I’ve recently blogged a full review of Black Ops, where it came in for some criticism for dated graphics and poor computer AI. Although I felt the game is of fairly average quality, one high point for me is well fleshed out story line and it’s brilliantly chosen Cold War setting.
The Cold War is a unique forty year period in history – for the first time ever humanity was in possession of weapons so powerful that the two major superpowers of America and the Soviet Union could lay waste to the entire planet. The threat of a full-scale nuclear war was something the world had to live with and during the Cuban missile crisis we were on the brink of it actually happening.
Fortunately the act of firing nuclear missiles at each other remained unimaginable for both sides, but the USA and USSR remained in a state of tension, fighting proxy wars against each other in Korea, Vietnam and later Afghanistan. Rather than fight each other directly, they funded and supported third parties who fought against each other. The main driving force behind the conflicts was America trying to prevent Russian communist rule from spreading further around the globe – much of Eastern Europe fell under Soviet control at the end of the Second World War.
With such a tense setting, Black Ops has massive potential for a great story line and it tries to make the most of it. The story begins with your character – Alex Mason, seemingly being interrogated and midly tortured – while facing questions relating to involvement in various operations in the theatre of the cold war. As your character recounts these episodes, you get to experience them by playing out the mission. This is an excellent way to allow lots of flexibility in the time frame and geographical location. A summary of the campaign story follows below – with spoilers – so don’t read further if you don’t want to know the key plot twists and turns!
Opening sequence and early missions
The opening sequence of the game takes place in Cuba where you carry out an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro. Although never officially acknowledged, Castro survived a huge number of attempts on his life, the majority of which are thought to involve the CIA. As the mission draws to a close, Mason does shoot Castro but it later appears to be a body double. You are captured and Castro hands you over to Nikita Dragovich, who throws you in Vortkuta prison. At this stage you meet Victor Reznov – a former Russian captain who becomes a central character in the story arc of the game. He helps you accomplish a difficult escape from Vorkuta but is seemingly killed.
Back on US soil, there is a lengthy cutscene where your character walks through the Pentagon and the White House, leading up to a meeting with JFK about the threat that General Dragovich represents. Dragovich is involved in a plot use a Nazi-developed biological agent against the USA, and President Kennedy asks you directly to put a stop to his plans. The campaign against Dragovich begins with you infiltrating Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan - initially in disguise – to stop a missile launch and kill Dragovich. Arriving too late, the missile launches successfully but you have an opportunity to shoot it down. At the end of the mission you destroy a limo carrying Dragovich but fail to verify his death. This turns out to be a poor decision as you will later find out.
The next chapter of the game takes place in Vietnam and has you taking part in the battle of Khe Sahn as well as seeking intelligence on Soviet involvement in the war. At one stage you are reunited with Reznov, which you might find a bit odd – and you would be right.
In the middle of the Vietnam section of the game is a mission called Project Nova (my personal favourite), which is a flash back of Reznov relating to his experiences at the end of the World War II. He was part of a squad led by Dragovich and Lev Kravchenko who found a smashed boat containing Nazis and V2 rockets loaded with the Nova biological weapon. Dragovich tries to kill Reznov at this stage but the arrival of the British SAS scuppers that plan and Reznov survives.
Back in Vietnam, intelligence relating to a downed cargo plane that could be carrying a biological weapon needs to be investigated.When the plane is found there are a few nasty surprises – firstly the weapon has already been retrieved by the Russian special forces who then capture you and hand you to the Viet Cong.
Recalling scenes from The Deer Hunter, a very tense scene involving Russian roulette takes place, but Mason manages to make a break for freedom along with his comrade Frank Woods. After finding a helicopter the pair fly to intercept and kill Kravchenko. Reznov reappears again in this mission. When Kravchenko is located he puts up quite a fight and clobbers Mason pretty badly, but Woods intervenes and stabs him. Kravchenko’s last act for hate’s sake is to set of his grenades, forcing Woods to throw him and himself out of a window to save you.
Intelligence in Kravchenko’s office makes it known that Steiner – the Nazi scientist who developed Nova – is continuing with development on Rebirth Island. Your character gets into the compound and after a fight, Reznov kills Steiner, and it’s at this point that the story starts to unravel.
The big reveal
The CIA arrive to late to stop Steiner being killed, but they arrive just in time to see your character – Mason – kill him. But didn’t Reznov do it? Well, it turns out that Reznov doesn’t really exist, or rather he doesn’t exist in reality after the escape from Vorkuta. Reznov is a creation of Mason’s mind, caused by the brainwashing he suffered while held captive in Vorkuta.
So who brainwashed Mason? Well initially it was Dragovich, who was trying to programme him to assassinate JFK – but Reznov later brainwashes him to have him kill Dragovich, Kravchenko and Steiner as an act of revenge.
If you’ve seen the film Fight Club, the framework of the story will seem familiar. Just as Tyler Durden was a figment of Edward Norton’s character who he became at certain stages in the story, it is the same with Reznov and Mason.
Even though Mason has been compromised by the enemy, the US still needs Mason because he may possess the ability to find Dragovich and stop his now imminent plan to activate sleeper agents in possession of Nova weapons across the USA. If this Dragovich isn’t stopped, World War III would start when the USA counter-attacks Russia with nuclear weapons.
Under further interrogation, Mason remembers that the numbers station – the trigger for the sleeper agents is onboard a Russian ship. You immediately scramble to attack this ship using a helicopter, and then land on the ship and clear it of enemy personnel. After searching the ship it becomes clear that there is an underwater base beneath the ship, connected by a tether. Mason proceeds down to the base and finally confronts Dragovich. After a fight sequence, he is defeated and the transmission from the numbers station is prevented.