Well, Well Well…. If it is another great Call of Duty game.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 1 was Treyarch’s follow up game after Call of Duty: World at War. It also came out after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 and 2. These four games, represented the franchise at its peak and even though the franchise had a yearly release, it still managed to be unique around that time. Some might say, “Out of all the setting to put this game in, why would Treyarch choose the Cold War?” Well, there is a few good reasons for that. The end of World War 2 naturally and quickly progressed into the Cold War. Realising this, Treyarch or Activison noticed the potential to continue off the World at War story but to explore new territory. A third stroke of brilliance was added in the form of Black Operations. Covert and secretive missions carried out by Governments or Military organisations that are meant to disguise whoever is behind it. Cold War (and Vietnam war), continuing a story, Black Operations.
These three ideas together, resulted in Black Ops 1 being one of the most unique games in the series. A bridge between the new and the old. Something we have never seen before and I think with some of the newer Call of Duty game, being… well bad. This initial game struck a chord with gamers and Hardcore fans of the franchise (like me). When I was younger, I had only played the Modern Warfare trilogy and thought that those were the only good Call of Duty games.
After playing Call of Duty: World at War, I was obviously wrong and decided to make a review on it and just get addicted to the game. The 18 rating on Call of Duty games is not just because of the violence, blood, and guns. It is because the player must be mature enough to understand and respect history and get the most out of it. A great example of this is when you go into the war room in the Pentagon.
You would not understand the importance of this room if you did not know history. So, if you think Call of Duty is a franchise where it was full of dank memes and 360 no scopes, go back to the swing this is where great Call of Duty games come into play.
This is what Black Ops 1 does… if you are mature, it inspires you. It inspired me to look up the Bay of Pigs Invasion, it inspired me to learn more about John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Robert McNamara, The Cold War, and Vietnam War. I look at some of the guns from the game and think “Well, what is that supposed to be?” and then I would look it up.
That made me realise that Call of Duty campaigns are at their finest when they integrate real historical events and people into their fictional stories. We will elaborate on this later. I imagine people loved the Call of Duty series is partially because it spawned an interest in history, firearms, and all that.
World at War, Modern Warfare 1 and 2 had massive balls in their campaigns, and you would think that they would ease back just a bit you know stay away from controversial stuff… and that is when you shoot Fidel Castro in the face and you realise that Call of Duty might have bigger balls in their campaigns. This mission caused such a stir in Cuba, that a Cuban website called “CubaDebate” accused the United States of trying to kill Castro virtually because they failed to in over 50 years. That is crazy. This game cause international controversy because of this mission. Now, let’s talk about how the game feels and its visual style and all that. First thing you see when you boot up the game, is quite possibly the greatest main menu in video game history.
I remember the first time I figured out you could get out of the chair; it blew my mind! Exploring this small, tiny room was such an event! There is even a computer where you can play Zork, one of the first interactive computer game, and access a bunch of other information, cheat codes and various commands. But when you look around this room, what stands out to you? Well, the TVs of course. The game immediately connects the story with real world events and in this case, real footage which gives it a feeling of importance. It is such a powerful thing to see. Your brain is fed a lot of information in a short amount of time, and this sets the for everything that takes place. It is such a nice touch they got some old school Vietnam era songs to be licenced such as: Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones. We have got real historical value here people. Visually, the graphics look great even today. But the style it was matters.
When you start a mission in Black Ops it shows you the details and then covers them in black ink. Yes, the black in that in synonymous with secrecy. It is so cool because you the player take parts in these undercover operations. You go to eight different countries in this game and there are fifteen missions, so variety is aplenty. As I have stated before, when you start a mission, the details are shown and then quickly blacked out. As if every level is something that happened in the past. Something that was open, closed, and filed away forever. All you are doing, is reliving it all. Which makes a phenomenal method of storytelling and that brings me to the structure of Black Ops 1. The story is told out of chronological order, and of you have ever seen Memento, you know what a powerful connection this can make with the audience if done right and Black Ops nails it.
