Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

With a record-breaking launch and a competitive release season, Call of Duty: Black Ops seems untouchable. That is, in terms of success, Black Ops has already earned a five out of five. The question then becomes, “To what degree is the quality of the title reflective of its sales figures?” Despite struggles with online capabilities on certain platforms, I’d argue that Treyarch has pulled it off — a game deserving its blockbuster status. One of the most action-packed and mechanically diverse FPS campaigns, a deep level of multiplayer customization, the return of the ever-popular zombie mode, some hidden gems, and a fittingly crisp presentation are the reasons why.

If you buy Black Ops just for the multiplayer, you’ll likely get your money’s worth, but will miss out on the coolest single-player campaign since Call of Duty 4. With missions spanning from the end of WWII to the thick of the Cold War, Treyarch reinvigorates its storytelling of historic fiction with a cast of memorable, badass characters and an extremely wide breadth of level designs and mission types. For example, one level might see the main character, Alex Mason (no relation to Red Faction, I’m told), walking through the halls of the Pentagon to meet with a fully-voiced John Kennedy, and the next will place him swimming in the murky waters of a Vietnamese jungle to perform stealth kills on the unsuspecting Vietcong on the surface. Throw in a PT Boat level dubbed over with 1960’s protest music, a couple of death-defying leaps and “breach and clear” segments, and an aerial battle piloting a well-armed Hind helicopter and you’re in for a fresh mix of Die Hard action and BioShock twists that never feels stale. Truly, this was one of the most addictive campaigns I’ve played in a while, and the first FPS to successfully integrate swimming with stealth combat. Needless to say, I was impressed.

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After about ten or so hours, the campaign wraps up almost as brutally as it begins, then transports players directly into a round of zombie mode. However, without spoiling anything, the transition from one to the other literally had me slapping my knees laughing because of the balls it took Treyarch to include it. It also compelled me to play the zombie mode more than I otherwise would have. This mode hasn’t changed much, but I don’t think it needed to, as the basis (kill zombies, get points, get weapons, kill more zombies) is compelling enough for those interested. Obviously a few tweaks and additions have elevated the mode slightly, but if you didn’t like undead slaying before, this will probably be an easily ignorable part of the game.

Multiplayer makes or breaks modern FPS titles, and in the case of Black Ops this component is equally as valuable as the single-player. The basics haven’t changed — carefully designed maps, a well-balanced arsenal of period-specific weaponry, an experience system allowing for personalization of your play style and look, and that wonderful sound of Call of Duty hit-detection (Thhhh!). It’s definitely a Treyarch title, with the return of some abilities from World at War — like reviving teammates — and the rock soundtrack opening and closing every match.

The biggest change is the introduction of currency as a means of unlocking weapons, attachments, and perks. It’s kind of just another step between the matches and the unlocks, but it does force players to make more choices about what they want to unlock, at least initially, and thus define their play style. I would say I’d be indifferent to the currency were it not for wager matches. These are a collection of game types that are broken down into small-time, medium, and big-time betting ranges where, essentially, the better you do in each game, the more money you make. But in order to play, you’ve got to front some of your hard-earned cash. Obviously, the more money for the ranges of betting, the more likely the players are to offer a greater challenge. The modes, like Gun Game and One in the Chamber, are completely new twists on the basic multiplayer game, and cause players to adapt new techniques and strategies in order to succeed. After playing Gun Game for an hour or two (and losing the better part of my meager fortune) I got the hang of the “run-and-gun” style play necessary to succeed, and started to really get into the competition and addictive gambling sport. For this, I think the new currency system is justifiable and a solid addition to an already solid multiplayer component.

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The argument that most seem to have against Black Ops‘ multiplayer revolves around connectivity and matchmaking issues. While most reports that I’ve read involve PC and PS3 versions of the game, there have been complaints regarding the Xbox 360 version, the platform I played the game on. My experience, however, was not indicative of these problems. Only once or twice did I have problems with a slow connection to wager matches, and the rest of the time matchmaking has been almost without flaw. Even partying up with friends fluidly moved me from game to game without issue, so my perspective on the 360 version remains a resounding endorsement.

Any game with as high a profile as Black Ops is likely to create some polarizing opinions, but with as little bias as I can muster I can honestly and highly recommend the latest installment in this blockbuster series. It’s not as if other games haven’t included similar elements, but Black Ops manages to include so many different ones and to such great effect that it’s a must for any fans of FPS or historical fictional narratives. While maintaining the quality standard set by its predecessors, this explosive adventure through the conflicts of the Cold War pushes the series and the genre one step further.



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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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