Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Call Of Duty: Black Ops
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Genre: First Person Shooter/Military
Release Date: 11/09/10

Coming off of the wildly popular yet spectacularly broken Modern Warfare 2 and the drama that plagued Activision and developer Infinity Ward, the question coming into the next installment in the Call Of Duty series was simple: Could Treyarch take possession of the franchise now that Infinity Ward is a shell of its former self? After playing through Black Ops, the answer is a resounding YES. Treyarch is the proud new owner of this franchise.

Treyarch moves out of the World War II setting and into the Cold War era with a splash of Vietnam. While the setting change is becoming somewhat normal for the series, this is not your typical Call of Duty. Your character, Alex Mason, begins the game strapped to an interrogation chair being electrocuted in an attempt to gain information. Something that longtime players will notice right away is that your character has a voice. Not to belabor the point, but YOUR CHARACTER HAS A VOICE! You cannot remember the information the interrogators are trying to get out of you, and a series of camera spasms and random numbers flowing throughout your screen immediately make you feel two things: 1) You’re a lot cooler than Jason Bourne, but have the same affliction and 2) This isn’t just Call of Duty, it’s a mind bending thriller that puts the gun in your hands.

You begin to retrace your steps with the help of electrical stimuli and those pesky random numbers. These steps take you through Cuba, Russia and Vietnam, among others, including a meeting with JFK at the Pentagon that keeps into perspective the historical, realistic nature of the game. Keeping this spoiler free, you befriend Viktor Reznov, whom some of you may remember. As you make your way through the game his friendship becomes extremely important to you, as does settling scores with Kravchenko, Dragovich and Steiner before they do horrible things to the United States.

Kravchenko, and I assume this is unintentional, looks like an exact clone of Zakhaev from Call Of Duty 4. Additionally, a ship you go to battle on seems to have the same layout as the one from Call Of Duty 4 as well. I can let all of these things slide because the environments developed by Treyarch are absolutely beautiful. In particular I loved the Hong Kong setting as it comes of as an inspiring set piece that has a full blown war going through it.

The vehicles used in the game are amazing as well. Guiding a crew on the ground or simply blowing things up via air or sea is awesome fun. Best of all, the sound, from music to effects to great voice acting from the likes of Gary Oldman, is impressive and basically flawless. There are mild lag points in the game, but they are easily overlooked when looking at the bigger picture. The voices of your partners as you make your way through the game, rather than being throwaway pieces actually add to the game. For the first time since Captain Price, I found myself emotionally invested in a character fromt his series. However, for the first time to my knowledge, I was invested in ALL of the characters. That is how well this story plays out.

Like I said, this is a mind bending thriller. As you make your way through the game and put together the pieces, you really see how well of a crafted story this is. Additionally, if you aren’t jaw dropped by the reveal at the end, you have no sense of history and should be ashamed of yourself. Treyarch plays this campaign to perfection and gives us the best story since Call of Duty 4 and possibly the best story of the entire series, if only due to the originality of the “lost mind soldier.”

This also needs to be said: WATCH all the way through the credits. The cut scene leading to some zombie action is awesomely hilarious.

As for other modes that some people (READ: EVERYONE) might be interested in. The multiplayer on Black Ops is revamped with a new pay as you go system for unlocks. Rather than getting a certain number of kills with a certain gun to unlock different scopes or attachments, the focus is on building up COD dollars to purchase whatever loadout you please. This is a welcome change for some, as you may prefer the ACOG over the red dot sight. Now you don’t have to wait, you just need some cash. This cash can be spent on new camo and even such neat things as etching your clan tag into your gun. Subtle touches are awesome sometimes.

Killstreaks are back, minus game enders. A welcome addition is a moveable piece that attempts to shoot down enemy aircraft at any time. It’s extremely helpful and can take away from those moments where you see entire teams with their heads upward firing aimlessly at a helicopter as the other team frags the hell out of them.

On the 360 version, I can say there are a few issues with matchmaking currently. Finding a match at some times may seem impossible and going into a match with a party is cause for rosary beads and prayer. I’ve tried to enter into a match with a party of six and we either found our party completely disbanded or only four of us getting into the game. Treyarch is in the middle of patching this and I assume the server load with upwards of three million people playing isn’t making life easy, but it has to be said: Anticipation is key and the recent trend of games coming out with broken multiplayer modes along with a shoulder shrug and, “Well, we didn’t expect this.” is ridiculous. In this day and age, developers should be prepared in any way possible for online issues.

A welcome addition to the series is a new theater mode that allows players to view all of their multiplayer games from the past seven days and cut and snip any particular pieces they deem to bring the awesomeness. The option exists to upload this to other players so that the community can share in the hijinks. This has led to several videos of absurd kills across maps with tomahawks, which I expect to see much more of.

Additionally the Treyarch staple of Zombies is back and fun as hell. You can join with up to four friends and get your Left 4 Duty on on the well designed set pieces laid out for play.

Something I came across that was extremely cool was Combat Training. Essentially this puts you and friends into a multiplayer match against AI Bots. A little background on why I think this is awesome: Generally with every game that comes out I run around all the new maps with friend trying to figure out all the good spots. With the new Combat Training mode, I can do that in a setting in which I’m not penalized for getting inquisitive with a certain set piece. Sure, I might die, but it doesn’t ruin my overall standing in terms of kills vs. death ratio of anything like that. Again, subtle little things that add to the experience and please the community.

Overall, Treyarch really knocks this one out of the park. While the multiplayer is having its issues right now, there is no denying that they’ve taken clear ownership of the series. With more map packs and who knows what on the way, Call of Duty is now Treyarchs’ baby. Oh, and multiplayer is free, which they make a point of showing with a fact at the bottom of the screen. Eat it, Pachter.

The Scores
Story: GREAT
Graphics: AMAZING
Sound: CLASSIC
Control and Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: CLASSIC
Balance: CLASSIC
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal Factor: CLASSIC
Miscellaneous: CLASSIC
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary

Could Treyarch change their reputation of being the stepchild to big daddy Infinity Ward with Call Of Duty: Black Ops? YES THEY CAN! Moving into the Cold War era, Treyarch has crafted an imaginative story, fantastic set pieces, great voice acting and extras that will blow your mind, the Call Of Duty series has a brand new daddy. On top of that, more zombies to kill! This is a keep, one of those rare gems you never trade in and completely worth the $60.

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