The story progresses normally with what is happening in the present leading to what appears to be chronological flashbacks. And you think, “ahh this is predictable! I know where they are going with this!” NOPE WRONG! You are going back to World War II my guy! “What!” It is at this point, where you realise how wrong you were for thinking this is another generic 5/10 Call of Duty game. The 8th mission: Project Nova is when the game starts throwing curveballs at you and in the 2nd to last mission is when everything that has been presented to you so far, starts to take shape. It all starts to make sense and you piece together the timeline of everything that has happened. But it is not just the way the narrative of Black Ops is told that makes it unique and memorable, it’s the story itself.
Campaign & Story
You start off being interrogated by some unknow people in an ominous room, you are Alex Mason, and your memory is foggier than Shrek’s swamp, and you have these people barraging you with questions. Now, Black Ops immediately breaks new ground for the franchise because the player character is his own person, and he talks whilst you have control. For an example, look at the mission in Black ops, “U.S.D.D” it was legendary. Previous games always abided by the silent protagonist trope and, this was necessary move to make because an interrogation would not work if the person getting interrogated does not say anything. Immediately, the game sets up a mystery to be solved. It’s got you hook, line, and sinker. Right off the bat, your engaged in what is going on and the main plot revolves around Alex Mason’s mind to find the broadcast station that will activate various sleeper agents throughout the US. Which in turn will lead to a Russian chemical attack on the mainland, using the deadly weapon: Nova 6. Storytelling has improved from World at War because Black ops has likeable characters with personalities, and they characters play a bigger role in the story. So, you feel more connected to them overall. The first mission has you assaulting Cuba with the goal of killing Castro, and while it looks like you did – straight in the head, He’s still alive because you killed a double.
Mason sacrifices himself to allow the plane that your friends are on to get to safety but gets captured and given to the Russians. It is at this point we see just how finely woven the cuteness are for this game. So many images are shown to the player that it overwhelms them, just as Mason’s memories are overwhelming him when he relives it all. They are made to be disorienting yet informative and the special effects, all the red and everything else makes it look so cool. It has a similar style to World at War’s cutscenes. So, mason is handed to Dragovic (One of the main villains of the game) and thrown into the Russian prison, Vorkuta which was a real camp by the way.
Why Call of Duty, why do you have to make history so fascinating?! But then we see a familiar face… REZNOV from World at War. When I first saw this, I was shocked. I played Black Ops after World at War and the only thing I new was that this was another Treyarch game, so seeing this after playing World at War was just great. After realising that this was a sequel to World at War, I was two times more engaged in the story. So, you stage a daring escape with the legend himself. When you and the other prisoners are about to head out into the courtyard with the big machine guns you get this little exchange between Mason and Reznov:
Mason: Reznov, your men must know this is suicide.
Reznov: Victory cannot be achieved without sacrifice, Mason. We Russians know this better than anyone.
That is such a great line, in reference to the twenty plus million soldiers who lost their lives in World War 2.
In Vorkuta is where the most important plot points happen, and we will get to those in a bit. After you escape Vorkuta, you are flown to the Pentagon and this whole scene if fantastic, the great music which I will explain later, how they have multiple things going on besides Mason just going to the pentagon. The story is reminding you of previous American Heroes at the same time showing you that Alex Mason is a bit screwy in the head. Just the idea of walking through the Pentagon is immediately going to connect players to the story. You meet one of the most legendary Presidents of the United States.
And this is what I have been talking about, you meet Robert McNamara, then John F Kennedy in the Pentagon. And these characters, these scenes have such an impact on the audience because they have real historical value. They are connected to this that actually happened. So, when you play some of the newer COD games and you wonder why you don’t really care. I guarantee it is because they are not connected to real history. So, you are talking to JFK and you shockingly pull out a gun on him. Treyarch did you just seriously have me pull out a pistol at President Kennedy. Now if I had to talk about some negatives, there’s not much that comes to mind, honestly. Parts of the campaign are a bot over the top, but they are not so ridiculous it takes you out of the story. But you know, there’s so much that goes on throughout the rest of the game and I would love to talk about all of it, even though it took me 9 hours to beat the game, it would take me forever to go through mission by mission and talk about everything I think is good and everything I loved.
