Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare will live forever in my heart as the best time
I’ve ever spent online with friends shooting other groups of friends in the
face. Oh, and the campaign was pretty decent too. Really, that’s why I’m
interested in the franchise. From the very beginning, it’s all been about the
characters, the journey, and the fun to be had making it to the end. They may be
disjointed and full of some truly abysmal plot holes, but I just enjoy tearing
through war like it’s my business.
Unfortunately, World at War and
Modern Warfare 2 didn’t exactly light my
fire. With the announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops and Treyarch’s turn to
take the wheel again, I was hopeful that the underappreciated company would
learn from Infinity Ward’s unnecessary haughtiness and knock them off their high
horse. After completing Black Ops’ ADD-laden campaign, I am pleased with
what I’ve seen, and more optimistic for the future of the franchise, that is, if Treyarch could just take the wheel once and for all. At least they know they’re
playing second-fiddle to the bros of the highly overrated “big dogs” Infinity
Ward. And you know what? They’re cool with that. If they keep on delivering big
on their promises, I will be too.
You step into the shoes of one Alex Mason (Avatar's Sam Worthington), being interrogated throughout the
entire length of the game. The numbers…they haunt him. What do they mean? Why
are there numbers constantly running through his head? And why is he so fixated
on Viktor Reznov? What is this obsession he harbors for the Russian legend?
These are the questions you’ll undoubtedly be asking as you make your way
through the extremely punctuate campaign (we’re talking 6 to 8 hours if you
really stretch it), strapped to a chair, surrounded by TVs, equipment, and the
harsh lights from the room outside your location.
These segments are interlaced between the seemingly random set-pieces you will
navigate for each mission. You won’t always be playing as Mason, but as he is
the instrumental and most influential character of the game, you will be for a
good 90% of the time. Supporting characters like Hudson and Woods offer
interesting, if not clichéd back story to this black op initiative, where facts
are as obscure as a polite player on Xbox Live.
Because the interrogators are attempting to glean pertinent information from
missions and operations lodged within Mason’s brain for an ultimate purpose
(revealed later on in the game), you will be skipping from time period to time
period, spending as little as a half hour in each war, location, and memory. In
this, it’s a little reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, except these different
times (Vietnam War, prison in Vorkuta, “present-day”) never join together to
form a cohesive whole. And I never thought I’d say this, but I like it that way.
Previously, I would find myself cursing all the time I would spend in one boring location, but as Black Ops constantly changes scenery, it also kept my
attention in ways that only constant refreshment of the narrative location can.
One moment you’re attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro, and the next, you’re
in a limo on your way to the Pentagon. It makes sense when you step back and
evaluate the plot you’re being fed, but I felt this bite-sized storytelling
finally made a Call of Duty game perfect for picking up, playing for a few
minutes, and putting down again when time didn’t permit the completion of
another level. I’m pressed for time, and I find it hard to concentrate when I
must push through the same bland woods and slate-grey surfaces one second more.
It felt almost like playing through a series of Call of Duty vignettes, and it
Speaking of colors, I got the sense that this was possibly the most
“colorful” entry in the series, in every meaning of the word. Not only did
vibrant sunsets, purple smoke, lush greenery, and the sterile clean of the
Pentagon immediately grab my attention, but the variety of vehicles available to
command was appreciated as well. A helicopter, Blackbird, boat…you name it, you
can take control. I realize this isn’t exactly a first, but they kept things
from becoming too stale after being forced to hide behind cover for too long.
And I'll never forget swaggering down the river, blowing up Vietnamese forces
and unfortunate people as “Sympathy for the Devil” blared over explosions,
screams, and chatter from my comrades. It was some strange stuff, but also very
raw and powerful. I was glued to my screen. Oddly enough, one thing that really grabbed my attention was the fact that a 2011 Jeep
Wrangler was rolling
around back in the 1960s. I know there’s a partnership going on there, guys, but
come on. Really?
Aside from some of the bizarre visuals and decadent aural treats of songs
from the period (“Fortunate Son” included), I found myself drawn to the
trademark quickness and brutality of Treyarch’s offerings. This is a graphic
game, through and through, and will certainly open your eyes - however small - to the brutalities of war, no matter how glamorized and beefed-up it may be to
sell more copies. Black Ops doesn’t need a pointless controversy like “No Russian” to tell an intense and compelling (very conspiracy
theory-laden) story. It just needs shots through the head, brain bits flying
through the air, brutal blows, and shocking deaths
before your eyes. When it grabs your attention, it holds you there, and you keep
playing to see how things will unfold. Unfortunately, the loose ends are tied up
a little more neatly than I would have wanted, but for what it is, I thoroughly
enjoyed this story.
Beyond the campaign, you’re introduced to your first taste of the favorite
mode seen in World at War, Zombies. I won’t spoil the surprise, but if
you haven’t sneaked a peek at the mode from the game’s main menu, then a
very…presidential adventure awaits upon completion of the campaign. Beyond that,
you can play the classic game you know and love with new maps and new reasons to
fall in love all over again, like a top-down retro-styled shooter found via
messing with the computer in the interrogation room. This computer is home to a
ton of fun little Easter eggs, and it’s a mini-game in itself to try out
different passwords, DOS commands, and keywords to see what you can find next,
including the full version of the classic text adventure Zork!
Between the campaign and the extra zombie goodies, I almost forgot to mention
that, of course, there are a multitude of multiplayer modes to partake in with
friends. Just kidding. How could I forget? Gamers will always clamor for
formidable multiplayer in a Call of Duty game.
If you’re a Call of Duty vet, you’ll find enough new components here to get
excited about beyond simply some new perks and maps to explore. And the most
notable addition of which are wager matches, which you can win and bet a new
in-game currency from. Just like you would automatically earn new weapons and
whatnot upon ranking up and earning XP, you now have the option to purchase the
new weapon with your accumulated COD points. You can also buy new perks,
killstreaks, weapon attachments, and all the rest of the standard issue supplies
you’ll need for kicking butt and taking names from some kid overseas. You can
now outfit yourself to your liking, customize your reticule, player card, camo,
etc. There are plenty of new selections available to get you looking more like
you’d prefer, and as an avatar junkie, I know I appreciate it.
It’s all very familiar, but has a much “tighter” feel to it, if you can get
partied up and stay that way. Seems as though there are some kinks to work out,
but not on the grandiose scale of Modern Warfare 2, not just yet…you’ll rank up
with enough points after matches, yadda yadda yadda. Gamers looking for friendly
matches of Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, etc., look no further,
Treyarch’s got you covered, and how.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is an often erratic, but still enjoyable little package. Its
explosive, conspiracy theorist-laden campaign feels like something new for
both the series and fans to get used to, even with silly inconsistencies such as
Jeeps and weapons that don’t belong in the period it takes place in. Yet, it’s
so fast-paced and action-packed that you probably won't mind such anachronisms
as its a complete thrill ride through and through. While
it may take itself a bit too
seriously at times, I think Treyarch has more than earned their time in the
spotlight with this tightened, feature-packed Call of Duty, and I’m hoping they
have their time to shine once again in the very near future, as long as they
don’t let it go to their heads.