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Call of Duty: Black Ops – The Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops – The Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops looks as though it may go on to become one of the best-selling games of all-time. This is a worrying statistic.

Black Ops is not a disaster, it’s not the searing exposé of Treyarch’s failings as a developer many thought it would be. It’s well put together, slick and at times accomplished. The core package offers you a 6 hour single -player campaign, Easter eggs, zombie modes and the latest instalment of the ever popular multi-player component. But there is nothing exceptional about it. If the Modus Operandi of the early COD games was excellence, immersion and realism, then the MO for Black Ops was to insert enough explosions and cool shit like people bursting through windows on a grappling rope to make a bad-ass trailer. Consequently the single-player feels a bit like a Michael Bay film, with eye-candy, over the top set pieces and about as much depth as a toddlers paddling pool. The same criticism could perhaps be levelled at last years Modern Warfare 2, where a wilfully controversial level did much to mask the lack of any real substance. One of the main problems is that the core game, the shooting section has remained exactly the same for several years now. So much effort has gone into the set-pieces and even the story, that the actual first-person shooter section of the game is beginning to feel dated and neglected. Instead of being the glue that holds the package together, the shooting is beginning to feel like the dull bit between the set pieces that has to be endured.

The early game has enough variety that you may not immediately notice these problems, you’ll find yourself throughout the course of the game doing things like escaping a prison on a motorbike, piloting a heavily armed riverboat through the treacherous waters of Laos or flying a chopper around blowing up oil pipes. These sections don’t last long, which is probably a good thing as they are more about spectacle and the thrill of doing something new than actually being fun and interesting in their own right. But the very last part of the game is back to basics – run, take cover, shoot the bad guys, proceed ten meters, rinse, repeat. It’s here you’ll notice just how dumb the AI is, never surprising, never being much more than slightly an annoying roadblock that must be cleared before you proceed. You’ll get plenty of different tools to dispose of them, but each is as good as the next and the combat lacks any urgency or tension. Even the obligatory stealth scene in the game feels like little more than an interactive cut-scene. The story is marginally better than recent entries in the series, using a more personal tale as an excuse to visit various cold-war locations and blow them up. There are recurring numbers, crazed Russians, jail-breaks, torture scenes and a big twist at the end that is nicely foreshadowed, if a little obvious. All in all the story gives you enough incentive to keep playing through the campaign, but it would be nice if the game-play was reward enough.

The multi-player is probably the strongest part of the game offering a number of tweaks from Modern Warfare 2 that make it a worthwhile proposition. If you ignore the zombie mode (you should, it’s rubbish), what you’ll find is a mode filled with options for how you want to play, how you want to look and what kinds of games you’ll want to take part in. Choice, customization and one of the best multi-player arcade shooters out there make for a satisfying and long-lasting experience. With 15 levels of prestige to be attained, there’s always something willing you to keep on playing and there’s always something to unlock. Although the mode initially released on the PC with a horrible CPU issue that caused masses of lag, the problem seems to have been patched out now, although some people with lesser PC’s may still want to give it a miss. Guns have proper recoil now, kill-streak rewards are slightly harder to earn and you can slap a picture of a unicorn on your gun if you so choose, a feature sorely lacking from most online shooters. Perhaps the best new feature  of the multi-player is the inclusion of wager matches. Forget the pretence of playing to earn cash, you’ll earn enough through normal play that it will never be a great concern. Wager matches are essentially mods to the core game that ignore your level, weapons and perks and place everyone on a level playing field, each with some fun conditions. My personal favourite is Sticks and Stones, which gives everyone a crossbow with explosive bolts, a tomahawk and the ballistic knife. You earn points through getting kills with these weapons, the person with the most points at the end of the game wins. The twist is that tomahawk kills, hard to pull off but immensely satisfying cause your opponent to lose all their points. The game becomes a tense show-down where skill and timing is everything, you can’t camp or sit still for a moment in case someone comes along and sticks a tomahawk in your vertebrae. The Multi-player segment of Black Ops can be a genuinely good time, but it will still feel overly familiar to players of the last three Call of Duty installments, if you’re not interested in more of the same with new maps and weapons and gamemodes, this isn’t for you.

The Call of Duty series seems to be at a point now where it has transcended criticism. Activision are not a particularly popular company. Their CEO is something of an internet hate figure . Yet this seems to have little impact on their record-smashing sales figures even with a series that runs the risk of becoming mired in mediocrity. The worry is the message Activision and other publishers must be getting from those figures. A yearly release, churned out with a good trailer and a celeb-studded launch party are fast becoming more important than a game being any good. Black Ops is not a bad game, but it’s not the greatest of all-time. But why strive for greatness when middle of the road reaps better rewards? If you don’t care for multi-player you’d be better served avoiding Black Ops, it will leave you reminiscing of the days when the Call of Duty name was a seal of quality.

