, and probably what will keep us returning to the game for the foreseeable future. The singleplayer is good for
one playthrough before the brutish action movie vibe wears out and while the multiplayer side is definitely fun, it still struggles to stand out in a market flooded with COD clones. The Zombie mode, on the other hand, feels like a breath of fresh air, proving witty, scary, exciting and challenging in alternating strokes, while also providing huge replay value whether approached by solo players or four-man teams.
Ultimately though, even the worthy Zombie mode isn’t enough to elevate Black Ops to true greatness, though it does push our opinion more towards the positive by masking otherwise obvious flaws. It’s a shame that those issues still remain, but Black Ops does enough right to (just) win an overall nod of approval despite them.