It's your standard Call of Duty, but with a few twists
Say what you will about Treyarch, but after spending numerous hours with Black Ops it seems like this company is fit to be the main Call of Duty developer should Infinity Ward officially shut down for good. The core gameplay, although largely the same, does have some subtle and not-so-subtle tweaks and changes that help to keep the experience fresh.
Anyone who's played Call of Duty 4 or any of the entries after it will know that the series is all about big set pieces, and Black Ops certainly delivers in that aspect. But to be clear, this is mostly your standard Call of Duty campaign experience. Black Ops definitely feels toned down a bit coming off of Modern Warfare 2, but that isn't to say that you won't find yourself in some really unique and fascinating situations, like one where you are parachuting off a cliff after barely escaping from an avalanche. In another part, you'll even get to jack a helicopter off the Vietnamese and pilot it. It's moments like these that will most likely bring people back to the campaign for another go, since you are never really doing the same thing twice. (Well, except for blasting dudes in the face. That happens quite a bit). That being said, it should be mentioned that the Black Ops campaign lasts about 5-6 hours, which seems to be the norm for the series now.
World At War for the most part felt like a reskinned version of the first Modern Warfare. Thankfully, Treyarch was able to take the multiplayer formula established by Modern Warfare 2 and do some interesting things to it so it doesn't feel like you are playing the exact same game you were last year. Of the drastic changes is the inclusion of COD Points, which are earned after matches and by completing Contracts, which are essentially limited-time challenges. These COD Points (or simply credits, as I like to call them) are used to purchase everything from weapons to attachments to gun camos and more. You still maintain a rank and will accumulate experience points as you play, but these ranks simply unlock the ability to purchase guns. This means that you still have to level up to buy certain weapons, but you aren't required to purchase the ones you don't want.
All of your standard multiplayer mods are there, like Domination, Team Deathmatch, and Search & Destroy, but there is also a separate playlist called Wager Matches that allow you put your money where your mouth is in some truly unique game modes. There are three tiers of Wager Matches, with the first one having a small entry fee of 10 COD Points and the third one catering to the big leaguers willing to throw a hefty 10,000 COD Points on the line. Each of the four Wager Match modes offer a different experience, and some of them are definitely easier than others. I think Sharpshooter is my favorite. In it, everyone starts with the same random weapon, and every 45 seconds each player automatically switches to another random weapon. This creates chaotic situations where everybody in the match has dual pistols one moment, and in the next they all have China Lake grenade launchers or ballistic knives. Heck, in one match I got into everyone started with a minigun. There's also a really intense mode called One In The Chamber, where you only have 1 bullet and the only way to get another is to kill an enemy. With only three lives, this mode is definitely not for the faint of heart. Sticks & Stones has everyone using only crossbows, ballistics knives, and tomahawks, and fans of Counter-Strike will probably recognize Gun Game right away.
Treyarch has gone to greater lengths to allow players to customize their online persona as they see fit. Emblems can be heavily modified using the layer system that gives you the ability to create whatever sick and disturbing image you want, and you can actually stick this emblem on your gun for a fee. Speaking of guns, there are over a dozen camouflage patterns to cover them with, and every attachment for a weapon is immediately unlocked for purchase as soon as you gain ownership of that weapon. This is really great news for people like me who aren't always willing to deal with a certain gun's terrible iron sights for a few rounds in order to unlock a sight or scope that's actually decent. It was a rather thrilling moment when I found myself blasting people away with my blood red AK-74u that had RISE etched into the side and the Giant Bomb logo gloriously stamped on it. Oh, and you can totally change the red dot on your sights to anything from smiling faces to skulls to several different arrangements of geometric shapes that may or may not make it easier to aim. And you can change the color too.
Pro perks this time around are significantly harder to obtain because many of them require you to perform certain feats during objective-based modes. The new killstreaks introduce some interesting and unique ways to kill enemies. One of the three-kill rewards allows you to drive a small RC car around the map to detonate under the feet of an enemy. I was never a fan of the dogs in World At War, so I'm a little disappointed that they've been brought back. Tactical nukes are no longer in the game, which probably gives people less incentive to boost, and the carpet bomb killstreak has a nasty habit of killing people that are indoors. If you manage to reach an 11 kill streak, you'll actually get to pilot an attack helicopter around the map and launch missiles at people (if you have it selected instead of the dogs). This is insanely fun to use, although as expected it can be frustrating when the other team gets one and nobody is willing to step outside with a rocket launcher to try and remove it.
If you ever find yourself awe-struck by something you did in a match, the new Theater mode is there for you to capture the moment forever. Much like Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, the Theater allows you to record gameplay from any angle you like and take screenshots, both of which can be uploaded to your file share. But unlike Bungie's version, this Theater mode allows you to upload your clips to your account on the Call of Duty website which will then be automatically uploaded to your YouTube account should you allow it.
Black Ops runs on the engine that powered World At War, which may or may not be the reason why the game is visually not as impressive as Modern Warfare 2. There are a few moments of the campaign and even in multiplayer where the textures look pretty flat, which is strange considering that a lot of the levels, specially the Vietnam ones, look fantastic. Also, I experienced some pretty bad framerate issues at times while playing multiplayer on the Xbox 360 version of the game. Sometimes it occurred when a napalm strike fell, and other times it just seemed to happen at random. Despite these afflictions, much of Black Ops looks pretty good, especially the explosions and fire. This game is also one of the most violent entries to the series; you do plenty of throat stabbing in the game, all of which look pretty grisly due to the visible gashes left behind on your victim's neck.
Some big name voice actors took the stage for Black Ops, including Ed Harris, Ice Cube, and Sam Worthington. Worthington does such a weird job voicing Alex Mason that by the end of the game you won't be able to decide if he's from Alaska or the land down under. I felt that Ed Harris had one of the best vocal performances in the game, and hearing Ice Cube tell me that our Spy Plane is in the air is truly something else. Most of the weapons sound appropriately devastating, although the MP5K sounds comically like a toy.
Black Ops is without a doubt Treyarch's most ambitious contribution to the Call of Duty franchise yet, and the risks they took with the COD Points system and the way they tell the single player story certainly paid off well. Let's just hope that whoever is developing the next game in the series continues to evolve and bring everything forward, because keeping the experience fresh and exciting is what their main goal should be. Coming off of Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops provides that refreshing feeling, and it is most definitely a must have for fans of the series.
- Great voice acting for most characters
- Many fantastic set piece moments
- Missions are varied
- Multiplayer is still a blast
- Theater mode is a welcome addition
- Framerate issues at times
- Textures can sometimes be sketchy
- Special Ops is nowhere to be found
- Sam Worthington's voice acting is bizarre