My son Adam challenged me to write a review of his Xbox games, which is a departure from my usual reviews. I feel comfortable reviewing movies, TV programmes, theatrical productions, restaurants and more besides, but am definitely out of my comfort zone with shoot-em-up games. Bottom line is that I’m writing this on the basis of fairly minimal experience, and even when Adam had given me a head start and had one arm strapped behind his back, he still beat me comfortably (success being measured in how many times you kill opponents and avoid getting killed yourself.)
After all, the games I tend to play are more cerebral – word and card games for the most part. Partly it’s a matter of being able to manipulate the controls, something far more effectively done by younger hands: to succeed you need fast and supple hands and a keen eye. But then I don’t really approve of shooting for the hell of shooting anyway, and it causes me no satisfaction to kill so graphically, even when the victims are faceless combatants or zombies (see later.) Neither do I see the point of all this, but here Adam has been trying to educate me. At least with his FIFA 13 game you are trying to manage a club to success over the course of a season, so some brainpower is required to make the right purchases and team selections.
But back to Black Ops: Call of Duty 2. To my way of thinking it does not look so very different to Call of Duty 1, which Adam used to play. I’m told there are more maps, the graphics are a little better, online play is improved and there are more add-ons you can buy, all of which means you spend £40-odd on the next version of the game, much to the satisfaction of the company developing the products. Oops! Sorry – being cynical again. Must stop that, it’s a bad habit.
Anyway, imagine Adam is playing. He is transported to one of a number of scenarios, one being a farm, another being a 50s-style American main street with an old-fashioned cinema, and so on. Except something akin to nuclear war has occurred and the place is devastated, whichever one it is. Buildings are in tatters, wrecked cars burn merrily, makeshift barricades are in force to protect against zombies.
These zombies appear to be born out of raging fires in the midst of the street. Once they start coming, shuffling in the way defined so brilliantly in George A Romero’s legendary Night of the Living Dead (see here), they never stop. There seems to be a never-ending supply of zombies for you to shoot, and when you do they go in some style – heads exploding with pints of splattered blood! Of course, you can change some of the options and make it so they only die with head shots, or that some of them run. You can also get zombie hounds, just to make it more interesting if you tire of blasting zombies.
However, you start with two distinct advantages over real life (in the event you ever come across a real town packed with zombies, that is.) One is that the place is littered with arsenals of all the deadliest firepower known to man, and you can purchase any of them, not to mention limitless ammo; the other is that in the event a zombie kills you, you can be revived without turning into one of them. Perhaps the makers missed a trick here, since it might be fun to play a zombie yourself rather than just shooting them, but then maybe the point of zombies is that they don’t think?
At any rate, if you tire of zombies, there are many war zones you can play, alone or with teams of real or robotic friends – and thoughtfully they have green identification haloes above their heads to help you tell them apart from enemies, so just like real life then! They might be on a ship, in a container port, a gun emplacement, in some remote rocky area, lots of different ones and too many to describe here, though they have a tendency to go haring off in all directions for no apparent reason. Granted that war zones can be confusing and frightening places, so I hear, but surely if your team is all on the same side you should be working together to outflank the enemy? Perhaps I’m just being naive.
You can explore to your heart’s content, go in many rooms, shoot anything that moves and much that doesn’t – and also blow yourself up with a poorly-thrown grenade. Once you’ve recovered, you can alleviate the boredom by killing random members of your own team in a perfect replica of real life “friendly fire”!
And then… more of the same. Quite sure there is a career setting, whereby you can compare your performances and those of your mates over a series of years in order to measure improvements. And if you ever chose to join the SAS, it may even come in useful, though sadly divorced from real life.
Small wonder these games tend to be a hugely addictive nine-day wonder, leaving you wanting more and more at £50 a time. Not the most constructive of human endeavours, in all probability. Quite sure if the collective brainpower expended on shoot-em-ups were applied to, say, quantum mechanics, we might by now have the unified theory that eluded Einstein. However, if the purpose is to entertain and pass the time, this it seems to achieve in spades, eating up many hours at a time! But give me Scramble with Friends for preference…