Call of Duty (COD) is the undisputed king of the first person shooter (FPS) genre, evident by the fact that the sales records the franchise keeps on breaking tend to be the ones the previous COD set the year before. This time around it was the turn of developers Treyarch to keep the series alive with Call of Duty: Black Ops, let's see how they did.
The campaign in Black Ops continues the COD style of in-your-face blood, glory, guts and explosions. Gone are the modern battlegrounds of Modern Warfare 2, instead Black Ops takes a gander back into the murky past of Cold War secret operations.
And this game doesn't mess around, players are thrown head-first into the game's electrifying campaign and once it starts there's no letting up. The campaign takes players on a veritable world tour from assassination missions in Cuba to Russian prison camps to the bug infested jungles of Vietnam. Throughout the missions players are greeted with over-the-top action, brutal one-on-one encounters and an intense storyline filled with the kind of intrigue conspiracy theorists' dreams are made of.
Black Ops also signalled a departure for Treyarch from the battlefields of World War 2, the setting of the studio's previous title and also the birthing grounds of Call of Duty.
Throughout the campaign players are treated to an experience no doubt largely influenced by Hollywood action movies. A number of scripted sequences makes an appearance and the general flow of the narrative plays off like a blockbuster movie. In our Medal of Honor review we criticised the game for its below par sequences, but Black Ops gets it spot on, delivering the kind of adrenaline pumping action we've grown to expect from the series.
The campaign isn't all standard fare though as it slightly moves away from the bravado inducing “fighting for your country” mentality of Modern Warfare 2. Instead, Black Ops introduces allies and enemies from both sides of the fence, and we see the characters struggling with moral choices during parts of the game and not necessarily following orders blindly.
Treyarch really went all out for Black Ops in the presentation department. With beautifully detailed maps and weapons, realistic character models and all manner of bells and whistles. It's definitely a looker, improving on the already awesome graphics of Modern Warfare 2.
The game performs well on the audio side as well, delivering a heart pounding soundtrack and some top tier Hollywood voice talent that really helps immerse one in the storyline. Voice acting is also well done and sounds natural at all times.
As with all COD games, multiplayer is what stands out most at the end of the day. Black Ops doesn't only offer the standard team deathmatch and free-for-all game modes though, instead it introduces a myriad of new options and modes to keep the multiplayer fresh for a while to come. One of the most prominent is the new wager matches that lets players gamble COD points to see who'll finish in the top three at the end of the game. Players earn COD points by playing online and completing challenges, with these points in turn enabling players to purchase new weapons and customisations in the game.
Customising your multiplayer character is a first for the series and really adds a lot to the unique online identity of players. In Black Ops you can customise your entire outfit, with special clothing and armour and even face paint so you can really show of that war face you’ve been practicing. Emblem customisation has also been introduced, with a mini-photoshop like utility in the game allowing gamers to create custom tags, you can even paste your clan tag and other images on your weapons.
Black Ops also introduces fun new game modes in the form of ‘Gun Game’, ‘One in the Chamber’, ‘Sharp Shooter’ and ‘Sticks and Stones’, ensuring every COD fan will have something to play. Standard multiplayer modes remain, with Black Ops adding a bunch of new kill-streaks from exploding RC cars to vicious packs of attack dogs, one of the most enjoyable ways to dispatch of your foes.
And don't for a moment think Black Ops is all about semi-realistic gun battles, Treyarch has once again introduced its coveted zombie mode which first made an appearance in Call of Duty: World at War.
Zombie mode is a cooperative game mode where up to four players can team up to do battle against the undead hordes. The first map you'll be able to play is similar to World at War's mode, set in WW2 and having you fight against Nazi zombies.
The second though, which can only be unlocked after completing the Black Ops campaign, is definitely the cream of the crop. The mode is called “Five”, and you might recall us going bananas over its announcement a couple of weeks ago. In this mode players take on the roles of either John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Robert Macnamara or Fidel Castro as they fight off a zombie invasion in the Pentagon. If you don't know who any of these characters are, shame on you, Wikipedia is the way forward.
Whichever character you play doesn't really matter as the only difference lies in the comments they provide during the game,with Kennedy's voice actor doing an especially good job of recreating the former president's famous Boston accent.
The objective of zombie mode is simply for players to survive the undead apocalypse as long as they possibly can, you will die eventually, the trick is seeing how long you can hold out. With each consecutive level the zombies become more numerous, faster, and finds better ways to sneak up on you. By rebuilding barriers and killing zombies, players earn money in the game, which can then be used to buy new weapons and open doors to new parts of the map. Zombie mode is a ton of fun, and we recommend playing it with friends for the best experience, it's conducive to teamwork plus it's always fun to see your friends yelling like little girls as zombies bite their face off (in a game of course).
An additional mode in the form of Dead Ops also makes an appearance which is a top-down style zombie shooter. It's enjoyable, and something different, but we're sticking with the traditional modes personally.
It has to be noted however that Black Ops had its fair share of bug problems, especially on the PC version. These bugs extend to the consoles as well though, with issues from multiplayer lag to general unplayability sullying Treyarch’s name quite a bit. The bugs are expected to be mostly exterminated in the coming months, we just wish Treyarch did more quality checking on their side before release.
Black Ops sticks to its guns for the most part, delivering a prime COD experience. In addition it adds so much on top - from new multiplayer modes to the insane zombie modes - it feels like you're buying three games in one, definitely the shooter of the year in our books.
The Best: Single-handedly shooting down a Russian Soyuz rocket.
The Worst: Still a couple of bugs Treyarch need to exterminate.