Cry of Disappointment
Modern Warfare 2 – The Verdict

Modern Warfare 2 – The Verdict

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is The X Factor of the world of video games. It’s not all that clever, it has a component that divides public opinion masterminded by a savvy businessman who needs to work on his people skills, and is in no way going to move their respective genre forward. Yet it’s very polished, is a great spectacle and is still going to get a massive audience no matter what the critics will say about it. So in a lot of ways, it’s a pretty tricky game to review.

The game is divided into three sections, the Single Player, Multiplayer and Special Ops mode. The first of these picks up from where the single player mode of the first Modern Warfare left off – the story following six months later – and par for the course for the CoD games, you are placed into the boots of various soldiers throughout the warfare of the title. Along with other surprises, the player character from the first game, Soap McTavish returns as one of your commanders, and you follow a very convoluted plot which plays on the fears of the US being invaded. It’s very much on the 24 version of ‘realism’ with plenty of ‘Did you see that?’ moments. Of course there’s your obligatory stealth section, and the on rails shooter bit which are expertly executed and polished to a gleam, a snowmobile chase being a particular highlight.

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The thing about the single player is, it’s all very well and good and showy, but it’s firstly incredibly short. You’ll probably scream through the campaign in about 4 or 5 hours, and it’s only certain annoyances with higher difficulties that may cause you to gain a few minutes. Fair play to Infinity Ward, they’ve made the enemies slightly less finite by adding the possibility of them spawning behind you, but it sure is frustrating if you’re taking your time to get somewhere, get into cover only for someone to spawn behind you and kill you while you’re taking a breather. Another massive annoyance for me was the fact that – especially in the latter half of the game, it plays out almost exactly like Modern Warfare 1 did, but with the locations changed. Perhaps I’m getting a bit full of myself, but with the last game it felt as if the scriptwriters were in control. This time it feels a lot more like the scriptwriters were just trying to think of a different plot to tie the levels together, which is a massive shame. And the infamous No Russian level literally adds nothing but controversy – I would say more but it’s pretty much been extensively covered elsewhere.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad game. Special Ops and Multiplayer are the real heart and indeed meat of the game, and are probably where you’re going to get the most enjoyment. Spec Ops mode can be played solo or co-operatively, and challenges you with a series of missions ever increasing in difficulty in order to earn stars and unlock more missions. It’s certainly addictive for those with the obsessive tendencies, and the missions picked are certainly the best ones from the single player game – with a few twists. But if you really like showing off your skills, multiplayer is certainly where it’s at.

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Like the last game, MW2 comes with a persistent stats system. As you play more, you gain experience points which in turn helps you unlock new weapons, perks and entirely aesthetic – but also entirely awesome – badges and titles for your ‘callsign’. The popularity of hats and unlocks in games like TF2 is taken to it’s natural evolution here, and there’s something deeply compulsive about completing the massive list of challenges on offer. Covering all the game modes available – Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination – there’s literally something for everyone, and even the worst players can rack up the experience (you still get some even if you lose) and still complete challenges. The main advantage MW2’s multiplayer has over the first game is the amount of accessibility to all skill levels, there’s even Deathstreaks which give a perk to those players not doing as particularly well as others and customizable killstreaks so you can pick what you can aim for. The first Modern Warfare’s major problem came in the very best players would get enough kills for a devestating helicopter, which would then keep racking up the kills and usually resulting in the weaker players leaving as there was no chance for them to retaliate. The scales have been massively pushed in their favour now, as the randomly dropped bonuses in an airdrop package require far less kills and could contain rewards usually reserved for much better players. I cannot stress how much more accessible this has made the game for inept players like me.

As for negatives for the MP, well – here I was going to decry the lack of dedicated servers for the PC. It still is a massive shame that you’re unable to host true custom matches, with all the rules set how you want, disabling Killcams etc and the other benefits that dedicated servers provide. But to be quite honest I’ve not really had massively debilitating problems with IWNet. It does work – even if it’s claims of stopping cheaters are still dubious even to today – but functionality wise it at works on a broadband connection, and fairly well about 90% of the time. Be warned though, on the other 10% it’s incredibly irritating to see everybody lagging except the host. So yes, knock some marks off for the rather poor idea and thought processes behind it, but probably not as many as you’d think.

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So overall it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. If you’re only buying this for the single player, wait until it’s much – MUCH – cheaper. But if you want a deceptively addictive and engrossing multiplayer, and are willing to put up with rare technical issues, then Modern Warfare 2 does come recommended. But despite all of this if you wanted this game you’ve probably got it already, and like the viewing figures for The X Factor prove, it’s not budging from the top for a while.

A Pretty Bloody Good Game
No marks for originality, but what it does it does very well indeed