Most fans of the Call of Duty series are familiar with what's on the line for the latest iteration of the franchise. Infinity Ward, creators of the Modern Warfare line of games, are officially out of Activision's picture, which leaves Treyarch as the main developer on the franchise. They have a long history in developing World War II games, but their experience in the 'modern' battlefield is relatively limited; an interesting situation as the stakes couldn't be higher. Bearing this in mind Black Ops can't necessarily be classified as Mission Accomplished.
Black Ops proudly breaks its gameplay elements down on the back of the box: Single Player, Multiplayer and Zombies. Single Player takes gamers on an 'epic' 90s style romp around the world, observing many of society's most notable wars. It's certainly exciting, and the main storyline has its own twists and turns. However, the offline campaign is again quite short and is filled with a long list of flaws.
First and foremost, the AI. It's awful on all accounts. Allies are naturally immortal, and are almost completely un-phased by enemy bullets. This doesn't mean that they can just walk through enemy fire, they will stumble around if they're shot enough, but most of the time the enemies are too busy firing at the player to even notice NPC allies. In fact, allies (often most useful as bullet shields) will take advantage of this fact and charge on ahead. Leaving players to pick up the remainder of the enemy troops. It can make things relatively hard on any player who isn't too grand at shooters, but what's perhaps worse about the situation is that it sometimes causes bugs.
For instance, if an ally charges headlong past all danger amid a constant wave of respawning enemies, there is a great chance that they'll get stuck at an objective point. This leaves players constantly fighting an endless wave of foes, and with multiple points in the game where this sort of sequence plays out it can get quite frustrating. If the player can't keep up they may find themselves stuck in a fight they can't win.
In the middle of all these issues is the storyline, which isn't particularly compelling to begin with. Anyone who was a fan of the Modern Warfare 2 plot should feel right at home, but those looking for a more coherent story experience may find themselves disappointed. It's hard to become attached to any of the characters, since the story is fleshed out through a series of battles with virtually no stops. The breakneck pace of the single player has the feel of one of those old action-packed 90s films, only minus the brief intervals that are used to flesh out things like 'storyline' and 'character development'. Swinging around from place to place certainly makes for a flashy graphical show-piece, but it doesn't give too much time for anything other than that.
Alternatively, the multiplayer options feel like an entirely different game together, but in a good way. The first thing that players will notice is that graphically, things have been completely toned down. It's still nice to look at, still very much lag free (for the most part), but with the enlargement of levels and the expansive detail they've put into each map, Treyarch has also taken upon toning down the graphics. The result is a game that may play better, but does lack a certain stylized finesse.
Instead of a ranking system which unlock guns upon the way, Treyarch has also tried something a little different with great success. At the end of each round (and possibly during if a challenge or objective is completed), players will earn fake cash which can be used to purchase weapons in game. Upgrades, custom details, attachments, perks and equipment are all handled in this manner, which means players get to customize their character from the start. Variations of weapons (such as assault rifles or light machine guns) are still unlocked through a separate ranking system, and once players reach max level it's possible to prestige back down to one (at the expense of 50,000 dollars).
Weapon tweaks and various new additions to gameplay, such as diving and the new kill streaks, all make the multiplayer a very engaging experience, and the new variety and customization options added could provide a little more of a positive experience for those who got bored with the first game. The only real disappointment is the lack of modes, new or otherwise. Many of the 'basic' modes such as Headquarters, Team Deathmatch or Demolition are still intact and grouped together with a pretty wide variety of game types. Anyone interested in hardcore modes however, will find the list sorely lacking in anything outside of Team Deathmatch and Demolition. Even more disappointing is the lack of any new game types, since clearly no thought at all was put in creating a list of already-existing custom games. It's peculiar, and leaves players completely short changed if they're looking to explore more than the basic modes or even just looking for something new to expect.
To counterbalance this, is the Zombie mode, which provides a lot of fun for players who are looking for a change. There are three default maps, with two others that can be unlocked. It's one of the more fun aspects of Black Ops as players are tested against odds that are progressively difficult over time. Like other 'Horde Mode' games, the most important aspect is teamwork, meaning that playing with friends is generally a lot more fun than playing online. Learning the layout of the levels, how they expand and what the best strategies are for killing zombies is something that never really gets old.
Graphically Black Ops splits two ways, single player mode and multiplayer mode. The first features some pretty impressive moments, and, as mentioned before, a wide range of locations for war-fans to enjoy. Online things are a little different, as the developers have traded environment detail for more expansive maps that allow players to kill one another virtually unfettered. A bad host will still slow things down, but as long as everyone's internet is ok players will be able to get along with a lot more explosions than ever before.
Unfortunately Black Ops doesn't really impress too much in the sound department, but this could be for a few reasons. As music is used to tie-in players to the pace and energy of the action, here the entire soundtrack could be completely stalled by the whiplash storyline. Naturally multiplayer is almost completely devoid of any sound save for the first few seconds of every match. There's nothing really to brag about here, but with such a stunning score marking each of the prior Call of Duty titles it's hard to really picture what went wrong.
Overall Black Ops is certainly a good game, though disappointing in a few surprising ways. It feels like Treyarch was desperately looking to make their mark on the 'modern warfare' style of first-person shooter, of which Infinity Ward were previously a leader. Multiplayer and Zombies mode certainly make-up for the weak single-player experience, but there is a very clear difference between Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 that some fans may not appreciate. Weapon balances and new multiplayer maps certainly make the game fun, but anyone looking for the 'quick scope' kills that the prior game had will be immediately disappointed. Perhaps Treyarch just needed a little more time to flesh out their work in the modern era, but for their first game based in a world with some very new weapons they did a decent job.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.