Call of Duty is one of the largest video game franchises the world has ever seen and this year's installment, Call of Duty: Black Ops, has finally rappelled onto store shelves. Everyone and their mothers have been following this game for months and now it's finally here. Can Treyarch's Black Ops live up to the expectations Infinity Ward set with Modern Warfare 2? Yes, in most ways Black Ops lives up to the Modern Warfare 2 pedigree and even surpasses it in some cases, but not all is perfect in this blockbuster title.
Call of Duty games are not strictly sought after due to their single player campaigns, but the folks at Treyarch have done an absolutely stunning job on Black Ops' story mode. You are thrown into the soot-covered boots of an elite American soldier by the name of Alex Mason (voiced by Hollywood star Sam Worthington).
The game opens with Mason realizing that he is strapped to a chair in a dark room full of monitors for interrogation. He's forced to recall memories of his Black Ops missions throughout the 60s and thus the story begins. You play through Mason's retelling of all the events that lead to this very moment and the whole ride is an entertaining one to say the least, but unlike last year's Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops doesn't leave you hanging after you've beaten the game.
Almost every chapter of the campaign feels like you're playing through a big budget action movie. This is largely due to the huge explosions and intense action scenes that Call of Duty has become known for, but it can become a little over-the-top in a few levels, to the point where there's a sense of loss of control. Of course, explosions are always a good thing regardless of how bountiful they may be. After seeing so many chaotic action scenes it becomes a little disappointing when you're forced to sit there and watch scripted walkthroughs of story moments. Going to the Pentagon is something that should be pretty exciting, but it's essentially a rail-shooter without the shooting.
Black Ops also takes an extra step to ensure that the player actually cares about the story's main characters. Mason actually talks, has a distinct voice, face and personality, something main characters in Call of Duty (excluding Soap McTavish) never do. It's because of this that players get a real feel for Mason's character and his journey. You also stay with him throughout the entire campaign, which is fairly different from other CoD's where you switch to other key soldiers of different nations or combat units who often end up getting killed. There are a few chapters where you'll take control of one of Mason's squad mates, but these only help build up the characters that surround Alex.
It also helps that there's incredible voice talent working the personalities of the characters and bring their digital renderings to life. Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) does an incredible job as the main protagonist Alex Mason, and his performance is only enhanced by fellow voice actors Ed Harris (The Rock, Apollo 13) as Jason Hudson, Ice Cube as Corporal Bowman, and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, Harry Potter) returning as Reznov. Even Topher Grace (That 70s Show, Spider-Man 3) plays a part in Black Ops.
Voices aside, you can't help but get angry at times with the characters you're suppose to be emotionally attached to when at times they act as though they are less intelligent than a dead ant. The game's A.I. has its issues at times and this is a problem that gamers would have liked to have been fixed a few games ago. Fortunately, even while your allies may be nearly brain dead, it won't affect you too severely, and you'll still be able to roll through the campaign without much of a hitch on normal difficulty.
The biggest problem I had with the campaign however, were the directional arrows. In one mission the arrows kept pointing towards a mountain behind Mason, but he was suppose to go the opposite direction towards some buildings. Points like these popped up several times throughout the campaign and it leaves the player left wondering where they are meant to go at times.
Even with these minor problems, the Black Ops campaign is one of the, if not the, best campaign story of any Call of Duty installment to date. The plot twists are actually engaging and the characters are all very entertaining. Most of all, Treyarch presents it all in the most innovated and intriguing way yet.
While the campaign is certainly top notch, many gamers are going to pick this up for the multiplayer aspect alone, and they surely will not be let down this year. There have been quite a few additions to the multiplayer of Black Ops and the first one you'll notice is the new leveling system. Instead of unlocking new weapons and add-ons by using certain weapons or gaining experience, players earn credits throughout their online career that can be exchanged for new weapons, weapon attachments, killstreaks, etc. This cash system helps to balance out the online battlefield, allowing players to purchase decent fire arms and perks right from the get-go, not too mention the best attachments for their weapons of choice. Some veteran CoD players may not appreciate this shift, but I found it to be a fresh addition to series online play.
The currency in Black Ops can also be used to customize characters' emblems, weapons, aiming reticules, and more. Customization is a huge and much welcome addition to the series, and it's all fairly in-depth, allowing you to customize almost everything about your character and his weapons. You can pay to have your emblem and even your clan tag printed on the gun for a small fee (using in-game credits, of course). The emblem customization is also awesome and it allows you to purchase different layers to help create your own unique bad-ass emblem. There are quite a few icons to choose from when designing your own, so it's pretty unlikely that you'll see anyone mirroring your tag.
Of course when money is brought into a game, some people are going to have that urge to gamble it, and Black Ops is happy to oblige. The new "Wager Matches" allow players to gamble various amounts of money through three different options: Ante Up, Weekend Gambler, and High Roller. Each different level allows various amounts of credits that you have to bet, and you win this bet by landing "In the Money" (the top 3). There are four different game types within the Wager Match option, but the best ones are easily "One in the Chamber" and "Gun Game."
All of the other game modes are reminiscent of Modern Warfare 2. Team Deathmatch, Free For All, Ground War, and almost every classic multiplayer match type has returned for Black Ops. Some modes can't be played until you've leveled up a bit and one playlist even requires you to have prestiged before you're able to participate. All in all there are a strong amount of multiplayer options and they are all fun and familiar to franchise veterans.
There were however, a few hiccups throughout the multiplayer experience. If you're trying to play with a large group of people, I occasionally found the party being split up or just getting booted from the game all together. This happened for about 45 minutes on one instance before the game finally put us all in a single match. There are also a few Black Ops glitches that are exploited in multiplayer, but for the most part it's a lot better then what was going on when Modern Warfare 2 first launched.
Now, for the moment everyone has been waiting for -- Zombies make a triumphant return in Black Ops. The undead game mode includes three different kinds of zombie modes and if you were fortunate enough to pick up the Hardened or Prestige Editions then you'll gain access to the four zombie maps from World at War. One mode brings back the classic foursome from World at War as they try to defend themselves from the oncoming onslaught of undead Nazis. Another more surprising Zombies mode is unlocked after beating the game and throws players into the shoes of JFK, Castro, Nixon, and Robert McNamara as they try to fend off the zombie horde that are infiltrating the Pentagon.
The last Zombies mode is a hidden gem called 'Dead Ops Arcade' and is a top-down shooter classic arcade style shooter. The game looks nearly identical to Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (minus the whole not nearly as in-depth thing) and if Treyarch wanted to, they could probably have sold the game on it's own for $10, but they've decided instead to hide it away within Black Ops. 'Dead Ops Arcade' is a lot of fun and anyone who plays it will surely appreciate this unexpected addition.
In closing, Black Ops is the game that everyone expected and while some parts of the series are starting to show their age and become a little stale, the game as a whole is an obvious purchase for anybody looking to have some fun with their friends online or enjoy an action-packed campaign. Black Ops had a ton of hype going pre-release and even though it may not have lived up to the monumental expectations, it's still a fantastic game that offers enough freshness as this year's installment.