"Warning: May Cause Cramping in your Hands!"
First-person shooters haven't enjoyed a lot of success on the Nintendo DS, and for good reason. The touch screen doesn't really lend itself well to controlling the first-person perspective, despite many attempts to come up with something that feels natural and to which players will adapt easily. Call of Duty: Black Ops is the latest game in the franchise that's also made its way to the DS, after last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Mobilized. Although Black Ops is a solid shooter with enough variation in gameplay to keep things interesting, ultimately the sum of its parts doesn't quite add up to a whole lot of anything other than a bland shooter on rails, especially because the handheld delivers more interesting games in other genres.
Other than in Metroid, Dementium: The Ward, and a handful of other games which share Black Ops' first-person perspective, the Nintendo DS hardware really can't cope with the demands of action-based shooters. Shooters are traditionally quick-paced and require very precise controls, and the DS touch screen just can't compare to the mouse / keyboard combination. Call of Duty: Black Ops suffers the same fate, and if it were more of a stealth-based game where slow, deliberate movements were required rather than quick, accurate aiming, the game probably would have fared a little better.
The core of the gameplay in Black Ops puts players on the ground in intense firefights in modern day, covert ops missions. Ranging in locales from Cuba to Vietnam and Afghanistan, players take on the roles of various operatives behind enemy lines fighting their way out during the height of the Cold War.
- Controls are still a big issue -
Gameplay-wise, Black Ops is solid for what it is. Players fight their way through hordes of enemies trying to get past certain checkpoints to accomplish their objectives. With 16 missions and various other game types like Challenges, Zombies, and Kill Zone, the game offers a pretty good amount of gameplay options, which makes you feel like you're getting your money's worth.
What makes the game interesting is that as soon as players get bored with just running and gunning, the game will switch it up to maybe riding in a boat or a truck, letting the players man a huge machine gun or an RPG, taking out baddies as the vehicle travels to your next objective. It's a nice way of breaking up the monotony of running down paths and taking out enemies ad nauseum.
Call of Duty: Black Ops also features levels which will require the player to "pilot" helicopters and even a plane, avoiding missles while taking out ground targets. It's a pretty nifty way to rest your hand from all the running and shooting, and they come at just the right times, keeping players from just settling into the whole run-and-gun scenario and ultimately getting bored with it.
The biggest complaint many players might have with the game is probably going to be the controls. The game doesn't quite respond to the touch screen as quickly as one would like, making switching up weapons or reloading guns a hassle. Furthermore, with the left hand responsible for both shooting and moving around, tense situations (for most right-handed players), like storming the beach in Cuba, will make for painful hand cramps due to gripping the DS too hard. Since the right hand is used to look with the stylus, the left hand gets to do everything else. This setup makes for painful gaming, kind of like the "Nintendo Claw" that the old-school gamepads were responsible for. This is why the breaks in the first-person shooting are so welcome.
Other gameplay modes round out the campaign nicely. A Challenge mode gives the player an objective, which the player must then complete within a certain level, be it 15 knife kills in Cuba, using specific weapons for so many kills, etc. The 24 levels add a lot more "game" to the single-player campaign in addition to the rather short story mode.
Also included is the obligatory Zombies mode. Here, players get to defend a position from zombies while repairing barricades and buying more and more powerful weapons. It's a fun distraction, but it can get quite frustrating quickly, especially for players who are already suffering from major hand cramps.
There's also the Kill Zone Time Trials, which is an obstacle training course where players are judged on how fast they're able to complete the course. Getting on the scoreboards opens the course up to new weapons. All in all, the different modes of play in Call of Duty: Black Ops will make players feel like there's enough in the game to justify their purchase.
Sounds are decent -- not great, but not bad. The weapons sound very formidable, and there are different effects for the various guns in the game. Some machine guns sound hollow and not all that exciting, but generally the gun sounds are good. Sound effects are also passable. From the heavy breathing that the player's character makes after sprinting too much to the clunk of grenades when they hit the rocks beside you, it all does a good job making the players feel like they're really part of the action. There are some points in the game where the soundtrack kicks in and just makes the missions epic, kind of like the Normandy Beach scene from Saving Private Ryan... maybe.
- Vehicle combat breaks up gameplay nicely -
Graphics are what you'd expect from a DS game as well as a shooter on the system. The wartime colors are bland and muted, and there are a lot of camo greens and browns. Unfortunately, the environments all tend to look the same, as do the uniforms of the soldiers you're fighting, so there's really not much in the visual department to write home about. The 3D rendering is as good as it can get on the DS, but it's essentially comparable to games from the old PlayStation days: very blocky and jaggy. The animations are not that much better; death animations are the same for just about everybody, and you can tell that the developers were limited in terms of what they could put into such a small memory foot print. The game doesn't really suffer from the mediocre graphics though; it's still very fun to play and headshots are still easy to come by.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 set a pretty high bar for shooters on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, and as valiant as n-Space's efforts were to bring that type of excellence to the DS, the game falls flat. It can be fun and even exhilarating at times. Ultimately though, Call of Duty: Black Ops on the DS feels like a shooter from the 90s rather than the little brother of the current generation's Call of Duty games. The sad part about it is that it does what it's attempting to do well (very well), which is bringing a solid first-person shooter to the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately, because of the controls and the limitations of the DS, it just ends up being a bland shoot 'em up with little to offer. It's fun, but at the end of the day, there are better games out there that showcase what the DS can do.
GameDynamo's Score for Call of Duty: Black Ops (DS/DSi)
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