Call of Duty: Black Oops?

I’ve been a Call of Duty fan since the beginning, so I’ve been trying hard to get on board with Black Ops. I really have. But so far, the game has done more to push me away than pull me in. It’s not “bad” by any stretch, but at this point, it feels too bland and clumsy to take its place next to the other classic CoD games.

On the single-player side, the mind games being played with the story’s lead character are interesting, but I’m not really vibing the ’60s setting, and at times I feel like the game is inches away from drifting into Wolfenstein cheese. In fact, you could forgive someone for thinking they were still playing a WWII game, as some areas look like they were lifted wholesale from a Medal of Honor title.

But the thing that’s hurting the single-player the most so far is the feeling that I’m just a toy for the level designers to screw with. Every once in a while, the game springs a trap on me, I die, and progression is achieved through trial and error — a classic example of bad level design. Good shooters have better placement and AI to create what feels like a fair fight, not levels where you have to memorize where the enemies are before you can proceed.

One of the most annoying scenes so far involved sprinting and jumping from one ledge to another during a harrowing escape. You learn early on that you can’t fall from great heights, but at times the game says go for it, which inevitably leads to some slow-mo scripted event. But then later, during a rooftop chase, not 15 seconds after one of these jumps, you continue the escape, sprint, jump, fall a relatively short way, and die. It’s the game telling you, “There’s no rhyme or reason to any of this, just keep beating your head against the wall until you figure out what works.”

I’ve played less of multiplayer (I’m only level 8 so far), but that’s less Treyarch’s fault than my distaste for the CoD playstyle. All the weapons are extremely lethal, even from across the map, so you have to suffer through a lot of instadeaths until you learn the best routes through each level where you don’t leave yourself open too much. And once you get players with long kill streaks, get ready to die the second you respawn thanks to stuff falling out of the sky, making you just want to say &@^#$ this nonsense and play something else.

I’m playing the PC version, which has its own set of quirks. The game is sluggish overall, but I can probably tweak that to some extent. I’ve had savegames vanish completely, lock up on restarts or completely reset back to the start of a mission for no reason, and I’m really tired of clicking Join in the server browser and having absolutely nothing happen. But PC players know that we’re the ugly stepchild these days, and this is the price you pay for wanting to use a mouse and keyboard.

I’m hoping the rest of the campaign justifies the effort needed to finish it. Considering how many random deaths and restarts I’ve had so far, it seems unlikely. But a few games have redeemed themselves in their second half, so here’s hoping Black Ops is one of them.