Treyarch's latest is a white-knuckled action romp that doesn't disappoint.Edit
Call of Duty is the Goliath of the video game world. The series has sold millions of copies and catapulted itself from a solid, World War II shooter to the sprawling multiplayer playground and Hollywood-style campaign that we know today. Call of Duty: Black Ops takes much of what made Modern Warfare 2 great and slightly expands and modifies it. That's not to say that there aren't mistakes to be found within Black Ops, but I think Call of Duty fans are going to be happy with Treyarch's latest effort. The only thing I'll say about the storyline is that it's the best of the series.You begin the game as Alex Mason, a soldier being interrogated for information that he can't remember. You play through Mason's memories in search for information. Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, and Gary Oldman deliver expert performances and really nail their respective characters. There are twists, some of which work better than others, and the plot seems to get bogged down and slightly disjointed towards the middle. But unlike Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops does a wonderful job of cleaning everything up for the finale.Black Ops is not just a linear game, but sometimes feels like it's on autopilot. Just one example is when you "guide" the takeoff of an SR-71 Blackbird. I tried to not pull back on the flight stick when the game told me to, just to see if there was any other alternative to taking off, but the Blackbird lifted off on its own.
The artificial intelligence of both your friendly soldiers and the enemies you face is pretty poor. Both friendly and enemy soldiers behave like fools for most of the campaign. I once watched a friendly shoot the back of an armored car that he was using for cover for a solid 20 seconds.
There are also a few design flaws and annoyances, not least of all was a game-ending bug in the first level that made me restart the entire mission. No one else in the office ran into that one, but everyone who'd played Black Ops has run into a major design issue at the Battle of Khe Sanh. The mission never tells you what to actually do and even misdirects you.Despite these issues, I really enjoyed the story that the campaign presents and I think it's the best of the series. The characters are well-crafted and the plot rarely disappoints.
Of course, most gamers are more interested in the multiplayer. Call of Duty: Black Ops largely succeeds, presenting a similar (but not identical) set of modes as Modern Warfare 2. Black Ops is a more focused effort, and there will inevitably be those who miss a few of the omitted modes. But you will get some of the playlists later added to Modern Warfare 2, including the Killstreak-free Barebones list.
Black Ops makes its most significant departure from Modern Warfare 2 by adding CoD Points. Earning experience points and leveling up now handles macro stuff like unlocking more custom class slots, Create-A-Class, new modes to play, and the availability of certain weapons and bonuses for "purchase." Everything else (weapons, perks, killstreak bonuses, emblems, different colors for your targeting reticule) is bought with CoD Points.The system itself is overwhelming at first, especially if you're totally new to Call of Duty, but once you get your head around the CoD Points mechanic it's actually pretty cool. When you level up you're handed 1,000 CoD Points that you can spend on whatever you please. It basically allows you to sculpt your style of play however you'd like. The only catch is that once you buy a weapon, perk, or killstreak, there's no going back. In other words, you'd better be damn sure you want that sniper rifle before taking the plunge. This de-emphasizes what made Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer so much fun; the leveling itself.
The new Wager Match modes are designed to highlight the importance of CoD Points and they're fun in their own right, but nothing ever reaches the level of enjoyment I had with the traditional leveling mechanic. We've talked at length about the specifics of each Wager Match mode. Just know that One in the Chamber and Gun Game are highlights. The first is a lesson in patience and accuracy and the second gives you a guided tour of 20 of Black Ops' armaments with each kill earning you a new gun.
Standard modes including Team Deathmatch, Domination and Headquarters are still there and are great for leveling up and if you do hit Level 50, Prestige Mode is there with some extra challenges to make it worthwhile. I would have preferred if the new features added to the pre-existing level of fun, rather than pushing what everyone loves to the back burner, but Wager Match is definitely the focus.The CoD Points system does lead to a higher level of customization in Black Ops. Not only can you customize your title and emblem, but you can write your clan tag on your weapon, change the color and look of your targeting reticule, and lots more. Of course, each and every thing that you add to your character will cost you valuable CoD Points, so you need to have a big stockpile of disposable income before the customization really becomes a viable option.To help you build up your stash, Treyarch included a contract system where you invest a small amount of points, then attempt to complete a certain objective with the reward being a sizeable chunk of dough. While it's cool enough, I wish the contract system was a bit broader as it currently doesn't allow you to do things like bet on other players' performance or the overall performance of your team. Also, the fact that you can be thrown into a match mid-game can hurt your ability to successfully complete contracts. Here's hoping they tune contracts a bit with the first patch. Dive into Call of DutyBlack Ops walkthroughFind all hidden intelAchievements guideSend us your tips »Once you get into a match, the level design is well-thought-out, with some stages featuring dynamic elements that change each time you play. Firing Range, for instance, puts target dummies in different spots each time you load the map (same goes for Nuke Town, my favorite). Each stage has parts for just about every style of player. Snipers will be able to find a second tier to rain down fire, campers will have a few cover spots, and everyone else can deal with both open and closed quarters depending on their play style.
The new perks that have been added (I'll let you discover most of them for yourself if you haven't already scoured the Internet for information) are all very cool and, yes, the tactical nuke is nowhere to be found. I will say that the RC Car will likely have its power ratcheted down as it's currently going to be abused by new players, especially since it only takes three kills to earn. Other new perks seemed nicely tuned to avoid unbalanced gameplay (the tactical nuke is gone).
All of this crazy multiplayer action can be captured with Black Ops' brand new theater system that allows you to clip out the good stuff, hide the embarrassing deaths, and then share it all with your pals. I think Theater Mode as a whole is an awesome addition and I hope the COD community takes advantage of it. The only slight detractor is that you have to upload your clips to CallofDuty.com rather than something like YouTube or Facebook where there would obviously be a larger audience.A word of warning: Multiplayer's stability is suspect so far. A few matches dropped the connection, which is very strange at a review event where the online environment is under the almost total control of the developers. I've also heard from players who are being kicked from lobbies and matches, so don't be surprised if there are a few hiccups on launch day.
Outside of the competitive multiplayer, there's also the return of the incredibly popular Nazi Zombies mode. Treyarch clearly understood that its fans loved the original and did a nice job of expanding the feature while still keeping the same fun spirit intact.
In Black Ops there are three types of Nazi Zombies. The first is pretty standard and presents an old theater to defend. The second takes things in a different direction and puts each of the four potential players (online or off) in the shoes of either JFK, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon, or Robert McNamara with plenty of funny dialogue for each. The first two modes of Nazi Zombies don't exactly redefine the game, but then again, they didn't really need to. You're still running around an ever-expanding level trying to ward off wave after wave of the evil undead. The third type of Nazi Zombies, however, is totally different from the norm and is an Easter egg that I wouldn't dream of spoiling. It's just that good.The visuals that fuel the insane amount of action stay at a fairly high level throughout the Black Ops experience. There are moments where textures take too long to load and a few graphical glitches (like dead bodies clipping through a wall) here and there, but it's tough to concentrate on the minor blemishes when multiple objects are exploding around you. The framerate stays strong unless you flip on the 3D abilities, in which case things take a turn. The 3D technology cuts the visual quality by quite a bit and the framerate takes a sizeable hit as well. It also doesn't help that there's no way to tune the 3D to perfectly fit your display size, so the image can break up in spots. It impresses in a few scenes, but I'd advise against playing in 3D if you want the best experience possible.