User Reviews: Call of Duty: Black Ops PS3 User Review

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Call of Duty: Black Ops User Review

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Replay Value:



Overall Rating:       8.7



Online Gameplay:

Not Rated

Number Of Players:




Release Date:

November 10, 2010

DISCLAIMER: The Call of Duty series is arguably the most well-known and prolific entertainment property in the world. It has built this success primarily from the multiplayer portion of each game. Because of this latter fact, it is important to note here that nothing in this review pertains to the multiplayer aspect of the game. The experiences of the reviewer are purely those of the single player campaign, and as such, must be regarded in that manner.

Bias. Since I first signed up here at PSXE, I have been one of the most vocal opponents of the Call of Duty series. I have never made it a secret that I had not, until now, played one of them and my disdain for it came more from the practices of the publishing company Activision, the very nature of the First Person Shooter format and the unparalleled, and in my mind absurd, popularity of the series. It is important to make note of this going into this review, as I carry an immense prejudice against the franchise. I’m not sure of the reasons behind my initial dislike of the series, but it has only grown over time. I can’t deny that I am against this series. However, I will try my hardest to not let my preconceived notions bleed into this review. As always, I will strive to present it to you as accurately and honestly as I can.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is a thrill ride at breakneck speed from start to finish, depositing you, as the player character Alex Mason, in numerous combat zones around the world as part of plot that skilfully blends together historical fiction with context for these battles. The quick pace of the story is allowed by being set primarily in flashbacks. The reasoning behind this is that Mason has been captured by unknown persons and is being interrogated to discover what he knows. Alongside this is Mason’s personal quest of revenge. While the background for this is present, it’s altogether underwhelming. You never really connect with the hatred that he supposedly feels. While elements of the plot shine, particularly when it comes to historical context, it really comes across as an overpaced, garbled mess. The secondary characters are constant, for the most part, and this helps you to connect with them, but they have no real personality beyond the dumb soldier. This is to be expected, as the single player aspect of Call of Duty is not the main purpose, but it wouldn’t hurt to expand upon it. Overall, the story is certainly interesting, but fails to live up to what could have been achieved because of the heavy focus on quick action.

But that quick action is what the entirety of the game is based on. Outside of the cutscenes, there are almost no slower moments to break down that speed, and this can be considered a good thing, as it keeps you immersed in the gameplay. If you are forced to focus on it, then how can your attention be dragged away, and this opens my eyes to the possibility of addiction to the multiplayer segment, especially considering that you are facing off against real people, as opposed to pre-programmed automatons.

Speaking of that gameplay, it’s standard fare for shooters: primarily corridor-based combat against waves of enemies as you progress from one point to the next, which features a regenerative health system. The Call of Duty series popularised this format, and carries it on with this iteration. If you go in expecting this, you can’t really be disappointed, however it does break this up with some sections with verticality, some that place you in the driver’s seat, or manning the turret of a vehicle and others that have you guiding missiles to destroy objectives. Though each of these breaks is short, it helps in keeping the game feeling fresh for the duration.

Also helping with this is a massive number of weapons to choose from, though many of them seem to be little more than skin changes, and are only available in certain sequences. However, there are automatic weapons, semiautomatics, pistols, revolvers, shotguns and grenade launchers, among even rarer finds. You may think that this would allow you to have any loadout that you desire, but that is far from the truth. You will almost never run across more than four different weapons (not including scope modifications) in any one level. I feel this brings the game down somewhat, as you aren’t allowed free reign over what you want to use. Of course, balancing the gameplay is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of player freedom and enjoyment. Also, you cannot carry more than two weapons at a time, which is standard fare nowadays.

