What I'm trying to say is, when a game fails you on as many levels as Call of Duty Black Ops, all you have left is to ask yourself: Is this game visually impressive enough to recommend based on the experience alone? And, in this case, the answer is: Absolutely not.
In Call of Duty Black Ops, you play as Mason, a special forces operative interrogated into revealing the details of his missions, which you then get to re-play. Unfortunately it seems as if most of his missions involved following people around and waiting to shoot things, so that's what you do. This is not fun.
The script is full of exactly the kind of clichés you would expect, yet none of the "wow" that serves to elevate previous installments in this series. Mason is the Forrest Gump of the black ops world; present for every major event in history, but not really all that important to the outcome of any of them. Worse, the voice acting is so bad it's hard to take anything happening on screen seriously enough to even want to be a part of it, plus the frequent screen flashes and "breaks" in the interrogators' control over Mason make the experience of simply playing a level so distracting and disjointed that you'll jump for joy every time the game just gets out of your way and lets you play. Which doesn't happen much.
Again. Let's take the Pentagon cutscene as an example. After you finally meet Kennedy, you're given your mission and sent to a loading screen. By the time the next level opens, more than 10 minutes have passed since you last had control over your actions in the game and, although you are now able to move your character, you're still not playing the game. You follow your partner, Woods, to a nearby hilltop where he hands you a pair of binoculars and tells you to watch the scene unfolding below. At this point the game takes control again, another cutscene plays out, and then you follow Woods down the hills. Then you stop, unable to move or act, as helicopters fly overhead. Then you walk over to some guards, the game puts a knife in your hand. You use it. You dress as a guard (custscene), then follow Woods again, where you bluff some Russians into thinking you're one of them (Woods does the bluffing), then crouch (behind Woods) while two more of your buddies get to actually kill people while you watch. Then you're moving again, following Woods to a building where, after you wait around and listen to your friends killing some guards, you watch Woods kick open the door and THEN you finally get to fire your gun and play the game. Total elapsed time: over 20 minutes.
When the game gets out of its own way and allows you to actually play it, the experience is somewhat satisfying, but not anything that hasn't been done before, better. There is a pleasant variety of weaponry and all of them go bang. Some, like the scoped, exploding crossbow, offer brief moments of excitement, and the varied missions do make for an interesting smorgasbord of scenarios. Storming the Soviet Baikonur missile base, for example, would be good fun, if only the game had the confidence in its own impressive play style to let you have at it. All told, the 6 - 8 hour campaign feels like half gameplay, half cutscene, even if that ratio is far less.
Bottom Line: There are games that deserve to be relegated to the bargain bin, or played when there's simply nothing else on the shelf. This is one of them. It's not broken, it's just bad.
Recommendation: Playing Call of Duty Black Ops is an exercise in futility and frustration punctuated by brief moments of genuine fun. I can't recommend the game to anyone who doesn't hate themselves and want to inflict pain on their own psyche.
Please note that our original score of two stars was based solely on the single-player portion of the game. Owing to a recent change in policy, we will be awarding scores based on the combined single-player and multiplayer experience when possible. As a result, this game has been awarded an additional star in recognition of its multiplayer excellence.
To read more about Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer please see John Funk's excellent review
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Game: Call of Duty: Black Ops
Release Date: November 9th, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, DS, Wii
Available from: Amazon