Treyarch have not had a good track record with the Call of Duty series. Many gamers have generally preferred the efforts of Infinity Ward. Does their latest attempt, Black Ops, change anything? Not only is it Treyarch's best Call of Duty game, it is quite possibly the most immersive and jaw dropping in the whole series.
The game starts with your character, Mason, strapped into a chair in front of many TVs, each with different clips being played. Not only is this the setting between most of the levels, but it's a clever interactive main menu. One of the TV sets displays the options, which is nothing unusual. But move the right stick and you can look around the room. You can see your arms and legs strapped in, with flecks of blood on your clothes. It's a refreshing concept for the menu screen and if you know what to do, has some really cool hidden features.
The first level has you in Cuba in 1961. You and two allies are in a bar, gathering information from a local and making plans to assassinate Fidel Castro. In the first few minutes you are told these plans and instantly thrown into the action. The game doesn't let up on the action the whole way through, and sees you visiting many continents to complete special missions spanning a decade.
In the game you will do many things that have never been done before in a Call of Duty game. Be it riding motorcycles, firing explosives from a man powered slingshot or swimming silently to assassinate the occupants of a Vietcong boat. Black Ops introduces so many gameplay mechanics to the Call of Duty series, but the execution is so perfect that it never feels gimmicky.
A few missions set in Vietnam include some mind-blowing sections. For example, pilot an attack chopper, blowing up Vietcong bases and vehicles. But the most amazing, goosebump inducing section sees you driving a boat along a Vietnamese river, shooting rockets at soldiers and villages, with 'Sympathy for the Devil' by the Rolling Stones playing in the background. This sequence gave me shivers. Every level sees you doing something new, and you are never left disappointed. You are sucked into the world of Mason, Woods and Reznov, and you won't want to leave anytime soon.
The characters are really well developed and for the first time in the series, the player character actually speaks and has a face. For once we can empathise with the character. In past games there were no reactions to deaths, failures and victories. Now, Mason shouts along with what you are most likely feeling. But he doesn't get annoying. He's a perfectly constructed, terribly flawed hero. Woods, your main ally, is an all out action hero. He saves your life countless times and always has a plan. It's hard not to care for him as he is with you for the majority of the campaign. Reznov returns from World at War, but he is no longer the war hero that he used to be. Now he has been thrown into prison to rot. The first time you encounter him, he is leading the prisoners to overthrow the guards and escape the prison. He is seemingly invincible as time after time he escapes death to help you on your mission. The characters are vital to the story and without them, Mason would be nothing. Another character called Hudson is present throughout the story but only rears his head properly for the final few missions, in which he kicks ass and delivers some shocking truths.
The voice acting is also top notch. A-list actors voice the main characters. Sam Worthington as Mason, Gary Oldman as Reznov and Ed Harris as Hudson. With talent like this, the characters are really brought to life in an amazing way.
The Zombie mode from World at War returns, much to the delight of many fans. Two levels ship with the game (more are provided for purchasers of the Limited editions), and two is enough. Kino Der Toten, or Cinema of the Dead, is set in an old, destroyed and abandoned building. The second level, Five, is set in the Pentagon. It's pretty damn cool and if that isn't enough, you play as JFK. Bring in more players and they will control Nixon, Castro or McNamara. Whoever thought of the characters for this mode deserves a promotion. The Zombie mode works exactly the same as WoW. Gain points by killing zombies and buy new weapons and rooms with said points. Playing solo is fun, but lacks something. That something is allies. Throw in three more people online and the game really holds it's own. Worth it just to hear JFK talking about Zombie chowder.
Multiplayer is main reason a lot of gamers bought Black Ops. And it is incredible. No longer do you unlock items at a certain level. Now you can buy almost every weapon from any level. If you have the COD credits, that is. A new addition to the series, completing challenges, getting kills and bonuses all pay out a certain amount of credits alongside EXP. Then you can buy weapons, attachments, perks, equipment, killstreaks, emblems and playercard backgrounds. Phew. The online game is seriously customisable. Don't like the red dot sight? Replace the red dot with a pink heart. Not to your taste? How about a green skull? The multiplayer game is the deepest it has been in the series, without being overcomplicated. It adds almost RPG elements to the online experience and allows more than ever, the player to be truly unique. Multi layered emblems allow you to create masterpieces which can then be displayed on your weaponry. Another new feature is the ability to have your clan tag scratched into your gun. It's just aesthetics but is completely fun. Higher level players are given the ability to buy face paint. Being killed by someone with a skull drawn on their face is oddly creepy.
A new online mode sees you taking part in Wager matches. These see you betting your hard earned COD credits on special matches. The most fun and hectic variant is Gun Game, and sees every person start with a pistol. Get a kill and you'll get upgraded to the next weapon tier. The weapons get increasingly powerful and the game soon turns into a frenzy of explosions. Get a knife kill to demote the victim, back to the next tier down. Other modes see you with one bullet, and the only way to get another bullet is to get a kill. Miss with your only chance and you will be forced to use the knife. It's best to experience it first hand, and you will undoubtedly have a good time.
Some problems with spawn points and connectivity do sully the experience a bit, but hopefully Treyarch are working on fixes to make this the must have multiplayer game of the year.
A story so complete and satisfying to rival the original Modern Warfare and fantastically deep and engrossing multiplayer modes make this the most impressive and well made Call of Duty game in a long time. Cast aside your doubts about Treyarch. This is the game we've all been waiting for.
by Louis Gardner