PS3 Review – Call of Duty: Black Ops

The title “Call of Duty” is no stranger to anyone familiar with the next-gen gaming industry. After seven years and six iterations of the most popular FPS franchise, we now have the seventh version – Call of Duty: Black Ops. Treyarch’s shooter takes you back during the Cold War era, and plunges you into a story woven with secrecy and conspiracy on a global scale. The question that we must now answer is whether the secrets of Black Ops are really worth disclosing, or if it should remain under wraps.

A common problem that some developers face is to not rehash or repeat an idea. Working on a first-person-shooter probably doesn’t make that challenge any easier to overcome. Already, we know that most (if not all) FPS’s follow a standard system of fighting from point A to point B. However, it is how the developers script the journey from beginning to end that make the ride either a nail-biting experience, or a sleepy car ride to grandma’s house.

With that point in mind, Treyarch really pulled out all the stops to make Black Ops its biggest and grandest game to date. The overall production values are through the roof.  Set-pieces for each level are massive and full of detail. The characters are full of life with the emotional expressions and life-like animations. Put the two together, and levels seem like a living and breathing environment, littered with chaos at each turn. Ambient sounds of the battlefield rumble in the distance, and the camera reacts violently to the explosive shells that burst within an uncomfortable proximity. All of these things combined create such an over-the-top immersive experience that it can create a sensory overload, challenging your ability to maintain focus at the goal ahead.

In the single player campaign, the story focuses around the character of Alex Mason, who is mysteriously undergoing an interrogation throughout most of the story. The missions are comprised of his flashbacks as he recalls his past operations and divulges them to a mysterious interrogator, a shadowy figure who stares down at Mason from the viewing room. The game does a decent job being able to keep you in the dark as you try to figure out how and why you are being subjected to interrogation. Playing through the most of the missions really don’t give much of a hint either, but it is told through the narrative cut-scenes. Once all secrets were revealed, I was expecting the climax to climb with a mind-blowing ending, but sadly Black Ops didn’t deliver the conclusion with anything grand or memorable to walk away with.

Few short straws can be found with Black Ops when it comes to its level infrastructure. Graphically, Black Ops shines as well as the previous Call of Duty’s that we’ve played through before. Each level is packed with amazing amount of detail, from the dense foliage of the Vietnam jungles, to the breath-taking panoramic views of snow capped mountains. I noticed that the lighting in the game has also been improved, giving objects a bit more organic feel to the natural environment around them. Even though the levels are large and full of commotion, Black Ops still manages to keep the frame-rates running at a smooth 60fps most of the time, which is definitely an impressive feat to me. However, during our playthroughs there was one instance where the frame-rate dipped so low to that of a slide-show for a few seconds. Once it cleared up, it never showed again, so we can’t penalize it too much from that one occurrence.

In most of the levels of Black Ops, you’ll be engaged in large open battles and shooting your way through one objective to the next. Occasionally, there will be a few missions that change up the style of gameplay and allow you to infiltrate enemy facilities without detection, but every level will eventually end with an all out open battle with guns blazing. One of the coolest features to make its way to Black Ops was the ability to command a special operations unit from an SR-71. Strangely, that feature was cut way too short, just when you started to figure out the controls and wanted more of the same action. In fact, quite a few times you’ll encounter some unique and exciting gameplay features that felt as though they weren’t implemented enough. Considering the Black Ops title, we were expecting more stealth and infiltration missions to, but almost all of the engagements were done in the open air.

The gun play and shooting mechanics are tight and responsive to handle any situation that needs be tackled for long range targets, and versatile enough for close quarters battle (CQB). You’ll come across a huge arsenal of weaponry from shotguns and submachine guns, to dual wielding and crossbows. Each weapon also carries its own responsiveness depending on the size of the weapon, which adds a sense of weight. As always, firing in short bursts down your sites is your best friend and will make your shots more accurate. At times, you will also be asked to call in support with attack choppers or a distant mortar team. Seeing any form of support in action is always visually gratifying as they lay waste to structures and help even the odds for your chance of survival on the battlefield. Continue reading…

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