A Call to Duty
With all the uncertainties surrounding the Activision/Infinity Ward debacle that took place back in March, many pondered an inevitable fall from grace for the Call of Duty franchise. With Medal of Honor’s impending preempt release, that speculation was still debatable. However, hardly anyone ever considered the opposite. Except for maybe those who were hard at work behind the doors at Treyarch. They were given an opportunity to prove to the naysayers of the Infinity Ward fan club that they could bring the franchise to bigger and better heights. Even with that hideous monkey called skepticism on their back, the team at Treyarch knew what was at stake and have made their point very clear.
Call of Duty: Black Ops took a lot of risks by stepping away from the norm, particularly in terms of storytelling. Players primarily take the role of Alex Mason, a man who is being held captive and interrogated for information concerning the Ascension Group. A seemingly random sequence of numbers is being broadcast at an unknown location, and his captors believe he has the answers to unravel their mystery. It’s hard to speak too much on the plot’s topic without giving away any spoilers, but I will say this; their new formula was a huge success.
The story still has plenty of the blockbuster elements that the franchise is known for, but manages to portray itself in a much more intelligent light. It’s not just the typical action for action’s sake type of game. The story has a well-written narrative that conspiracy buffs will surely love. Not only that, but the main character has a more vocal presence than any previous Call of Duty. The developers even decided to take a slightly more cinematic approach with the addition of a few cutscenes, rather than having dialogue throughout loading screens to help with the pacing. They managed to keep a good balance between set piece moments as well, which are just as intense as ever. Some of the most brutal melee kills are executed during stealth segments, and I imagine that’s why they included an option to turn off “graphic” content at the start of the game.
The single player campaign wasn’t the only bold evolution that took place, as the multiplayer component had its fair share of alterations. The most prominent is the new currency upgrade system. This new progression method allows players to earn “COD” points in addition to experience points during matches. Not only is this improvement leaps and bounds over the old, but it also gives players a level field by having all perks and attachments available for purchase at the start. Also, once you’ve unlocked the appropriate categories through ranking up, you can acquire any kill streak reward you wish or invest in an insane amount of customization options. Higher-tier weapons are still unlocked at certain ranks as well, but the advantages they once held are now an issue of the past.
Treyarch even threw in all-new Wager Matches to give those big-talking COD players the chance to put-up or shut-up. These new Free-For-All playlists let you gamble all your hard-earned points in four different game-types: One in the Chamber, Sticks & Stones, Gun Game, and Sharpshooter. Mark my words; these will be some of the most frenetic multiplayer matches you will ever play, bar-none. There are three separate buy-in levels depending on the amount of currency you’re willing to risk, and each mode is very addicting and unique.
One in the Chamber might be very familiar to fans of the Nintendo 64’s GoldenEye 007 video game. However, this adaptation takes hints from “The Man With the Golden Gun” mode, in that the player is equipped with a pistol that grants one-shot kills regardless of where it hits the body. The difference is that you are only given one bullet at a time, and you need to hit your mark to earn another. There are no ammo pick-ups, but you can gain additional rounds by executing melee kills if you want to preserve your shots. To make things even more difficult, players are only given three lives to assert their Bond-like machismo qualities.
Many won’t be familiar with the Sticks & Stones wager match, but it is still an incredible addition nonetheless. This match shows off some of the brand new weapon additions in Black Ops. Players are given a crossbow, a tomahawk, and a ballistic knife to do all their dirty work. Reload times for the crossbow are sluggish, and it makes it all the more hectic when trying to avoid incoming tomahawks to the face. The great thing about Sticks & Stones is that these tomahawk kills can “humiliate” players and drop them to the bottom of the score rankings. This gives everyone an equal shot for the pool of winnings at any given moment, so you might want to start practicing the ol’ dance & dodge maneuver to help improve your chances.
If you want to get easily accustomed to a multitude of gun types in the game, then you should try your hand at the Gun Game wager match. The objective is to get a single kill through a set variety of different weapons, and the first to reach the twentieth in the cycle is the winner. The catch here is that if you get knifed during a match, you’ll get humiliated and set back one tier. This mode will certainly take a lot of people out of their comfort zone who are used to playing weapon favorites, but it will also help make them better players in the long-run.
Lastly, the Sharpshooter matches are slightly akin to Gun Game in that you will be using another assorted arsenal, but that’s where the similarities end. The distinctness lies with players getting the same randomly selected weapon, plus attachments, that change every forty-five seconds. Consecutive kills can earn you perks and score multiplier bonuses, but if you die you have to earn them all over again. This mode can lead to some pretty funny moments if you end up in a standoff with someone at close range. If you happen to switch to RPGs or another highly explosive weapon, you can be left with a very tough decision to make. It’s scenarios like this that will usually end up on your blooper reel.
