Video game review – Call of Duty: Black Ops

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Call of Duty: Black Ops
Activision
XBox 360/PS3/PC/DS

I tried to go into playing Call of Duty: Black Ops with an open mind. Its six predecessors were offensive to varying degrees, but I still wanted to come away from this game not feeling like shit for having played it.

Too bad that Black Ops sucks for almost the exact same reasons as every other Call of Duty game before it.

You play as Alexander Mason, a covert military specialist assigned to do the government’s dirty work. At the outset of the game, you’ve been captured by an anonymous organization and tortured for information about the covert operations that you’ve been a part of throughout the Cold War. Except the player – and therefore Mason – can die in his memories, and that doesn’t make any sense.

That’s not the only problem with the plot of the game. The various Cold War locales are all extremely stereotypical. The game also includes awful John F. Kennedy and Robert McNamara mannequins to give itself some semblance of verisimilitude, but the script’s over-reliance on poorly written characters and explosions makes Black Ops feel too much like an action movie.

Black Ops’ greatest failure is it has what I’m going to call the “Gamer as God” syndrome. Real soldiers don’t replenish health and heal wounds simply by sitting still, can’t carry over 1000 rounds on their person with no problem, and have no flashing objective indicators in their eyesight. These might be genre conventions, but in the world of Call of Duty they don’t make any sense.

You don’t play Black Ops so much as get pulled along through it. It feels like the developers are trying to jam action movie conventions into video games. Unfortunately, that’s not good game design.

That said, I guarantee you that most people won’t pick up Black Ops for the story – it’s always been about the multiplayer. Besides a few dropped games, the online action – and verbal harassment – worked just fine. There are new gameplay modes and, in the biggest change-up, “COD points,” which can be used to purchase new weapons, outfits, and skills online, basically creating a merit system for good performance.

But zombie mode, which returns from World at War, didn’t make sense in a World War II game, and it doesn’t make sense here. I’m sure this was meant to add some levity to the game, but it comes off as being incredibly offensive in a game that for the most part tries to be serious about war, even if it fails on so many counts.

It’s offensive that a game should be praised simply because its mechanics work. The production values are out of this world, and all of the physics and guns play well and somewhat realistically, but there are so many conceptual flaws that this game ultimately feels hollow and cynical.

Matthew Blackwell
Technical Coordinator

 

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