2010 Game Of The Year Finalist Debate: Call Of Duty: Black Ops

2010 Game Of The Year Finalist Debate: Call Of Duty: Black Ops

What makes a game a game of the year? Not innovation. Not graphics. Not gameplay. Not even a combination of all three.

What makes a game of the year is the experience it delivers. The way it leaves you feeling when you’re done, if you’re every really done with the game.

In 2010, the question of game of the year came down to two games for me: Halo: Reach or Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Both delivered what I felt was a refined experience not only for the franchise, but for the genre. Both also delivered meaty multiplayer that left me playing it long after the relatively short, but gloriously engrossing story-driven campaign had ended.

The stories for both games were polished, captivating experiences, if one didn’t play them in an attempt to derail the ride. And that’s what the best shooters are, interactive roller coasters, experiences that marry cinematic artistry with the illusion of control. But only the illusion.

As with all modern video games, you have to buy into the experience to enjoy it.

Where Halo: Reach’s story was a march through pre-Halo history, Black Ops was a game that delivered an unsettling experience almost completely free of pre-mission filler and unwanted chatter. Its story sprang at you in the sort of unexpected cuts and intense camera angles reminiscent of a Robert Rodriguez film.

And as the story wound to a startling, though perhaps not completely unexpected ending, technical surprises and gameplay innovations began to creep in.

But it was Black Ops’ multiplayer that eventually sold me on which game to choose for my nominee. That’s not just because Black Ops successfully rode on the coattails of Modern Warfare, a game that redefined, reinvigorated multiplayer first-person shooters.

The game took the best of Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 and added things like the ability to gamble your hard-earned in-game currency in matches.

There is no game I spent more time playing in 2010, more time enjoying than Black Ops. It’s the game that most impacted me with its short, direct story and its endlessly addictive online play.

Owen Good’s Reply I’ve espoused the same argument Brian makes here, which is basically that fun is the best measure of something that is, after all, a game. It’s also the most subjective. Multiplayer combat shooters are not something I prefer, and it’s this mode where Black Ops distinguishes it above all other games.

Black Ops’ singleplayer campaign was only semi-engaging. It featured some outstanding scenery within a fascinating period of world history, let down by a story and mission structure that are no role models for game-of-the-year aspirants. I felt it was all a noisy, facile, confusing stroll through a series of set pieces and Quicktime events.

I do see the addiction quality of Black Ops’ multiplayer and found it more playable than its peers. The addition of bot training partially addresses their biggest drawback, that you only learn through the frustration of trial-and-error and a zillion meaningless deaths. But I don’t see where the game is remarkably different from its shooter brethren. It’s just the biggest one this year. And it shouldn’t get an award for participation.

Luke Plunkett’s Reply For a few levels in Call of Duty: Black Ops, you fly a helicopter. That was pretty fun.

Everything else? Redefining? Innovating? A polished story? Nunh unh. It was like playing through Michael Bay Presents: The Cold War, a disorienting series of explosions and curse words punctuated by lots of corridors, bad voice acting and me exclaiming “what the fuck am I doing in Hong Kong?”

That stuff wasn’t much fun. And that was everything else about the game. So no, I won’t be voting for this as our game of the year.

Brian Ashcraft’s Reply Going into this game, I was expecting a title about the Cold War. I got a game set during the Cold War, but not about it. There isn’t paranoia, there is confusion and screaming until its flustered and blue in the face. Instead of Robert Rodriguez camera angles, I would’ve preferred John Frankeheimer ones.

And when the game wants to evoke moments in time, it falls back on cliches. Hey, you’re in Vietnam! Listen to Fortunate Son, a ‘Nam anthem that’s been done to death in game after game, movie after movie. Black Ops is tired old hat.

I do agree that this is a Call of Duty that finally does have a decent enough story (though, one that cribs from Fight Club) that one can somewhat follow. But, so what? Shouldn’t the games always have had stories? By saying this is Game of the Year, I feel like we are setting the bar too low. Solid Call of Duty. But GOTY? No way.

Mike Fahey’s Reply Are you kidding me?

