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'Black Ops' eclipsed by 'Modern Warfare'

Dec 6, 2010

By John Powell - G4 Canada

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COD Black OpsLike a vigilant, hardened soldier, the 'Call of Duty' franchise has marched ahead heedless of the perils in its way. Each installment has been better than the last, for the most part.

Now, there is 'Black Ops'. The push forward is over. Knocked back on its heels, the franchise is pinned down from - of all things - friendly fire.

It is not the story that's suppressed 'Black Ops'. It is a tad bit tangled but it serves its purpose even if it steals its major twist from a Brad Pitt movie. As special operations agent Alex Mason you find yourself strapped to a chair in an interrogation room as video monitors play in front of you and veiled figures in a control room pepper you with questions about your past missions and a very strange number code nobody can crack, except maybe you.

As your memory is nudged, you relive those Cold War and beyond missions in which you wage war against the Communists and their sympathizers. Your involvement in the Bay of Pigs mission to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro, a tour of Viet Nam and an incarceration in a Russian gulag leads into an off the wall plot regarding the production of a deadly nerve gas and the development, deployment of Russian sleeper agents.

COD Black OpsIt is like Tom Clancy meets Richard Matheson or something.

The missions themselves are a bit of a letdown. There just isn't the diversity one has come to expect from the 'Call of Duty' series. More often than not, you will be facing group gun battles in really close quarters. The free roaming, free running, large map battles are sporadic. It is during those firefights you will see the major, irreparable defect in 'Black Ops', a defect that does spoil the overall experience.

In an interview I did a few years ago with 'Gears of War' architect Clifford 'Cliffy B' Bleszinski, he expressed his disappointment as a gamer and a developer, with how some games and their checkpoints, scenarios beat you down, forcing you to replay the same level over and over again. Having learned his lessons as a player, the difference between challenging and frustrating a player is always foremost in his mind.

The 'Black Ops' campaign is spectacularly exasperating. In a matter of seconds, you will die, die and die again. You will perish so many freaking times that even veteran FPS gamers will begin to think their controllers have gone screwy or they selected the wrong difficulty setting. Nope. It is not you who has the problem. It is the developer Treyarch and the way they programmed the enemy, friendly AI and how they set-up the skirmishes.

COD Black OpsThere hasn't been this level of dopey, incompetent AI partners since 'Resident Evil 5' when Sheva would steal all your ammo, weapons and always put herself in harm's way. If you are not operating a vehicle of some sort in 'Black Ops' you will be accompanied by a teammate or teammates on every single mission. Evidently, your superiors just don't trust you even though you fired the bullet that splattered Castro's brains, well, sort of. Wherever you go, a babysitter will be right there beside you.

If that "babysitter" really assisted you in taking out your enemies, that would be fine but the AI partners in 'Call of Duty' do not do anything to help you. In front and behind, they block your way making it very hard to maneuver through doorways or hallways. Since the game won't let you fire when the AI partners are in your line of sight (which they are very often) you will miss shot after shot. Perhaps worst of all, if the AI rushes ahead of you, they will likely take the best cover, leaving you to scramble for shelter.

If all that wasn't a brutal enough kick in the head, while your squad fires blanks and bumble into you, the enemy AI will ignore your teammates and focus all of their attacks on you. The enemy doesn't even bother to flank you either. They will rush you kamikaze style. Treyarch "cheats" often on the placement and replacement of the enemy troops too. Sometimes, black-suited foes will hide out in black settings or backgrounds making it almost impossible to target them from a distance. Enemies are also placed in such a way that you cannot possibly defend yourself, especially since there is no "radar". They will jump out in front of doorways when you are about to walk through or shoot you from catwalks that you cannot see or target from outside. Treyarch giving their AI the edge in this way is just a bunch of ever-loving crap.

COD Black OpsPart of the fun of any FPS is the ability to work your way through any combat scenario you are faced with by outfoxing the AI. You might use a sniper rifle to pick enemies off from a distance before closing in or take the gunners out of the equation before playing cleanup with the assorted underlings and grunts. Treyarch makes that almost impossible in 'Black Ops'. They have turned the clock back to 1990 by having the game engine replace or respawn any troops eliminated that way. Until you "trip" the checkpoint, you are just wasting your rounds by working ahead.

In contrast to the Campaign, the multiplayer modes are as good as they ever have been. Ideas are snagged from 'Modern Warefare' to improve things and the addition of experience points ratchets up a player's level of commitment as you can bet those points on matches. The newly expanded Zombie mode where you fight to survive and keep the undead at bay is made even better.

Whether 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' succeeds or fails really depends on what you want to get out of it. If you are not a multiplayer fanatic, strictly spending most of your time playing the campaign, you are probably going to feel let down by the inconsistencies and failings. If you like a mix of both or are just a multiplayer, 'Black Ops' will seem like a bargain. No matter which side you stand on though, 'Black Ops' doesn't compare to 'Modern Warfare'.


COD Black Ops'Call of Duty: Black Ops'
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site:

Rating: 7 / 10



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