Posts Tagged ‘ Game Play Mode: Campaign ’

Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops [2/4]

Note: This review only covers the single player campaign mode.

Black Ops is constructed from a collection of set pieces strung together by a character driven plot centering around operative Alex Mason.  Alex is being held captive by an unnamed force that is trying to coerce him into recalling what has happened to him over the past seven years.  Each memory he flashes back to becomes a level that the player must re-enact before returning to the interrogation, where the story continues.  Set in the 1960’s, Mason memories shift from Cuba, to the gulags, Vietnam, and many other Cold War locations.  The mortar binding all of these events together, in case it wasn’t clear, is shooting guns at people who are doing the same at you.  The world is walking on egg shells, and Mason has found himself in a situation that could tip the Cold War in favor of the Soviet Union.  Black Ops doesn’t attempt to construct an alternative history per se, but it suggests to the audience that the game’s events could plausibly occur without the general public ever knowing.  This premise is stretched to its limits, and may prove to be too much for some players to continue buying into it.  Then again, most audiences aren’t playing Black Ops to engage in an interactive tour of history.  This approach allows the game to focus squarely on what the events mean for Mason as a character, as opposed to Modern Warfare’s set pieces being the main events in and of themselves.

The game is polished to a sheen.  No detail is left out; the textures, lighting, and animation are all crafted well enough that the player won’t be seeing scenes and characters as polygons and pixels, but as walking portraits.  And with the absurdities of the plot set aside, many of these levels are almost life-sized dioramas (or at least appear convincing enough to be) straight out of the era.  The player doesn’t need to think twice before becoming immersed in the scenes.  The campaign offers solid first person shooter game play mechanics.  Running and gunning feels as polished as the graphics do.  Lining up shots and picking your targets feels smooth and provides excellent feedback.  And there’s a suitable variety of weapons to meet every gamer’s taste.  The fundamentals of Black Ops couldn’t be any more solid.  But fundamentals don’t make a game, and the experience must arc or progress in some meaningful way.  Alex Mason serves as the catalyst to this end, but his character doesn’t provide enough depth for the audience to explore.  Nor do the levels offer a clear sense of differentiation beyond their appearances: snow level, jungle level, Russia level, etc.  Most of these locations end up blurring together as a slide show of backdrops for repeating the same level: move from Point A to Point B; shooting everything in between.

Black Ops’ Cold War backdrop ends up hindering the experience, as the player becomes just a second-hand witness (at times, a third-hand witness) to historic events.  It can be pretty incredible to watch as the Tet Offensive unfolds, but too often it can feel like the game is just recreating scenes from famous movies, at points, it’s practically stealing from the source material it references.  What it boils down to is that Alex Mason has little impact on what is going on around him, and the player has little invested or put at risk as part of his conflict.  By the end, Mason’s role in the story is reduced to a more conventional America (good guys) vs. Russia (bad guys) plot.  And since it’s pretty obvious that (spoiler alert!) the Soviet Union lost the Cold War and there is little doubt that there will be any earth shattering events at that level.  The plot’s strength lies in Alex Mason’s story which, while it’s deeper than for past Call of Duty protagonists, just fails to be all that compelling.  The series’ transition from sheer spectacle, to character driven plot is awkward and somewhat haphazard.  The campaign looks great, and plays well enough, but you aren’t going to find yourself getting lost in the experience.  If you’re playing Black Ops, you’re probably playing for the multi-player mode, which has significantly more to offer.  The campaign serves as a good place to get your bearings and learn how to play the game.

Rating: 2/4

See also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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