Black Ops now features a new Theater Mode that will give players the ability to study their own gameplay film. Every multiplayer match you play is stored on the Call of Duty servers (which has a pretty lengthy file history, by the way) for your viewing enjoyment. Clans will have a great opportunity to study their opponent’s strategy, or you can just edit some best-of clips to share with the online community. You can even capture footage from the new Combat Training mode, which helps you improve in a more controlled multiplayer environment.
This new Combat Training simulator lets you practice Free-For-All or Team Deathmatch modes against AI opponents. This is a great way for new players to work their way into an online multiplayer setting at their own pace, and will be a perfect way for clans to map out and plan new attack strategies. If that wasn’t enough, Treyarch even included an in-depth Combat Record to give a detailed look at how your multiplayer stats break down. It includes everything from kill/death ratio graphs, individual weapon stats, to heat maps that show the main spots of activity. The training mode can even be played cooperatively online or locally with split-screen through all fourteen multiplayer maps at your disposal.
Although the campaign doesn’t support co-op play, the now-famous zombie mode certainly does. Even though fighting off the walking dead can be fun alone, it’s even better with up to four players and is as frantic as ever. There is even a random zombie surprise that appears after the credits roll once you finish the campaign. Most of this information has already leaked by now, but I’m not one to give out spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is certainly not without its faults. The game has some decent looking graphics but is hindered by poorly rendered two-dimensional textures. This becomes even more apparent when you play the game in stereoscopic 3D, which is fully supported if your TV is also capable of this functionality. The 3D aspect obviously grants a better depth of field, but feels more like an attached gimmick than anything else. Fast camera movements become easily blurred, and the overall presentation gets a huge downgrade when it’s turned on.
There was also a quirky instance during the campaign that left me without a weapon in my hands. There was a mission where a dog briefly attacks the main character, and after executing the appropriate button prompt to dispatch him, I was left to play the remainder of the scene without any guns. It was definitely a rare occurrence, considering there weren’t any signs of notable glitches or bugs present elsewhere. However, there were a few other semi-halting moments in the single-player setting. A few distinct portions of the campaign gave hardly any indication on how to progress. It’s almost been a calling card of sorts for the franchise to have sections of never-ending enemy spawns, and your typical options during these moments are to die constantly, give up, or find a way to run through to the next area. Luckily, I usually choose the latter.
But aside from those minute missteps, Treyarch did an amazing of proving they can innovate within this franchise, and not be held back by their publisher’s ongoing dispute. Their new vision for the Call of Duty series is definitely a bold step, but it’s a step in the right direction. This game is jam-packed with content that is very well worth the sixty-dollar price tag they’re selling it for. The campaign is roughly a six to seven hour ride, and a great one at that, and the multiplayer has a shelf life that will likely outlast the console it’s played on.
In all honesty, the multiplayer component is so well thought-out that it could have been released as a stand-alone experience. The new upgrade system, the statistic tracking, and the vast amount of customization is enough to keep players engrossed for hours; and that’s not even part of the gameplay. The real fun is getting to play with all the new kill streak rewards. They range anywhere from the incredibly entertaining RC-XD remote car bomb to a pack of gruesome attack dogs, and all are as satisfying as ever. You’ll know exactly what I mean when you score your first RC-XD group kill on some unsuspecting chumps in a round of Domination. The wager matches are an incredible step in terms of multiplayer addictiveness and, if gambling against your friends wasn’t enough, you can even purchase Contracts to bet on whether you can achieve personal goals during your playtime.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Call of Duty: Black Ops, and the endless amount of fun you’ll have will probably be what tops that list. There are also a ton of great easter eggs to be found in Black Ops, and if you can find out how to escape from the title screen don’t be afraid to ask for some “help.” Just be careful not to get eaten by a Grue, or you might end up “DOA.”
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The environments looked great and very distinct. However, the two-dimensional textures were a bit lacking and the overall graphic quality wasn’t as refined as in previous installments of the franchise. 4.9 Control
The controls feel as solid as ever, and the new dive-to-prone maneuver fits very well into the overall scheme of things. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The game boasts an incredible soundtrack and original score, not to mention top-quality sound effects that play very well in surround sound formats. The voice acting is also impressive, with the likes of Gary Oldman, Ed Harris, and Ice Cube performing in spectacular roles. 5.0 Play Value
There is so much content packed into this game that I couldn’t even fit all of it into my review. However, even the multiplayer alone is enough to warrant this rating. 4.9 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best