DS

North America

Call of Duty: Black Ops

by Zachary Miller - March 14, 2011, 11:14 pm PDT
Total comments: 9

6.5

All the features in the world can't save a game that's not fun to begin with.

Black Ops on the DS may be developer n-Space’s most ambitious project yet. It includes a campaign mode, two variations on that mode (Challenge & Arcade), and several multiplayer options including local and online. There’s really a lot of game here, and from a content point of view, it’s definitely noteworthy. I’ve found over the years, however, it doesn’t matter how loaded with features a game is if the underlying gameplay is frustrating and feels like a chore.

This DS game, like the others in the Call of Duty series, follows a parallel storyline to the console games. Here, the plot revolves around Cuba, Castro, and government intrigue. The majority of the gameplay involves first-person shooting, which is too imprecise to be enjoyable. The problem rests partially on the DS itself; the lack of sufficient buttons to handle all the game’s features means that the touch screen is filled to the brim with icons which you tap to handle your primary and secondary weapons, grenades, knife, interacting with the environment, aiming down the scope, checking your radar, and doing a quick 180 degree turn. If that sounds like too many, it is. If you like double-tapping the screen to aim down your scope, that option is available. You can also switch to buttons-only control, although it’s a much slower option and I don’t know why anybody would use it instead of the faster, more precise touch controls. You can change the aiming sensitivity in the Options menu, which helps, but we'll get to the particular gameplay failings momentarily.

The game’s environments are loaded with invisible trip wires which cause enemies to spawn very quickly, and in precise locations. All of the enemies have great aim; you do not. In Black Ops, firing from the hip is utterly useless, especially if you’re trying to peek out from cover and take guys down from any distance beyond arm’s length. Your machine gun will fire a comical outline of your opponent before it does any significant damage. Aiming down the sight is an unfortunate necessity. This leaves you crawling through environments at a snail’s pace, lining up enemies very precisely which usually involves aiming at pixels, and being shot by other enemies—who are very good at shooting from the hip. I was often killed while trying to line up a shot. Each shooter stage amounts to memorizing level layouts and enemy spawn points, requiring much trial and error, then walking around in “aim down the sight” mode and trying to line up your shots quickly enough to avoid being killed while doing so. This is why aiming sensitivity doesn't help the process—you're still creeping around in ADS (Aim Down the Sight) mode at a snail's pace, memorizing enemy location through trial and error.

One area in particular almost had me breaking my DS in half: you are tasked with storming a beach, Rambo-style, while enemies flood the map in every direction. Because of the game’s poor textures, what appear to be rocks actually seem to be brown bushes, and you’ll discover that enemies (that you can’t see) can shoot you in the head through the bushes while you’re hiding behind sand dunes. Trying to shoot the enemies from a ledge above the beach is hilariously naïve—even aiming down the sight, you are still trying to shoot moving targets that are three or four pixels high. Going down to the beach is its own disaster. Try to take out one enemy from a distance and two more will storm your position while you line up the shot. One will shoot you in the back, and the other will kill you with a knife. I’m not kidding when I say it took me more than ten tries just to struggle through that section. That is not fun by any definition.

Ironically, the first vehicular segment follows that horrendous experience. If you’ve been playing with touch controls the whole time (like I was), you’ll be in for a treat as you’re required to suddenly learn how to aim with the ABXY buttons. You’re piloting a helicopter that’s on a rail and can only move left or right to avoid the RPG fire that you can’t really see. Don’t be surprised when your chopper explodes without warning. This section is similarly infuriating, but for different reasons.

Admittedly, even the console versions of the game aren't focused on the single-player campaign. Call of Duty’s always been about the multiplayer shenanigans.  As such, Black Ops offers a lot of multiplayer content: You can play Zombie Mode locally, for one. Zombie Mode, obviously inspired by games like Left 4 Dead, has you defending a base from an undead onslaught. The game is best played with several people—you won’t survive long by your lonesome, what with the tasks of shooting zombies, repairing windows, and upgrading your weaponry (you also die quickly once hit). It’ll be fun for a group, but not for the lone gunman.

The more traditional multiplayer is where the fun is at. Black Ops offers local play, friends-only online multiplayer (complete with friend codes) and random-match online multiplayer. Former site director Jon Lindemann and I jumped through a glut of technical hoops for a half hour (love those error codes) to eventually come together for several frag-filled rounds of one-on-one. The complaints I leveled against the solo game are similar here: shooting from the hip is hilariously ineffective. My biggest bone of contention is that it shouldn't take two friends who have exchanged friend codes this long to connect online. Not for ANY game. I was also able to get my fill of the “Quick Match” multiplayer. I successfully connected to about a third of my attempts. Of this third, a few were dropped for unknown reasons. Of the full games I was able to play, the experience was somewhat enjoyable, although the lag was concerning. Quite a few of my kills were denied by unfortunate lag (while simultaneously ensuring my own death). There are five game types: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Team Capture the Flag, and Sabotage, where team defends a certain object while the other team tries to destroy it. Whoever ends up hosting the match (I did several times) gets to decide the map, game type, weapon restrictions, etc. The console game’s perk system is supposedly in place here, but I was never able to figure out how much experience I earned or if I unlocked any perks or even leveled up. Unlike the console games, there isn’t an experience bar that increases after every match. I had hoped this problem was limited to random matches, but it's present in friend matches, too. How much experience do I have? How close am I to leveling up? These are questions I was never able to answer.

