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Call of Duty: Black Ops

Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 18 (Lan/Split Screen/Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Shooter/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Beautiful, detailed surroundings? Check. Engaging, compelling storyline? Check. Lots of frenetic multiplayer modes? Check. Awesome single player campaign? Check. Kitchen sink? Check. Call of Duty: Black Ops brings it, seriously. If you are a fan of the series and are hoping for the next great shooter to come in the form of the latest iteration of the Call of Duty series, you've found it here.

Never has the world of Call of Duty been so colorful and beautiful. Your surroundings will take you from a decadent plantation in Havana to the lush jungles and dank rat tunnels of Vietnam to the cold, inner workings of the Pentagon to the vibrant rooftops of Hong Kong, and even to the icy underbelly of the U.S.S.R. And that's just the Single Player Campaign. In addition to these locales, multiplayer maps will include places like the famed Hanoi Hilton prison camp and Nuketown, which looks an awful lot like the nuclear testing area in the last Indiana Jones movie.

Character models are simply fantastic, whether it is Viktor Reznov's sweat-sheened face or certain historical characters of the time like JFK or Fidel Castro. If you have the added benefit of a 3DTV and glasses, you'll be treated to even more amazing visuals. I got the opportunity to check out one of the snow-covered levels in the U.S.S.R. on a 3D setup and everything simply pops.

Treyarch pulled out all of the stops to completely immerse you in the world during the Vietnam era. To that end, the voicework is simply stupendous. Once again, Gary Oldham reprises his amazing role as Viktor Reznov from Call of Duty: World at War. Sam Worthington (Avatar) takes on the role of your character, Black Ops agent Alex Mason, while Ed Harris gives voice to your hardened CIA handler, Jason Hudson. Finally, your compadres Bowman and Woods are voiced by Ice Cube and James C. Burns, respectively. When you get your first look at Bowman, tell me Ice Cube wasn't the complete inspiration for Bowman's character, from his looks to his attitude. Perfection.

There's a rousing soundtrack accompanying your missions, along with a handful of licensed songs to put you in the Vietnam era mood like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" and The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." If you stick it out through the long round of credits, you'll hear Eminem and Pink's "Won't Back Down." Sound is definitely a strong suit of Call of Duty: Black Ops, with only one exception: there are times when background soldiers will yell things out and it can obliterate what one of the main characters is saying, causing you to miss crucial information on how to progress in a mission. While this will contain a spoiler, you'll be happy you didn't waste 30 minutes on trying various methods to get past this area, none of which work. Read on... Case in point - you're on a hill with your men and the VC are charging upon you. One of your men mumbles something about some napalm barrels, but doesn't tell you that you actually have to run up to said barrels placed strategically on the hill, stab them with your knife, light 'em up and kick 'em down the hill. All of this is accomplished by simply pressing (X), but you can shoot those barrels until the end of time and nothing will happen. This path just wasn't at all intuitive and it elicited many complaints from the group I was with who were reviewing the game. This isn't the only time characters were talking on top of one another, but it was the most obvious and annoying time.


Anyone who knows me knows I go for the Single Player Campaign over Multiplayer anytime, but Call of Duty: Black Ops has got you covered six ways to Sunday, regardless of your preference. The Single Player Campaign offers about 10 hours of gameplay and has the single most compelling storyline I've ever played through. You are Alex Mason, a Black Ops agent who gets ensnarled in a plot to assassinate Castro that goes horribly wrong, only to discover there are much greater parties at work. It seems Maj. Gen. Nikita Dragovich, who led Petrenko and Reznov in earlier times, is back and he is out to do the U.S. serious harm with a dangerous weapon called NovaSix. The storyline will take you back and forth through time as Mason has been captured by an unknown force and is being brutally questioned about his knowledge on Dragovich, the plot against Castro and his time in a Russian prison camp following his initial capture. All Mason really knows is that he can't get this string of numbers out of his head and he feels like he's going slowly crazy. Sound a little familiar, Losties?

Your travels will take you all over the world and even back in time to when Petrenko and Reznov served together, for some chilling backstory. Sure, there's plenty of shooting to be had, but you'll sometimes get behind the wheel of a car, motorcycle, boat and even an SR71 and a Hinds helicopter! You might be sneaking through a rat tunnel silently killing the VC, or you might be running and gunning and rappelling down a mountain. You may have to look through specialized goggles and guide a missile to its target, or you may be the eye in the sky for your team, observing them in infrared and making sure they don't get wiped out. There's so much crammed into the Single Player alone and it all wraps up in an amazing conclusion that will run a wicked chill down your spine.

