Treyarch surprises even me
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat. I was very skeptical about Black Ops from the time I heard the title was announced. I was very disappointed with Treyarch's other two attempts at Call of Duty, especially Call of Duty 3, and I felt that World at War was really just a WWII Mod of Call of Duty 4. I felt that Black Ops would be a Cold War mod of Modern Warfare 2, however, I greatly underestimated Treyarch.
First off lets get an overview of everything that's packed onto this single disc. You get a 7-9 hour campaign (It took me 7, but it took my brother nine...I'm better than him), you get multiplayer which has three subgroups, Player Match, Wager Match, and Combat training, you get Zombie mode with three maps, and you get a bunch of extras including 2 full feature arcade games. I have to say this is the best value $60 game I've gotten since the Orange Box.
Single Player Campaign (5 stars):
The single player campaign in Black Ops contains the most well thought out and engaging story in any Call of Duty game ever. The protaganist is Alex Mason, a CIA "Super-Solider", and you play the majority of the game via his flashbacks that he has, while he is being interrogated by unknown people. Without giving too much away Mason holds the key to finding a Soviet Bio-Weapon that they are planning on using on the US. The missions are numerous and short, but varied. You really never do the same thing twice, aside from running and gunning. The characters you encounter are also really excellent characters that are very memorable, and have excellent voice actors, with the weakest being Avatar's Sam Worthington by far. Ed Harris, Ice Cube, and Gary Oldman all turn in excellent performances. The campaign never slows down, and like Modern Warfare 2, takes you from one ridiculously explosive scenario to the next. The mechanics are all excellent and engaging, my biggest issue with it though, is that the AI is awful. Enemies are stupid, and your squadmates act plain retarded at times, something that they should really work to improve on.
A fair warning to anyone who doesn't have a strong stomach, the campaign is very brutal and graphic. No mission is quite as disturbing as "NO RUSSIAN" from MW2, but as a whole the things you do in the missions are very bloody, and the dialogue is also quite intense. The missions also fit very well into the story. A big issue I had with MW 2's campaign is that it felt like the developers thought up really cool gameplay sequences, and then wrote a story that somehow forced you into those scenarios. This is not the case with Black Ops. The story is really well explained and what you're doing in the missions makes sense, although the ending may seem odd. Old friends from COD WAW also fit well into the grand scheme of things, where in MW 2 I thought that the way they "found" Captain Price" didn't make any sense whatsoever.
However, the biggest standout for me in the Campaign is that, unlike MW 2, these "fake Black Ops Missions" are taking place along real events with real people involved, something that I thought MW 1 did a job with. This gives everything you are doing a feeling that you're actions are really saving the world and working towards the greater good. We all know that none of these things happened, but they blend very well with reality, whereas Modern Warfare 2 created a nightmare scenario that wasn't the least bit believable, and when you were done you weren't really sure if what you did was for the greater good, or if you just did it because the game put you there. All and all the campaign mixes a fabulous story with memorable characters, and exciting gameplay sequences, while you really do feel like you are "doing good" in the process.
Zombie Mode (4 stars)
Zombie mode is back and much really hasn't changed, which isn't a bad thing if you were like me and loved the mode when it was introduced in WaW. I would have liked to see all the DLC maps from the last game (of course edited to make sense for this game), in the standard edition of the game, and it would've been nice to freshen up some of the mechanics a little, but I guess Treyarch felt that people loved it before, so more of the same would be adequate. The one map where you play as JFK, Castro, McNamara, and Nixon is awesome in its own right, however, and the other map is interesting to say the least. I would've liked have seen some new improvements, but I loved Zombie mode before, and I still love it now.
