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Review: Call of Duty Black Ops

With the months of anticipation over, Call of Duty Black Ops is finally here. Taking a turn from their previous WW2-based Call of Duty games, this is Treyarch’s chance to prove to the world that they aren’t just the B-Team and can do better than Infinity Ward. So, do they manage it or is this one Op that should’ve stayed classified?

Much like past Call of Duty games, this is one of two halves: single and multiplayer. Not that the two feel disjointed, but they are two very distinct modes with entirely different feels.

The majority of the single-player campaign sees you taking on missions as Alex Mason, a CIA operative, beginning with the Bay of Pigs in ’61 through to the end of ’68. There are a few missions where you play as other people, but I enjoyed the mostly single-focus campaign, since it left me feeling a little more attached to the characters involved than I had in previous Call of Duty games; which have had up to three separate characters and story arcs. The inclusion of Reznov from World at War was an appreciated touch.

Also, unlike previous Call of Duty games, where the plot is relayed in a pretty basic, linear fashion, Black Ops mixes things up with a neat framing device. With your character, Alex Mason, being interrogated by a few shadowy figures in an attempt to get information about “The Numbers”, almost every mission is actually one of his flashbacks. The story is actually a lot more interesting than previous outings and although some pretty crazy stuff happens, it still feels at least slightly more believable than the insanity of Modern Warfare 2. The story is mysterious, fairly satisfying and clocks in at your average Call of Duty length: 6 to 7 hours, depending on skill and difficulty level.

Missions are also a little more varied this time. The story allows for many different settings and there are a few new game mechanics which are, for the most part, fun and unintrusive but aren’t used all that often. The campaign features a few vehicle sequences, all of which are easy enough to control and make for some pretty good set pieces. Thankfully, they’re restricted to the single-player, as vehicles were a big pain in World at War multiplayer.

Although the singleplayer is great, it’s the multiplayer that really shines in Black Ops. Treyarch seems to have listened to the community alot more than Infinity Ward did with Modern Warfare 2, and it shows. No longer will we have to suffer the horrible amount of “noob-tubers” (Those who use nothing but grenade launchers from across the map), ninjas who can teleport 5 feet using the Commando perk, quick-scopers or people running around with dual shotguns as their secondary weapon. There are a lot of meaningful changes in Black Ops, all of which have, so far, made it a more enjoyable experience.

The multiplayer certainly seems slower than Modern Warfare 2, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on what mode you like to play. For my money, I’m glad they slowed it down. It still feels faster than something like Bad Company 2, but you don’t have nutjobs running around the map at lightspeed. Speaking of modes, Black Ops has a few new ones; Wager Matches let you bet your Call of Duty Points, the new currency system used to buy weapons and attachments, against others in four new Free-For-All match types. They’re all pretty fun and creative, with my favorite so far being Gun Game, where each kill gives you a new weapon; the goal being to get a kill with each of the 20 weapons in the progression first.

The core modes are largely unchanged from Modern Warfare 2, which I’ve seen a fair amount of people complaining about, but at this point, those modes are so set in how they work that any major changes to them would create an even bigger amount of complaints. The Points system I mentioned earlier works fairly well but sometimes it feels like it was added just so they could make wager matches. Sure, they have their uses in buying weapons, perks and other bonuses, such as engraving your clan tag on your gun, but they’re not that functionally different than the old experience points and level-up system.

So far, the maps are all pretty enjoyable, nothing as horrible as Wasteland from Modern Warfare 2, and instead of using the old Vote to Skip function that previous games in the series have used, Black Ops lets players in the match lobby vote for one of two maps, or if neither seem appealing, to vote for a new random map. It’s a small touch that makes a big difference, since you never feel like you’re getting stuck with a map because you can’t vote to skip it.

Perhaps the biggest new feature of Multiplayer is the addition of a theatre mode. The game automatically saves replays of your 10 most recent games and allows you to play them back, as well as edit and record clips from various angles to produce montages of your best moments. You can permanently save up to six clips and even upload them to the Call of Duty website or YouTube if you want. The system works well, but you can only upload 30 second clips, meaning no full matches, which is a bit disappointing. Below is a clip I uploaded. For some reason it stutters a bit in places, which is odd, but it was fairly easy to set up.

The Zombies mode from World at War is back as well, but things are largely unchanged here. You fend off zombies, rebuild barriers, buy new weapons from walls and inevitably get eaten by the undead hordes. I don’t like the maps as much as the World at War maps, but since the World at War maps came with the Hardened Edition they’ll likely be released as DLC at some point. Put simply, if you liked zombies in in World at War you’ll like them here.

The bottom line is that this is Call of Duty, the core is still the same as it’s been since the first Modern Warfare title, but Treyarch has done a stupendous job on the singleplayer, telling what’s, in my opinion, the best narrative of any Call of Duty game before it, and listening to the community on its multiplayer. Those changes, along with the ever popular Zombies mode, ensures Black Ops is great value for anyone interested in another go around; but those who’ve disliked Call of Duty in the past, don’t get drawn in by the hype, this probably won’t change your opinion.

Developer: Treyarch

Genre: First Person Shooter

Time: Singleplayer is about 6 to 7 hours, depending on difficulty and experience, with the multiplayer having nearly limitless appeal. The game now features 15 levels of prestige as opposed to the 10 in MW2.

Gripes: Multiplayer is slow to launch, muting players is now a slower process, fewer guns than Modern Warfare 2.

Get it for the: Call of Duty action you know and love, new balance fixes, tense wager matches and mostly good new maps.