For all the launch fanfare, it sounds like Call of Duty Black Ops may be suffering from Fallout New Vegas syndrome. Scan the PC version's official forums on Steam and instead of euphoric posts about the game's ballistic brilliance, you're confronted with waves of opprobrium that range from shots at the graphics and story mode to complaints about unjustifiably poky performance and crippling multiplayer lag.
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"I bought into the hype from the high score on metacritic.com and got suckered into buying the game," opines one Steam user. "I really want to like it...however from the get go on a good computer...the graphics looks like it was something from 5 years ago. The charater [sic] animation and movement is laughable compare to BFBC2 [Battlefield Bad Company 2] that came out early this year."
"I did a lot of testing yesterday to try and fix my "lag" issues," writes another. "I tried all the fixes, I more than meet the system requirements, and got so jarateed [sic] off at the choppiness I created a practice game...I had the same issues with the training...THE SAME choppiness!"
A few users have posted ad hoc "fixes," but reactions are mixed about whether they work.
Some users have even taken to the boards to warn Activision that, based on forum feedback, they won't buy Black Ops until it's "fixed."
"I don't know how much time big game developers spend reading Steam forums, but they need to start taking the comments on these forums seriously if they intend on maximizing game sales..." warns a third user. "I haven't purchased BO because of the numerous problems listed on this forum. That's one less sale, and I'm sure I'm not the only one in this boat."
One frustrated user's even posted a video depicting the game failing to launch properly. After the intro completes and the game pauses at the "press any key" screen, the game appears to freeze.
Black Ops seems to be taking it on the chin at Amazon, too. Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are hovering at 3.5 out of 5 stars, slightly better than average, but below expected levels given mainstream critical consensus. The Windows version, by contrast, drops to a painful 2 out of 5 off 33 reviews.
"[T]his game was a huge letdown," says one reviewer of the PC version. "It is filled with bugs, laggy servers, graphics issues, and an overall 'tacky' feel. The graphics are also a downgrade from Modern Warfare 2, which is severely disappointing."
"If you have not bought this game yet, DON'T," writes another. "[T]his game is too laggy, and buggy right now."
A third reviewer praises the game's single player campaign, but says that multiplayer has "game killer flaws" and complains that the game "hangs, grabs, and stops so often that it kills multiplayer."
So a fairly broad and consistent gulf between critical and popular consensus, then.
Compare Black Ops' critical ratings on Metacritic against its user scores and the disparity's thrown into stark relief. The game's overall score, averaging 41 critical reviews, holds at 90 out of 100, but the user rating for the Xbox 360 version drops to just 6.7 out of 10, the PS3 version to 5.9 out of 10, and the PC version to a startling 5.2 out of 10.
The chief complaint? There's actually not one, but several. You'd think Steam users might be taking their technical frustrations out here, but in fact the low-scoring reviews tend to be more about the gameplay in general.
"Call of Duty will be remembered in years to come as the the point in which videogames gave up all hope of ever being considered worthy of artistic intent, of being taken seriously or of being innovative," says one reviewer. "With each new release the series gets more and more mundane, the faults get more frequent, the graphics slip further past the curve of 'current gen' and the gameplay becomes more and more linear."
Another user echoes that sentiment, writing "Single player is horrible with [the] same generic linear gameplay trying to tell a strory, [sic] but it falls in horrible ai and lazily scripted event with not even close ot [sic] enough triggers to make gameplay fluent and ai teammates...feel real."
Tough times, and a fascinating evolving example of how user reactions can potentially shift popular perception after the critics -- often playing prerelease or controlled environment versions of games -- speak their piece.