“Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” was the “Call of Duty” title that really pushed the franchise into the mainstream spotlight, but with its developer, Infinity Ward, in shambles after losing a large chunk of its founding staff, all eyes have turned to Treyarch to see if they can successfully carry on the series’ legacy. Despite perpetually playing second fiddle to Infinity Ward in the past, Treyarch has seriously stepped up their game with “Call of Duty: Black Ops”, delivering an action-packed experience that rivals and even surpasses its critically acclaimed predecessors.
“Call of Duty: Black Ops” single player campaign fulfills all the prerequisites of the kind of “Call of Duty” games that Infinity Ward has popularized with “Modern Warfare” and “Modern Warfare 2.” You visit hot spots from all over the world and are tasked with pretty much shooting and blowing up everything in sight while you and your team of shadowy special forces commandos hunt down a renegade Russian who is deadest on destroying the world using a super weapon. Each level is packed to the brim with explosive set pieces and thrilling scripted events that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and while the single player component is incredibly linear, it does a terrific job of keeping the action varied. One level you’re sneaking through rat tunnels in Vietnam, the next you’re using World War II-era weaponry to hunt down a German scientist, and the next you’re piloting a helicopter gun ship and raining down hell from above.
There are a couple noticeable flaws in the campaign’s design that Treyarch has obviously inherited from Infinity Ward.
First, the AI is still dumb as rocks, even on the harder difficulty setting. Your allies do enough to make it feel like you’re actually participating in a large-scale battle, but they also have a tendency to stand around when there’s an enemy literally two feet away from them. The enemy AI is a little better. They’ll take cover, use grenades to flush you out of hiding and do their best to flank you, but it’s still pretty clear that they adhere to a “dominance in numbers” strategy and generally just try to overwhelm you with bodies. It works though –you’ll die quite frequently if you decide to play on anything above Regular.
The second problem is with the story. “Black Ops” does a commendable job of straying away from the nonsensical awfulness of “Modern Warfare 2’s” storyline, but it’s still far too convoluted for its own good. The game hops from one time period and location to the next with more regularity than Eric Bana in “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, and as a result, it’s next to impossible to keep track of the characters and the plot’s progression. “Black Ops” favors ridiculously huge explosions and totally kick-ass fire fights to a genuinely compelling storyline, but that’s not as terrible as it sounds. At the very least, “Black Ops” seems cognisant that its storyline is the stuff of Michael Bay’s wet dreams and never tries to be anything more. Unlike, say, “Modern Warfare 2” and its inanely handled “No Russian” mission.
While the storyline of “Black Ops” might not make much sense, the game does employ a creative narrative technique that’s part “in medias res” and part psychotic meltdown. It certainly doesn’t make the story any easier to follow, but it’s a unique fashion of storytelling that somehow manages to add a cohesive element to an otherwise completely disjointed campaign.
“Black Ops’” single player campaign is fun while it lasts (you’ll get around 6-8 hours out of it) and while that’s a bit on the short side, you can take solace in the fact that its multiplayer mode will probably keep you hooked until next year when the next “Call of Duty” comes out.
Anyone who’s familiar with the last three “Call of Duty” games will feel right at home in “Black Ops”, though it’s certainly worth noting that there’s been plenty of modifications. There are more customization options, like adding face paint to your soldier or changing the aiming reticule, and the manner in which you unlock new weapons, perks, kill streaks and equipment has also been altered for the better.
There are still some balance issues with the guns that need to be worked on post-launch, but aside from a few minor gripes about latency issues, glitchers and assholes who camp, the multiplayer mode is every bit as great as “Modern Warfare 2.” The maps are diverse and well designed, there’s a huge selection of gameplay modes to choose from (including the new Wager mode that lets you bet “Call of Duty” currency that you’ll rank in the top three in three different types of matches), and the incentive to keep playing for months on end is overwhelming. If you’re not fulfilling contracts (like getting five kills without dying) for more money or merely unlocking the vast amount of content to enhance your killing proficiency, you’ll be playing “Black Ops’” incredibly addicting Zombie mode or the "Smash TV" inspired mini-game, Dead Ops Arcade.
What it boils down to is how much you already enjoy the “Call of Duty” franchise. If you’re not a fan of past iterations, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” will do nothing to change your mind because it’s a “Call of Duty” video game in every sense of the word. It takes everything that made “Modern Warfare 2” one of the most popular games, dresses it up in a different coat of paint and then piles on a ridiculous amount of additional content that will keep FPS enthusiasts occupied for months. Suffice to say, if you’re the kind of gamer who played “Modern Warfare 2” (and “World at War” and “Modern Warfare” before it) religiously, don’t hesitate to pick up “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” It’s everything you’ve come to expect from the “Call of Duty” franchise and more.
Final Grade: A-
“Call of Duty: Black Ops”
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release Date: 11.09.10