The past few weeks have seen a glut of first person shooter games come on the market. The latest, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, promised to give players the opportunity to duke it out in covert fire fights, both in the height of the Cold War and in a futuristic setting. This game also promised an engaging storyline and the polished gameplay that the Black Ops series is known for. Black Ops II delivered on all of this. What’s better, it gave physically disabled gamers a truly accessible first person shooter.
To begin with, Black Ops II has absolutely no barriers for those with hearing disabilities, because not only does it feature a set of comprehensive subtitles which even cover the dialogue between characters in the middle of missions, but it also features a dedicated mode for the hearing impaired, which makes the voices more distinguishable above the sounds of battle, thereby making it easier for players with hearing disabilities to plow their way through hordes of enemies and still understand what is going on. As a result, even when the player is surrounded by artillery and tank fire, they’ll still be able to hear their partner NPC swear a blue streak as he calls out targets.
From the standpoint of visual disabilities, Black Ops II is even more accessible than comparable first person shooters, because there are in-game methods of coping with sight disability. For example, in the second mission of the campaign, Celerium, players have to deal with enemies wearing cloak suits that make them invisible. As a result, players have to have very sharp eyesight if they want to see the enemies without any assistance. But the nice thing is, the game itself gives the player assistance, allowing the player to equip their weapon with a sight that reads the heat signatures of targets. This means that any enemy, cloaked or not, will show up as plain as day when they are the only white thing in the middle of a black scope. And even though it is true that the player doesn’t have this option on the missions that take place prior to 2025 in the story’s timeline, none of these older missions have low light scenarios, so a thermal scope is not needed. And even more impressive, after the Celerium mission, any gun on any of the future missions can be equipped with the thermal scope. This highlights one of the best parts of Black Ops II as far as accessibility goes: the customization.
Before every mission, the player is given the opportunity to customize their load out. And not only is this great for players with hearing disabilities, it is an absolute boon to players with fine motor disabilities. In previous games, if a player relied on shotguns to deal with the fast paced action of Call of Duty, they would have to scavenge their dead enemies until they found one. In Black Ops II, the player always has the option to construct a new load out at the beginning of each level, which means that the game always allows players to take the weapons that are most accessible for them. Black Ops II becomes even more accessible when customization is combined with the fact that there are lots of save points (which means that if a player dies, they won’t have to retread the same ground over and over again). And even though there are quick time events, given that there are only two or three in the whole game and given their forgiving nature, a majority of disabled gamers shouldn’t have a problem with them. This means that there is almost nothing in Black Ops II that would prevent any player, no matter what the disability, from enjoying it fully.
One final note that should be said about a special mode in the campaign that runs parallel to the main storyline: The Strike Force missions attempt to put real time strategy elements in the middle of a first person shooter. While it is true that there may be some issues for gamers with sight disabilities when it comes to manipulating and moving the various units around the map, these aren’t really barriers, because the Strike Force missions are purely optional. And frankly, they are rather poorly executed. So whether or not a player has a disability, I would suggest avoiding them.
In conclusion, Black Ops II sets a new standard for first person shooter accessibility, not only because it includes a dedicated mode for the hearing impaired, but because for every barrier it seems to set up for any physical disability, the game itself seems to give the player one or two ways around it.
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