Reviewed: December 7, 2010
Released: November 9, 2010
Despite whatever level of realism the Call of Duty developers try to create, and arguably achieve, every game will always be a story of one incredibly talented, heavily shielded soldier and his war against armies and armies or poorly trained, barely shielded cannon fodder. Call of Duty: Black Ops is really no different, and more importantly, the DS version of Black Ops is especially no different. The one one exception to this super soldier versus the world narrative, present in all Call of Duties, is that the on the DS, the hero has terrible, terrible aim.|
Controls are far and away the highest hurdle getting in the way of an otherwise enjoyable handheld Call of Duty experience. You can use the touch screen and achieve extreme control, but you lose accuracy. Using the touch screen means shooting from the hip is pretty much required. The option exists to look down the scope, but it requires a quick glance at the touch screen, and a gentle tap to the right stylus ready quadrant, and then you can start shooting. This does not work in the fast paced, “where did that guy come from,” world of Call of Duty.
The other option, is to use the d-pad and the face buttons as stand-in control sticks, while the left shoulder button looks down your scope and the right shoulder button kills evil-doers. This does not work, because four separate displaced buttons simply cannot stand in for a control stick with total 360 degree control. It’s really a lesser of two evils situation, and you have to pick the control style that barely works for you. Once you get past the controls, which unfortunately you will never be able to completely forgive, you are left with a pretty robust little Call of Duty package that offers a lot of content.
The game looks passable at time. Call of Duty has a certain standard of graphics that are not being met here on the DS, but there are elements of the game that look pretty good. The guns you carry look good and some of the landscapes look good. Everything else is muddy and unattractive. Character models are rough, and animations are blocky and stiff. Those guns though? Those guns look pretty darn good.
Music is a huge highlight of the game. The action movie inspired sweeping scores experience almost no downgrades on their trip down to the small screen, from the HD screen. The Afghanistan levels in particular offer a memorable piece of music that makes hunting bad guys an exciting endeavour. As far as non-musical sounds go, the guns all sound different, and the explosions certainly explode, but there is only so much that can be done with those tiny little speakers. The sound quality of the voice recordings are mysteriously terrible. The actual voice acting is okay, but it doesn’t really matter, because the story those voices are telling is entirely forgettable.
The narrative of the game is nothing more than a stand-in for the loading screens between levels. It has a few parallels to the console versions of Black Ops, but for the most part, the games are completely unrelated. What does happen, in part thanks to the narrative, are some interesting back and forth scenarios. You may be making your way through a level only to come to area that must be held down until the cavalry arrives, and then in the next level you are tasked as playing the cavalry so to speak, by controlling the helicopter that comes to the rescue. These sort of situations happen throughout the game, and are cool scenarios, but generally you are pushing every button you can find to skip the cut-scenes in order to get back to the shooting.
Along with the single player campaign, there is the online mode, and rather surprisingly, the zombies mode makes an appearance here as well. The online is rather limited allowing hosts to create games of varying familiar modes and weapons, and then allowing people to enter those games. Luck of the draw is what gets you into a game, and once your in there it works well with very little lag. Getting into the games themselves is time consuming, frustrating and often confusing. You will be spending a lot of time in the multiplayer menus before finally getting to a place where you can finally shoot some people. Navigating the menus means signing in and out of Nintendo Wifi, and committing to games you really have no interest in playing (knives only? Really?).
As you play the multiplayer, and single player, you will unlock new titles for your online persona, as well as access to additional perks and guns. There are a lot of unlockables here to strive for, but you won’t see the same level of customization, or RPG elements that are found in the console multiplayer games. The thing to understand though, is that there is incentive to return, and that is what is important.
The zombies mode is actually one of the highlights of game, offering a thankfully familiar Call of Duty zombie experience. Zombies just sort of inherently works well as a handheld game with it’s relatively high stakes quick rounds. Games are short, fun and just the right thing for a pick up and play and then put down sort of experience. The zombie mode can be played alone, or with friends, and by friends I mean literally friends. You can only play zombies with local wireless, or with people on your friends list, which means tracking down friends codes, which is always a huge pain. Also, it is worth mentioning that there is no voice chat, so good luck coordinating flag tactics, or shouting, “Hey look out for that zombie that I just saw that is about to eat you oh no it’s too late sorry!”
The Call of Duty offering here, is a substantial one, and for the target audience, presumably younger gamers with parents averse to horrendous amounts of neck stabbing (a prominent feature of Black Ops on the console, but one mysteriously absent on the DS), this game is perfect. The controls are terrible, but they do eventually become manageable. The online is fun and limited, and the zombies are a welcome surprise. There are enough unlockables to keep you returning to both the multiplayer and single player modes, and if you can track down some friends with the same game, zombie is always a lot of fun. Now if we could only do something about these graphics...