The AI is difficult to gauge. Some of it seems quite good, but then you run across a flaw that makes it all seem so stupid. You see, you are almost always accompanied by team members, and while this isn’t bad, they will sometimes fall behind as you are being siphoned along a corridor, forcing you to take on the enemy swarms alone. This wouldn’t really be a problem, except that it seemed to me that they were on a timer. They had to spend a certain amount of time in a single area before moving forward. Not only that, but they can’t fall in battle. While this makes sense as they are a persistent part of the story, it does reduce the urgency, and allows you to simply sit back if things become too hectic. Worse than this is the enemy AI. Often they know where you are before you do. Their reflexes are impeccable, as they open fire as soon as you appear in range, and their aim is utterly incredible. I swear that they could shoot around corners. Finally, parts of the game run with a respawn system. Forward progression is essential, as the enemies will continue to reappear until you arrive at whatever checkpoint is set. This frustrates me no end whenever it is implemented in a game, as it reduces the need for tactics, and turns the game into a race. I prefer seeing enemies set up in positions, and with the intelligence to move, rather than simply swamping you with endless numbers. This second tact is also used, but more rarely and only in areas where the objective is to clear out a particular area or building.

Ah, but more fool me. Of course, the enemies do move about their bounds, and this can make for some fun times, as they duck in and out of cover, and roll like Spetsnaz soldiers. Sometimes they rush forward, and in those moments it’s best to have a shotgun handy, or a simple tap of the melee button is usually enough to drop them. The animation work is to be commended, however it also has its drawbacks. The biggest of these, in my opinion, is the canned death animations. Yes, there are quite a number of them but that doesn’t change the fact that a game that is, more or less, about killing people should have some sort of physics system to handle this aspect, rather than having an NPC pop out of whatever action they were previously doing to fall to their knees. They can also be a tad stiff at times but it’s rare to see a game really nail the fluidity of human movement, so I’m not taking points off for that.

Each of the main character models have a decent amount of detail to them, though the forgettable nature of their personalities bleeds also into the design. Even beyond midway through the game, I was having trouble distinguishing one character from the other, though this is perhaps more due to the writing than the design ethics. The facial animation in cutscenes is decent, but seems very stiff outside of the essential movements, and lacks the polish of some other titles but nor is it really necessary, as emotional impact is minimal in Black Ops. However the abysmal lipsynching is unforgivable. There are several different enemy designs for each ‘chapter’ of the game, and each fit the environmental context, such as the Russian prison guards, or the members of the NVA. I feel that this is, necessarily, downplayed as they are simply targets, though it is a nice touch.

Moving into the environments, they are thankfully diverse, offering a wide variety of backdrops. They range from burnt-out forests to military bases and a city with others that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. Beyond simply being just backdrops, each of them has a unique design layout, and I must say that I really enjoyed the way that certain levels are designed. Treyarch has done a great job in giving the player a number of very different playgrounds. However, the game suffers from the usual drawback of shooters in that there is a general lack of brightness in the colours. There are some beautiful scenes, I won’t deny that, but they seem muted. Again, it has to do with the intended tone. You aren’t supposed to have your breath taken away by a stunning vista, but by the set piece moments, and these usually succeed. It could have done with a bit more detail, and I felt that parts of the levels were reused at irregular intervals, but it’s quite the good job all around, if you can overlook the general lack of polish that contrasts against a stronger focus on this part of the game as seen in Enslaved or Final Fantasy XIII.

Moving from the visual presentation to the auditory one, and the only thing that I have to complain about is the voice work. Mason is overly gruff, the words of the interrogators are barely discernible due to the vocoder effect and the only standout from the rest of the characters is Reznov, if only because of his Russian accent. This is, again, attributable to the aforementioned lack of characterisation, so I’ll leave it at that.

