Iâ€™ve been in a lot of wars. Iâ€™ve fought in World War II at least 12 times, Iâ€™ve killed combatants in both Gulf Wars, and Iâ€™ve saved the world from more future alien invasions than I can remember. That said, Iâ€™ve had very few chances to prove my worth in the small battles of the Cold War. Call of Duty: Black Ops finally gave me the opportunity to test the boundaries of Mutually Assured Destruction, and I came away from the title feeling more dÃ©tente than victorious.
Black Ops puts you in the role of Alex Mason, a CIA officer charged with a variety of covert actions against our Cold War nemeses. Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam are all places of interest for Mason, as is a Soviet work camp where you befriend an ex-Red Army soldier named Viktor Reznov. As the game progresses you find out that, much like an exploding cigar or modern art, things arenâ€™t necessarily as they seem. Unfortunately the story, while told in an interesting series of flashbacks, ends up becoming a predictable affair with some pacing issues. I wonâ€™t spoil the story, but it should have gotten to its point faster than it did. Luckily the game has some truly amazing moments, battles, and presentation that compensate for it.
Graphically the game is quite similar to previous Call of Duty games, though I applaud the decision to put dismemberment in the game. In previous titles an enemy with a grenade at his feet would simply be blown back by the explosion; it feels much more authentic when they lose limbs in the blast. None of it is overly gratuitous, so itâ€™s a nice touch. I also have to praise the excellent voiceovers in the game, performed by stars including Gary Oldman, Ice Cube, Ed Harris, and Sam Worthington, as well as the powerful soundtrack.
While the story is interesting and provides a decent challenge for about 8 hours, the real meat of the game comes in its myriad multiplayer modes. The usual team deathmatch, capture the flag, and deathmatches are all present, but new modes like Combat Training, where you and a friend can fight computer-controlled opponents on the various maps is a big help to people looking for some extra practice, as well as messing around with potential weapons loadouts. This is invaluable when combined with one of the most compelling features Iâ€™ve seen in a Call of Duty game: currency.
In multiplayer matches youâ€™re not only fighting for glory, but also for experience points and money. In Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, gaining new levels also unlocked new firearms that were readily available for your killing pleasure. In Black Ops, you have to work a bit harder to get your shiny new death machines. While you still unlock the guns as you kill more enemies and win more matches, you merely unlock the ability to purchase them with your hard-earned cash. Not only does this make the guns you unlock that much more satisfying to use, but you also have to budget for which gun you want, and which scopes, grenade launches,Â or silencers youâ€™ll get with it. Luckily Black Ops developer Treyarch added even more ways to earn that extra cash for that flamethrower attachment youâ€™ve been drooling over.
In addition to earning money for winning matches, there are â€œcontractsâ€ you can purchase each day for a chance to get extra money. Some of these are easy goals, like killing 5 people in one match, or winning two matches during 40 minutes of playtime. However there are much harder ones with much larger rewards, like killing 5 enemies with headshots during one match. Also included in the game are wager matches, where you can bet on your ability to place well in a match. This does run the painful risk of losing all your money, but just like any bet, you stand to gain a lot.
The beloved Nazi Zombies mode from Treyarchâ€™s previous Call of Duty game, World at War, makes a return for more zombie killing fun, with one of the greatest twists in the history of gaming. Though itâ€™s only for one level, the Nazi zombies invade the Pentagon, and the only hope is the team of:
John F. Kennedy
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
Cuban President Fidel Castro
And a man whoâ€™s no stranger to zombies: Richard Nixon. Their one liners are an absolute scream and getting to play as Tricky Dick was a goofy thrill.
Despite the many great things Black Opsâ€™ multiplayer does, there are some issues that hold it back from being truly elite. First, while you can test the waters with your weapons in Combat Training, it would have been nice to also have a firing range with all the weapons available so you could quickly compare your arms. Next, while the unlockable perks provide different abilities for players, it feels like certain combinations provide an unfair edge to veteran players fighting newbies. Facing opponents with superior guns, built-in abilities (albeit chosen ones), and better extras makes a lot of early matches frustrating rather than fun, and even later matches can feel unbalanced.
Regardless, Call of Duty: Black Ops is a fun, if occasionally bumpy ride.Â Much like its Cold War setting, it has some great victories, a few pitfalls and embarrassments, but overall, you come away feeling satisfied.