There are a few additions to multiplayer that should be commended. First, you can choose your spawn point. Second, you can switch your primary and secondary weapons out after dying. Finally, the host can choose to play with perks on or off. The spawn point choosing, in particular, is fantastic.

The maps range from simplistic to surprisingly complex. One map in particular, featuring a bunch of connex boxes and multiple levels, encourages sniping and sneaking around for kills while another map, set in a graveyard, is very cover-based. Aside from the timed-out games, dropped games, and lack of knowing how much experience you earned, the online multiplayer in general suffers from the same sort of aiming difficulties that the campaign does—unless you’re face-to-face with your attacker, you’ll need to aim down the sights to shoot with any accuracy. I found several players who had abandoned guns entirely and just went around melee attacking people to death (which was very effective).

Despite its bells and whistles, Black Ops just can’t escape the fact that the core gameplay just isn’t fun. There are plenty of other DS PFS games that I’ve played that proved more enjoyable: Moon, Dementium 2, and even the first Modern Warfare game were more fun and less frustrating than Black Ops. The online multiplayer is a step in the right direction, but the difficulty in connecting to random matches and the same accuracy problems that plague the campaign ruin it for me. It's also unfortunate that Zombie mode is such a local focus. Even bots would have helped make that a fun game. As it stands, I can't recommend Black Ops over many other DS FPS games. If you have the means, I'd stick with one of the console versions.

Summary

Pros
  • Lots of control options (for the shooter levels)
  • Lots of single and multiplayer content
Cons
  • And still repeatedly dying because of the slow aiming
  • Having to memorize level layouts and enemy placement
  • Muddy graphics and pixelated enemies at any distance
  • Takes a lot of effort to get online and stay there
  • Vehicular sequences

Talkback

AVDecember 02, 2010

WOW !!!!!!!

DannymclMarch 15, 2011

I actually have this game, I got it two days after it first came out and I think it could have had a 7 score. If you are having trouble aiming that's not the games fault, turn the sensitivity in the options menu up and use the double tap scoping. Yes, I'll admit that the vehicle sections are a bit crap but can you really say that the PSP does it better? Errrr no because it isn't on that platform.

Turned up the sensitivity. Turned on the double-tap. Didn't help that much.

And I don't say the PSP does it better.

olearydjMarch 16, 2011

Wow - 3 months later the review returns, with a one point upgrade after Zach actually plays the game.


Once upon a time NWR gave CoD: Modern Warfare DS a 9.0 by none other than Zachary Miller.  The same team and engine have improved it every year for 4 years.  The result, a 6.5.  Makes perfect sense to me.


Kudos to the management for pulling the review to begin with.
Zero credibility for the end result.


Yes, I'm biased.  But mostly disappointed with NWR.


- Dan / n-Space

bff23e8March 17, 2011

Dear Zachary,


"The majority of the gameplay involves first-person shooting, which is too imprecise to be enjoyable." This comment makes no sense whatsoever.


"The problem rests partially on the DS itself; the lack of sufficient buttons to handle all the game’s features means that the touch screen is filled to the brim with icons which you tap to handle your primary and secondary weapons, grenades, knife, interacting with the environment, aiming down the scope, checking your radar, and doing a quick 180 degree turn. If that sounds like too many, it is." Apparently you haven't played a Call of Duty game on the DS before. Otherwise you would know that n-Space has put a lot of effort in this new UI, which practically is the best UI so far. They try to use the touch screen's space at it's best. The touch screen ain't filled, it's well used.


"All of the enemies have great aim; you do not." Again, you seem to be the only player on the Internet having this problem.

"In Black Ops, firing from the hip is utterly useless, especially if you’re trying to peek out from cover and take guys down from any distance beyond arm’s length. Your machine gun will fire a comical outline of your opponent before it does any significant damage. Aiming down the sight is an unfortunate necessity. This leaves you crawling through environments at a snail’s pace, lining up enemies very precisely which usually involves aiming at pixels, and being shot by other enemies—who are very good at shooting from the hip. I was often killed while trying to line up a shot." What is it you got with hipfire? Too lazy to ADS? Did you even play other First Person Shooters on the DS before?

"One area in particular almost had me breaking my DS in half: you are tasked with storming a beach, Rambo-style, while enemies flood the map in every direction. (...)That is not fun by any definition." You either play the game in the right way, or not. At this point you are not reviewing the game anymore, you are angering at the DS itself, and it's limitations.

"It’ll be fun for a group, but not for the lone gunman." I actually quite like playing the lone gunman in this game mode.

