In celebration of the release of Call of Duty: Ghosts (hurray…) we at Nintendo Enthusiast have prepared a three course Call of Duty meal; today, we take a look back at Call of Duty: Black Ops on Wii. What made it so great? Tomorrow, we look in the same way at its sequel, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Finally, we\’ll take a look at what the future hold for the franchise, with Call of Duty: Ghosts, and beyond.

As the year winds down, the inevitable release of a new Call of Duty game on a Nintendo platform approaches (after the usual, cagey confirmation process and utter media blackout), and I’m left hoping that this will be the return to form I so desperately seek.

Only this year, things look more desperate than usual. Yesterday I fired up the Wii U for a few matches of Black Ops – the original, and the Wii version, with the PS2-gen graphics and choppier framerate. For the first time, I couldn’t find a local (Australian) host. A moment of realisation struck me; how will I satiate my need for a tactical, Wiimote-powered fix if Ghosts turns out to be as vapid as the last two releases?

This raises the question, just what is it about Black Ops 1 on the Wii which makes it more attractive to me than the shinier, smoother (even for hosts!), and more populated Black Ops 2?

When Black Ops was released for the Wii three years ago, it was heralded as the first “full-blooded” Call Of Duty game on a Nintendo platform. Those which came before it were either lacking features or were massively delayed, with Modern Warfare 2 skipped entirely. Black Ops promised the full suite of features including voice chat, DLC, CCP support, and even the now ubiquitous “Zombies” mode. Of course it turned out that not quite everything made the jump to the Wii. The DLC debacle aside (the game’s manual claims you can “expand your experience with downloadable content from the Call of Duty Store”, which “includes new features and maps found in Call of Duty: Black Ops”; Activision never denied the existence of DLC for the game, yet it never came, a legally-dubious move which was outrageously repeated for the sequel on the Wii U), the vast majority of the changes actually made for a more balanced, competitive game than on any other platform.

Banished were the spawn-locking aerial killstreaks which were so overtly exploited elsewhere. Gone were the killcams, the omission of which masked the disconnect between players due to lag compensation (making for less rage all around); this lent a purity to deaths which harkened back to competitive PC shooters of yore, and yet never culminated in a propensity for camping. Even the reduced player count (5v5) made the smaller maps less chaotic without hurting the gameplay on large maps.

Still, for any of that to matter, the core gameplay had to be on-point, and this is where the game stands head and shoulders above other iterations. This is the game which proved to me that Treyarch knew how to make a proper FPS out of the normally ludicrous Call Of Duty formula.

The weapons have kick-recoil and spread, and a majority of them fire slowly enough to make escape possible for their target. There are a couple which stand out as slightly too powerful (FAMAS/AK74-U), but this is a game where the gun doesn\’t make the man, and you can comfortably abuse an entire team with any weapon if you’ve got mad skills. Most importantly, all of the classes are viable killing machines. They have a distinct and logical balance of strengths and weaknesses which are dictated by the level design and tactics. This marks a significant departure from Modern Warfare 3 or Black Ops 2, where a machine pistol beats paper, rock, and scissors.

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Of course, that diversity of ability relies heavily on varied, intelligent level design. Maps like Array offer classic combinations of open spaces, verticality, choke points, and close quarters combat, and allow the effective use of suppression via realistic sniping or LMG use. Unlike with recent Call of Duty maps, there was no need to permit people to sprint around a map using a rifle as a shotgun with infinite range just to make the weapon class viable.

Other maps are similarly-sized but varied in structure, with the longer sight lines and denser cover of places like Jungle and Radiation favouring assault rifles, whereas WMD agrees more with the increased mobility of SMGs.

This also trickles down to making shotguns more useful, too. The more varied terrain makes selecting one tough as the range is so limited (no recoilless, slug-shooting autos here!), yet in the right situations they can be devastating (building interiors, the mid-section of Nuketown, outskirts of Havana). While I would have liked to see more kick on the autos, their range and damage are so low that they’re readily countered.

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And then there’s the overall aesthetic. The number of winter maps (Black Ops shipped with four of them!) is probably my favourite touch. I don’t know what it is about shooting people in the snow, but my favourite FPS game sections are always set in it (GoldenEye/remake, Rainbow Six, Soldier of Fortune, etc). I was annoyed when MW3 only had one, and was deeply disturbed by the complete lack of the crunchy stuff in BO2. If Activision really is propelled by marketing departments and focus groups, why haven’t they cottoned on to this?!

But Black Ops wasn\’t all sunshine and bunnies. There were a few missteps: grenade launchers were all too easy to abuse, and the perk system had a few standouts which users gravitated towards. While these rather minor complaints were addressed in the following games, their corrections were overshadowed by the drastic changes to game balance.

Mark Rubin recently revealed to OXM that the target demographic of Call Of Duty was the more casual player: \”We have an enormous amount of players who are more in the casual game space, but they play a lot\” (source). Tailoring the game towards this crowd explains a significant number of the problems I\’ve encountered with the more recent entries (like how the spawn system now favours \”rapid engagement\” over squad-based play, replacing tactical flow with instantaneous chaos). I just hope they\’ve found a way to cater for these people without suppressing the skill ceiling this time around. Now that I can’t find a local host, I don\’t have anything to fall back on this year!

Tune in tomorrow for part 2: the Ghost of Call of Duty Present, a look into the current woes of the Call of Duty franchise.

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