So it’s finally here, the latest iteration in the much beloved and always critically praised Call of Duty series. Call of Duty: Black Ops has touched down and the wait has finally ended. Gamers everywhere are now engaging in what many are calling the game of the year. While we knew it wouldn’t be a bad game, there was one burning question on everyone’s mind. How would it stack up against last year’s Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2, a game that is considered by most to be the best console shooter around.
You play as Alex Mason(for most of the game) and in this ambitious, different and surprisingly intriguing story, you start off the game in a chair, strapped in, being interrogated. As you’re continuously bombarded with questions, you slowly start to remember various memories and through flashbacks is where the majority of the game takes place.
Your first flashback is a mission in Cuba, during the Bay of Pigs invasion. You’re job is to assassinate Fidel Castro and while everything seems to go off without a hitch at first, it turns out that you’re going to get more than you bargained for. You don’t make it out of the country and you find yourself whisked away to a Russian prison. The game then takes the player to a number of locations around the globe as Mason tries to stop a group of Russian extremists who of course are up to no good.
The game jumps back and forth between the missions (your memories), and the interrogation. It never feels messy though and the story not only manages to stay logical but it’s actually real good. For the first time in a Call of Duty game I actually cared about the plot. It’s mysterious, intriguing and it pulls you in right from the start. As Mason, the player is confused as to what is going on since Mason himself doesn’t exactly remember everything. There are a few nice plot twists and some mysterious happenings going on that lead us to believe that not all is as it seems.
Story-wise, the game is very exciting. With a nice mixture of well staged set pieces and unique gameplay situations, this is one of the best single player campaigns in the series. Prison breaks, Presidential meetings, Helicopter sequences, River boats and more, ensure gamers that the narrative is always thrilling and exciting. We also get some interesting cameos from historical figures like Fidel Castro and JFK.
The story is told stylishly, and some of the set pieces are so well staged and shot that you’d be hard pressed to believe that you’re still in the video game realm. Throw in a superb soundtrack with some classic songs that come on at the exact right moments and some great voice acting from big names like Sam Worthington, Ed Harris and Gary Oldman, and you get a pretty compelling and phenomenal single player experience.
Visually the game is downright stunning. While it doesn’t carry that gritty realistic feel that Modern Warfare 2 does, Treyarch adds their own style here and it works, very well. The jungle levels in Vietnam are highlights and they’re leaps and bounds ahead of the jungles from Call of Duty 5. Everything is firing on all cylinders here. Textures, detail, lighting, facial expressions etc. This is one of the best looking video games that we’ve seen in a while. Audio is equally as good with everything from gunshots to explosions to the voice acting, all reaching near perfection. Sound effects are handled tremendously well and playing this game on a solid surround sound system will blow you away.
Gameplay wise, the single player campaign gives players 15 missions and how long it takes you to complete depends on difficulty. Normal mode should take players around 6-8 hours but higher difficulties will require more time. The much feared Veteran mode is hard as usual this time around but personally, I think it was a bit harder in Modern Warfare 2. Don’t get me wrong, it’s annoying, frustrating and may even induce controller throwing, but I don’t think it’s as hard as Modern Warfare 2.
Every level in the game is memorable. Some quality level design provides for a fair share of gripping firefights and exciting battles and each level has a number of ‘wow’ moments that will have your jaw dropping. No two missions ever feel the same and each mission feels fresh and new. Each scenario, set piece and event all pack a punch and they all come together for one hell of a thrilling single player experience. The mission structure itself isn’t anything new as we’re still given objectives and led down a linear path, constantly fighting towards the next checkpoint or scripted event. It’s a true and tried structure and it works just as well here as it did in previous games in the series.
Weapons aren’t as futuristic as in Modern Warfare but they’re a lot more advanced than in World at War. You get a wide variety of weapons and equipment to use and they’re all fun and effective. In addition to a nice arsenal of weapons, you’ll also find yourself behind the wheel of quite a few vehicles, all of which handle quite nicely. Slo-mo breaches and up close melee kills do make an appearance here and it’s clear that Treyarch has borrowed from Infinity Ward in a few areas but it never feels annoying or lame. As with most Call of Duty games, there are a few points of unfairness where objectives are either laid out unfairly or unclearly and this can lead to immense frustration. The way I see it though, every Call of Duty game has these moments and it’s just something you have to live with. Just make sure you keep an eye on your AI counterparts (who are still braindead by the way) to make sure you’re going the right way and doing the right thing.
