Its that time of the year again. November is generally the month that brings the shiny new Call of Duty title. This is a series that will have fans lining up outside for countless hours waiting to buy their copy of the game. This past year has been nothing short of dramatic in the offline Call of Duty universe. First, the big surprise, Infinity Ward gets dissolved. As a result, Treyarch is left to be the sole developer of the series. Then, the fans get their panties in a knot over the fate of the entire franchise. Add endless bickering via online forums concerning listing the many reasons why Infinity Ward is a better than Treyarch and the whole thing sounds like a schoolyard debate of My dad can beat up your dad! to me.
Theres a questionsthat has been on EVERY Call of Duty fans mind: Does Black Ops live up to the franchises reputation?. Well, in the next few paragraphs, well attempt to clarify all of that. Also, be warnedthere are spoilers in this review, so if this concerns you, skip to the bottom and read the conclusion paragraph and eat up the score. Also, remember that this is my opinion, not the entire XBA staff either. We really dont want the hardcore fanboys knocking at our doors telling us we suck.
Now, on to the actual review. :-)
First let me layout the familiar mix of modes is present in this version of the game. The single player campaign, Online Mulitplayer, Zombies (Coop), and a few nice Easter eggs!
Lets kick things off with the single player campaign. It took about six and half hours to complete on Normal difficulty which for a Call of Duty title, that amount is roughly the average, based on my past experience. Personally, I found the single player story to be very compelling. Treyarch has set the whole thing dead smack in the middle of the cold war, with side trips to Cuba, Russia, and Vietnam (and a few others) made for a good variety of maps and settings for gameplay.
The story goes like this; you start off being strapped to a chair being interrogated by a silhouetted individual; and you have no idea why. Basically, confused. The gameplay is essentially you playing through your memories in order to find the answers, and trying to get to the truth and prove your innocence.
One of the maps Black Ops has you driving a chopper through the Vietnamese jungle. Im a chopper fan; so this mission was a lot of fun! Now, I really dont want to ruin the single story, but let me assure you that you wont be disappointed.
Now on to the multiplayer action; most people buy into the Call of Duty series for this component alone. This time its all about customization, C.O.D. points, and buying the next best thing. In the shipped version of the game there are fourteen multiplayer maps to explore and all the traditional modes are present; even a few new ones worth mentioning. These are accessed by playing a Wager Match. What is that youre saying? You basically bet away your C.O.D. points in efforts to earn more to buy more cool crap!
The first one is the Gun Game where everyone starts with a regular pistol. Each time you get a kill, you get a weapon upgrade. But, heres the kicker, the first one to cycle through all 20 weapons, wins! Second is Sharpshooter, the way this one works is that every player starts with the exact weapon, then the weapons cycle every 45 seconds. Each kills earns you a perk bonus, if you die you lose it. Player with the highest score wins.
Heres my personal favorite: One in the Chamber where everyone starts with one bullet in the pistol and three lives. Once you shoot the one bullet, it defaults back to a melee weapon, the knife. But, if you kill an opponent with it, you get a new bullet. Player with the highest score wins. Lastly, Sticks and Stones. Everyone gets a crossbow, ballistic knife and a tomahawk. Highest score wins. The catch is, if you tomahawk an opponent, you bankrupt that players points. Theyll have to start from zero and work their way back up the score board.
Most of these modes dont depend on the last guy standing, but rather a final score and thats the most interesting part.
My personal favorite part is the Combat Training, why? It adds a new dimension to the multiplayer aspect of the game. If youre like me, you eventually work up the courage to go play online. With absolute certainty I will get my butt handed to me on a silver platter as well, why? Because I dont have a bottomless pit of time to play Call of Duty and learn all the maps and the little hiding spots they offer. Neither do my friends since they have kids, wives and busy lives too. So, going online to play people that have a lot more time than I do doesnt interest me.
With Combat Training think of it like Call of Duty with bots, just like Unreal Tournament lets us do. You customize the match the way you want, select any of the multiplayer maps, grab some friends, drop in some stupid (or smart) bots, and learn the maps and maybe have a living chance online against the Call of Duty hardcore crowd. You can also do all this in a co-op setting too.
Co-op playability in games is what I personally look for. Whats nice about Black Ops is that theyve given us two additional treats besides just Combat Training. The first and obvious one is Zombies. Just like World at War, it unlocks once youve completed the single player campaign, but heres how it works. You are dropped into a map (The Pentagon or Haunted House), and have to prevent the zombies from busting in, similar to Horde mode on Gears of War 2. Wave after wave, you have to beat and shoot off the undead and plug up the holes in the wall (by holding the X button) they are pouring out of. When I played the game at the review event in Los Angeles, there were only two levels though Im sure this will get some additional attention in the near future in the form of some DLC. But, I personally thought two levels werent enough to quench my thirst. Ill keep my fingers crossed.
The very special item theyve added is Dead Ops Arcade. What is it? Its an easter egg within Black Ops. Think of it as a free arcade game bundled it, but its a ton of fun. Its a mix between Smash TV, Robotron, and Gauntlet. Its mindless zombie killing fun; I love it! The other easter egg is the inclusion of the Zork text based adventure game, since Activision owns the publishing rights: why not!
The way to access the easter eggs is you press the left and right triggers very quickly at the opening menu (where you start the campaign). Then our hero will stand up, you walk over to the console and type doa for Dead Ops Arcade, or zork for that game. There are more unlockables, but Ill let you guys figure it out and talk about them in the forums.
Conclusion is Treyarch had very large shoes to fill, and let me tell you they passed with flying colors, erasing any doubt that I ever had about them making the next Call of Duty titles for years to come. Run out and get this game soldier!