When a new Call of Duty game rolls around, it's hard not to get swept up in the hype that surrounds it. So what you need is someone who isn't a huge CoD fan and who can take a peek at the game from a gamer's point of view and not a ravening fanboy. Well, that person (rather egotistically) is me.
Call of Duty: Black Ops, is the nth iteration in the franchise but it's handled by Treyarch - now don't let that put you off, nope, this one actually has the brass balls to be better than Modern Warfare 2 by a long shot. Sorry MW 2 fanboys, but those are the breaks - I could barely get into MW 2 to be brutally honest, but Black Ops appeals in several areas where the previous game, by Infinity Ward falls flat on its face.
Consder yourselves redeemed Treyarch, after the less-than-stellar World at War. I seriously had my doubts about Black Ops from the moment that I realised they were behind it - all my fears were completely unfounded though, this game is a really solid entry in the shooter genre and whilst it doesn't bring anything mindblowing or new to the gamespace, what it does, it does really damn well.
The story: You're a hard-bitten spec-ops guy, part of an elite unit way back in the Cold War, sent to kill Fidel Castro...and that's all I'm going to say about it. Revealing anything about this game's plot is a killing offence beyond these few words. It has twists and turns, runs at a very reasonable pace and actually holds a few interesting surprises. What's key about this game story is that it's presented in a very interesting manner - told from the perspective of several characters and interleaves nicely so that all questions are answered at the end.
Let's look at the single player aspect of the game first. It is a typical shooter; it has the quick-scoping seen previously in Call of Duty 4 and MW 2. It plays in a similar manner with the regenerating health and run-and-gun mentality of the previous games. You have a variety of well conceived weapons with which to put the hurt on your enemies and you can expect to enjoy tagging bad guys with the likes of an explosive tipped crossbow early on. You can do a cool dash slide if you hit the B button when sprinting and you have to crouch to hide behind things, there's still no proper cover implemented in the game.
What Black Ops does really well though is to take the tried and tested gameplay mechanics of these core shooters and improve on them. Aiming has been tweaked, the movement has been tweaked and the level design has been really tweaked. I can't say too much about the individual levels and missions, set pieces and gameplay moments that really had me going 'cool'. But there aren't many shooters that let you fly a Hind in 'nam or pilot a rapid-attack river-boat downstream unleashing hell on the enemy.
There are moments in the single player that are truly stunning, but they're major spoilers and you'll have to trust me that one of the best missions features a unique take on the AC-130 shooting gallery from Modern Warfare 2.
With the tighter controls, punchy story, fast-paced gameplay and rewarding stealth sections....the game is a winner. Add to that the direct control for most of the vehicular sections and you're onto a total package that rolls together nicely and delivers just enough action even though it does feel like the whole thing is over way too quickly.
Never fear though, because Zombies mode is back from World at War. It plays just the same and feels as fresh as it did before. As much as I am not a fan of the CoD series I have played them and I have enjoyed aspects - like the Zombie mode. You can also train against/with bots in Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch using the Training Mode part of the Xbox Live menu.
You can play multiplayer System Link with your friends or play some split-screen local gaming in both the training and the Zombies mode. We'll talk about the mp in detail a little bit later on. You have various difficulty settings and there's a checkpoint save system that's not too unforgiving.
Black Ops looks nice, it has all the level of polish we've come to expect from the CoD series so far and this one pushes things up a notch. The lighting/effects are excellent and there's a high level of detail given to the models and environments. It runs at a fair lick and doesn't have any issues with pop-up/pop-in and screen tearing.
They're nice, no dropped frames and some really sweet 'scripted' events that basically run flawlessly (through two separate playthroughs) in the game. Weapon animations are great and there's a real feeling of power conveyed by some of these guns as the enemy die in a hail of bullets. In 'nam for instance you get access to a powerful 6-shot revolver that blows body parts off, reminding me of Soldier of Fortune in a way.