At the end of the day, the campaign is very strong. Sure there are the usual annoyances which will especially frustrate players who are going through on Veteran, but overall it’s one of the strongest single player campaigns in the franchise. The non stop action, extravagant set pieces, strong voice acting and impressive visuals and audio all come together to create an immensely enjoyable experience.
For those not interested in single player, and I’m sure that’s the majority of you, Call of Duty: Black Ops offers a robust and well featured multiplayer mode. For those who enjoy multiplayer, this will certainly be your game of the year. To kick things off we get Combat Training, here you can play FFA and Team Deathmatch offline with bots. It’s essentially used for practice, learning maps, creating strategies etc. It’s a nice addition and I’m sure some will find it useful.
When you hop online, you’ll find 14 maps, supporting up to 18 players. All the usual suspects return with game modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Caputre The Flag, Search And Destroy etc, and things like Perks and Killstreaks have been balanced a lot more fairly in order to prevent exploits that surfaced in Modern Warfare 2. There are a couple of annoying new Killstreaks though such as the remote control car which seems to pop up way too often. For the most part though, Call of Duty fans will feel right at home online, that is until they come to Wager Matches.
Ah yes, Wager Matches, what’s that you ask? I’ll tell you. Wager Matches are a brand new way of playing Call of Duty. You see, by preforming well in multiplayer or purchasing contracts that task you with completing certain objectives, you earn CoD points. These are different then XP. CoD points are how you buy new equipment and gear. It’s much better than using XP to unlock weapons because now you can choose what you want and when you want it. It’s a more effective and practical system and I think fans will enjoy it a lot more. That being said, there are still incentives to rank up as with each level you gain, more things become unlocked and available to buy.
In Wager Matches, you can wager your points and either win more or lose what you have, only the top 3 people in the match earn points, the rest lose what they wagered. It’s an interesting game mode and if you’re confident enough in your skills, then you should check it out. There are four different types of Wager Matches, one particularly interesting one is called Sticks and Stones. Everyone gets a crossbow, ballistic knife and a tomahawk. The highest score wins but there is also a twist, if you manage to tomahawk an enemy, you bankrupt their points and they have to start from zero. It’s intense and a ton of fun.
Treyarch also delivers a newly revamped matchmaking system that comes complete with some very in-depth stat tracking and a new create a class system. The amount of customization is absolutely mind boggling, everything you can think of can be customized. The options are endless and if customizing is your thing, you’re going to be on cloud nine here. The depth of the customization ensures players that they’ll be able to play online with their own unique and preferred style.
Call of Duty: Black Ops also features a new theater mode. Similar to what we’ve seen in Halo, you can watch films of past online games, share them with friends, upload clips to the Call of Duty website etc. If you’re a fan of this type of thing, you’ll be pleased with what is offered here. I’ve never been a fan of theater modes so I didn’t spend too much time here but it does look pretty full featured.
Nazi Zombies also makes a return, of course, and with playable characters like JFK and Fidel Castro, it’s even better than it was last time. Play both online or locally and either solo or co-op, whichever option you choose, you can’t ever go wrong with Nazi Zombies. There are 3 maps, you start off with one and unlock the other two but you can be sure DLC will bring us more content for Nazi Zombies.
Lastly, there’s a hidden mode called Dead Ops Arcade, which can be played with 1-4 players and is basically a top down, twin stick, arcade shooter. It’s really simple and easy to play but it’s honestly way too addictive. It could have easily been a stand alone XBLA game, it’s that much fun.
To put it simply, this is a wildly impressive offering from Treyarch, there is so much here and it’s all top-notch. If you’re a fan of shooters you can not go wrong with this game. It has something for everyone. Between single player, online, nazi zombies, Dead Ops Arcade etc, you’re bound to find somewhere to drop a heavy handful of hours.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is a game that doesn’t let up, while this may be bad news to those of you playing on Veteran, for everyone else, this is a good thing. The game is full of non-stop action, there is literally never a dull moment, never a pointless objective and never an uninteresting set piece. It’s a hell of a ride and it’s fun and exciting the whole way through.
This is easily the best game of the year, thus far. The single player campaign, while maybe not as polished as in Modern Warefare 2, is still better than almost any other game on the market. As for the multiplayer, it’s more or less perfect and will surely dethrone Modern Warfare 2 as the king of online shooters. You can’t go wrong with Call of Duty: Black Ops, that’s the bottom line. It’s an incredible package and it is most definitely worth the $60.
What do you think of the game?
Also, check out Jon’s in-depth look at the multiplayer here.
Call of Duty: Black Ops was released on November 9th, 2010.