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Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

Call of Duty: Black Ops pack shot
Developer:Treyarch
Publisher:Activision
Genre:First Person Shooter
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.callofduty.com/blackops
Release Date:November 9th, 2010 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
 

The Cold War is a sadly underused period of time. Sure, Tom Clancy pretty much wrote the book on Cold War intrigue (dozens, in fact), but the gaming industry is largely still to jump into this fascinating era, when the great powers of the world felt nothing but distrust, and wars were fought by proxy.

It's this world that Call of Duty: Black Ops sets its grand, sweeping story. And I can happily report that it kicks ass.

Unlike the previous title, Modern Warfare 2, Treyarch doesn't have the big-headed nature of Infinity Ward, and have produced a game which surpasses that disappointing, overly controversial game in every way.

Let's start with the single-player campaign. Once again the COD campaign is a globetrotting tour of all the best bits horrific war.

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The tale of Alex Mason, special agent for the CIA's Operation 40 hit squad, spans a Russian winter, the Vietnam war, offshore oil rigs, a mission in Cuba, the Pentagon, the Arctic circle and the slums of China, and is an entrancing, twisted tale.

Captured and facing torture at the hands of forces unknown, Mason is forced to recount the long, convoluted tale of his time with Operation 40. The flashbacks then become the game's levels, and the broken, confused manner Mason is recalling his past often makes the action jump forwards in time, or have voice-overs babbling in the background.

One sequence - a series of numbers - has a nefarious purpose, which is revealed brilliantly through the game, and certainly managed to hold my attention - hard-bitten espionage junkie that I am.

The campaign is a riot of gunfire and brilliant set-piece events. I don't want to spoil it too much, but over the campaign's considerable length you're going to find yourself in a fight to the death in a Vietnamese spider-hole, piloting a helicopter and base jumping, among dozens of other experiences.

And that's without describing the stellar gunplay and typical intensity of a Call of Duty title demonstrates, with all the heart-pounding action, grenade blasts and teamwork that makes the series great, and a cast of characters you come to care about.

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Mason himself is an intriguing man with a shadowy past, and the game switches viewpoint two or three times throughout the campaign, allowing the gamer to explore the storyline through a different person's eyes and experiences, and is all the better for it. Outside of the singleplayer the zombies mode introduced in World at War has had an upgrade, and is as much fun as ever, pitting up to four players against a never-ending wave of shuffling un-dead.

This time the setting isn't just a decrepit mansion, and one of the levels turns out to be pretty damn funny, pitting a cast of unlikely famous faces against the zombie hordes, with some brilliant one lines.

But, let's face it, what you're really going to buy Black Ops for is the multiplayer, and I'm happy to report that the game's online offerings are not only as addictive as usual, but also expand and refine the experience to a high degree.

As before, playing through the diverse competitive games (which includes all the usual modes) gradually unlocks weapons and perks as you go, but this time each kill and win grants you 'credits' - points which can be spent to buy a specific weapon, perk, killstreak or weapon mod.

This aspect really levels the playing field, meaning inexperienced players aren't hampered by obsessives who've unlocked every perk and weapon - with the credits system, it's up to the gamer to decide what guns to use, and what style of play suits you best. Add to this the usual roster of customisable load-outs and killstreaks, camo designs, a highly customisable gamercard and weapon decals and you can tinker to an absurd degree, redesigning your soldiers to your heart's content.

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Other additions are 'contracts' and 'wagers'. These side-bets also consume credits, and challenge the gamer to complete certain objectives in the multiplayer, like stabbing a man in the back or head-shotting three enemies with a sniper rifle. You simply spend your credits, complete your task and get a load of credits back. The wager system allows you to literally bet on matches, expending your credits for a chance of a big payoff, provided you can pull off the win.

The multiplayer maps are a pleasing selection of large and small arenas, ranging from a snowy, Severnaya-style satellite uplink to a dense, tense jungle standoff and back, but my personal favourite has to be 'Launch' - a battle set on a rocket lanchpad, with the constant threat of the rocket blasting off at any time keeping the action intense. Needless to say, the sight of a camping sniper being incinerated by rocket motors is simply hilarious.

While the game does suffer from some lag and instability issues, the multiplayer is the most refined version of the venerable COD gameplay yet, and is sure to absorb you for hours with its innovative features.

And even if you're done with the campaign, bored of the multiplayer and fed up of blowing up zombies, the game's carefully hidden extras (including an entire MUD game and a brilliant top-down Alien Breed-style shooter) are just waiting to be discovered. While they don't add to the plot, it's a testament to the developers that they put them in anyway, even for sheer replay value. There is also a decent theatre mode, allowing you to capture and upload that brilliantly lucky kill with a ballistic knife to a fileshare server for the world to enjoy.

However, the game isn't perfect. Aside from the laggy multiplayer, my main bugbear with the game is its weapon sound effects.

While the graphics are sharp and the voice acting is top notch, as is the dramatic score, the guns sound weedy, and the explosions all sound like the same muted clap of your hands. Take the M60 - a heavy machine gun with a brutal rate of fire, and what is usually a titanic roar of a discharge. In Black Ops, the weapon sounds like a mouse sneezing. The same could be said of the explosions, which are more cheap firework than frag grenade, and detract from the intensity of the battle somewhat.

Summary

Despite the minor niggles, I found Call of Duty: Black Ops to be a brilliant return to form for the series, doing away with the ridiculous, outlandish plot of Modern Warfare 2 and replacing it with Cold War intrigue, a refined, intense multiplayer experience, a brilliant, globetrotting campaign and more Nazi zombies than you can shake a shotgun at.

The bottom line
9.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Brilliant, immersive campaign with some great stand-out moments
  • Addictive, balanced multiplayer
  • ZOMBIES!

Not so good stuff

  • Poor weapon sounds
  • Laggy multiplayer at times


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