This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Could somebody please invade America? I know it's not exactly prime real estate and can just about produce corn and shitty TV, but someone really needs to help them blow off some steam. It's hard not to look all all these war games about Russia invading America and not be reminded of fan-fiction. America is a fat teenage virgin lying on her front on her bed staring up at her Edward and Bella poster while crossing and uncrossing her ankles and dreamily writing creepy stories about having filthy monkey sex with the quiet, Eastern European boy down the road. And the child psychologist hired by her concerned parents gives the following advice: "What this girl needs is a good hard dicking!"
So come on, Russia, take the hint. World War III, let's do it. Yeah, lots of people will die, but it's not like the human race couldn't use a bit of a pruning now and then. What about you, China? You've got loads of people to spare, you selfish bastards. I say ram a few of them up America's rancid, hairy funhole, and maybe she could remember how to act like a grown-up. . .and come like a howler monkey!
Anyway, here's America's latest virginal howler monkey sex fantasy: Call of Duty: Black Ops, another opportunity for the Call of Duty franchise to wave military hardware in our faces and go "Phwoaar," this time with a heavy Manchurian Candidate influence. But don't worry, it's not so heavy that it gets in the way of all the shooting foreigners.
You mostly play Aryan superman Alex Mason, not to be confused with Alec Mason, the protagonist of Red Faction Guerrilla. Are there so few white Anglo-Saxon tough-guy hero names in the world that you have to start recycling? I can think of loads off the top of my head: Gabriel Stone, Dirk Action, John Fist. . .
Anyway, Blake Shrapnel has been strapped to a chair and is being tortured for information by shadowy figures who want to know the truth behind a string of mysterious numbers that, like the Inspector Gadget theme tune, he just can't get out of his head. This sends him into various flashbacks of past missions to form a framing device for the action. Events rattle undisciplined back and forth through time, from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Vietnam War to an interview with JFK being played by someone doing an absurd comedy JFK impression. And there are many moments when I just want to yell "time out" and demand someone explains what the fuck's going on before another thing explodes!
Because the thing about all the Call of Duty games I've played lately is that they all seem to be hooked up to IV drips full of Pop Rocks. Black Ops just can't calm the fuck down. If 5 seconds ever passes without a gunshot or an explosion, then it's probably because you just passed out from an epileptic fit. The game's like a nagging spouse slapping you around the back of the head every 5 seconds: "Go there! Keep running! Take cover! Not there, you're getting shot! There, shoot that guy! Not him, he's on your side! Can't you tell? He's wearing a slightly different hat! Quick, pick up that grenade and throw it back! I don't know, over there somewhere! Oh. There, see? If you'd thrown it sooner that wouldn't have happened, you stupid cunt!" You only get a break on the loading screens, which will generally helpfully remind you that grenades explode and you should probably avoid getting exploded in future.
I know the sorts of attention spans you're working with can't stick with a 15-second shampoo advert unless you flash some titties halfway through, Treyarch, but there is such a thing as juxtaposition. If the action never lets up, we've got no point of comparison and it's too overwhelming to focus on. I played through a lot of this game in a trance. Writing this review, I had to think really hard to recall where the first mission took place, and I only know it was Cuba because I remembered Fidel Castro showing up, twirling his mustache like Snidely Whiplash.
So what does the term "black ops" evoke in your mind? Espionage, darkened meetings in smoky carparks, exchanging a package with another spy in a public place by awkwardly pretending to make out, and, most importantly, deniability. It occurs to me that the American government would have considerable difficulty denying the kinds of things that go on in Black Ops. "What's that, Vladimir? No, no, that fleet of American aircraft carriers were just in that particular bit of ocean for a volleyball tournament and to take some photos for a navy recruitment booklet. No, I can't imagine how one of your battleships in the exact same area could have gotten riddled with bullets. Although, now I come to think about it, I do remember hearing what could have been minigun fire, but at the time I thought it was just someone playing squash very, very enthusiastically."
It's disappointing, because the title led me to expect a bit of sneaky Snake stealth gameplay to break up the testosterone overload, but the only thing black about these ops are the spent shell casings. Modern Warfare 1 had more stealth than this, and I remind you that was the game where a nuke goes off in your face - now that's what I call juxtaposition!
Well, since we're looking for something different, I guess I should mention that the game comes with a zombie minigame, because after Call of Duty: World at War and the upcoming Red Dead Redemption DLC, apparently everything now has to be moving towards some kind of zombie singularity by law. You fight off waves of the undead, barricading their entry points and opening up more of the map while the game constantly nags you to turn on the power without thinking to give any hint on how exactly one does such a thing. But I've got to admit it's kind of fun. Play with a friend, and then get them to tell you when zombies are breaking in two rooms away, because there's no other fucking way to tell (see, I can give constructive criticism). Also, why are the zombies wearing party hats?
But getting back to what I hesitatingly call the serious aspect of Black Ops, it's not just disorientating, it's a bit disquieting, too. Why is my character putting broken glass into the mouth of a helpless prisoner? I don't think he'd find that very tasty oh bugger my britches, that was uncalled for. Who are the good guys in this game, again? The weird thing is, the character then joins your party after he's done spitting out blood and bits of mouth. That's one working relationship that's off to an awkward start.
Tellingly, the game features the Vietnam War and the Bay of Pigs invasion, both for the longest time avoided by video games because the United States went into them for slightly cunty, unheroic reasons. But I guess Black Ops means we've stopped giving a shit. I guess we're hankering for another decent war so much that we no longer care whether we're the good guys or not. So that's why I say let's just do it. Don't need a reason, just ring up Eastern Europe and say "maybe we could do the genocide thing this time!" Then everyone could line up in the Sahara Desert with their latest weapons tech and all just get it out of their system. Perhaps Switzerland could be persuaded to blow the starting whistle.
This browser will self-destruct in five seconds: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I had some Black Ops myself but the doctor gave me a special cream for it
Oh I guess this browser won't self-destruct then