Underpinning most of the frequent action scenes is a very good soundtrack, carrying songs ranging from heavy techno beats to something that sounds suspiciously like ‘O Fortuna’ and really helps to focus the player. I found it to be quite engrossing and while it takes a definite backseat against the shouts, explosions and gunfire it remains delightfully present. The gunfire for each weapon does sound slightly different, which helps you to get a feel for the strength of them, and it is very faithful to reality, but as always lacks the punch of a real weapon. However, like the comment on human movement above, few games get that sound balance right and if it did each shot would be deafening, so it’s not worth taking points off. The sound of explosions does have that punch, and is almost always accompanied by a ringing sound, which emulates reality in an unexpected way, and helps to draw you further into the game. Another thing that many games fail to capture is ambience. I was quite surprised near the end of the game to come to a stop amidst a forest scene and hear the calls of wild birds from afar. It may only be a small, relatively simple touch, but it separates this game from most all competition. This certainly is the best aspect of the game.

I’ve already mentioned the two-weapon loadout system, and this is a choice that I don’t like. However, that is a personal qualm, and so will be dealt with in my overview, which is to be posted as soon as possible after the approval of this review. If only that was my only issue with the control scheme. I found the camera controls to be overly sensitive, even when turned down to the minimum setting. Perhaps this is because I’m not used to first-person shooters, but I feel that it is a reasonable issue. There are a large number of control options to choose from in the menu, and this should satisfy most players, however I chose to leave it on the default setting, and I must say that I had some trouble acclimatising to it. I chose this option, as none of the others seemed to match my favoured layout, but again, that’s an annoyance stemming from my preferences . When it comes to character control, I must say that I’m not a fan of the disconnected feeling. Your character acts as if he’s sliding on glass and it just doesn’t feel right. Again, maybe I’m just overly familiar with third person games, but this really threw me off.

With the default settings, movement and camera control are mapped to the analogue sticks in the usual way. L1 is used to look down the iron sights and R1 to shoot. I shouldn’t have to mention that it isn’t necessary to use the iron sights, but I found it preferable in most cases. L2 throws a tactical grenade (smoke, flash bang, etc.), while R2 throws a frag and you can hold them down to cook the weapons, making the explosion come sooner after leaving your hand. Also, you can toss a thrown grenade back at an enemy if you manage to reach it in time with R2. Pressing left on the D-Pad switches between your primary and alternate fire modes (if the weapon has one). The right button is used to call in an air-strike in one scene, but little else besides, while up and down seem to have no purpose. Tapping L3 sets you sprinting, and this effect lasts until you either stop moving, or your character grows tired. The second of these almost never happens due to the frequency of enemy encounters. And R3 is the melee attack.

Which brings me to the face buttons. Tapping Triangle switches between whatever two weapons you have equipped, and takes a second, so you should make sure that you have the most useful before progressing, so that you aren’t taken at unawares and trying to switch in the face of oncoming fire. You can usually dodge this by running towards any nearby cover and pressing Circle, which forces you into a crouch. This also improves your accuracy slightly, so it’s certainly a worthwhile inclusion. Holding down the same button drops you to a crawl, which further improves your accuracy, but I found to be mostly useless, except to avoid incoming fire while stuck in position waiting for an exchange between NPCs to conclude. X is the jump button, also allowing you to clamber onto ledges and tables, or climb through windows or other such low barriers. Finally, Square reloads your weapon, and when held is for context, such as exchanging your weapons, opening doors and planting explosive changes.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, all standard fare for shooters. And this mentality also extends to the length of the game. They are traditionally known to be shorter than most other game types, and Black Ops upholds this, with the campaign lasting me just shy of nine hours on Hardened difficulty, no doubt inflated by my frequent and numerous deaths. However, for the solo player, there is more. From the main menu, you have the option of tackling a Zombie mode, in which you must complete certain objectives while taking out swarms of the undead. It is an interesting inclusion, certainly adding replay value, and better yet, supports up to four player split-screen if you have a few buddies and extra controllers lying around. With another player, it is immense fun working out the best strategy for working out who’s going to do what, and getting into arguments about whose is better. But that’s couch gaming for you.

