War, War never changes... Oops, wrong game!
War is a particularly common subject in video games. Whether you are the general of an army or just a soldier plowing his way through enemy Nazis, war video games have allowed players to partake in an event that some would deem cruel and others a fine art. Activision's Call of Duty series has been doing this for years, taking players to World War II, the Vietnam War and even war on the Middle East with the latest in modern warfare. Black Ops is this year's iteration, and once again it manages to impress, even within the limitations of the Wii's hardware.
Black Ops takes place in the 1960s during the events of the Cold War. You play as Alex Mason as he is tortured into telling his story to a faceless captor. Mason, however, isn't the only soldier telling his tale here. As the story progresses you will step into the boots of other soldiers involved in the conflict and see their side of the story. Even though I am not a fan of war stories I won't deny that this is a fascinating tale filled with conspiracies and deceit. Despite taking place during real events in history, Black Ops is a story that should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the game does a good job of placing layers of human conflict onto its fictional narrative. One drawback is that at times it jumps around too much between characters, making it hard to follow the development of the plot. The interrogation scenes with Mason are also pretty confusing and distracting, using fast paced clips to give the game a sense of mystery that comes off as gimmicky.
The single player campaign mode is where the story takes place in. In terms of gameplay, it is a first person shooter where often the goal is to get from point A to point B while fighting many enemy soldiers. Often times you have to fight off hordes of enemies while your allies complete their task. It is a linear affair. As basic as this may sound, though, the Call of Duty franchise is known for giving us some of the most amazing and even controversial action sequences in any game of its kind, and Black Ops is no exception to the rule. Even when all you need to do is get to the other part of the scene, you will see everything from never ending enemies to helicopters taking out whole buildings. The intense feeling of survival will take over your senses as these scenes occur, and it is glorious to participate in.
Speaking of, even on its easiest difficulty setting, Black Ops will provide a challenge. This isn't a game where you can just run and avoid the enemies and get to the checkpoint. Enemies are everywhere, and the key to survival is knowing how to shoot, avoid enemy fire and seek protection. This can prove to be both satisfying and endlessly frustrating as you survive an onslaught of bullets only to get attacked by an enemy when you least expected it. Thankfully, the designers at Treyarch were smart enough to include checkpoints as often as possible, so even if you die a lot you won't be starting the same level over and over again.
Unfortunately, the objectives aren't always as clear as they should be. Usually, auxiliary characters will tell you what to do or where to go, but sometimes objectives are so subtle that you end up running around trying to figure out what to do next. It's not a game-breaking problem, but an issue that should be noted.
Zombie Mode has become a favorite in previous Call of Duty games, and Black Ops features a very funny one. The zombie mode has John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro, and Robert McNamara fighting off zombies at the Pentagon. This is a mode that shouldn't be taken seriously as history is taken way out of context for the sake of entertainment. Zombie mode provides a silly and lighthearted diversion from all the war drama involved.
Black Ops offers a plethora of control options. The default Wii Remote and Nunchuck scheme works very well, with aiming being fast and smooth, however button placement takes a while to get the hang of. You can, however, change the layout of the buttons, as well as other options such as the sensitivity of your aim and the size of the bounding box. There are also options for the Classic Controller and the Wii Zapper. They, too, can be altered to your liking so it is refreshing to see so much effort being made in taking advantage of the Wii's multiple controller options.
The Call of Duty series is known for is its multiplayer, and Black Ops offers plenty of it, although it comes with some problems of its own. First, there is no local multiplayer in Black Ops. Only online play is available, and while robust, the absence of traditional couch multiplayer is disappointing. Once online, you will have four options: player match, private match, combat training, and wager match. You can drop in and participate with other players in player match, while in private match you can set up your own game and invite friends. Combat training is important as it lets you train with bots so you can get used to online play. Best of all, players can join in and participate. This will earn you COD points which will help you level up and gain new extras and features, such as new items to customize your characters, new levels and challenges. In wager match you can bet those points before starting a match and cash out if your team manages to win.
Despite all the customizable features, accepting invites from friends, adding new players and such proved to be troublesome due to a confusing menu system. At the time of this review, friend matches had problems where the game would say that the session was over, even if the invite was sent at the moment the match started. Worse, I've encountered matches with some severe lag issues that prevented me from moving properly, and in a game about quick movement and timing this can be really annoying.
Online play also allows for voice chat using the recently released Wii headset, which can be turned on and off before a match and during one. The Wii Speak microphone, however, is not compatible with the game. Despite these issues, online play can be really fun once you understand how everything works and find a working match. The maps are quite varied, inspired by the levels you explore in the single-player campaign, and vary in size. You can even customize your own team, changing everything from the weapons they carry to their expertise. Finally, the game is constantly updated with patches, so it is always up to date.
In terms of technical prowess, Black Ops is designed to be a realistically gritty shooter that pushes the technology of the high end consoles to the limit, so it should come as no surprise that the Wii version suffers a lot from this strategy. Several scenes have been either cut entirely or drastically altered so they can meet the restrictions of the Wii hardware, a fact that many die hard Call of Duty fans will lament. Despite these issues, Black Ops does look great. The cinematic beauty of the game is still a great achievement on Wii. Character models look and animate well. Finally, the game engine runs well, although slowdown appears in the busier scenes.
Overall, Black Ops on the Wii is a great alternative to those that don't own the high end console version. Some hardware limitations and online issues keep it from being the ideal experience many fans crave, but the plethora of control methods along with the enjoyable gameplay and captivating story make it a game that people must try at least once.