jost1's Call of Duty: Black Ops (Xbox 360) review

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I’m not in the business of reviewing multiplayer games. In fact, I’m not in the business of any sort of business. This review of Call of Duty: Black Ops will cover the single-player portion of the latest smash-hit title, of which there is much to say.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is developer Treyarch’s largely successful attempt at upping the craziness ante established in Modern Warfare 2. By moving ahead 20 years from 2008′s World at War, they’re able to deliver some of the same Bruckheimer-like setpieces and non-stop firefighting that players expect from anything bearing the Call of Duty name. World War 2 is old news in games, and the series is finally moving on. While the cold war is often revisited in fiction as well as documentaries, it remains largely untapped in video games. Enter: the intense fever-dream that is the Black Ops campaign mode.

The game borrows liberally from movies about the Cold War as it tells its utterly insane story about brainwashing, numbers stations, sleeper assassins, bio-weapons and paranoia. It’s told from the perspective of one Alex Mason. The poor man is being held prisoner by people unknown, being questioned about his covert operations spanning the 1960s – and the globe. His captors are trying to break through Mason’s part-brainwashed, part-drugged haze to find the location of a deadly weapon, the discovery of which could prevent a cataclysmic event at the hands of sinister forces! You get the idea. I personally loved the plot and it certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a cold war spy-novel. It has just the right amount of realism mixed in to make it almost believable, yet far fetched enough to be a lot of fun. The balance it strikes in this regard is satisfying. The final hour of the game almost breaks the suspension of disbelief, it’s so ridiculous, but if you’re willing to just have fun with it I think you’ll appreciate the final twist.

The gameplay should be really familiar to people who’ve played Call of Duty before. Essentially it’s a series of shooting gallery corridors interspersed with hugely entertaining vehicular sections. It’s classic Call of Duty, and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Unlike Modern Warfare 2 though, the mysteries being uncovered in the game’s plot and the levels you’re playing feel very much connected. In fact I’d say this is easily the best CoD-campaign since Call of Duty 4. You don’t really feel like any time is being wasted not moving the plot forward. That the game spans a whole decade and a whole bunch of countries allows for huge variety in both missions and environments and it really helps keep the old CoD-gears lubricated, at least for now.

There’s no reason not to play this game if you like FPSes. Aside from one poorly-explained section the gameplay is solid as hell, you know how it works. It’s like riding a bike – a bike with a mounted gatling gun. The weapons have that nebulous “good feel”, the story is fantastic, the orchestral score propels the action forward like nobody’s business, and the voice-work is solid.

No doubt a lot of players will be digging into the multiplayer without even having touched the campaign, and they’d be robbing themselves of one of the best single player FPSes in three years. There is a feeling, however, that this is as far as the current Call of Duty style can go. I hope they can keep it interesting.


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