There’s nothing simple about sharing the Call of Duty franchise with another developer, especially when that other developer is Infinity Ward. Black Ops and Treyarch have the rather unenviable task of attempting to emulate the success of 2009’s Modern Warfare 2. Removing the franchise from its safe contemporary confines is a difficult one, especially when those contemporary confines (AKA MW2) work and play so good. Black Ops is defined by this setting change, the ideological and tense international anxiety that underscored the Cold War years. Black Ops is a demanding, rewarding and robust shooter that proves that Treyarch and its creations can co-exist in a FPS genre dominated by Infinity Ward and Modern Warfare.
The Cold War era acts as refreshing tempo change for COD. Everyone is jumping on the modern era these days. The propaganda, counter espionage, proxy wars and innate ideological tactics of the Cold War age makes for an excellent back drop for what is ultimately Treyarch’s best addition to a franchise now seven games strong. The single player campaign is probably Black Ops’ strongest component.
Treyarch has fashioned an incredibly immersive and compelling single player campaign that is brim full relentless heart bounding set pieces and sequences. Black Ops ups the ante in every aspect of the single player campaign; from the story itself, right up to the narrative and actual pace of the action, the game never lolls. Often times it’s a case of one insular battle after the next. But this isn’t mindless repetitive ‘shoot whatever moves’ stuff. Sure, the AI is terrible and some of the vehicle elements aren’t as fun as say Medal of Honor, but there’s an inherent depth and insight in there that really ties the action to Alex Mason’s story. He is a studies and observations group operative forced to tell all and submit to the torture and interrogative means of his capturers. What follows are his thoughts and memories. The entire single player scenario is played out in Alex’s flashbacks. It’s original, intelligent and often times an extremely belligerent, confrontational and gruesome experience. Black Ops really ups the gore and the blood stakes. There’s something to be said for a game that gives you the option to tone down its gruesome blood soaked indulgences. Black Ops is in an unwavering bloodbath and this element really adds to the underlying intensity of the experience.
Ultimately, the multiplayer component is probably what will make or break Black Ops. All FPS shooters are defined by its multiplayer prowess and thankfully Black Ops pretty much succeeds on every level. It’s such that if you’ve been playing MW2 for the last 12 months, then embracing Black Ops will come as second nature stuff to you. There’s a conclusive and rewarding balance of new additions and what you’ve come to expect of COD online packed into Black Ops. Sure, the stalwart deathmatch modes and the level/rank up systems are in there but Black Ops introduces a couple of neat new features that enhance the overall experience. Take COD points for example. COD points are a sort of new in-game currency that you accumulate as you level up your profile. These points allow you to do things that you would usual work extremely hard to get your hands on. For example, if you have enough points you can buy the kinds of perks and kill steaks usually reserved for you when you are at a much higher rank. It sounds like cheating but it’s not. You’ll work hard to earn points and it’s up to you to spend them wisely.
Wager Matches allow you bet the points you’ve earned. You can win big or obviously lose everything. It’s a competitive risk, but a fun one at that. It adds to the already competitive and tense nature of the online multiplayer scene. Treyarch have also bundled in a theatre mode that allows you to clip together gameplay and pop it up on the web. It’s just another little example of how many layers Black Ops has both online and offline. Those of you who love shooting Nazi Zombies are in luck too. Bringing the zombies back for Black Ops was a no brainer. No pun intended.
Black Ops is everything you’ve come to expect from the Call of Duty franchise. It’s an extremely enjoyable shooter with a slick presentation, a deep compelling single player experience and a robust multiplayer component. It deserves your attention.
TGL SCORE 9/10
Formats: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC
Release Date: November 9th 2010