A solid campaign, great multiplayer offerings
Enemies remain pretty stupid, the story is quite generic
While Infinity Ward and Treyarch have spent the last few years trading off development duties on the console versions of the Call of Duty franchise, n-Space has had the responsibility of bringing the popular series to DS all on its own. Every year it has released a new title to coincide with the console releases, and each new game has improved noticeably. Fans of the series and handheld shooters in general will be pleased to know that this trend has continued, and Black Ops marks n-Space’s best effort to date.
Just to get the through the bad news first, Black Ops retains some of the fundamental flaws that might have discouraged gamers from picking up its predecessors. Due to the technological limitations of the system, Black Ops cannot deliver the same level of intensity found in the console iterations, so the game ultimately feels behind the times with fewer, dumber enemies and much smaller levels. However, just because Black Ops can’t stand toe to toe with the AAA shooters that dominate the console market, that doesn’t mean that it can’t provide an enjoyable experience that surpasses other DS shooters.
What really makes Black Ops a better games than prior CoD games on DS is the greater level of focus found throughout the game. Every facet of Black Ops has been finely tuned and crafted to optimize the gameplay and fun factor with relatively limited technology. The first thing you will notice is the graphics, and while they retain the same low polygon counts and blurry textures we loved in the N64 days, you can’t help but notice that the art direction and attention to detail have reached a new level. The game features a variety of locations, from Cuban villas to burned-out Vietnamese villages, and thanks to distinctive touches and great simulated lighting effects, each stage feels unique and surprisingly realistic. One could make the point that the levels are very linear, which they are, but this has simply allowed the developers to focus even more on creating levels that are aesthetically compelling, rather than just large. The level of detail and uniqueness of environments also lends itself to creating a greater sense of progress as each level feels distinct and new.
In terms of gameplay, Black Ops remains largely unchanged. The controls utilize the same mechanics, with the touch screen acting as an analog stick for aiming (as well as playing host to a variety of buttons), and the flow of the game is still all about pressing forward to the next objective while blasting everything that gets in the way. Previous games threw in frequent touch-based minigames to vary things, but Black Ops has drastically reduced their frequency and this has proven to be a great idea. The game simply flows much better, as the focus remains on gun play much more.
Black Ops spices things up with the addition of vehicle levels that put gamers in the seats of attack helicopters and fighter jets, and while the controls take a little getting used to, these levels offer a drastic departure to the core FPS gameplay and do a great job of expanding the scope of the conflict. If one complaint should be leveled at the game, it’s the continued stupidity and repetition of the common foot soldiers. They do seek and use cover more effectively this time around, but they still feel too predictable and offer little challenge unless they somehow catch you off guard. Regardless, Black Op’s campaign is the strongest one yet on DS. It might actually be shorter than previous entries, but the focus on better-designed levels and lack of momentum-killing minigames makes the experience much more enjoyable.
The sound design has probably seen the least improvement, with guns sounding a little anemic and the soundtrack being at the very least okay, but the use of voice over work has been bumped up yet again. The acting sufficiently represents the the gruff toughness we have come to expect from hardened soldiers, but the frequency with which it is implemented helps fill the aural void as enemies yell during battle and your squad mates talk about the next objective between firefights. Unfortunately the dialogue remains heavy with military jargon and does little to develop the characters or plot, which sadly boils down to another generic story of tracking down a secret enemy weapon and is completely devoid of the compelling psychological thriller found in the console versions.
And then there is the multiplayer, which is yet another major improvement over previous iterations. Online and local competitive play for up to six player returns, with customizable perks and weapon layouts that unlock as you gain kills. Online play works quite smoothly. I was able to find a full, lag free match with a pretty poor connection at 2 in the morning; something I can’t often say about the Xbox 360 version. The only major problem is that you start out with no selectable perks: they all need to be unlocked and you will be at a noticeable disadvantage until they are. However, that sin is forgiven thanks to the addition of Zombies mode, which supports two players locally and is all about going for a high score as you fight off wave after wave of murderous zombies and spend the points on better guns and ammo. More players and online support would be nice, but cooperative communication is a must for survival, though the mode remains a blast even if you are playing by yourself. Between the solid online and offline offerings and the customization options, Black Ops is an amazing mutiplayer game.
n-Space has been meticulous in its efforts to keep the Call of Duty franchise interesting on DS. Rather than trying to revolutionize the genre with every release, it has slowly been adding features and honing the gameplay to make each entry noticeably better. Black Ops definitely stands tall as the developer’s greatest accomplishment to date. Gamers looking for a perfect recreation of the series on DS will be disappointed, but those with realistic expectations will find a game that gets the most it can out of the system’s limited processing power while effectively taking advantage of the possibilities presented by innovative features. The result is a fairly straightforward FPS with a few clever additions, solid design, and a enjoyable suite of multiplayer offerings.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.