"My biggest bone of contention is that it shouldn't take two friends who have exchanged friend codes this long to connect online. Not for ANY game. I was also able to get my fill of the “Quick Match” multiplayer. I successfully connected to about a third of my attempts. Of this third, a few were dropped for unknown reasons. Of the full games I was able to play, the experience was somewhat enjoyable, although the lag was concerning. Quite a few of my kills were denied by unfortunate lag (while simultaneously ensuring my own death)." Again sir, you are angering at the DS' limitations. Either deal with it, or play something else. Your Internet/router/ISP can also cause these problems.

"Despite its bells and whistles, Black Ops just can’t escape the fact that the core gameplay just isn’t fun. There are plenty of other DS PFS games that I’ve played that proved more enjoyable: Moon, Dementium 2, and even the first Modern Warfare game were more fun and less frustrating than Black Ops. The online multiplayer is a step in the right direction, but the difficulty in connecting to random matches and the same accuracy problems that plague the campaign ruin it for me. It's also unfortunate that Zombie mode is such a local focus. Even bots would have helped make that a fun game. As it stands, I can't recommend Black Ops over many other DS FPS games." First off, the online multiplayer is a step in the right direction? I beg your pardon? NOBODY, seriously nobody, has raised the bar for online multiplayer like n-Space did. I am still not quite sure if you actually did play the game, or any Cod DS before. Because of n-Space players can join in-game (not done before), because of n-Space we have voice chat in friendmatches lobbies (not done before), because of n-Space we can very, very much. I am begging you to check out http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=465014008200 to see what kind of new features this game has.

You are concluding in your last paragraph that your Internet connection sucks, that you can't use the stylus in the right way to aim and that you probably can't reach round 5 in local zombie mode. I feel sorry for you.


Last but not least, next time try at least to hide you are actually a console fanboy:
"... this DS game, like the others in the Call of Duty series, follows a parallel storyline to the console games"
"...
which usually involves aiming at pixels""... if you’ve been playing with touch controls the whole time (like I was), you’ll be in for a treat as you’re required to suddenly learn how to aim with the ABXY buttons"
"... admittedly, even the console versions of the game aren't focused on the single-player campaign""... the console game’s perk system is supposedly in place here""... unlike the console games, there isn’t an experience bar that increases after every match""... if you have the means, I'd stick with one of the console versions"
If only one thing pisses me off quite a lot, it's guys like you who try to compare DS games to console games, and always conclude DS games actually suck at... everything. Stop bitching about error codes, about accuracy, about sensitivity, about pixels, about controls, about trial-and-error. You can play the game and comment on it... in a fair way. Thanks.


Yours sincerely,
Max

KnowsNothingMarch 17, 2011

I didn't actually read the review because I have no interest in the game, but I did read the above wall of text.  My only comment is that it is the developer's responsibility to work within the limits of the hardware, and that if the game doesn't seem to work well on a particular device that is the fault of the software.  n-Space didn't make this game and then tell Nintendo to design the DS around it; it's the other way around.  There are many other games in the same genre that the author seems to think work better on the DS, so he has every right to complain about the difficulty of the controls and the UI.

An argument could be made about his online connection problems being on his end, but as I understand it other games work well for him while this one does not.  This review is about his personal experience with the game and what he experienced was a terrible online mode.  Do you expect him to praise a multiplayer mode that didn't work because in theory it should be great?  Get real.

And at least Dan had the decency to disclose his position at n-Space.

Mop it upMarch 17, 2011

The comments in this thread are cracking me up. Especially the one about the PSP. I'm going to assume the person read either "FPS" or the typo of "PFS" as "PSP."

oohhboyHong Hang Ho, Staff AlumnusMarch 18, 2011

The whole shooting from the hip thing is accurate to the PC version. Useless your shooting at something just outside of melee and standing still, you paint outlines. Shotguns are better with effective ranges of 5 meters with no benefit from aiming. Dragon breath extends this to 15 meters making it more effective than an assault rifle in most situations.

Medal of Honor 2010 allows you to shoot from the hip out to much more reasonable distances.

Call of Duty bullshit hip firing is a series staple. Making you crawl around sights up is their idea of fun/tactical.

PC also contains one very awful "vehicular" section which is one of the worse attempts to shoehorn an RTS experience into a first person shooter.

GleeokMarch 18, 2011

That guy has several problems with the DS itself and more than with COD:BO, because...aiming with the stylus is not that hard, for me it is easier than any other kind of FPS control..but thats me, i understand some people have difficulties with it but still no reason to complaint if you call yourself a "hardcore" and start playing on "Hard" mode, the first time you get the game. If the AI isn't REALLY hard, they complaint. If the AI doesnt have the REALLY hard more, they complaint! Seriously what they want O.O?! I never had problems with the "pixelated" visuals on the DS, i honestly don't pay attention to it...i just play, and it goes very well. The WiFi lags? Yes, on a DS Lite it lags slightly but considerably. But with a DSi the connection is really good, good enough depending other player's connection. And unlike the guy who wrote that pretty crazy review, my internet never drops the connection like he said....i need 1 try, and i am in the online mode. I guess its just your internet, and your personal problem with handheld consoles...

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Genre Shooter
Developer n-Space Inc.
Controllers

Worldwide Releases

na: Call of Duty: Black Ops
Release Nov 09, 2010
PublisherActivision
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