If you’ve played a Call of Duty game in the past few years, then you probably already know what to expect from Treyarch’s newest addition to the CoD family, Black Ops. You’re going to travel the globe in search of a once-loyal-general-turned-rogue-terrorist who possesses some sort of weapon of mass destruction, and along the way, you’ll blow a lot of stuff up, shoot a ton of dudes, witness the betrayal and subsequent death of main characters, and ultimately save the day. Black Ops never strays too far from this tried and true formula, however, for all the clichés that the game steals from past entries, it also brings to light some new and unique gameplay mechanics and plot elements that will leave you speechless at times, begging for more. So, while Black Ops often feels a little too familiar, it really is the culmination of the series and is, without a doubt, the definitive Call of Duty experience.
Call of Duty is a franchise that has never really been about the single player campaign or storyline. I think it’d be fair to say that most people here for the competitive aspect. That being said, it would be silly to think that there are not at least a few of us who like a little bit of narrative flavor in their CoD. Understanding this, Treyarch has gone to great lengths to ensure that their single player campaign is every bit as good and exciting as their multiplayer component. Fortunately, their efforts have paid off in full as the campaign in Black Ops not only tells the most compelling story in franchise history, but a great tale regardless of its namesake, although it is relatively short.
To accompany this excellent story are a variety of likable characters. Never before have I felt attached to the characters in Call of Duty, however, Treyarch, for the most part, was able to keep me emotionally invested in theirs from start to finish. As interesting as its characters is Black Ops’ unique setting, which spans several decades, wars, and conflicts, not otherwise depicted in games of its kind. And, because of the game’s time-traveling ways, the set-pieces are downright extravagant, never feeling the same or boring.
Unfortunately, at times, it feels like Treyarch has tried to do too much to keep the player ooh’ing and aah’ing at every turn. For starters, the game is overly explosive. I mean that literally. From the minute you start the game, shit’s always blowing up. Now, don’t get me wrong, explosions are good, especially in action games. However, there are so many things blowing up in Black Ops, that even Michael Bay would be jealous. To be frank, it gets overwhelming at times and ultimately takes away from the experience.
Luckily, everything looks so darn good that it’s easy to get over the nonstop explosion-fest. Texture pop-in is something that happens occasionally throughout the game, but, for the most part, the game looks beautiful and never chugs or drops its framerate, even in the most frantic of firefights. I did experience more than a few glitches and clipping issues, but nothing deal-breaking. The audio also impresses and really pins down the intended emotion of the levels and action sequences. It’s heart-pounding, blood-boiling, palm-sweat-inducing goodness, and it never lets up. If you can’t tell, that seems to be the overall theme of the game; throw lots of stuff at the player and watch them panic, which isn’t a bad thing in most cases. Thankfully, Treyarch has given us such a wide array of missions, weapons and level designs that the overwhelming sensation you’ll often get from the game, never feels as important as it may if the game weren’t so expertly crafted.
Getting down to the meat and potatoes of the game, Black Ops’ multiplayer is absurdly deep, full-featured, and, for lack of a better word, incredible. It has no doubt trumped all of its ancestors in nearly every way, from the amount of modes, to the new modes, to the new CoD Point System, to the amount of perks and emblems one can unlock. It’s intense how robust the multiplayer is.
Treyarch has used various features from last year’s Modern Warfare 2, but also implemented several new changes to the recipe. Gone are the benefits of the traditional leveling system found in MW2. In its place is a new system that rewards players with things called ‘CoD Points’ which are used to buy weapons, perks, kill streak bonuses, and the like, which were all automatically unlocked with each level gain in Modern Warfare. In Black Ops, leveling and earning experience points simply grants the player the ability to unlock the weapons and equipment that they’ll eventually need to buy with points. Aside from this, leveling up also unlocks other things such as new modes to play, more custom class slots and a create-a-class.
In theory, this Point System sounds excellent, and once you get the hang of it, it is excellent and very interesting. However, in the beginning, you’ll invariably buy certain weapons or perks that you don’t like, and you’ll be stuck with them as there’s currently no way to sell them or trade them in for something new. So, the moral of the story is: know what you’re buying so you aren’t wasting precious time and points. Of course, if you’re new to the game, you’ll have no idea what will or will not fit your play style, so you’ll probably find yourself spending points on things you’ll never use again.
Black Ops has a host of new modes that will keep even the most hardcore fans busy for quite some time. Wager Matches are a new addition and allow players to earn CoD points by betting on who will win and lose a round. The new contract system allows players to invest a small amount of points to earn a lot more by completing specific objectives in matches, while the new Theatre mode enables players to record in-game footage, edit it (to a degree) and upload it to CallofDuty.com for the world to see. But, aside from these are the standard modes that make a requisite return. Team Deathmatch, Domination and the popular 4-player co-op, Nazi Zombie mode are just some of the many game types that are back.
Of course, all of these game types are made extremely fun due to the excellent level design, which is well-balanced and diverse. I found that I favored the maps in Black Ops over those in MW2. But, while Treyarch has done a lot right here, some things haven’t transitioned as well. Certain weapons and equipment unavoidably feel overpowered (I’m looking at you, RC car) and server stability has been less than impressive thus far. Moreover, the lack of any Spec Ops or some sort of split-screen, cooperative campaign play is reprehensible to say the least.
Nonetheless, Treyarch really has gone above and beyond the call of duty (yep, I just did that) with Black Ops. It truly is the most complete title in the long-running series. Even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, you’d be hard-pressed not to find something to like in this robust package. Sure, the AI is as bad as it’s ever been, the ending doesn’t feel quite as climatic as it should, and the whole experience has a distinct I’ve-done-this-all-before feeling, but in the end, Black Ops is a white-knuckled, shooting spectacle that rarely disappoints. Its presentation values are off the charts, its campaign tells the best story yet, and its multiplayer one-ups its predecessor in just about every way imaginable. If you’re looking for one of the best shooters of the year, then look no further – Black Ops has it all.
Call of Duty: Black Ops was released on November 9th, 2010 for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.