Call of Duty Black OpsESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Category: First Person Shooter
The Call of Duty franchise has been on Nintendo's handheld console for a few years now. Yet more often than not, the DS game is overshadowed by the success of its big brother on the next generation consoles. Call of Duty games for the DS have always been solid but some of the obvious limitations with the DS’ hardware have prevented the series from being considered a must-own for the DS. So along comes Call of Duty Black Ops for the DS, which once again arrives with some limitations that have haunted the previous CoD games. That being said, Black Ops for the DS is an enjoyable experience and there is plenty to offer for fans of Activisions’ beloved franchise.
Visually speaking, Call of Duty: Black Ops for the DS is a good looking game. Which comes as no surprise given that n-Space is the developer responsible for pumping out good looking Call of Duty games on the DS since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Their in-house graphics engine continues to show how well they can program on the DS. With decent animations, relatively smooth framerates, and some great looking explosion effects, many will love how this portable game looks. Even the game's environments look much more detailed than your typical DS shooter. Granted, those who have played the game on the next generation platforms may be initially disappointed as there are some limitations with the DS’ hardware. Some of the characters can look blocky and some scenes, where the camera zooms in close, can look flat-out ugly. However, if you can accept these limitations you will have no concerns with the game's overall look.
In terms of the game's audio, I was somewhat taken aback with how good the game sounded. For starters, the voice acting is solid. The commander’s directions are clear and the in-between level debriefing is also clear and sounds as good as it possibly can on those tiny DS speakers. The music is also very good and stays true to the whole ‘Call of Duty-esque’ feel of the franchise featuring a Micheal Bay-like soundtrack. As for the sound effects, they too are not bad via the DS soundchip. From guns firing to grenades exploding, they all seem to deliver a decent sound effect. Sure they don’t pack a punch like they do on say, the Xbox 360 version, but all-in-all the sounds are very effective. As is the way with most games on portable consoles, this game is best played through a headset for better clarity and spatial separation.
In terms of the storyline, Call of Duty Black Ops for the DS takes a slightly different departure from the High Definition version. It’s stripped down to accommodate the DS and features none of those “saw-like” interrogation scenes witnessed in the next gen versions of the game. The DS version tells the story across 16-stages and takes place in the Cold War Era. The missions involve flashback sequences that are explained during the in-between level debriefings. Each flashback is another piece of the puzzle that will culminate in some sort of conclusion. The story is certainly not as well told as the Xbox 360 version as I often found myself wondering what was going on; however, at the end of the day the story merely serves as a backdrop to the real enjoyment of the game that comes in the form of the varied missions and gameplay. Not to mention the game also features some entertaining online play which I'll get to a bit later.
Black Ops for the DS plays out in very similar fashion to previous CoD games on the DS. In a nutshell, the majority of the game involves fire fights and proceeding along various levels with your squad mates. When they are not getting in your way, as they often seem to stand right in front of open doorways, your mates do a decent job of taking down the enemies. This is critical in the early going as there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to moving about and firing your weapon. I am considered a more experienced gamer and even for me the controls took some getting used to. So I really question whether younger gamers will be able to adapt to the various controls. Fortunately, Black Ops for the DS gives the option of using your stylus pen or the buttons for moving your character. I tried using the pen at first but I found it too finicky and it did not seem natural at all. Using the buttons is slightly better but it was not long before I was longing for a controller.
Firing your weapon and taking out enemies has always been at the core of Call of Duty games. Black Ops for the DS is no different but as I suggested above, shooting does take some getting used to. In the DS version you can either shoot from the hip or lock onto your enemy by aiming down your sight. Shooting from the hip is incredibly difficult as I had one heck of a time focusing on the enemies. Unless you use a gun loaded with a glut of ammo, shooting from the hip is not recommended. On the other hand, shooting enemies while aiming down your sight can be a tad too easy at times as there are occasions where your gun inexplicably locks onto a target. So I cannot help but think a little more balance could have been accomplished here.
Picking up weapons is accomplished by using the pen and likewise you have to use the pen to reload as well. Even in 'button mode' (for lack of a better description) you have to keep your pen on standby for various functions in the game. I found this incredibly annoying at times and I wished simple things like reloading and picking up ammo could have been accomplished with the button controls. Having to pull out and put back the pen repeatedly just seemed to zap some of the fun out of the experience. Then again, this likely has more to do with the DS' limitations than anything else.
In terms of blasting away the enemies, the enemy AI is easy enough to take down, and for the most part they are certainly not the sharpest tools in the shed. I was shocked at how incredibly non-responsive the AI could be at times. Far too often enemies would walk right up to me and do nothing. In one instance, I just sat back to see how long it would take for the enemy to start firing. He just stood there for a few moments, then turned around and headed back for cover. The instances where the enemy AI does some dumb things do not occur all the time but occur often enough to make it noticeable. Yet mowing down some of these helpless bastards with an AK-47 is highly enjoyable at times. Not to mention the pacing of the game is fantastic as you never get stuck in one location for too long.
In addition to the many fire fights in the single player campaign there are some vehicle segments. Overall, the segments are enjoyable as I found the mobile turret and flight sequences, for instance, to be a nice break from your typical FPS shooter action. This being said, controls were sometimes finicky as I found myself wrestling with them more than anything. Aiming the reticle with the buttons just seemed sluggish and awkward. Once again, it left me begging for a controller. Yet I still give the developers kudos for mixing up the single player experience the way they did.
In addition to the single player campaign, Black Ops for the DS also features several other modes. Quickplay mode allows you to jump into any one of the single player missions you would have already unlocked after playing through the single player campaign. Training mode allows you to play the training mission where you start to become accustomed to the controls. Challenge mode is where you can challenge your skills in every ground based mission in the game. The challenge levels are unlocked by completing previous challenges. Zombie mode is a popular CoD mode where you have to survive against an onslaught of zombie enemies on four different maps. You can also play two-player co-op in this mode as well. In Arcade mode you can re-play single player missions in a classic arcade style manner where the focus is on score and time. As you can see, there is plenty to offer in this tiny DS package.
Much to my surprise the online mode in Black Ops for the DS is very good. Up to six players can compete in local and online multiplayer. There is also a leveling up perk system as well. It is nowhere as deep as its big brother version but it is a nice addition nonetheless. Overall, I found the online play enjoyable and it gives the game an incredible amount of replay value.
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