War. War never changes. Well at least it doesn’t in Activision’s universe. Back in 2007 the way we played first person shooters was changed forever (especially mulitplayer). What Infinity Ward did to the genre will go down in history. Never had an FPS captured the world’s imagination as it did. Fast forward three years, and to be fair very little has changed. Sure, Infinity ward is all but a memory and the men who thrust Modern Warfare in to our sweaty little hands have moved on to EA. But the now yearly franchise is still going strong.
Selling by the millions, all eyes were on Treyarch to see if they could carry the torch successfully. Not a stranger to the series, having developed Call of Duty 3 and World at War, it was still no easy task. Treyarch had always been considered the second rate developer, who did CoD in Infinity Wards ‘off years’. That all changed after World at War, which many people considered to be one of the best WW2 shooters out there.
Black Ops is a pseudo sequel to World at War. Set during events of the cold war in the 60’s and 70’s, the game starts off with your character, Mason strapped to a chair being tortured and interrogated for sensitive information by an unknown aggressor. As the torture continues, you take control of Mason as he recounts some of his past operations. From an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro to trying to prevent Soviet space rocket launches, it jumps from year to year as the interrogator gets closer to the information he seeks. There are a few missions where you are handed control over some of Mason’s fellow agents, but unlike past COD games, the main focus is on the one character.
It is a great way to get you to connect with the story, and I did find myself starting to feel for Mason and his plight, which is something that has been lacking in previous games in my opinion. Obviously, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep you on your toes and make things interesting. As you would expect from a Call of Duty game, it is tight and goes straight for the action; never a dull moment to be seen, the levels just fly by. The only real complaint is that Treyarch have stuck to the same old formula, never wanting to stray and upset anyone. There is the occasional level where you take control of a jeep or helicopter, but it isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before. It breaks up the game nicely, but it would have been great to see them try something new and stamp their mark on the series.
Now I could go on and on about how the game looks and sounds, but if you have played any of the last three games, then you know what to expect, great visuals, stunning sound and a solid framerate. This looks and feels as it should and as it has done for years. The big introduction this year is the addition of Stereoscopic 3D. Both the 360 and PS3 versions have it and it works really well. The PS3 benefits slightly as it will detect if you have a 3D TV and then set up the game accordingly. The 360 version requires you to set it up manually. However, once running they both look great and you feel that Treyarch have been working on it for ages (even if they only announced the support two months ago). It even works in multiplayer, which although it doesn’t give you a real edge on the competition, it does make you feel like you are playing better.
Unfortunately, along with the return of all the things that make Call of Duty great, the normal niggles also make their presence known. Checkpoint glitches, progression issues (when the game does something that prevents you from progressing through the level) and some slight problems with the snap-to aiming. Even though these things should have been ironed out by now, they don’t really spoil your enjoyment of the game as they don’t appear too often.
Now, on to the meat and potatoes: the multiplayer. As I mentioned before, very little has changed. But then why fix something if it isn’t broke? What Treyarch have done is change things around a little. All the main elements remain intact. You start at level one with just the basics. As you play more games online, you earn XP points that increase your level. And as you climb up the ranks you unlock more options, modes and equipment. All of the same game modes are present; Free-for-all, Team Deathmatch, SnD, Capture the flag, so on and so forth. All of the hardcore modes are back as well. The main difference is the way in which you can customise your loadouts.
Although unlocking weapons is still the same, when you unlock a gun all of the attachments become available for you to purchase. So instead of having to jump through hoops to get your favourite add-on, all you have to do is shell out some of your hard earned CP (CoD Points). These are earned by levelling up, completing tasks and challenges and by completing Contracts, another new addition to the MP. Once you have levelled up enough you will be able to take on three contracts at a time. You buy the contracts with CP and are allocated a set amount of game time to complete them.
These can be anything from winning a certain amount of games or killing a certain amount of enemies to making long distance kills. If you complete the task you are rewarded more CP. It’s kind of like betting on yourself. You can also make wagers with other players to win CP. It’s a system I really like, less time grinding and more time having fun with your ideal load outs. They have also added a few new Killstreak Rewards such as the RCXD and the Napalm Strike (one of my favourites) and any kills gained through a Killstreak Reward will no longer count towards your next reward. This means that your rewards are earned solely on your ability to stay alive and kill folks.
There is also the Combat Training mode. Think of it as multiplayer, but with Bots. It has the same levelling up system as normal multiplayer, but it cannot be carried over. However, it does mean that you (and your friends) can play a multiplayer game with a full quota of players without having to deal with annoying 14 year olds you know are better than you.
Add to that the extremely popular Zombie mode (which is unlocked from the start this time) and you have a complete multiplayer experience at your fingertips. There is also the Dead Ops hidden game (I’m sure if you haven’t already found it you can just Google it) which feels like a full on downloadable game for free and if you really want to feel old, you can search for Zork!
Black Ops is a solid addition to the Call of Duty franchise that really puts Treyarch on the map. You won’t get anything original out of it, but if you liked what came before, then you will have a blast. Given Activision’s previous record, this may be the last great Call of Duty game.
Review copy provided by publisher.