Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops

by David Wittman November 9, 2010 @ 12:00 am

Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops is the seventh outing into Activision’s seminal first-person shooter franchise. With its debut following in the wake of Modern Warfare 2, arguably the most successful video game launch to date going by metrics, it becomes clear that Black Ops has vast shoes to fill.

Fresh out of the box, it’s evident the game has a lot going for it. Boasting smooth visuals and gameplay rife with tension, the high-impact feel that traditionally encompasses Call of Duty efforts is immediately noticeable. When it comes to locales, Black Ops takes a slight twist as its war-ridden campaign unfolds over an often overlooked era — at least in video games — the Cold War.

To start, you step into the shoes of Alex Mason, a Studies and Observations Group (SOG) member, who endures extreme torture and interrogation. Through this, he is forced to relive and revisit his past military operations, all of which have a seemingly simple end-goal — find and dispose of ‘Dragovich,’ the leader of the Russian forces.

While in true Call of Duty fashion you step into more shoes than your own, the core plot remains focused on Alex throughout, who travels across the world in his search, ending up in some fairly scenic locales such as Cuba, Laos, Russia and even a brief stint in the Vietnam War. While the ‘hunt down a specific enemy’ approach might sound like an all-too familiar staple of the Call of Duty series, it is executed in such a brilliant way that it feels quite fresh and innovative.

Story and action elements go hand in hand throughout in Black Ops, so much so that it hits a perfect balance. Nothing feels stilted or forced, there is never too much dialogue, and the voices of Gary Oldman and Sam Worthington are perfectly suited to the game. Even the musical overtones in the background blend in with the scenes. The only criticism over the entire single player experience is the at times awkward vehicle controls.

While most games even in this day and age thrive on their single player aspect, a very large portion of the community are aching for only one thing — multiplayer. Here, Treyarch deliver on every front imaginable, offering a wealth of maps, weapons, and customization options that truly set it apart and in front of anything that came before.

Fans of the series might be happy to note that instead of having to skip a map, players now vote for which map they would like to play – something that feels like it should have been added a long time ago. Each map is extremely varied, playing to many strengths and weaknesses… from the small, visually vibrant Nuketown, to the thick lush jungle of…well… Jungle.

Black Ops is no slouch on the personalization front either. Players can dabble with face paint and tune up weaponry to their liking. You can truly make your weapon your own; with the ability to etch your clan tag into it as well as emblems, camo, and even your optional red dot sight can be changed at whim. Tier 1 perks affect your outward appearance, adding a deeper meaning than just choosing the one that suits your play style.

Perks have made a radical shift from that of previous games, with there no longer being anything that gives the player extra health or increasing the damage one can dish out. There are plenty of new surprises too – with many of the pro perks adding interesting results (such as hacker, allowing you to sabotage enemy equipment). Finally, many of the perks have changed tiers, making the choice of what goes in what tier even more difficult to make.

Prestiging (where you start from level 1 with no unlocks, after reaching the max level) has in the past been only a trivial affair, gaining you extra class unlocks. This has changed in Black Ops, to the point where there are actual in game perks outside of extra classes to sweeten the deal. There are also 15 of them, although with a level cap of 50 players might find they reach the final prestige faster than in previous games… but the benefits are completely worth it.

Black Ops feels great, with a lot of new features that have been added to smooth out issues that were present in previous games. Quick-scoping (the ability to kill a person without fully transitioning into the scope) has been nixed, as has the invulnerability enemies would have when going prone or transitioning into Last Stand. A new ‘dive prone’ move has been added, allowing moving players a prone option that doesn’t seem stilted.

With a new Call of Duty comes change, and one of the changes that have been made are the addition of CP or CoD Points. While players still gain XP to level up in the traditional sense, levelling up by itself does not unlock new weapons and equipment, instead these need to be purchased using CoD Points, which are gained by the completion of challenges, levelling up, and also gambled in two new ways, Wager Matches and Contracts.

Outside of the core multiplayer component comes Combat Training, a way for players who are perhaps not very comfortable with their multiplayer talents to practice against AI opponents. This mode is great for beginners and veterans alike, allowing for the practice of new guns, tactics, and strategies against fairly realistic opponents.

Yet one of the most anticipated parts of the game is Zombie Mode, a Left 4 Dead-esque cooperative mini-game that sets up to four players against larger and increasingly deadly hordes of zombies. The best part about it is the fact that in certain zombie-laden maps, like the Pentagon, you can go rambo as world leaders like JFK or Fidel Castro. It’s a bizarre, yet awesome addition.

Black Ops is truly a daunting masterpiece, lovingly crafted with such fine attention to detail that it’s evident developer Treyarch, responsible for Call of Duty 3 and World at War, went to remarkable heights to appease fans. From an ‘on the edge of your seats’ main story, to frantic paced cooperative Zombie mode, and a competitive multiplayer aspect that has offered the deepest, most customizable experience yet, it hardly comes as a surprise that publisher Activision is touting it as the “biggest entertainment launch” of this year.

– A story that feels epic straight from the moment you start
– Multiplayer customizability at its finest
– Every game can do with Zombies; this one does so with world leaders.

– Vehicle controls feel a little strange and unfamiliar at times.