Recent gaming news has made me think I should discuss in depth the current best seller dominating the console-based FPS genre (First Person Shooter). I of course am talking about "Call Of Duty: Black Ops."
There should be no surprise when I mention that, as usual, I am in possession of this title specifically for the X-Box 360, so don't anyone get too shocked. Love the game, but sometimes hate the players, is a nutshell review, but I'm going to go in depth here to describe what I like, what I don't like, what I wish they would change, what I'm glad they did change, and whether it is overall an improvement upon it's predecessor.
First thing to be noted is that this isn't a typical CoD game. It is a 'middle' title. The main CoD games are made by Infinity Ward and distributed by Activision. Interim titles are made by Treyarch, and this particular title is one of theirs. "Black Ops" is their third CoD title, done between what are considered the main titles, and it is by far the best CoD game Treyarch has made. However, my view is slanted, and I'll explain why in just a minute. I'd like to give a little more background information first.
"Call Of Duty," for a long period, concentrated on World War II as the backdrop for their console/PC games. This changed with the title "Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare." Updating the series was a big risk, but one that paid off splendidly for Infinity Ward. I personally, as has been noted in a previous post, joined the series at the second title, and loved the game, trekking through Germany, Russia and Africa as different soldiers and taking down the Nazis. Killing Nazis, however, was not all the game was about.
There are two ways to play CoD, single player and multiplayer. The single player campaign has you playing as multiple people across a wide storyline, with specific goals and checkpoints to get through. Linear, without being 'on rails,' the titles start at level one, and progress straight to the end of the game. How you kill your enemy, however, is totally up to you. Multiplayer is a totally different way to play CoD, and while I first got into the series with CoD2, I only played multiplayer through what is called System Link, which allows consoles to link directly to each other, shutting out other players. Playing CoD multiplayer with Scott, my best friend and 'brother from another mother,' is part of what got me through my father's death. We never went fully online with it though, nor did we with CoD3, which was a Treyarch production. CoD3 failed in the single player aspect too, mainly due to it being more 'on rails' than the game before it. You had a grand view of a shattered city in front of you, for example, but only ONE path could get you moving forward. CoD2, if in the same situation, would have multiple paths forward, even if the goal was the same, allowing for strategy.
So, it can be said that my first real foray into the online multiplayer aspect of the CoD series began with CoD4. I missed the WWII backdrop, but loved the game anyway. The single player campaign was good, but for me it became something else. For me it was all about the multiplayer capability. Since this title, I have been less and less about the single player campaigns, to the point that this discussion can't even involve the entirety of the current title, because I quite simply haven't had the inclination to finish it, achievement points or not! And it pains me to say that!
My fixation on the multiplayer aspect can be traced to one simple variable, which is the ability to level up my character online. As you progress in levels, you open up more weapons and perks, and also more challenges to aid you in levelling faster (as well as for bragging rights). This first iteration only allowed for three of what are known as 'killstreaks,' a bonus attack method unlocked by getting a certain number of kills in a row without dying yourself. In this game, you had a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to show where enemies were on the map, air strikes, and attack helicopters. These were unlocked at three, five and seven kills respectively. Additionally, levelling up also opens up new game modes, such as Domination (teams need to capture and hold three objective flags, garnering points for each flag, with a score cap to aim for in order to win) and Capture The Flag (each team has a flag at their base and tries to grab the enemies' flag and get it to theirs without their flag being missing; usually three captures is the score cap).
The next Treyarch entry, "Call Of Duty: World At War," kept the same basics and did not improve on the multiplayer in any tangible way. In fact, due to connectivity problems, which could apparently be fixed in a way I didn't personally discover until I was on to the next title, I played this online the least of any of the titles, even though it moved the series back to WWII. The single player campaign was again a lesser story than the ones done by Infinity Ward, and though I did complete it I did not really go back to achieve much more than I had during the first playthrough.
Then we come to the two most recent titles in the series, "Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" by Infinity Ward, and "Call Of Duty: Black Ops" by Treyarch. Here, I must say that the multiplayer took on a much more important role per title than the previous ones. The changes made to the multiplayer experience with MW2 are enormous, and include (but are not limited to) different types of grenades, different weapon attachments, multiple killstreak combinations, and different equipment combinations. Multiple online glitches, allowing for massive cheating, were found as well, and that put a distinct damper on the multiplayer aspect for quite a while. This all changed even more with "Black Ops."
Simply put, with no obvious exaggeration, Treyarch did this one right. After one patch, fixing some connectivity issues found upon release, this game is as close to a perfect multiplayer experience as has been created thus far in the CoD franchise. The loadouts for your character are fully customizable, depending only upon your level to unlock weapons. Once a weapon is available, you only have to purchase whatever attachments you wish and you are good to go. The ability to do this is provided by a first in the CoD universe, a points system. You are now not only gaining experience when you play, you also gather points in order to purchase the perks and equipment you want, whenever you want, so long as you are at the level required to gain access to them. For example, while an item such as the red-dot sight on a weapon needed to be earned by getting a certain number of kills with that weapon in the previous title, here, if you have access to that weapon you can purchase the sight immediately upon buying the weapon.
One part of multiplayer that I did not mention until now is the Prestige System. This has been around since the series departed from WWII as well, and allows someone to level up to the top, and then choose to reset their level to zero while gaining an icon showing other players that the Prestige Rank has been earned. In MW2, this was added to by the myriad of callsigns and icons that you could unlock as you got challenges done and levelled up certain weapons, etc.. This too has been changed favourably in "Black Ops," allowing players to fully customize their weapons and their playercards (an identifying nameplate that tells others who you are) with images they create themselves from a wide variety of icons and backgrounds purchasable just as the weapons and perks are, with special icons added as the Prestige Rank climbs.
I'll take another post to describe how gameplay affects the multiplayer experience, as this post is already too long. Additionally, I shall discuss the future of the franchise, what with legal decisions, delays, greed and the like possibly ruining this great title. While there is a scheduled "Modern Warfare 3" for 2011, we'll see if it comes about in a way that people will even choose to buy it. Overall, just know that while I haven't yet finished the single player campaign, "Black Ops" multiplayer mode makes this title the best of the CoD series to date, 'middle' title or not. And to think, I haven't even touched upon Wager Matches, Combat Training or Zombie Mode yet!