Another year rolls by and another dose of Call of Duty breaks a whole bunch of retail and entertainment records.
This year Treyarch has moved away from historic World Wars and delivered a more modernised and fanciful campaign, a multiplayer offering that uses the best of last year’s Modern Warfare 2, and rounded the package off with the inspired Zombie Mode. There are still a few irksome bugs and odd behaviours, but it is the package as a whole that delivers so very well. The overall presentation of the game ties in nicely with the narrative, but to be completely honest I lost interest in the story partway through. At heart it is a first-person shooter that perhaps does not need such a back story to keep me engaged.
The campaign spans the memories of Mason, an SOG Operative under interrogation, and each level is an exercise in plumbing his memories and experiences of active duty. The campaign begins in Cuba on a covert mission to assassinate Fidel Castro, follows Mason through his escape from a Russian prison, a stint in Vietnam and more. This results in a variety of environments, equipment and opportunities to kill a range of aggressors. Sadly, it also occasionally reminds the player of a few of Treyarch’s traits that can result in frustration.
Firstly the infinite respawning of enemies: it is worth noting that this does not happen constantly, but when it does happen it can almost be a game breaker. Having played through the campaign on Veteran difficulty, there are at least four checkpoints in the campaign where I was stuck far too long. It is as simple as this: by all means make a game hard, but do not treat the player to cheap tricks. Even now I still have nightmares about Vietnam.
The other main issue is the intellect of AI teammates. They will quite happily run straight past a few enemies to their next scripted position, leaving you to be haplessly gunned down again.
A game like this has a narrative to engage the player with his AI team, and ideally you should care about the men that are standing next to you when the bullets are flying. Look back to the Infinity Ward games: Captain Price is a legend and knowing he is accompanying you on a mission gives you a sense of comfort. In Black Ops the buddies on offer can be annoying on another scale. When I get killed by a seemingly stray ricochet, they can stand in the line of fire soaking up bullets while emptying their weapons and not hitting anybody. There are times when they will not move up to assist you unless you go that extra few yards, and those extra few yards will often cause your death before they become of any assistance.
Beyond these problems, and aside from the odd case of graphics clipping, the game is relatively stable. By the third level you will have experienced the usual mix of game modes we find in a modern day shooter. Some of these tricks do feel out of place and tend to drag the player out of the game; most notably vehicle sections often make a level feel rushed and extended by some instant, repetitive action.
Multiplayer is where most players will be seeking their rewards with this game, and rightly so. The online component is pretty much a tweaked and polished update of last year’s offering by Infinity Ward: there are improvements to local searching for better matches, changes to the perk system that have removed some of the more annoying load-outs, and the addition of a COD currency that is used to unlock weapons and attachments. This latter addition forces the player to think about their setup and plan their spend wisely. The game also has a training mode that will allow the player to play offline with bots, leveling up in parallel to the online persona and allowing some experimentation before taking the leap online.
The multiplayer maps are beautifully realised and well designed. They generally have enough room to move, and allow players freedom to experiment with their preferred roles and tactics. That said, the COD series will always be a run-and-gun exercise, and it is often the player with the itchiest trigger finger and fastest reload that comes out on top. If you want strategy, open environments and well-defined roles, then you should be keeping some Bad Company.
On top of the competitive modes Treyarch has followed up its inspired addition to World at War with the inclusion of Zombie Maps, along with a special treat for those who have completed the game. Teaming up with your friends to hold back Zombie hordes is great fun and can be a nice way to unwind after a tough multiplayer session. But wait, there’s more: try experimenting at the title screen and you might find a way to unlock a great single-player game that plays from an overhead perspective too!
Overall, it’s a good addition to the Call of Duty franchise and even with the campaign frustrations, again the online modes are the icing on the cake and will keep a lot of people very busy until the next. It’s a step up for Treyarch, and now that the bar has been raised it will be good to see what is served up next year