I spent the better part of 20 minutes stuck in a corridor shooting a never ending wave of enemies, with no visible indication whatsoever that simply crossing the hallway into a certain room was what I needed to do in order to progress the story along. If the enemy bodies hadn’t continuously faded away my squad and I would have been smothered in dead Russians.

I do not want to be smothered in dead Russians. This is not my Game of the Year.

Michael McWhertor’s Reply If we’re to judge the worthiness of Call of Duty: Black Ops as game of the year based on how it left us feeling at its narrative conclusion, then my own result – apathy mixed with confusion – is likely to kill any chance of me supporting it with my vote.

If we’re to measure it in fun, Treyarch delivered such an enjoyable multiplayer shooter that I could consider it. This is some of the best video game junk food of 2010. Combine the thrill of high-energy death match with amusing zombie-slaying, gambling and combat training, Black Ops easily delivers some of the best value of the year.

But even then, Black Ops’ strongest suit, its multiplayer component, felt only like a well polished version of an experience I’d had a year prior with Modern Warfare 2.

Finally, I’ll have to disagree that this game was free of “unwanted chatter”. Surely the Australiaskan accent of Sam Worthington and the abrasive, repetitive between-level interrogations can be categorized as that.

Stephen Totilo’s Reply Did most of Team Kotaku play Black Ops with frowns on their faces? Come on, guys, Black Ops was fun. Noisy? Yeah. Cliched? I can tolerate at least one game per year letting me shoot down a launching Russian rocket with a big gun.

In 2010, I did prefer other shooters over Black Ops — Singularity for its superior story, Halo: Reach for its more Stephen-friendly online matchmaking.

But let’s be populist for a second: Black Ops is the game for millions of people. They love it. They flood YouTube with videos of themselves playing it. Was there any game that convinced as many players to part with as much money in 2010? Credit savvy marketing. Credit the preceding Call of Dutys. But surely Black Ops earned some of its massive success itself.

Black Ops isn’t my GOTY mainly because it felt disposable. The game doesn’t linger in my memory. I don’t think about it. The magic it wove for the weekend I played it keeps fading.

Brian Crecente’s Rebuttal

While Black Ops had its hiccups, chief of which was an expectation by the developers that gamers will actually want to move forward in the game and not linger in a firefight, at least none of those issues came looking for you with a donkey’s stubbornness.

And the notion that Call of Duty: Black Ops is cliched and Red Dead Redemption isn’t is beyond laughable. Both fall back on plot twists seen before, though with Black Ops at least I didn’t see it coming from half a game away.

At least in delivering its not entirely unique story, Black Ops found a new way to push us deeper into the game and new pacing to keep things interesting. More importantly, the developers delivered a lasting gaming experience with multiplayer that, as Mike says, combines the thrill of high-energy death match with amusing zombie-slaying, gambling and combat training.

No 2010 Kotaku game of the year contender gave us an entirely new experience, they are all iterations on their predecessors, but Call of Duty: Black Ops at least provided a platform for lasting play.

I’ve played no other game this year more and none has provided me with as much entertainment. How can it not be the Game of the Year?

This is the third of four debates surrounding our final choice for 2010’s game of the year. All four will run this week. The winner will be announced Monday.


  • RDR has an infinitely better story than Blackops. I feel like that point doesn’t even need to be argued, it is just fact.

  • BLOPs was just another main stream cash cow that riding the modern warfare bandwagon, GOTY rightly was the battle between RDR and ME2 they really were the captivating games of 2010, adding something either completely new or polishing off something that was amazing to begin with.. What made them both stand out over halo and BLOPS was the whole experiance of both games and stories that were told, they drew you into the game and you definitely didn’t want to turn your console of after you started playing them.

    They were 2 games that make you go WOW that was a game worth my money, sure they dont have the hours of multiplayer mainstream shooters do but they do have replay value, i game can be measured on how much you want to play it again without being bored.

    On another note i really did like the Halo:Reach campaign probably the best of all the halo games.

  • Great debate guys, but to be honest I feel somewhat dispirited that Black Ops is even mentioned in game of the year. When will the industry grow up? It’s like nominating “Transformers 2” for the best picture Oscar – insulting to all the amazing, creative work done by others.

