I struggled briefly with the idea that it was me. That I was perhaps the only one out of the 7 million copies sold that really dislikes the new Call of Duty: Black Ops. Then I realized that the culture of the FPS genre had changed and that it wasn’t so much the games fault as it was a reflection of the generation of poor game-design decisions we’ve had to endure. Simply put, today’s games are designed for the 15 year old in the same way that Mario was designed for me. Feeling old and cranky however, is also a recipe for a good ol’fashion “Aggravation” post.
There are so many things wrong with Black Ops that I don’t rightly know where to begin. Multiplayer seems to contain the majority of my grievances, so it’s as good a spot as any. In all previous incarnations of CoD multiplayer, the modern ones at least, there has been a “unlock” system. Hardly something unique to the game or the genre, it’s a time honored tradition. The longer you play the game, the more stuff you unlock. In the case of CoD, it’s guns and stuff for guns, and that’s fine with just about everyone. We also rightly have to compare and contrast Black Ops with it’s Modern Warfare 1 & 2 counterparts, and that’s where things really start to fall apart.
In Modern Warefare you started with a small handful of perks and some basic guns. If you used a gun long enough, you unlocked an attachment (red dot, silencer, etc). Same with the perks. Use “Marathon” long enough and you get “Marathon Pro”, and so on. Usage + Time and Skill = More Stuff. The “rank” of your persona and weapons you had access to depended solely on your experience points (XP), which you gained by doing well and playing more. I could name dozens if not hundreds of games that use this basic system or a system very similar to it.
Black Ops decides to take the formula, wave it in front of you face, and fuck your sister with it.
Now, instead of XP alone, you get credits ($) or in-game money and XP. XP allows you to rank up and credits allow you to purchase things. The trouble is, the things you want to purchase STILL need to be unlocked. It’s like they took the worst part of the system, added in the worst part of an RPG system, and let them create some ginger headed fuck spawn.
Just like in a RPG, after days and days of questing, you finally reach a blacksmith shop. Eager to spend your coin you pick out UberSword the Destroyer. Problem is, UberSword can only be used by a level 15 Barbarian and you’re only level 12. So, back out onto the road you go, killing anything in your path until you reach level 15. You go back to the blacksmith, ready to pick up your new and well earned booty. Too bad UberSword is $20,000 and you only have $8,000. So, back out you go again, killing more dungeon baddies and looting their treasure rooms. You return to the shop a level 25 badass with $50,000 gold only to find that UberSword isn’t looking so hot any more and doesn’t really give you much of a bonus since you already increased your skills so much… but… wait, there’s UltraUberMegaSword™ and it’s only $100,000…. and so on and so forth. It’s called THE GRIND. It’s boring and a pain in the ass in RPGs, it has absolutely no place in my FPS.
IF I UNLOCK SOMETHING, I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BUY IT ALSO!
I’ve played Black Ops for two nights now, earned $20,000 fake credits, reached level 14 and “unlocked” about 8 guns, of which I actually purchased… drum roll please…. two. Two guns. What’s worse is that I have no intention of purchasing another gun until I “unlock” the “privilege” of purchasing the gun I actually want at level 35. Half the fun of CoD was unlocking a new gun every level and trying them out. So what if you looked like an idiot running around with duel pistols and a Javelin rocket launcher, you had just unlocked them and by golly you were going to try them out. That was fun. They’ve effectively killed half the fun. Half. There’s no incentive to unlock anything you won’t routinely use.
To make things even worse, everything is both unlockable and a purchase, including the very very basic things. Grenades, a purchase, but you can’t get them until level 5. Camo, a purchase, but you can’t unlock it until level 20. Perks, the basic building blocks of the CoD franchise, a purchase at $2000 a pop. Did I mention there’s 15 of them? Player logos, gamer-cards, gun attachments, equipment, all purchases that your can’t buy right off the bat.
I don’t have any problem switching to a “credit” system instead of a XP based unlock system, but actually switch systems, don’t just straddle the fence. You can’t have it both ways. If I have the points to purchase UltraMcFuckYou™ gun, let me buy it. Don’t say I have to wait until level 40 to use it if you clearly aren’t basing my purchases on skill. If XP = Skill, then an unlock is my reward for having skill. If $ = skill, then let me spend it how I choose. If XP ≠ $ ≠ Skill, then why the fuck am I playing? Apparently my skill means nothing to purchases and my XP means nothing to my skill. You’re artificially and arbitrarily making me wait for something for no perceived reason. There’s no reason to not allow me to have a certain gun if you’re making me buy it in the first place.
