When I set out to review Call of Duty: Black Ops for 8BitDad, my initial thought was – why review this game? People know that it’s not kid-friendly, so does it really have a place on this website?
Sure it does. I think that you dudes (and dudettes too, I guess) already know exactly how inappropriate this game is for your kids – but you might also want to know how awesome Black Ops can be for YOU, a responsible adult that only plays games late into the night when your kid is asleep. It also should be some indication of quality that it took me two weeks to put down the controller so that I could do this write-up.
So, let’s get it out of the way right now: highly recommended for you…obviously inappropriate for your kid. Unless your kid is 18 or over.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is broken up into three completely different experiences: single player Campaign, Multiplayer and Zombie Modes. All three are similar, in that they have you blow peoples’ heads off. Well, I guess that depends on if you consider zombies “people”. I took a class on this in college, believe it or not; I won’t go into it. Let’s just say that all three Black Ops modes let you kill or re-kill human-ish people-things.
The campaign is a turbulent ride through the often-ethically-disputed even-more-often-hyphenated Cold-War era. You’ll be playing (mostly) the role of Alex Mason, a soldier that’s been brainwashed and can’t exactly recount history as his interrogators would like. There’s some pretty cool plot twists – cooler than the usual “uh oh, your boss set you up and sent you on a suicide mission” type stuff we’ve seen in past CoD games (but don’t think that your boss won’t set you up, this is still the CoD series). The single player experience is fortunately only marred by two factors – the length of the story, which for the action genre, is never long enough, and the game’s AI. God bless NPCs (Non-Player Characters) for making you feel like a powerful juggernaut – shooting into trees, tanks, buildings, and rarely at each other. It does, however, make them look buggy when they trickily let you do all the dirty work. Stupid AI is a symptom of the FPS disease; how else do you let a player do all the killing and actions to move the story forward, while still offering you NPCs to make you feel like it’s a team effort? Also, I ran into some other bugs in the game – a minor clipping bug where I was able to walk through desks and other objects, and a MAJOR bug where one of my squadmates didn’t spawn when he should have and I couldn’t progress the story. I ultimately had to start the level over – which only took another couple of minutes to play through…and the bug did not repeat.
Aside from the dog-stupid AI and short story, Black Ops has grandiose FPS gameplay with a couple of new mechanics. Vehicular action sequences like riding a motorcycle or flying a Blackbird (and commanding ground troops in a hybrid RTS/FPS section) build upon CoD: Modern Warfare 1 & 2’s groundwork. But some of it feels a tad forced; why did I need to fire up the engines on the Blackbird or pull back on the stick to take off (you can actually not pull back on the stick and the CPU will just do it for you). At other points in the game, you do these kinds of mundane button presses, I can only imagine, because Treyarch didn’t want you sitting on your hands while you watched a cutscene. It’s unnecessary.
Nerd tangent – while you enjoyed more of a “wandering openness” in a lot of the levels in Modern Warfare 2, you will be a little more herded in Black Ops. Levels tended to have one route, one funneling direction, etc. You were kind of free to decide in MW2 if you were going to sneak up the right or left side of a level, then it’d funnel you into the next area; in Black Ops, there’s generally no branching routes or open areas where you can choose your path in getting to the next waypoint. This is also a symptom of the game’s environments – many of them take place in claustrophobic jungles or hallways of military facilities, so maybe it’s not so bad.
But when you’re playing – you’re really cornhole-deep in action. Whether you’re sneaking in shadows to avoid a patrol, or flying a helicopter down-river blowing up military compounds, Black Ops will have you on the edge of your seat. For history buffs, Black Ops may be more satisfying of a game to play than the Modern Warfare series – in MW, you played out the back-and-forth events of a fictional war that culminated with an invasion of the United States and had you fighting literally through the White House. In Black Ops, the story itself is fictional, but the events and places you interact with – the Tet Offensive, Bay of Pigs, Ho Chi Minh Trail, even attempted assassinations of Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy. So, even if the game isn’t 100% historically accurate, Black Ops does a good job of one-upping a completely-fictional war.
Even some of the music you’ll hear in-game is pulled straight from radio stations of the time – the most prominent being the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”. It’s just a nice touch to get a licensed song in a place that makes sense. Speaking of the audio, you’ll be listening to actors such as Ed Harris, Gary Oldman and Ice Cube voicing characters in the game.
All-in-all, the single player campaign was entertaining, and because of that – too short. If not for the couple of bugs I ran into, it was a pretty perfect experience. Oh, and – not at all for your kids. More on that at the end of the article, lest you think I forgot why I’m writing this review.