It’s that time of the year again where we get another infectious wave from Call of Duty. Bleeding countless hours from our fingertips as we grip the sticks to destroy mass amounts of dudes. With the Infinity Ward Activision breakdown, Treyarch has to step up and bring everything they have to make the title stick. Treyarch has had some past troubles with the COD series, following Infinity Wards smash hits. It wasn’t until World at War that they managed to produce a respectable foray into the series with the unexpected fluke in Nazi Zombies. Back in the saddle, they bring us Black Ops, which throws a little bit of everything in the pot. This title embodies the spirit of the Modern Warfare games, and Treyarch’s knack for unique modes. However this title mostly just seems to polish off the rough spots of previous iterations that make an remarkably solid shooter.
Treyarch comes out throwing the punches making perhaps the most synapses inducing visual bombardments ever. This story is intensely spat at us with tons of enthusiasm and breakneck stimuli, but not much else. Throughout the majority of the game you control Alex Mason, who engages in black ops missions behind enemy lines. You mostly are traveling around the world engaging enemies with team members Frank Woods and Joseph Bowman. Occasionally you will assume the role of CIA Agent Jason Hudson who teams up with Grigori Weaver. Viktor Reznov also makes an appearance who happens to be a recurring character from World at War. The story works as a series of flashbacks beginning with Mason being interrogated in order to determine where the “number station” is, what the numbers mean, and to stop some bad shit from happening. As you progress through the story you manage to touch base in several key Cold War area locales. You pass on through Cuba, Vietnam and Russia on your quest to figure out what the heck happened all these years. The trip takes you from 1961 to 1968 trying to recount your missions in order to understand the numbers and find the station. Periodically as you run through the story, you will abruptly be jumped in and out of the interrogation room, which feels a little brutal, but breaks up the pace of the action nicely. Black Ops was clearly designed to be a cinematic experience, which is accomplished well through an onslaught of action and over-the-top spy moves. The biggest issue with the story is understanding the objectives to progress. There are areas that don’t explain what it is you are suppose to do well enough, which wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that they emphatically let you know who to follow in the game. This is a rather narrow inconvenience to an otherwise solid single player experience. The game features some cool vehicular moments allowing you to control an SR-71 Blackbird, Hinds helicopter, and weaponry on some tanks. While the flying mechanics are heavily assisted, it is still enjoyable to blow dudes up with missiles an canon-fire. Just to add a little bit more period correctness, they added some sweet ass flamethrowers.
The story features voice-work from stars Ed Harris, Ice Cube, Sam Worthington, and returning actor as “Reznov,” Gary Oldman. The voice work is well produced, however some dialogue seemed a bit cheesy for the tone of the scene. Black Ops also features some Vietnam Era music with The Rolling Stones’ “Sampathy for the Devil” and Creedence Clearwater Revivals’ “Fortunate Son.” For some damn reason they also decided to implant some techno music into the game which is just weird as hell.
Black Ops feels like the Call of Duty game we have come to expect. Difficult AI to wade through, with some risk reward. The game pulls back on the difficulty, more specifically with the barrage of enemies on Hardened and lower. It seemed rather easy to run through, of course widely depending on the skill level of the player. Veteran however brings back the infamous infinite spawns, that is frustrating as all hell to get past. Don’t get stuck in the open as you will be punished without apology. There are plenty of cool action sequences that pop up utilizing gadgets such as zipliness, repelling equipment and stabbing VietCong from under water. Treyarch offers up a fancy set of period correct weaponry, as well as some unique pieces with the Crossbrow, and Spas-12 featuring “Dragons Breath” shells that spit fire at your enemies. The game gives us standard controls of movement; standing, crouching, and prone, and added a rather hysterical dive to the proceedings. The red jelly returns to indicate player health, and like previous versions, it’s not the most telling on how much more damage you can sustain before you die.
Sporting a modified version of the World at War engine, Black Ops runs at a solid sixty frames. There are very few spots where any frame rate dipped, mostly where massive amounts of explosions are occurring on screen at once. The environments look incredible and full of life. Whether it be running through the snow in Russia, blasting wood in Vietnam’s jungles, or toughing it out in the desert, everything is spot on. Weapons are amply detailed and look brilliant firing loads of bullets. Black Ops implements technology that allows the actors to be fully tracked akin to James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Utilizing this style of technology adds a great amount of depth to the characters fluidity and movement. Very little was spared in updating the title graphically to Modern Warfare 2 standards and beyond.
Multiplayer offers a comparable experience to Modern Warfare 2, but with some major improvements in the overlying mechanics. There have been many balance tweaks that effect how killstreaks work, removal of perks that were used maliciously, and much needed weapon balancing. Your performance still determines how much experience you gain to level up to unlock access to new weapons and items. This time around they have added “COD Points” which is used to purchase the newly unlocked goods. Like Halo Reach’s “Challenge” mode, Black Ops features “Contracts,” which gives you specific goals to achieve online in order to gain more points and experience. The game modes are vanilla for the recently released games of the series, as well as the inclusion of Zombies mode, and Combat Training. The most interesting addition to the franchise is “Wager” matches. This game mode allows you to place a bet with your cod points in order to earn more if you place in the top three positions. There are several modes, including “GunGame” from Counter-Strike fame, and “One in the Chamber” which like it sounds, gives you a single bullet to kill your enemy. Combined with the other modes offered, there is plenty of fun for all playing styles. Treyarch certainly did a respectable job fusing Modern Warfare with World at War to make an experience that everyone can enjoy.
While Treyarch mostly just mashed together a combination of several Call of Duty greats, the tweaks and additions make for a well rounded first person shooter. The single player implores some ridiculous action and somewhat campy cutscenes, but still maintains a level of fun that is enjoyable to play through. By far Treyarch’s best use of the franchise, this is definitely a worthy title to own in your collection.