It’s like walking into a store to buy blue jeans and the clerk telling me I can’t buy jeans, I haven’t worked hard enough yet, but that they have a fine selection of khakis to choose from.
They’ve even managed to make the mundane things a purchase. At level 12 you unlock “player logos” only to find out that you have to “build” you logo using various graphics pieces (numbers, letters, symbols, etc). You also have to pay for those pieces. No joke. $100 a pop. Oh, and if you want a blue star on a white background, you have to pay for two layers of your logo, $200 a layer.
It’s also a shame that they took a look at reality and said “nah, fuck that, that’s boring”. Last night, I was killed by a guy with a bright orange (paint, $200), tiger striped (pattern, $500) Uzi ($2000 gun) with a scope ($1000) that had a orange lens ($500) and a orange ($50) laughing skull ($500) cross-hair reticle ($500). I wish I was fucking joking about this.
So, somehow they’ve managed to completely fuck up a standard and basic thing. Awesome. Too bad it’s not the only problem with the game. Starting at the menus and going all the way down to level design, this game is complete crap.
The menus are easy enough to navigate, but jumbled organized by someone who clearly thinks the world is clairvoyant and will simply “know” where to look for things. Word to the wise, while it technically may be true that everything is an “option”, the only thing I expect to find there is gamma correction and controller layouts. I also don’t expect to have to enter the player editor to choose my kill-streak bonus.
Levels reflect the single player campaign. The only problem with that is that the game switches locations every damn second and there’s no consistency. You know why I liked MW2? Because although all the levels were different, each level had the same “feel”. Dirty town, dirty farm, dirty hillside mansion, dirty laboratory, it all held the theme. Going from snow covered peaks to ancient jungle ruins to missile launch pads to 1940’s American towns is not really variety, it’s fucking confusing. I can see what they were going for, but they took it a little too far. Likewise, the level layouts betray design basics. There’s no flow to them. One or two aren’t bad, I won’t condemn them all, but some of them are so jumbled and all over the place you spend 20 minutes trying to find where all the action is only to get shot and have to hike all the way back there again. Levels should be typically circular if you think about it. They might seem linear at first, one side versus the other, red vs blue, but there’s always routes around the perimeter and the balance slowly shifts and rotates around the circle as the game progresses, usually coming to a point in a skirmish for the middle ground. That’s a good level. Having a giant spaghetti bowl of confusion, mixed into rubble, broken buildings and underground passage ways means that there isn’t any flow. Teams are scattered, spawn points are random and while you might pick up a kill here and there, you never really feel like you’re playing as a, or against another, team.
So, all of this is piled on top of the problems the series already had (12 year old campers, cheaters, exploiters, aimbots, etc, etc, etc) making it really hard to actually sit down and enjoy. The series has a tremendous starting curve, it always has, meaning that your start with nothing and have to play for at least a couple hours/days before finding anything useful to use. Those little bits I actually did enjoy were also sadly overshadowed by the time period as well. Set in the cold war, the game doesn’t really have any modern weapons, just late Vietnam vintage stuff and early models of things like the M16 and the AK47. So, you’re starting out with an Enfield rifle with iron sights, no attachments, no camo, no perks and you’re expecting me to enjoy myself enough to keep coming back for hours and hours of fun?
Black Ops had so much potential that it’s really sad that they dropped the ball like this. Here’s a couple suggestions for the next game (which I won’t buy). Start everyone off with perks, a handful of acceptable guns, and access to basic customizing tools (since that’s what your touting as a feature). Make the first 10 levels easy to reach for even a super-noob and have them unlock helpful additional things that compliment the basics you already gave them. Do not lock out other playlists for lower ranked people. Even noobs like Domination and Capture the Flag. Lastly, if you’re not going to get rid of the purchase system (which you seriously should), make people pay for upgrades to things, not basic things. You want an even better version of your gun? Ok, $1000 gets you a stock that improves accuracy, or a scope that increases range. Don’t make people pay for green face paint (serious), or silly logos for their gamer cards (which are also silly). That’s just insulting.
Lastly, bring back the fun. Not once in the last two days did I think “Wow, that was awesome”. I played with crappy guns on crappy levels against crappy campers with fucking tiger painted guns. If that’s the first impression a player has to your game, they’re not going to stick around very long. Then again, there are also 7 million fucking idiots with tiger painted guns who probably disagree with me.
Fuck me… when is Battlefield 3 coming out?