All in all, the quality of this game is undeniable, but as I always expected, I didn’t find myself enjoying it as much as others seem to. I just can’t stand the quick, brainless action that makes up the majority of the experience. I prefer being able to take time out and set traps for enemies, or get in an enviable position and snipe away from a distance. Being forced into close combat against foes simply doesn’t tickle my fun button (no, I don’t have one of those. I’m a bloke, but I’m using it figuratively.). However, I can certainly appreciate it, and see myself going back to play over zombie mode, or even the campaign time and again when I desire that fix (or I would if I owned the game). Don’t let my personal thoughts put you off this game. It really is of an extremely high calibre, and if you can enjoy a film like Transformers or The Expendables, there’s no real reason not to like Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.

This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.

User review by Lawless SXE

5/6/2011 7:54:13 AM

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Lawless SXE
Saturday, May 07, 2011 @ 6:00:27 PM

Personal Aside:
I’m including this as a kind of special feature for those people that are interested in my complete opinion of the game, rather than taking a more critical and analytical look at it. I don’t expect most readers to pay any attention to it, but given my previous vehement dislike for the series, I consider it a semi-necessity. And yes, I am aware that the review above does have some opinionated comparisons, but this will go beyond that. It will also feature very heavy spoilers for the game, but I’m not going to bother with announcements beforehand. Most of these occur in the first few paragraphs, where I discuss characterisation, plot and pacing so consider yourself warned.

To say that BlOps is a bad game would be foolhardy in the extreme. Twenty million sales, over a billion dollars in revenue and a rather ridiculous amount of time wasted by people in the multiplayer segment is a testament, and I’m not going to insult those of you that do that. It’s your prerogative if you choose to sink any great amount of time in a game that I feel is not up to the standard that is rightfully set by others. Although this world is, for the most part, a democracy, popularity does not necessarily denote quality. What I write from here on will roughly mirror the layout of the above review in the sectioning in case you want to skip to any part in particular.

I can’t stand it when you are thrown into a story with a protagonist that simply has no personality to speak of. This is seen in some novels (usually in the debut of authors before they get a handle on the art), but is far more common in films and video games, and only becoming more prevalent because a heavy focus on brainless action squeezes out time and effort to allow the characters to develop. I felt little attachment to Mason, and found myself not caring what his interrogators did to him. He existed solely to follow orders. The other characters suffer much the same fate. Hudson, Mr Cool, or whatever it is that Mason dubs him is silent. Woods and Bowman are both unrelatable, and while Reznov is a rather interesting character he is, for most of the game, a figment of the imagination of Mason. You know that there is a problem when the most engaging character doesn’t even exist. Even the three antagonists of Dragovich, Kravchenko and Steiner are portrayed as cruel for the sake of being cruel. Spin it up in a story of fanaticism and patriotism, but a cardboard cut-out is still a cardboard cut-out.

Plot and Pacing:
As mentioned in the review, BlOps races at the pace of a child with ADD (no offence to any sufferers) wired on a mixture of speed, sugar, caffeine and Nitrous Oxide. The connections between the levels is tenuous at best, and clearly intended to present war zones. This is the wrong approach. Sure it appeals to the wiring of the male brain, but there are some of us that prefer to take things a bit more slowly. And this is one of the places that Resistance: Fall of Man was such a success. It built the story up slowly, dropping you onto a battlefield constantly, but also making it feel as though your progression through the story meant something. For all that I cared of the plot of BlOps, they could have dropped me in the last level and let me run from there. It was incoherent, and most of it was unnecessary. You start off in a Russian prison, halfway through the game you are suddenly introduced to a chemical weapon capable of wiping out the entire USA and charged with preventing that from happening. Okay, cool. But then, throughout the game, between the flashback sequences, Mason is plagued by a series of numbers repeating themselves over and over. Somehow, this is a broadcast, and only people that have been brainwashed in the aforementioned prison can decipher the code of it, which relays information that wouldn’t be relayed by anyone with an ounce of intelligence, as they know that this guy is loose. Frickin’ derrr… That may be oversimplifying it all, but that is what it ultimately boils down to, and it’s just so bloody ridiculous, particularly when you consider that Mason is initially captured after assassinating a body double of Fidel Castro and handed to the Russians as some kind of peace treaty. What does that have to do with anything that follows? Ugh, just thinking about it is making me feel sick.