So here is a relatively quick summary if what I think is most important (Spoilers Ahead): I love the concept of Mason being programmed to kill JFK but Reznov is so mad at Dragovich, Kravchenko, Steiner (The three villains of the game) that he somehow re-programmed his own agenda for revenge into Mason. One of the finer details is at certain points in the campaign, mostly when Reznov appears after his actual death, you can hear the numbers sequence (A mystery in the game) in the background. Effectively showing that player how Mason’s mind is conflicted between being a programmed sleeper agent, and a programmed vessel of revenge. These two ideas clash and that is a recuring theme in Black Ops. It is quite brilliant, and I love how the game does not need to explicitly tell us everything. Leave some stuff to the imagination. What blows my mid is how Treyarch was able to write the story in a way that you feel like Alex Mason and can connect with him, but you are also at times, separated and looking at Alex Mason as his own person. Also, how they managed to foreshadow and show you these subtle details the lead to the two ultimate twists near the end. If you pay close attention, there’s a dead giveaway line of identifying one of the interrogators:
Hudson: Or you can give us what we want, and we guarantee your safety…
Interrogator: What about Dragovich? Do you remember him? Give us what we want, and we’ll guarantee your safety.
And you will also notice when Mason introduces Reznov to his team, they take no notice of him at all:
Reznov: Are these your men?
Mason: Woods, Bowman.
Reznov: I am Reznov… Viktor.
Woods: What the hell took you so long, Mason? That intel had better be worth it! Lima Niner, where the hell’s our pickup?!
So as the story progresses it becomes more and more clear that something is wrong. Another this is when you meet JFK, this slow down and you see footage of his funeral in the background, pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald and that is just wow, great attention to detail. Just to really talk about gameplay, I think it’s a big improvement on World at War. Which mind you, was already great. Grenade spam was toned down significantly and the game feels a lot fairer. There is plenty of gimmicks, unique scenarios, all that good stuff. COD campaigns are very linear and formulaic, but you should know by now if you like what these games you, because if you do, you will love Black Ops 1. I would also like to point out how incredible the collectibles are and the computer in the interrogation room. Both of these things give significant and fascinating details on the backstory of the game, events that happened, character arcs. Just looking at these, you can tell alit of effort was put into them and It was such great fan service to play as Viktor Reznov. To go back to World War II even just for one mission (Also, the Russian Theme from World at War returns in this mission).
It is highly amazing that they had Dimitri Petrenko make a comeback, the soldier you played as in the Russian mission of World at War. But now the perspective is switched and the players excitement at his return is short-lived. You watch him suffer from the Nova 6 gas as a guinea; betrayed by his leaders.
Reznov: Dimitri Petrenko was one of the bravest men I had ever known…He fought by my side from the Siege of Stalingrad to the fall of Berlin. The wounds he sustained ensuring our victory should have earned him a hero’s welcome to Russia… But Stalin had little need for heroes…
That quote is so powerful. Right before killing Dragovich, he mocks the death of Kennedy.
Mason: You tried to make me KILL MY OWN PRESIDENT!
Dragovich: (smirking) Tried?
And after you save the day, there’s a real ominous ending. They are implying that Mason was the one who killed JFK because of his programming by Dragovich, Stiner and Kravchenko. That gives me the chills, what an ending. There’s actually a theory that there were two gunman at the assassination of JFK and if you look at it that way, Mason was the second who never got caught. Without a doubt, Black Ops 1 has a fantastic campaign, I’d say best in the series out of the games that I have played. It immerses you and captivates you from start to finish and the historical context of these events gives it such an impact because this stuff actually happened.
Just like World at War, the Black Ops soundtrack is great. The composter Seam Murray did a great job. World at War captured the brutality of World War II and Black Ops captured the clandestine Cold War. Listen to this:
Such an eerie, mysterious, and bizarre score. Perfectly fits the game. It has hardcore intense parts and unsettlingly ambiguous parts.
