Call of Duty: Black Ops marks the seventh game in the Call of Duty series and was developed by Treyarch, who developed Call of Duty 3 and Call of Duty: World at War. The series generally switches between developers Infinity Ward and Treyarch to develop every other game in the series. In comparison, Treyarch’s versions of the game tend to be more gory and feature the popular Nazi Zombies game modes. If you played Call of Duty: World at War, you may recognize Viktor Reznov. While Reznov is a recurring character from COD:WAW, it is worth noting that Black Ops is NOT a direct sequel of that game.
This story is full of twists and turns, of lies and betrayal, and can be a bit overwhelming and, at times, quite confusing. You play the game as Alex Mason. The game jumps around in time as it sets up the story with most of the game taking place in 1968. What makes the story so confusing is that most of the playable levels take place in the past via Mason’s flashbacks and recollections. I put a little time in between playing the first few levels of the game and finishing it, and had to do some catch up via the COD Wikia site just to get my bearings on the story. Most of these war-type games tend to render me completely confused my first run through as I’m really trying hard to just get through the game without killing my entire team with “friendly” fire. Upon my second run through, the story does unfold rather nicely and if you are interested in the story, I highly suggest that you play through the campaign a second or third time as portions of the story will make a lot more sense.
Black Ops makes you feel like you are running through the plot of a military action espionage film and features a plethora of familiar cinematic moments. I had a few “Apocalypse, Now” and “Platoon” moments which I rather enjoyed unlike those moments in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 that felt more like rip offs than homages. That being said, I still enjoyed those moments in MW2 but the overall feeling in Black Ops was more of a sense of familiarity rather than a direct moment taken directly from the silver screen.
The game contains fifteen mission levels and has a relatively short single player campaign. The game looks, feels, and sounds great but does have a few glitchy moments. My first run through was relatively glitch-free with only a few bodies floating in the air here and there. My second run through was full of some wonderful glitches. Towards the end of my escape from the Vorkuta when you jump on to the motorcycles, I jumped the initial ramp and ended up UNDERNEATH the level. Sadly, I was not able to capture any of this experience as you must stay close to Reznov or the level will end and restart from the checkpoint. I was not able to do it again but I wasn’t trying very hard either. The next notable glitch that I came across was during the SOG mission while defending Khe Sanh. One of the enemies would run down the hill, jump straight up and land, then disappear after a couple seconds. This repeated the whole time I was playing this portion. I managed to capture it with my iPhone camera as seen in the video below. Forgive my lame shooting, I am holding the Xbox controller in one hand and filming with my iPhone in the other. Aiming isn’t so easy with just one hand!
I haven’t encountered any other notable glitches except for the few stupid AI friendlies that would run (or dance) in place and fire off their weapons into the ground or other non-enemy objects. But this happens in most games and didn’t affect the gameplay too much, if at all.
I felt like Black Ops pushed the gore envelope a bit further with more stealth kill opportunities that involved a lot of throat slitting. One moment that stands out in my mind is in the beginning of the “Victor Charlie” level after you escape from the downed helicopter and travel up the river. Two “Charlies” are sitting in a sampan and you melee kill them from under water. There are also moments where your camera will follow a bullet in slo-mo that ends up in one of your enemies heads with blood and brains spewing out. The game features a reduced gore content option that will eliminate the blood spatter and the gaping wounds left buy throat cutting but you will still go through the motions. Since I am not concerned with gore, I am not certain if there is anything eliminated from the gameplay other than the visuals.
My one and really my only complaint about Black Ops is the same for all of the Call of Duty games – the absence of a cover system other than crouch and prone. I am not sure why the ability to take cover behind a wall or other object is removed from the game series but it’s a pain. A trained military professional is not above taking cover in a firefight so its exclusion has always eluded me.
Instead on focusing on the online multiplayer, I want to talk more about the Local co-op modes that you can play on one console with up to 4 players in split screen mode. The popularity of online multiplayer is one of the aspects that has driven the Call of Duty series to the top but there are a lot of gamers, like myself, who aren’t as interested in playing online with strangers or even online with friends. Having played games before online was an option, I always enjoyed those times when a bunch of friends would come over to the house or we would all go to an arcade and we’d play the games together in the same space for a real co-op/multiplayer experience.
The Call of Duty games that I currently own, COD2, COD4, COD:WAW, COD:MW2, and Black Ops only COD:WAW features a Co-op campaign mode that you can play in SplitScreen or online. However, all the games feature some type of local co-op mode for up to 4 players with a limited selection of game modes. Some even offer other co-op modes like Spec Ops from MW2 and the Nazi Zombies modes from COD:WAW and Black Ops. I will talk more about the Zombie modes later. Black Ops is the first to offer a splitscreen (and single player) combat training mode. (I had been wondering about the absence of the typical training level that helped you determine what difficulty you should play on and this was the answer.) Here you can engage in either Team Deathmatch or Free For All in a mode that you can play with either AI or friends locally or online. You will even earn some experience and COD points however these stats and points will not travel over with you if you play in the online matches. This is a great way to get a feel for the maps and online play without the intimidation of some of the online players. When you play by yourself, the AI player roster is filled up by using the friends on your friends list preceded by [3arc] indicating that these are AI players.
The other co-op mode is the Zombies mode where you battle against multiple waves of zombies. You can play this in single player, local splitscreen and system link, and in online multiplayer. There are three available modes – Kino Der Toten, “Five”, and Dead Ops Arcade – all of which will offer the player a fun and unique experience. Kino Der Toten takes place in an abandoned theater and those who played COD:WAW will be familiar as a few of the maps are featured in Black Ops. It is unlocked by default and will be the only option available to you until you complete the game on any difficulty setting to unlock “Five”. “Five” takes place in the Pentagon and features John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Fidel Castro, and Richard Nixon as playable characters. The objective is the same – survive multiple waves of the undead and kill as many as you can. The last mode is the Dead Ops Arcade which is unlocked by accessing the CIA computer in the Main Menu. (I’ll let you figure out how to do that…). While this game is similar in spirit, it features a top-down, isometric view and the player moves with the left stick and fires with the right stick, a lot like the old arcade game Robotron. Ammo is unlimited and there are tons of weapons and power-ups to be picked up during each level. You must collect treasure (which is abundant and appears before, during, and after a level) which will fill up your multiplier meter. Every time the bar gets full, it ups your multiplier by one up to 9xs. If you die, your multiplier is reset. You start the game with three lives, once those are exhausted, it’s game over. This mode features 40 rounds plus bonus rooms and armory rooms.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is an all around great game. In fact, there was an article that came out last week stating that 1 in 8 households own this game. You get a pretty decent single player campaign as well as a pretty decent story as the COD franchise goes. There are a handful of great actors like Gary Oldman, Sam Worthington, Ice Cube, and Ed Harris who have lended their voice and acting talents to the game giving it a real cinematic and somewhat authentic feel to the game. There are plenty of awesome moments that leave you yelling “Hell Yah” and “WTF” in the same breath but they make the game the badass experience that the Call of Duty series is known for. Coupled with a robust multiplayer and co-op experience, this game will have high replay value for years to come or at least until the next Call of Duty game comes out in November.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii, and Nintendo DS.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.