Sorry, boss, but I've got a CoD.
If you’re an employer, you may have noticed some of your staff called in sick; if you’re a girlfriend, you may be waiting by the phone for your boyfriend to call; and if you’re a teacher, you might have only half of the class present; but if you’re a gamer, you know that November 9th marks the release of the highly expected shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops. Thankfully, Black Ops is worth neglecting your daily responsibilities.
For starters, the story in the single-player campaign in Black Ops is one of the better storylines in the CoD series, if not the best. One of the roles you take on is Alex Mason, who is being held in an interrogation room with his clothes covered in dried blood and whose memory is strangely haunted by numbers. Once you dive into the story, the interrogator forces you, as Alex, to remember the significance of the numbers and you begin to fall in and out of consciousness.
You recall when you were involved in an assassination attempt during the Bay of Pigs invasion, in the uprising in Vorkuta Labor Camp, and in a battle against the NVA at Khe Sanh Village—just to name a few. You’ve been to places, seen things, and are minutes away from being responsible for the death of millions if you don’t comply with the interrogator’s demands. Not only do you have different settings to immerse yourself into, there are also profound action scenes - guiding yourself away from jagged rocks as you freefall to escape from an avalanche, or evading SAMs and RPGs while piloting a hind helicopter.
The story is notable, especially for a shooter, but the gameplay itself has its flaws. One that’s obvious is that the game tries to incorporate unimportant quick-time events (or sometimes dull-time events). In one scene, as enemies close in on your position, you jump into a car hoping for a quick getaway and you expect a cutscene, but instead of taking a breather, a command pops up telling you to squeeze the left trigger in order to reverse the car. You obey and the car does too… but that’s it. The scene continues on while you wonder what the point of that was. Instead of it being effective, it feels more like a desperate, half-ass attempt from developers to force some interplay between the story and the player.
Second, the AI is your typical CoD AI: Your allies generally push you out of cover or they are busy shooting circles around the enemy. The AI enemies are not a challenge, unless you choose to play on veteran difficulty. However, veteran difficulty doesn’t make the AI smarter—as it never has. So if you expected an innovative change here, you won’t find.
But of course, the CoD franchise is known for online multiplayer, and the developers have spent some time improving the mode. Unlike before, you can customize weapons and even etch your clan tag on it. You will also notice you have a Playercard where your Gamertag is displayed as well as a fully customizable emblem, for which you can unlock and buy different shapes and pictures, rotate them, change their colors, and so on. Now when you watch the killcam, you not only see yourself being owned, but you get a chance to look at the enemy’s Playcard and admire their creativity... or lack thereof. There is an option to adjust your character’s appearance, but the options are much more limited than what you can do with your Playercard. It's just some face paint and some preset warfare suits.
In order to use all these customization options, Black Ops incorporates a currency system called CoD points, which are earned by playing multiplayer, completing contracts, or competing in Wager matches. They are then used to buy camo, attachments, perks, weapons, and even killstreaks, which unlock after you gradually level up by gaining experience points. So instead of unlocking weapons outright as you level, you now have to buy them too. This is, of course, frustrating because you will want to jump into multiplayer guns blazing, but with the currency system, it slows you down. It also makes you think, “Do I really want to spend these points for a noob tube, especially when I can spend them on something else worthwhile later?"
As mentioned earlier, another way to earn CoD points is through Wager matches, where up to 10,000 CoD points can be put on the line. Considering that weapons range from 2,000 to 4,000 points and the more desirable but hard-to-get killstreaks are 5,000 points and up, you will think twice before betting your points away carelessly. If it weren’t for the Wager matches, the currency system would prove to be more or less a lackluster addition, but this particular game mode makes multiplayer much more exciting since these are your points.
That said, Wager matches are mainly for the skilled. Players will act as if real money were on the line, so be cautious. There are six players total: The top three walk away with earnings with the first player earning the highest pay of course, while the bottom three leave the match with absolutely nothing. So you best know what you're doing or you'll end up in the poorhouse. It’s ultimately up to you to decide if betting your hard-earned points is worth risking losing. Fortunately, developers have added different money tiers, with one where the most you can win is 30 points. This allows everyone to at least get a feel for this game type.
If you don’t think you got what it takes to try out the Wager matches, let alone multiplayer, try Combat Training. This impressive mode allows you to familiarize yourself with the maps while also playing against AI bots. You can figure out spawn points and get a general idea of where enemy players will likely come from throughout the terrain of each map, which prepares you well for online multiplayer. You can set up to nine bots, with each bot named after a Gamertag from your friends list, so it can make it feel entertaining, as though you’re actually gaming with a bunch of friends. The difficulty of the AI bots can be changed, anywhere from recruit to veteran, offering more of a challenge, and it proves useful in preparing you for the fast-paced action of online multiplayer.
Black Ops’ minor flaws won’t deter you from its gripping storyline and gratifying multiplayer modes. After the campaign is completed, there is still the Zombies mode and if you’re still craving for some zombie, try out the secret hidden arcade game: Dead Ops. This is available once you type in “DOA” on the computer behind you from the interrogation room at the main menu screen. You may think that you’re strapped down indefinitely in the chair, but a little trigger action may help...
Multiplayer is more than just maps and playlists now. Wager matches and Combat Training offer a nice separation from online multiplayer, but you may be too preoccupied with purchasing perks, transforming your Playercard into something worth displaying, or tweaking your weapons with a variety of attachments. Despite technical errors and a few limited customization options, Black Ops is filled with variety, offering entertaining gameplay that will have you glued for hours. Oh, ugh, I think I'm getting the flu...