Paint It Black
Flashback Campaign keeps Black Ops Running And Gunning
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Two years ago I made a formal apology to Treyarch. I was worried that Call of Duty: World at War would pale in comparison to the Modern Warfare titles that Infinity Ward developed in alternating years. Instead we received a game that was an alternate setting to World War II with the Pacific Theater, an enticing story line from two perspectives, and a fun Nazi Zombies mode that some people obsessed over. I used to get several Live messages a day asking to play it.
But now this year the tables are turned, I'm now worried about Infinity Ward after the studio cuts this year, and Treyarch is the studio whose products I'm looking forward to after Black Ops. During a GamerGeeks broadcast, my cohost and I wondered where the Call of Duty franchise would go. They've already beaten World War II to the ground, and now they are working on a modern combat scenario, so the only option I could think of was Vietnam, even though Kelly thought it was still too sensitive a time period to make a game on.
Then again look at that developer who is still trying to release Six Days in Fallujah.
Black Ops does partly take place in Vietnam, but rather than just center the whole game there, Treyarch created a unique Cold War themed story that keeps us guessing until the very end.
The game begins in an interrogation room where Alec Mason (voiced by Sam Worthington from Avatar) is strapped to a chair and being asked questions from a "voice of God" about where he's been, what he is trying to find, and more importantly, the significance of a series of numbers that Mason is constantly hearing. From there the game takes place to a series of flashbacks, starting with the early stages of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Mason and his colleagues are under orders to assassinate Fidel Castro, but eventually end up killing a double, and Castro allies himself with the main antagonist Major General Nikita Dragovich.
Mason is captured and taken to a gulag in Vorkuta, where he teams up with Viktor Reznov (Gary Oldman.) By staging a fight, they succeed in breaking out of Vorkuta and head towards freedom. Reznov is believed to be killed during the escape, but Mason still sees him along the campaign.
The story continues to evolve deeper into Cold War settings, such as sabotaging the Soyuz II launch, the fall of Khe Sahn during the Tet Offensive (featuring the mandatory playing of Fortunate Sun by CCR,) a Russian Roulette sequence taken straight from The Deer Hunter, tunnel raids ripped from Platoon, and even in the Pentagon meeting face to face with President Kennedy. All during the story you are haunted by the mysterious numbers in your head, trying to find out what they mean, and what they are causing Mason to do.
The meeting with Kennedy itself is surreal, as despite taking place two weeks prior to his assassination, you see images of Lee Harvey Oswald and the funeral procession in monitors in the background, as well as visions of Mason pointing his pistol at Kennedy's head. It ends up becoming quite the mind trip.
The vehicle-based missions are also enticing, this time taking place on a boat in Cambodia, and an awesome helicopter assault that only needed a recording of Ride of the Valkyries to make it perfect.
But still, despite the impressive Cold War setting, the game does venture back to the safe World War II setting for another flashback mission, not in Mason's perspective, but rather from Reznov. Thankfully it's done to provide a key element in the game's story, and shows Dragovich's M.O. for the whole game.
Sadly the campaign is the usual short length, this time coming in at about 8 hours on Regular, but playing through it on Hardened or Veteran will take longer to finish. But as typical with Call of Duty, it is enticing all the way to the end. And once the main game is done, there is also the fun Zombies mode to play again.
While the original Nazi Zombies are back, the better game comes after finishing the main story. A new Zombies game begins with a hilarious discussion with Kennedy, Castro, Nixon, and Secretary McNamara (who we meet in the Pentagon stage.) Why these four are together is a mystery (though Kennedy admits about bringing his enemies close) but their defense of the Pentagon is actually pretty funny, especially when playing as either Kennedy or Nixon with all of their comments. The mode is enjoyable again, and if I get invites from certain people again, I'll be sure to join them.
Call of Duty has always been known for its amazing visuals and lightning fast speed, but I think that Black Ops might be one of the weaker titles. On one mission I actually had the frame rate take a nose dive similar to that in Medal of Honor, but it only did it through one playthrough; it ran fine when doing the same mission a second time.
Still the facial details are stunning, especially for many of the historical figures you come across. Not to mention the top voice talent in the game. Seeing Gary Oldman reprise his former role of Reznov was a great surprise, as was including Sam Worthington as Mason, Ice Cube as Bowman, and Ed Harris as Mason's superior, James Hudson.
And as mentioned before, the soundtrack fits the whole Cold War setting. Playing Fortunate Sun (or something similar to it) is almost mandatory for a game or movie set in 'Nam, and that as well as Sympathy for the Devil are included.
Treyarch did not have to worry about impressing me this year, as they already proved they know how make a good Call of Duty game. Black Ops is no exception. I'm glad to see that they are venturing out to uncharted territory and creating an engaging single player campaign that will attract fans and newcomers alike.
Pros: Treyarch takes risks in a new setting, and it works. An enticing single player campaign with a lot of questions to be answered. Zombies return and are actually funny this time.
Cons: Some graphic issues at times. Despite being a Cold War theme, one mission goes back into the safe WWII territory. Campaign is the usual short length.
(Note: This review covers the single player campaign and Zombies mode.)
Todd Hargosh is GiN's Product Testing Manager. He enjoys any game that gets his adrenaline pumping. Todd can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.