Now anyone that’s been following my posts knows that I like a great story, and that is something that BlOps cannot possibly be regarded as, even by video game standards. Sure, it may be an unfair accusation as I’ve been trying since my introduction to gaming to keep up with the best stories (ergo my love for Heavy Rain, Enslaved, Bioshock, Uncharted, Valkyria Chronicles, etc. [notice that none of them are FPS games, but I used Resistance as an example earlier, and while it’s not at the calibre of these games, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of BlOps]). This is certainly not aided by my desire to read the literary classics that has been with me for quite some time now. Still, other games offer a gripping narrative that leaves you wanting more, and BlOps fails at this spectacularly. A part of this is the cut scenes. They’re usually short, clearly running on the unimpressive in-game engine, lacking any semblance of important information and schizophrenic in their direction. They seem to serve little purpose outside of breaking up the action, and this is the sign of an uninspired development team. If this was their true purpose, there are far better ways to do that than to shoehorn in some asinine story. It almost makes me think that perhaps it would be better to see the SP of Call of Duty either be written out, leaving it as a pure MP experience, or separating the portions, allowing for a greater focus on the SP. Of course, if it was up to me, I’d implement this latter option in almost every game, simply because I know that games can be better than they are, and where better to start but the most well-known of them all.

Technicals: Sound/Graphics:
I mentioned the cut scenes above, as well as numerous other games, and these share another element. Top notch voice work and soundtrack. I’ve mentioned my gripes with the voices in the review, and attribute it to a decided lack of enthusiasm for the roles by the actors due to the formulaic nature of the characters. The soundtrack on the other hand manages to equal, and even surpass most of them. Where BlOps falls short of those other titles is in the lustre and polish applied to the graphical presentation. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by exclusives, and I know not to hold multiplats to the same lofty standard, but I constantly find myself questioning why not. There’s no reason for it, as it is a single console, so why is it that Killzone 3 is one of the best looking games out there, while BlOps leaves so much to be desired? Developers have proven in the past that exclusivity is no real barrier. Enslaved looked phenomenal, in spite of the technical shortcomings, Final Fantasy XIII surpassed even most exclusives, and DMC4 was a standard bearer when it was released. Basically, it comes down to uninspired design, and no desire to push themselves, knowing that it will sell in spite of its clear mediocrity. The character models all sort of blend together, and this really isn’t helped by the writing.

Also, BlOps has something in common with games typically driven by the Unreal Engine, and that is a plasticine appearance to everything. The characters, the ice, vehicles, I’m sure you get the drill. As mentioned in the review, there could have been some beautiful backdrops, but it’s like Treyarch poured a bucket of misery over it all to make it look bland. Just because it’s a war doesn’t mean that grey and brown have to be the dominant colours. The draw distance is usually kept to a minimum by imposing walls, but even when they are stripped away, the horizon fades to haze. Fantastic work there. I mean, how much effort does it take to render in a few mountains and trees to spruce up what we’re looking at? Particle effects are a mixed back, with the fire really managing to impress me, particularly in the scene in which Reznov is relaying his story to Mason, but you see the flipside of that coin almost immediately as a vehicle tears through the snow sending up a pixelated mess that is supposed to represent what’s being kicked up by the treads. And smoke in explosions… Don’t make me laugh. It’s simply an occlusion effect that thins (physically, not visually) and disappears. I mean, damn… ICO had better smoke effects and that was released ten frickin’ years ago. I know it’s unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it just irked me.

