I have the advantage of being part of a gaming family. My dad and sister are both avid gamers, though I am probably the most knowledgeable of the group. Thus, I don't usually bring home games that don't garner positive reviews across the board. I had seen the reviews for Shadow Ops, and they were all pretty consistent: The game didn't have any glaring flaws, but it lacked a "sonic punch". After playing through the bulk of the game after my dad brought it home, I completely agree with the indifferent reviews it received, but it's enjoyable enough that I will probably play through it until the end.
The game starts up with quite a bit of flash. The menu and introduction movies are very good at getting the player involved. Once the gameplay starts, however, the player may find himself distanced from the action. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost is the fact that the hit detection is terrible. The aiming reticule is one large circle, but it becomes apparent that unless the shot is near its center, the enemies will sustain little to no damage. This coupled with the quirky fact that there is no blood and absolutely no indication of a bullet initially striking an enemy, makes the game very hard to adjust to.
The first few levels are tedious, and at some points they are a bit too difficult. Many players will have a tough time getting past them without losing interest, and this can be blamed solely on the fact that there are no mid-level saves. When the player fails, he has to start again from the beginning, and with levels routinely hitting the twenty-minute mark, that can be a bit of an annoyance.
Once you progress past the somewhat sluggish first few levels, the game starts to heat up. The sheer number of enemies in each level is commendable; it's clear that the developers were not very concerned with teamwork and strategy, focusing instead on creating a standalone experience. Thus, the AI of your teammates is often laughable, as they have terrible accuracy and can become stuck behind obstacles quite often. On one occasion, I was pinned between my teammates and was unable to move, and I had to restart the level. There are little bugs like this here and there, and they leave a considerable dent on the gameplay.
That being said, the replay value is what makes this game worthwhile. There are over two dozen levels in the single player experience, and there is also a co-op mode for playing with buddies. The real treat here is the Xbox Live play, though it may seem bland and boring initially. It is not quite up to par with fan favorites Rainbow Six 3 or Counter-Strike, but when there are eight players in a game, it can get quite intense and very exciting.
The graphics are the very definition of average. The player models are bland and lack detail, but they are well animated and varied. The environments range from being incredibly detailed to utterly unimpressive. The weapon models aren't bad but aren't anything to write home about. The explosions are somewhat hokey and unrealistic but not that noticeable. If you are a graphics whore, you will not enjoy this game - period. But for those of you who aren't, the visuals don't detract from the experience at all.
The sound is arguably the game's strong point. The music is top-notch, with a score that seems like it would fit right in line in the Medal of Honor games, which Shadow Ops is clearly derivative of in other areas as well). What's even better is that the music gets louder and more dramatic as you enter intense situations; it lends to the mood quite nicely. The sound effects are strong but, much like the graphics, are nothing special. The guns sound like guns, planes sound like planes, etc. - nothing groundbreaking. The sound still manages to have a lasting effect due to the amazing score, though.
Overall, Shadow Ops is a fun, if mindless, romp through the various locales. If you are a die-hard FPS fan, you will almost certainly enjoy this game, but if you aren't, I would advise renting it before making any further decisions.