LAG – Late Appraisals of Games: Call of Duty Black Ops

June 27th, 2012 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming
I'm glad that my first post for this segment is true to form. I wanted to do a game review bit on this site, but I knew that I'd never really be able to keep up with (or afford) all the major titles that come out and write about them in anything resembling a timely fashion. So my thought was to come up with a segment title that represented the old news I was reporting, and so I came up with Late in the Game. Aren't these things better after they're explained?
Black Ops box art

I know it was released almost two years ago. I'm writing about it now.

Anyway, there will actually be a review of a game at some point, but in the interest of not pissing off my one reader, I'd like issue a warning that this post contains spoilers. I don't know if anyone has been staving off a need to play Black Ops just so they can play it back-to-back with Black Ops II; but if that describes you, you may not want to read on. I'll start out by saying that I own (or in the case of a Xbox 360 copy of Call of Duty 3, have owned) all the various iterations of the Call of Duty franchise. Call of Duty has been one of a few major LAN party staples for my group of friends (along with Warcraft III and UT) since my first, and this level of sentimentality has perpetuated (and will continue to perpetuate) my buy-in to this series. Even so, I realize that many of these titles don't offer much more than a good-looking FPS (depending on your specs and chronological reference point), but I think Black Ops managed to provide more than this. And by this, I'm not referring to the ability to take on the persona of Nixon, JFK, Fidel Castro, or Robert McNamara and shoot glowing-eyed zombies. Yes. What I am referring to is a good, original story and a creative method of delivering and integrating it with the gameplay. In my experience, a lot of storylines in first-person shooters aren't much more than a transparent means to get a character from one closed map to another. This obviously isn't the case all around (e.g. the Bioshock or Half-Life titles), but at the time of it's release, and especially when compared to the previous titles in the series, the story of Mason was pretty exceptional in several ways.
The main menu screen

Not exactly the kind of place you hope to wake up in.

One of those ways, as I've mentioned already, was the delivery of the story. They put you into it right from the main menu screen; you're bloody, tied to chair that's been wired to a car battery, and all you can do is look around at your bleak surroundings as a modulated voice interrogates you. From there the game starts. You have no idea what's going on, but you're getting drugged up and the shit shocked out of you as someone in a shrouded booth yells questions at you that you don't know the answers to. It immediately puts you on the defensive, and you become sympathetic toward Mason and his situation. However, that sympathy changes as the story progresses and Mason's conditioning begins to surface more and more. This brings me to Viktor Reznov, how is perhaps my favorite element in the story. The full extent to the subtlety in the use of Viktor Reznov was not made clear to me until my second play through a few days ago. He is tied into the story and the gameplay so well that he never really feels out of place. I honestly had no idea who he was until the Rebirth Island mission where you're Hudson, and there's only Mason on the other side of the glass. Up until that point, I had no reason to suspect his as anything other than another character in the game. However, going through everything a second time, you start to notice things like how nobody else ever interacts with Reznov after Vorkuta. There were times where he'd just appear at your side to offer insight or direction, and in the missions he would show up in, he was always with you. I noticed that if I died and had to restart a segment, Reznov would appear in different places depending on where I went. If I used cover on the right side of a street, he would show up next to me; if I instead went through a building on the left, he'd be there as I came around a corner.
Reznov in Vorkuta

"He and us are not so different..."

Knowing who and what Reznov was also gave certain scenes an entirely different feeling on a second play through. When you're consciously aware of your characters psychosis, you start to picture how those scenes actually played out versus how they were portrayed in the game. In one obvious instance in the rat tunnels where a squad mate challenges Mason and tells him to "keep this shit together" when Mason is talking to Reznov, you first see that as someone telling Mason to be quiet so nobody hears them sneak up. However, when you know that Reznov isn't real at that point, it's just Mason talking to himself in the dark. Other times when Reznov helps Mason up after a close explosion or watches Reznov kill someone, you now know that it's just a survival mechanism and Mason is just projecting his own actions. It's elements like these that made the story, and the title as a whole, stand out to me. It's enthralling nature and cohesion with the actual gameplay was impressive, and I'm hoping it's a quality they choose to replicate in Black Ops II. As of now, that is scheduled for release on November 13, 2012.

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