Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 01/06/11

I love the smell of Nazi Zombies in the morning

Another year, another Call of Duty. I can remember when this series was still young, with the second game of the series launching with the Xbox 360. The first seventh generation game that I ever played just so happens to be the sequel to that launch title, Call of Duty 3, and both games were excellent. The first two games were developed by a bunch of ex-EA employees called Infinity Ward, and the third game was created by the dudes behind the excellent Spider-Man 2 game. Time sure does change things. Infinity Ward has since created the revolutionary Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and its sequel, Modern Warfare 2. Treyarch, ala the dudes behind Spider-Man 2, created the well-received World at War, and now Black Ops, one of the biggest video game releases of all time. Practically the entirety of the Infinity Ward studio has left Activision to form an independent company called Respawn Entertainment, with funding from Activision’s rival and former employer Electronic Arts. Treyarch is now tasked with carrying the torch of the Call of Duty series. Is the franchise in good hands?

With that history lesson out of the way, let’s get to the juicy details. Call of Duty: Black Ops has been hotly anticipated, and is one of the largest entertainment releases of all time. Following the hugely successful Modern Warfare 2, Treyarch had a huge challenge in crafting Black Ops. World at War, while a great game, just didn’t live up to the expectations set after the blockbuster success that was Call of Duty 4. I, like many other gamers, had serious doubts that Treyarch would be able to pull it off with Black Ops.

There’s a whole lot of content in this package and a whole lot to cover, so I’ll jump in and cover the campaign first. Call of Duty 2 easily had the best Call of Duty campaign in the franchise’s history. The campaign in 3 wasn’t that bad either, and the campaign in 4 was an excellent, heart-pumping thrill-ride. After that, things went down hill. World at War was very poorly balanced (though I did enjoy the competitive co-op), and Modern Warfare 2 didn’t know what the hell it was trying to be. Black Ops features my second favorite Call of Duty campaign now, right behind the second game. So, that’s good news.

Modern Warfare 2 employed a lot of good ideas in its campaign, but each level felt like a gimmick, hinging on a new gameplay mechanic that wasn’t fully explored or utilized. Black Ops also has a short campaign, but it still manages to spread out the mechanics over the entire adventure. It feels a lot more organized and it’s just plain better.

Black Ops doesn’t try to just be about mindless action, though. The passive scenes from the previous few games return, where the player is powerless and have to shamble their way to the next objective. This significantly increases the thrills, and is great for the storytelling aspect of the game. Survival horror elements even sneak their way into the game, with Vietcong soldiers jumping out of dark tunnels in suicidal attempts to slit your throat. Stealth elements also return for the series, forcing players to slowly make their way through areas and take out enemies in a brutal, silent fashion. Of course, there is still plenty of running and gunning, explosions, and a ton of pure adrenaline-fueled action.

The campaign is accented by its excellent plot. The storyline is a bit predictable and corny at times, but it’s still badass. My favorite Call of Duty character, Viktor Reznov, returns from World at War for this installment, as does the character you played in World at War, and the great character development with the rest of the characters in the game help make this one of the best stories ever told in the series. Players take control of a few different characters before the credits roll, but generally, Mason is the primary character.

Unlike most Call of Duty games, which open with a short obstacle course tutorial or right smack-dab in the middle of World War II, Black Ops begins with the player strapped helplessly to a chair, with televisions all around them displaying quickly cycling, blood-red numbers. Mason is being interrogated by an unknown man, demanding that answers from Mason. They then take a journey through Mason’s past, and the player goes through the motions that brought Mason to his current location. Each level builds up to an awesome climatic finish, and I’m willing to say that Black Ops has more epic moments than any other game in existence to date. It’s not hard to figure out where the story is going after a while, but it’s thrilling every step of the way.

A major reason that the game is so thrilling and awesome is the soundtrack. The excellent rock music pounds through the speakers and makes every event in the game even better. The guitar riffs add excitement to scenes that probably wouldn’t impress otherwise. Explosions are loud and intimidating, and the gunfire is realistic as it gets. From the satisfying “fwip” that is heard after nailing an opponent in the face with a tomahawk to the Rolling Stones playing after shooting off all the mannequin heads in the Nuketown multiplayer map, the audio in Black Ops is beyond excellent. Treyarch did an amazing job here, and it’s no surprise, as a series trademark has been the excellent audio.

Treyarch can brag about their game’s campaign and audio all day, but they also have bragging rights when it comes to creating some of the best visuals in gaming to date. The character models are beautiful, with an immense amount of detail. Sweat can be seen on characters in the heated jungles of Vietnam, and wrinkles appear in the faces of the older characters as they talk and make facial expressions. The animation is realistic and lifelike, and not in a creepy Polar Express sort of way either. Explosions are great, the visual effects all around are great, and the destructible environments are breathtaking. Honestly, Bad Company 2 had a ridiculously cool destruction system, but Black Ops does it in a subtle way that makes each explosion worth more, if that makes any sense.

Black Ops is also significantly grittier than previous installments. The game is dark, with lots of blood, gore, and plenty of limb severing. Hands will fly off enemies as you blast them with a shotgun, and their body parts will fly all over the place by using a well-placed grenade. The intensity in Black Ops is second to none, and the game is definitely graphic. There’s some controversy over the game’s level of violence, but it’s appropriate and realistic violence. Video games are an art form, and if films like The Human Centipede can exist, then games that are far less disgusting and far less offensive like Call of Duty: Black Ops should be able to exist without people complaining about it all the time.