    Brian – I strongly disagree with your concept that “Black Ops found a new way to push us deeper into the game and new pacing to keep things interesting”. The lamer the characters, dialogue and situations got the more I pushed away from the game, not further into it. What “new pacing” did it have? It was just a ADHD assault from start to finish. The defining moment to me was the meeting the president chapter when they accelerated you walking down the corridors. They didn’t even have the faith in your attention span to let you walk down a single corridor that didn’t involving shooting someone in the face.

  • I wanted to like these games but were disappointed by both. I almost never play the multiplayer component so perhaps take this with a grain of salt. I enjoyed both Modern Warfare games — probably the first more than the second — and so really wanted to like Black Ops. But it just felt like a bunch of short missions thrown together with nothing I could sink my teeth into. The helicopter and boat based missions just felt like a mess… the helicopter missions in MW1 were much more satisfying. It’s frustrating how the games in this series just try to one up each other without really trying to innovate.

    I played these games after RDR so maybe that influenced my opinion. I remember playing the original Halo and being taken by how well the story and gameplay were integrated. Sure the RDR dialogue went on way too long and there were repetitive missions but like the original Halo it felt like I was experiencing a bit of an evolution in game making.

  • I don’t think games with annual releases should be nominated for GOTY. (Also, after buying Black Ops and having to endure the horrible multiplayer on the PS3, I’m embarrassed to say I contributed to the figures)

    Otherwise every yeaer, GOTY nominee’s will be have to have: Generic shooter that sells well, American sporting title, European sporting title, simply because of their sale numbers and popularity.

  • James Cameron received 11 Oscars for Titanic. He would not receive any if he made a sequel that took place in a different ship, and involved a similar story with similar characters in a modern day setting.

    Call of Duty is the characters/story. The sinking ship is the multiplayer.

    Would people want to go watch Titanic 2? Maybe, if they watched the first, would it win any awards? I think not.

    Avatar, Harry Potter, Twilight, Justin Beiber. They’re all the same. Being popular should not mean rewarded recognition.

    which is better, Batman Begins or Tim Burton’s Batman?

    Both are critically acclaimed but are nowhere near the same.

    Should Call of Duty be recognised for it’s multiplayer? Yes. It has. Many times, in fact. Now let’s look to how other people are doing it differently and successfully in their own right.

    If doing the same thing every year entitles rewarded recognition then the SAW franchise would be booming with success.

  • I think im the obly person that agrees with brian, im still having an epic time playing the multiplayer aspect of BLOPs and also the zombie aspect too. Im not going to stop playing this game until the release of MVC3. i just cant stop having fun with BLOPs.

    Also i play on PS3 and i dont find that the connection problems are as bad as anybody says they are

  • I can’t believe that BLOPS would even be considered for GOTY, it’s testament to the fact that jocks and tradies with Xbox’s (who have never played any of the old, actually good COD’s) are becoming the gaming majority and it’s killing innovation with the same crap being rehashed over and over again while being cited as the new “best gamer ever!!!!!” If I have to sit through another shoot, duck, crawl forward, repeat shooter again there is a good chance I’ll kill someone.

    Did BioShock 2 come out in 2010? If so then that would be the best FPS that I played, otherwise I guess Singularity. Really it was a crappy year for the FPS genre.

    GOTY is ME2 for me, no contest.

  • It really does come down to whether you play online multiplayer or not, for most FPS’s these days that is most of the game and appeal.

    That said, I would vote for B:BC2 for the best multiplayer.
    CoD is fun but pretty much a game of who is the best camper, Reach is great but is really just more Halo.
    B:BC2 I found the most immersive and different, the Rush game type really made you feel like you were taking part in a war.

  • Hell no was black ops GOTY! Its was fun, no arguments there but just the same old crap! Same deal with Halo reach. man what are you guys smoking?!

  • Crecente has never admitted any flaw in any Call of Duty game.

    As an EXPERIENCE, Bad Company 2’s online demolished anything Call of Duty had to offer this generation.

  • If this game gets GOTY it’ll only show developers and publishers alike that to be successful, all you need to do is copy&paste old games and make no moves to actually progress the gaming industry. Even if you enjoyed this game more than the others, refuse it the award on the basis of merit. This game doesn’t deserve to win.

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