For the past few years in the gaming industry, the month of November has meant one thing: the latest title in the Call of Duty series is landing on store shelves. With every passing year Activision’s behemoth title has become more of a cultural event than a traditional product launch, with the power to make all other publishers and competitors alike take their respective titles and high tail it to into January. Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, one thing you can’t deny is the hold that Call of Duty has on the industry and its fans.
This year it was Treyarch’s turn to man the ship and with Call of Duty: Black Ops and take their third crack at the series. There’s always been a certain stigma attached to the Santa Monica based developer, as they’ve always seem to play second fiddle to series founder Infinity Ward in many people’s minds. What they have brought to the table with Black Ops is proof that they are second to no one. Not only do they provide a non-stop ride of high octane action, they do so while delivering the very best story that the series has ever had. It turns out that the “other” Call of Duty developer ended up making the best story-driven one yet.
The title opens with our main protagonist “Mason” strapped into an electric interrogation chair. His captors, who are hidden behind blinding monitors, are trying to force him into disclosing information of his whereabouts for the better part of the decade, in hopes of decoding a series of mysterious numbers. Mason begins to retrace his steps for his captors, in hopes of getting them what they want in exchange for his own freedom. Through flashbacks provided my Mason we begin to unravel the story and eventually learn what got him into his predicament in the first place.
By using real life events as a solid foundation, the story in Black Ops becomes a much more believable fiction. The very first mission in the game actually takes you on a CIA assassination mission in Cuba to take out Dictator Fidel Castro during what was the real life Bay of Pigs conflict. Once the mission is completed, it puts into motion a chain of events that has Mason (as well as other characters in the story) traversing across different hot zones throughout the world during what’s considered the beginning of the cold war era in the 1960’s.
Presentation is among some of the best the series has seen. By tapping into the Activision music collection the team at Treyarch was able to create certain moods throughout different parts of the game. Whether it was the salsa grooves of Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara” playing in a Cuban bar or Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” playing in the background as you fly a chopper down river in Vietnam, the music really adds that extra touch to make you feel like you’re truly in a different era.
Visually, considering the game is using the IW Engine, the same engine we’ve grown accustomed to for the past couple of years, the game does look a lot like its recent Call of Duty cousins. However, because of the constant change of scenery it does have the ability to remain interesting throughout the entire campaign. The game used full performance capture for character movements this time around and it provided for some of the most believe characters in a Call of Duty game thus far.
The games audio isn’t too shabby either. All of the guns and explosions sound good as ever and the all-star Hollywood voice cast is top notch. Playing this game with surround sound is a must as it creates one of the most intense 5.1 sound stages in all of gaming.
Let’s face it, as good as the game’s campaign actually is this year, some people may skip it all together and that’s because with every passing year the Call of Duty franchise has become the king of the multiplayer arena. This year’s iteration is no different as Black Ops provides for some of the best multiplayer the series has seen… when it works.
One of the game’s biggest selling points also happens to be one of its biggest catalysts as well. Plagued by networking issues across the board Black Ops can get really frustrating really fast. Just getting your party of friends into a matchmaking lobby can at times seem like a daunting task. We all knew that measures were being taken to protect the games integrity from the cheaters and hackers that weighed down last year’s title months after its launch, but if it’s the reason why the rest of the community can’t enjoy a couple of games with friends then there’s a problem.
As of this writing the game has yet to receive a patch, but because of the current state of the game online, the score of the review suffered from it. Once the issues are resolved (and I’m sure Treyarch will address it), you can add a couple of points to the final review score but until then, it is what it is. Now let’s move on.
In Black Ops, all of your traditional multiplayer components are there. The biggest change comes to us from the inclusion of an in-game economy. By earning kills and wins, and completing challenges and contracts players can earn in game credits that can be used to unlock weapons, killstreaks, and perks. There’s no nuke this time around, but the killstreaks that are present are all very useful.
Camping was always the biggest issue when it came to killstreaks in previous titles, especially in Modern Warfare 2 last year. Players became accustomed to earning certain killstreaks such as an attack helicopter and as soon as they brought it out it would basically do all the work for them. Kills that were earned by a helicopter would also add to the players total helping them earn a much more devastating killstreak, while he or she would hide in some corner of the map.
Those days are finally over, no not the camping, but sitting on killstreaks. While certain killstreaks can be devastating, they only add to your team’s total score. You get credit for the kill, just no credit towards your next killstreak. So if you have plans of bringing out that 9-kill gunner chopper you better get out there and earn it.
Treyarch spices up the multiplayer by adding wager matches. These matches pit players in four different free for all game types where they can, you guessed it, wager their hard earned credits against other players in hopes to finishing “in the money”. Also making an appearance this year is theater mode, where players can play back entire matches through the eyes of any player involved. This is awesome for showing off those “holy $hit” moments and/or rubbing in your wins and kills in friend’s faces. Nazi Zombies mode also makes a welcome return. So once you’re done unleashing or receiving an online butt whooping you can stay sharp by taking on the undead with 3 or your buddies.
After checking out the title a couple of months back, I was still uncertain how I felt about Treyarch having the series going back in time once again. After playing Black Ops, I’m so glad that they did. By using a historical backdrop for the game and building their own story on top of that, they’ve created the best single player campaign that the series has ever seen. Period. On the multiplayer side, they’ve provided one of the most robust and feature filled online components anywhere, it’s only a matter of whether or not they can make it work (and I’m really hoping they can). Combine those with their Zombies mode and you have 3 different games that can probably be sold on their own yet you can buy them in one package. Call of Duty: Black Ops can easily be the best $60 that you spend all year.
- Title: Call of Duty: Black Ops
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: Treyarch
- Publisher: Activision
- Release Date: Available Now
- MSRP: $59.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of the game was provided to DualShockers Inc by the publisher for purposes of this review.