Multiplayer (5 Stars)
Wager matches are most innovative change from Treyarch this time around. They are essentially mod modes of the regular multiplayer, with new rules and gimmicks. You wager your COD points, by betting that you'll end up in the top 3 at the end of the match. The four modes are all unique and excellent in their own right. The first mode "One in the Chamber" gives you one bullet to start with, and three lives. You essentially have one bullet per life, and gain a bullet per kill. If you knife someone without firing a shot then you gain an extra bullet. This game creates some really freakish running around in circles scenarios with two players trying to knife each other, however I feel that the 3 life limit makes this the weakest mode, because if you get really unlucky 3 times then you're out of the game for sure. "Sticks and Stones" you get a Crossbow, Ballistic Knives, and Tomahawks. You run around killing people and its essentially a straight up deathmatch, however if you are killed by a tomahawk you are bankrupt and lose all of your money. The player with the most points wins the mode at the end, but crazy stuff can happen, because you might have 30 kills at the end of the match, but get tomahawked in the last second, and fall to last place. I loved this mode, because it was so different from anything else. It fundamentally changes how you play, by making the game more of an action/adventure game than just a straight up shooter. "Gun Game" a mode a too similar to hallowed Counter-Strike's gun game, is really awesome as well. There are twenty tiers of weapons that you climb up every time you get a kill. If you die, nothing happens, you respawn and keep shooting, however if you are knifed, you drop down one tier. It makes you master every single weapon, so if it takes you a while to get a kill with the grenade launcher then you might very well lose any hope of winning your COD points. This mode is a perfect balance between rewarding and frustrating, because unlike "one in the chamber" you aren't limited by a number of lives, and unlike "Sticks and Stones" your humiliation only drops you down one tier. "Sharpshooter" is another solid mode where the guns cycle constantly every 45 seconds, and every player will have the same weapon. This mode also promotes mastery of weapons, however I wish their was some form of humiliation gimmick that is found in the other three modes, because those are the most thrilling moments, when you know that you just sent the number 1 player to the bottom, or you stopped a guy from advancing to tier 20. All in all, Wager matches are extremely innovative, and are something that I hope Activision will insist Infinity Ward 2.0 puts in Modern Warfare 3. I can honestly say that I play wagers matches just about as much as I play the regular multiplayer, which I'll talk about next.
Player V. Player Multiplayer
Call of Duty's competitive multiplayer is what has catapulted the series to a status that no other series has ever held. This time around everything you loved is back, some things are changed, more has been added, but most importantly it is more balanced. The game modes have not changed at all since Modern Warfare 2. Search and Destroy is still the same exhilarating experience it has always been. There are 3 standouts for me in the multiplayer that Treyarch has crafted . Firstly the game feels much more balanced and "fair" than it did in Modern Warfare 2. Perks have been weakened, removed, or strengthened after millions of hours of testing by MW 2 players, and it really shows in Black Ops. The multiplayer has a sense of balance that I've never seen in a shooter, let alone a multiplayer as complex as COD, and it is nearly as balanced as a game like Starcraft 2, which is saying a lot. Everything just makes sense and is reasonable this time around. It seems like it will be much harder to take advantage of the system this time around. Secondly the maps are spectacular. I loved some MW 2 maps, but I really hated some with a passion, however Black Ops maps are all excellent and I haven't found one map that I dislike. The clear standout is Nuke Town, which is the best map in any COD game ever. Thirdly the customization that is available in this game is just really absurd. All the different emblems you can make, the different, colors you can wear, the different equipment, the killstreaks, it is all really overwhelming for someone who is playing it for the first time. You really feel like your character is real, and has his own unique style and loadout. Overall not much has changed in the multiplayer, but everything that wasn't right in MW 2, was fixed and or improved upon.
I came into Call of Duty Black Ops expecting an Epic Fail on the part of Treyarchs. Following up the #1 game of all time, 1 year later, is no easy feat, but they performed tremendously. The Single Player is the best in the sereis, the Zombie mode is extremely enjoyable, albeit not innovative, and the multiplayer is absurdly deep that it will keep preoccupied for...I dunno....maybe a year so until MW 2 comes out .
Anyone who loves shooters, probably has this game, but if you don't...jump in on the phenomenon.