This games OST is just as good as World at War.
Modern Warfare 1 changed everything when it comes to online shooters and the COD series overall. Modern Warfare 2 refined those important elements, and Black Ops 1 offers that game greatness in a time period we have never seen in Call of Duty before. So, when it comes to multiplayer, I am impressed what Black Ops 1 offers. Some people say that COD is the same thing every year and Black Ops is not different. But here is the thing. I am totally fine in Call of Duty’s formulaic design form year to year because it has a winning formula. But only if it gives me something new alongside everything, I play these games for. Perfect maps that are always fun to play with unique gimmicks, layouts, designs that allow for a multitude of strategies. Interesting weapons that are satisfying to shoot that look and sound great. Progression that makes me fell like I’m accomplishing something. Customisation that gives plenty of options but is not too complicated.
Killstreaks that are as fun as they can be and make me feel awesome. Black Ops 1 has all that butter. Look at the game mode Gun Game, one of the most creative, intensely fun game modes that has ever been made by a human being. It is a six-player free-for-all with a catch, every kill gives you a new weapon, knifing people makes them revert one weapon backwards. First person to get twenty kills wins. It is the ultimate test of mastery over the sandbox Black Ops 1 has and every map cuts off certain paths and changes when you play Gun Game. You also had Wager Matches; you could bet your in-game currency that you could only get from playing the game and winning matches. No microtransactions were needed to get this currency, all you had to do was just win a Multiplayer match. Back to the main focus of Wager Matches. You can come out on top, second, third, or lose everything you betted. They even have high roller mode for the people that want to duke it out. Also, in multiplayer, Black Ops overhauled the customization by adding these points and allowing you to buy what you wanted when you wanted, with a level cap on some weapons. No longer would you have to grind levels to get the gun you wanted after getting to the prestige levels, you could just but this stuff outright. Thank you Treyarch, you saved a person sometime.
Using weapons like the crossbow or ballistic knife is a challenge in and of itself, but oh so satisfying if you can actually hit your targets. There is a theatre mode where you can record your favourite clips, take screenshots, and share them. I don’t mind if they took this idea from Halo, every First-Person Shooter game needs a theatre mode. This game did not just stop innovating. You have playercards which give you an in-depth statistics on basically everything. Heats maps, where you hit your targets, where you die, your accuracy, what you have killed people the most with. There were also customizable emblems which allow for a lot of creativity and look I made mine a Kirby from some old YouTube tutorial.
There also was interactive map design! This is what Call of Duty is supposed to do year by year. Advancements that keep things fresh. They even offered 15 levels of prestige which is a bit extreme if you ask me, but hey it gives hardcore fans something to do. The campaign had so many diverse set pieces and locations that translate to multiplayer. You have a stealth mission in the snow, so there is a wide-open snowy map. You go to Cuba so there is a tropical themed missile facility. You are imprisoned by the Viet Kong so you fight in a Vietnamese prison. You get the picture. Oh yeah, you cannot forget Nuketown one of the more brilliant and somehow successful maps. Honestly, it is a small map with three lanes but it is really, really fun to play on. Probably because the layout is simplistic and allows for constant action no matter what mode it is. Not only are all the maps fantastic to play on, but their locations are also reflected in the single player and it makes the campaign and multiplayer feel connected.
I think that you could make a pretty good case for Black Ops having the best, or even in the top 3 multiplayers in the Call of Duty franchise. However, there is one major flaw. One this that weighs it down in every aspect of play. It’s the sound design and you might be thinking “Wow, that is a pretty innocuous thing to complain about!” But good gosh. They recycled the same explosion and shotgun effects that it starts to wear on your mind the longer you play. With how polished this game is in basically every aspect, I am flabbergasted, yes flabbergasted at how lazy the sound design is. As far as I know there is like three explosion sounds, and four of the shotguns sound the same. This can distract from an otherwise fabulous game. But despite that, the multiplayer overall is fantastic.