Despite the short campaign, there is a lot to do in Black Ops. Obviously, the multiplayer modes that made Call of Duty famous and even more successful than Bungie’s Halo juggernaut returns with the expected yearly modifications. There are new weapons, a deeper online mode, and plenty of new gameplay modes to enjoy. The new maps are all fun to play on some level, and the new currency system adds a layer of intrigue to the multiplayer that wasn’t present before. Is it the same old stuff? Basically. But you can never have too much of a good thing.

I won’t get too much into the core multiplayer. If you’ve played Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, or World at War, you know exactly what to expect. There are slight tweaks and additions, like the currency system for leveling, as well as the ability to customize your emblem and guns. Customizability is much more of a focus this time around, but it’s still not as advanced as it could be.

So, instead of going into all the slimy details about the multiplayer we’re all familiar with (and if you’re not, check out my reviews of the previous games), I’ll just mention that the game does seem to have more lag and glitches, but nothing really game-breaking. Now, let me talk about all the new stuff.

First of all, the best additions to the tried-and-true CoD formula are the Wager Matches. Wager Matches are unique game types where players bet their in-game cash and have the opportunity to make a profit by coming in first, second, or third place. These Wager Matches are intense; unbalanced, but definitely intense, and most importantly, fun.

There are four different types of Wager Matches. One in the Chamber is where players have only one bullet, and have to earn more bullets by killing other players. Sticks & Stones is where players only have knifes, a tomahawk, and a crossbow available to them. The goal is to earn the most points by the end of the match by racking up kills, but if a player is nailed with a tomahawk, then they become bankrupt and lose all of their allocated points. Sharpshooter is a game mode where every so many seconds, the gun that everyone is universally using changes, and is a real test of skill for veteran CoD players. My personal favorite is Gun Game. In this mode, players start with a magnum, and each kill upgrades them to the next tier of weapons. The first player to get a kill with all 20 weapons wins the match. If you are knifed, you are demoted a tier.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I absolutely love Wager Matches. Another feature in Black Ops that is a ton of fun is Combat Training. Combat Training pits a number of bots, named after players on your friends list, against the player. Players can choose to add bot-controlled teammates as well, if they so please and the bots can be set to different difficulties. It’s fun to decimate the bots and get 100+ kills with zero deaths in a match. Combat Training is a nice little distraction and is good for letting off some steam.

An added feature that should have been great but ends up being really annoying is Theater Mode. Taking a cue from the Halo games, Black Ops adds a feature where players can record and save their best matches, cool stuff, and upload them directly to YouTube. While I appreciate the ease of use, this mode is horribly limited, like most Theater Modes. There really needs to be more added, like, for example, the ability to keep all the sound that occurred in the XBL match, including those who were talking with headsets. There is no way to mash up all your favorite clips for awesome montages, and the game only allows players to render 30 second clips to YouTube, which is a pain in the ass. The editing process is barebones and rather pathetic. The real kicker is, however, that Theater Mode only applies to the online multiplayer matches, and doesn’t work for Combat Training or split-screen modes.

What does this mean? This means that creativity is discouraged. Not to mention if you pull off something cool in anything that isn’t online multiplayer matches, it doesn’t even matter. I was playing Combat Training on Nuketown, and threw a random tomahawk as soon as I spawned. I got a kill, and it was awesome. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use Theater to share this epic moment with my friends. Theater Mode needs to be expanded, desperately, before it can add any real value to the overall gaming experience in Call of Duty.

Furthermore, the split-screen and offline multiplayer modes have been totally gimped. The game does now allow split-screen for online play, which is a welcome addition, but the split-screen versus modes have been totally thrown away. There is no leveling up offline anymore. Combat Training isn’t available offline, either, and neither are the Wager Matches. I am disgusted at this laziness. Black Ops would have earned a perfect score from me if these features from Modern Warfare 2 were included. It really makes no sense to take away well-received aspects of previous entries in the series, now does it?

Speaking of that, Modern Warfare 2 received some complaints for ditching the quirky Nazi Zombies mode from World at War. Zombies returns in Black Ops, featuring more and larger maps, plenty of secrets, explosive dogs from Hell, and achievements that can only be earned in the Zombies mode. This mode is a lot of fun, and it goes hand-and-hand with another new mode called Dead Ops Arcade. Dead Ops Arcade is a twin-stick shooter where players are tasked with killing lots of zombies and earning high scores. Leaderboards, online play, split-screen, and all that make these modes feel deep, immersive, fun, and they add a genuine amount of replayability to the game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is stuffed with content. Call of Duty buffs will have plenty to sink their teeth into, and the multiplayer is sure to provide hours upon hours of entertainment. The new modes, the awesome campaign, the gorgeous visuals, and the stellar soundtrack all work in tandem to create one of the best experiences in the franchises. The split-screen modes need fixed, and the Theater Mode is criminally barebones, but Black Ops is still one of the best games in the series, and one of the best games this entire generation. As long as Treyarch is at the helm, the Call of Duty franchise is in more than capable hands.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Call of Duty: Black Ops (US, 11/09/10)

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