There's nothing wrong with the physics in the game, everything works as it should and there are no instances of crazy-jiggling dead bodies when they should be lying still. Unless it's a zombie, but by then you should have gone for the head! Explosions are nice and there's a feeling of weight/impact to shots.
On the whole it's pretty good AI, it offers a nice challenge later on and on harder difficulty settings. It can use cover, flanking tactics, rolling and evasion along with avoidance for ill-timed grenades. If you time the grenade too soon, they'll throw it right back at you.
Your friendly AI isn't too dumb this time around, they'll try and keep out of your way and very rarely stray into your sights. They really only exist to round out the squad or keep things interesting and give the theatre of war a feeling of chaos. They also play a part in the story beyond the usual - hey dude, nice hat...NO...Brian, he was shot in the head, WHY did he remove his socks during that firefight!
You get what I mean though. It's good stuff; it does a decent job of making the game interesting and provides a challenge. Basically - the story does a good job of making you feel for your team and the AI matches up to that 99.5% of the time.
The game's sound is good stuff, there's a lot of nice ambient background audio that's layered throughout the various missions. You have to listen closely to a lot of it especially when you're in the Jungles of 'Nam. Various weapons and vehicles have been replicated quite nicely though I'm sure there are fanatics out there who'll say that I'm wrong, after all - we all know the sound that a Hind makes or the exact reloading sound of a G11, right?
With some licensed tracks (as you might expect in 'nam) and a very atmospheric score, this hits all the right buttons.
The Dialogue/Voice Acting
Dialogue for something like this is tricky and I think Treyarch's writers have managed to put together some good stuff here. Sure it draws on the clichés a lot and there's a fair bit of swearing, you think these people were saints?
As for the voice acting, it's great - especially for the central character, which is played by Sam Worthington (Avatar, Terminator Salvation). All the lines are delivered with a lot of gusto and the whole thing feels solid.
Basically with the solid voice cast, interesting story and tweaked gameplay for singleplayer - there's a lot to like here.
You can play over Live in a variety of matches, ranked or not. You can play split-screen with a friend or you can even play System Link where everything is already unlocked right from the start. You can unlock a co-op top-down zombie shooter called Dead Ops Arcade and play that with up to 3 other friends.
You can take on bots in Training with a buddy locally when you're connected to Live, or call in your friends and do the same online. You can only play Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch in these modes, but the bots can put up quite a nice fight and help you hone your skills. Again, you'll have a separate rank-up system and unlocks for this mode so you can't just stay off public and online matches for good.
Then when it comes to the adversarial part of the game, well, you have a lot to choose from. You rank up and you unlock various character customisation options, perk packages and so on. It's like Modern Warfare 2 but plays a lot better - even I enjoyed my time with it.
There's Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF variants, Headquarters mode and even something called Wager matches, where you can basically bet on the outcome. I didn't dive in too deeply to this because I was having way too much fun just shooting things online. I'm not a deeply competitive player so a lot of the game's mp is lost on me in that respect. What I played, I really enjoyed and it's nice to see that there's no insta-kill Quick-Scoping when you're sniping - you have to play like a sniper, for shame, MW 2 fanboys, for shame!
It's beyond the scope of this review to dive into every mode, so you're just going to have to get out there and play.
The unlockable special rewards for killstreaks are pretty awesome, especially when you get to take control of a gunship and fly around the map shooting things to bits. No matter what you do in the game you're rewarded with XP, and at the end of a match you get money and XP. Rank up, collect bigger and better guns, add attachments and new perks to your character. There's a great feeling of progression and the lag isn't at all too bad on many of the random servers I played on too, so you can Rank up pretty quickly if you get into a good game.
All in all when you add in everything from the singleplayer to the multiplayer, this is a great polished package that trounces Modern Warfare 2 back to the Stone Age.
Get it now, even if you're not a CoD fan.
Also, I experienced no game breaking bugs or glitchy missions on 2 playthroughs of the game.