Call of Duty: Black Ops Impressions

By Joel Taveras

August 19, 2010

Like most of the writers that I spoke to who attended the recent New York City Activision media day, I too was a bit hesitant when it was time to check out the latest entry to the Call of Duty franchise. It was nothing personal against Treyarch, but the previous title by the now defunct Infinity Ward team left somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth. And it wasn’t even about all the hacking that was plaguing the online play; it was because of a story that was so convoluted even Michael Bay would have difficulty understanding it. Thankfully, Treyarch is not Infinity Ward and they’re not trying to be. With Black Ops, they’re just going to do what they always do and that is make a solid game, not just a multiplayer shooter with a tacked-on campaign.

Although my time with the game was only eyes-on with community manager Josh “JD_2020” Olin in the driver seat, I kind of preferred it that way as it allowed me to really take in everything that was new and different with the title. And boy is there a long list. One of the biggest changes was the inclusion of Full Performance Capture (FPC). FPC allows for capturing not just an actor’s motions and facial expressions but also their voices as well. This allows for a much more believable and human characters which should help translate into a memorable story. All the FPC work was done at the “House of Moves”, the same studio where James Cameron was able to bring the blue Na’avi people to life in 2009’s Avatar.

As far as technical visuals go, you’d be hard pressed to find an engine that looks as good as the one we’ve been getting used to with the Call of Duty series these past few years. Minus a few console exclusives here and there and you’d be hard pressed to find a better-looking shooter this generation. With that said, what would you say if I told you that Black Ops looks even better? That’s exactly what’s going on as the team at Treyarch has literally ripped out the lighting from the engine and rebuilt it from the ground up adding a truly heightened sense of realism to the engine that when combined with FPC, truly comes together to create a technical showpiece.

Do you remember the Helicopter mission shown during this year’s E3? That’s one of the levels from the game that I had a chance to check out. And during that eyes-on play through is when I learned that the chopper was actually controlled by the player and not on rails. Most people’s main complaint about the inclusion of vehicles or vehicle segments in games is usually due to having to learn new controls. Treyarch has solved that problem so easily that it makes you wonder why hasn’t anyone done this already. The way this is achieved is that the flight controls are mapped the same exact way as the controls for when the player is on foot. So the left stick controls movement (forward, back, left, and right) and the right stick is used to look. The only thing that is not controlled by the player is the level of elevation, which adjusts in conjunction with the action found on screen. No more dreading vehicles areas. Thank you Treyarch.

We can’t talk helicopters and not talk explosions right? The two go hand in hand. And let me among the first to tell you that Black Ops has (surprise) a whole lot of explosions. I’m talking bridges, shacks, choppers, conveniently placed red barrels, and even enemy heads (thanks to the 357 magnum) you will not get over how over the top the action is in this game. When community manager Josh Olin said that you’ll be “doing all types of Rambo sh*t” the man was not kidding.

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The other members of the media in the room with me begged and pleaded for multiplayer details but Josh for the most part shot down those kinds of questions. What he did touch on was the fact that World at War was just as hack-able as Modern Warfare 2 the only difference was that after it’s release everyone was in MW2 mode and that is the reason why it was more prominent in that title. To quickly address anyone’s concerns though, he did tell us that measures have been put in place to stop those who plan on ruining the fun for others. You can expect more multiplayer details from the full reveal coming up on September 1st.

I went into this preview with hesitations and not so many high hopes and yet I came out of it wanting to smack down money for a special edition and an RC car. The new lighting and crazy explosions definitely impressed me but the real star of the show was the inclusion of FPC and the idea that this Call of Duty may have a story and characters I can actually care about. And while Call of Duty: Black Ops won’t be giving us more “Modern Combat” (which is starting to feel almost as old as overused as WWII) what they are providing is a single player campaign we can actually look forward to.

  • Title: Call of Duty: Black Ops
  • Developer / Publisher: Treyarch, Activision
  • Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii
  • Release: November 9, 2010
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Joel Taveras

Joel Taveras is one of the founding members of DualShockers. He hails from New York City where he lives with his wife and two sons. During his tenure with the site, he's held every position from news writer to community manager to editor in chief. Currently he manages the behind the scenes and day-to-day operations at the publication.

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