Black Ops heralded the return of Nazi Zombies from World at War, but they did not give you one somewhat barebones map aside from DLC (I own the World at War DLC), They gave you two that were way better than the original! Kino Der Toten is definitely top 3 or 4 all time zombies maps, set in a rundown German theatre and Five is set in the Pentagon. Treyarch might have thought that two new zombies map is not enough. So, they bring in Dead Ops arcade. Just like every other area of Black Ops we have discussed so far, the game innovated in Nazi Zombies too. Adding in stuff like fire traps, Nova Zombies, the thundergun and of course an entire new sandbox of weapons to kill zomboids with. Through out the DLC we’d get a bunch of new perks like PHD Flopper, Stamin-up, Deadshot Daiquiri and the best one there, Mule Kick. Then of course you have got your monkeys, Semtex grenades, the Pentagon thief, Matryoshka Dolls and so much more, so much new!
If you want to play Zombies, Black Ops 1 with it’s DLC is the definitive game to play it on, it will give you endless hours of entertainment. Also includes all the maps from World at War with the Black Ops weapons. You know, I don’t normally give so much praise to DLC after the fact, they are £11.99 each. But I think it is because that they give you more of exactly what you want, that I am giving it praise and even if you don’t buy any of the DLC, Kino Der Toten, Five, and Dead Ops arcade come with the game and that is enough content to hold you over for sure. You know, there can be frustration when you get double swiped and go down immediately. However, the fact that it can be so brutally punishing when you go down with full perks, is what makes it so intense. Because you have nothing to bail you out besides your teammates and those moments when you get up in the middle of a round with no perks are some of the most nerve-wracking moments you can experience in zombies.
The fact that when you get downed, and you get up so upset after losing your perks, shows you just how much you care about doing well in this mode and quality Zombies maps, Kino and Five have amazing layouts. It is actually addicting; I mean what else can I say. It is everything World at War zombies was but better. Way better and that is a tough thing to accomplish, it really is. Consistent improvement, expanding variety and near every gun is viable to pack a punch (Basically means upgrade), which I love. Even stuff like the dragonuv, china lake, or the law that people always tell me they are bad, but they are fun as it can ever be. All the classic characters you love, return in Kino Der Toten, Ascension, Moon, and in Call of the Dead in an unexpected way. Also, the fact that they got George Romero, Robert Englund, Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker, Sarah Michelle Gellar all into an ensemble cast zombies’ game just blows my mind. Five is awesome too because the concept of JFK, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro, and Robert McNamara fighting off waves of zombies in the Pentagon was just so ridiculous and cool. Once more, tying Zombies into the setting of Black Ops’ story and campaign, everything is connected. Dead Ops arcade is surprisingly fun too and plays completely different to normal Zombies. It is got a top-down perspective and as the name suggests it is very arcade. Your gold, of course is just to get as many points as possible. With a bunch of new, awesome power-ups and some familiar weapons we’ve seen in zombies before. It is a perfect little model that is fun to go back to every now and then and even 4 players can join in on the mayhem, I think it is funny because it was completely unnecessary to add it. Black Ops would still be a great game without Dead Ops. But it goes to show the level of dedication Treyarch had. With all the new features, maps, DLC, Black Ops 1 has without a doubt the best variety and bang for your buck in the series when it comes to zombies and to this day, I am still amazed at everything Treyarch gave us.
All in all, Call of Duty Black Ops 1 is one of the best games in this massive franchise. With the way its campaign builds off of World at War and continues that story. The intensity and awe of playing through Black Operations, Mason’s journey, his revelations, the historic value it has by connecting itself to the Cold War, Vietnam War, and Cuban Missile Crisis and so many other events and places. The writing, the characters, the story overall is fantastic. The multiplayer has some of the best maps in the franchise, with great customization and everything that made Modern Warfare 1 and 2 great is here and improved. Alongside the many innovations introduced and just the sheer Treyarch gave us, this game is definitely one that blew people away when it came out and will always be something you con go back to.