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Lawless SXE
Saturday, May 07, 2011 @ 6:01:15 PM

Technicals: Gameplay/Control
If there is one thing that I hate it’s being insulted and slandered. But that has NOTHING to do with BlOps. So, if there’s another thing that irritates me, it’s the common feeling of disembodiment in first person games. That sense of reality is one of the reasons that I enjoyed Killzone somewhat, and that goes double for Mirror’s Edge. Unfortunately, most games take the CoD route, and simply set you at a certain speed, and make you feel as though you’re gliding on ice. I know I brought the same topic up within the review, but it really does irk me that much. I get that anything different from what has been implemented is counterproductive to the fast paced multiplayer, but how much would it really affect if they were to slow everything down a bit and really force more tactical play than simply zipping through the levels. I suppose that it would reduce the overall popularity of the game somewhat, but there are some of us that crave that. You may be thinking ‘if you want tactics, there’s always SOCOM, Operation Flashpoint or any number of other games in a similar vein, but again, CoD is the single highest grossing entertainment property in the ‘WORLD!’. If anything is going to set an example, it should be this game. Also, the ease of quickscoping is pathetic. You know that there is a fundamental flaw in the design process when it makes things so easy to cheat against the AI.

I mean, who had the bright idea of flicking the reticule to the enemy closest to it when you zoom in? It really cheapens the game and reduces the amount of skill necessary to get your way through it. Thankfully there is an option to switch it off, but I wonder how many people actually choose to do that, rather than simply using the ability to lighten their load. I earlier praised the gameplay diversity, and I stand behind that. At the same time, I must offer a criticism of the objective design, and gameplay pacing. It makes sense that you should start off against smaller swarms of weaker enemies and progress upwards. It may be unrealistic, but it allows a player to level themselves This isn’t always the case in BlOps, as the numbers and strength of enemies varies randomly, this isn’t aided by the respawn system. Perhaps it would be better if the AI favoured realistic skills, but considering their superhuman abilities it really is quite terrible. I could understand improving the AI tactics, and making them harder to hit in some instances but what is on show is, again, simply lazy development.

That is my single biggest issue with this game at large. There are so many aspects that could have been handled better. That could have used a bit more polish and time, but instead it feels rushed and under prepared. And just like in cooking, this makes the dish far less fulfilling than it could have been. And I still don’t understand why people flock to this series when there are other options out there that are just as good, if not better, and offer much the same experience in both SP and MP. A flock mentality? A desire to feel the euphoric rush of being faster than another person, rather than more skilled? I know not, but if the latter is true, then God (if s/he exists [though I’m a baptised Christian that has gone through Confirmation and Holy Communion, I consider myself an Atheist/Agnostic, before anyone gets religious on me]) has truly forsaken humanity. How can such… mediocrity be rewarded by the masses? How can this combat simulator, that is designed to lessen horror and brutality of the frontlines be the highest grossing entertainment property ever? How can murder be glorified in this way? It isn’t right, and the sooner that this series begins its inevitable fall from grace, the better.

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Monday, May 09, 2011 @ 9:43:08 AM

Nice and detailed review Lawless.

I preferred the second half of the game over the first. I can tell a noticeable quality disparity between Treyarch's standards and the former Infinity Ward.

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Lawless SXE
Monday, May 09, 2011 @ 1:24:36 PM

I didn't mention it at any point (though I had intended to), but beyond about the three hour mark, I really lost interest in what the game had to offer, so whether that's a common feeling, I don't know.

Thanks for reading, Temjin.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 7:06:42 PM

wow nice review lawless... i would have given it a bit lower my self but thats the first user review ive actually enjoyed reading
keep it up

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Lawless SXE
Wednesday, May 11, 2011 @ 1:47:11 AM

From an objective standpoint, I do consider it to be fully deserving of that score. Thank you for reading, Godslim, and I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it. And I don't intend to stop anytime soon; I enjoy it too much.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011 @ 4:51:39 AM

yeh thats what i like.....the way u reviewed it from a objective standpoint taking into account only what the game is......was great to read

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Lawless SXE
Wednesday, May 11, 2011 @ 5:27:24 AM


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