Multiplayer is no slouch either. A new type of match that is introduced is the Wager Match. Here, up to 6 players participate, everyone waging bets. Upon completion of the match, the top three earn money and the bottom three earn nothing. Play poorly and you can really lose your tail on this one. There are 4 game types: Sharpshooter, Gun Game, One in the Chamber and Sticks and Stones. Sharpshooter is a blast and has everyone using the same weapon at the same time, with that weapon cycling to a different gun every 45 seconds - talk about evening the playing field. Gun Game starts you at the bottom of the gun ladder with a plain pistol and with each kill you earn, you get a better weapon. One in the Chamber starts you with one bullet and three lives. Make a kill and earn another bullet. Needless to say, I didn't last long in this game type, but it was actually quite fun to become a spectator, watching some of the players' techniques after they killed me off. Another really fun game type was Sticks and Stones where your weapons consisted only of a Tomahawk, a ballistics knife and a crossbow with sticky explosives on the end. What satisfying fun it is to nail someone with a sticky bomb and know they can't get away from the inevitable. The maps are just beautiful, bursting with lush color and detail and with lots of little hiding spots. Stop and admire the scenery for too long and you die. And I did.

Additionally, all of your favorite modes and more are back. Variants on Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, King of the Hill - you've come to the right place because it's all here. Perks are back again as well and for those uninitiated into the Multiplayer world, there's a mode called Combat Training where you can work your way through the various maps, earning perks as you go, but playing against bots instead of people. It's very customizable, so you can start with lots of friends and only one or two enemies and work through the ranks, earning better weapons and perks.

If you're the type that likes to showboat, Theater Mode is right up your alley. Here, you can record your gameplay in multiplayer, or fashion it into machinima and upload it into the community stockpile for all to see. What's more, once anyone uploads anything to the community, it is fair game to download, edit and repost. You can do small clips or full films where you change the camera angles and completely customize the viewing experience. Tweakers and amateur filmmakers should really get a kick out of this.

Yes, Zombies are back! Not only that, you can enjoy Zombies in more ways than one now. You'll have the Theater Level, which is great fun with lots of rooms to explore. There's another level taking place in a secretive area of the Pentagon that you'll unlock upon completing the game. Watch the credits and get ready for an awesome cut scene before jumping into this mode. Finally, there's the Dead Ops Arcade Mode (DOA. Get it?) Here, you'll find all of the zombie-razing fun you could want, in a top-down shooter form a la this summer's Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. There are multiple levels to explore and numerous paths, loaded will outlandish weapons, lots of arcade-y gems, gold and goodies to pick up and of course, lots and lots of zombies. This mode is a blast to play and it's clear the team had a lot of fun creating it. It's a full-on mode, too, not just a level or two. All of the Zombies levels can be played with 1 - 4 players co-op and are a great added value after you've beaten the game. Dead Ops Arcade is something you have to open up by finding it hidden in the game, so think outside of the box. Dead Ops Arcade isn't the only secret lurking around, either. Find the right spot and you can open lots of cool stuff, including the complete game of Zork. See what I mean by kitchen sink?


There are four difficulty levels for you to select from: Recruit, Regular, Veteran and Hardcore. In the Single Player Campaign, the difficulty while on Recruit is dialed way back, but that doesn't mean it will be a breeze, by any means. Certain parts are still a bit challenging, but it will take far more hits for you to die and enemies will go down for the count much quicker. This is a good place for you to start if you aren't familiar with FPS titles. Most folks will feel right at home in the Regular difficulty setting. The pace is brisk, but not overwhelming. The only place I had trouble was when the game saved my checkpoint while I was in a vehicle on fire and every time I came back, I'd die again very quickly. Ugh. At any point in the game, you can dial back the difficulty to a lower level, but be aware that this will alter your game and you will not be able to raise it back up again later. There's only one game save, so be careful with that. If the flaming car happens to you, just do yourself a favor and restart the level.

Those who want a little more spice can try Veteran. The enemies take more shots to kill and you will die quicker, but I didn't notice any change in the number of the enemies, nor in their behavior. The same goes for Hardened, but this difficulty setting is freakin' brutal. Prepare to get your ass kicked repeatedly. There's a reason the character depicting the Hardened difficulty level looks like a flaming corpse.

Naturally, depending on who you play with in multiplayer, your experience will vary. As I said earlier, you can customize Combat Training and also change the difficulty levels as you can in Single Player.

Game Mechanics:

Controls feel pretty good, even for me, since I am more accustomed to the control scheme of the PS3. (LB) and (RB) control your grenades/ flashbangs/ smoke grenades, and you'll use (LT) as your aim/targeting and (RT) to shoot. (Y) switches weapons, (X) is used to interact with people and things, (B) is for crouch/prone position and (A) is your jump button. Your D-pad will be used occasionally to swap to a big, bad weapon you may have access to at the time, but isn't used very often. Your Left Analog Stick is used to control your character and the Right Analog Stick to move the camera; pretty standard stuff. My only personal complaint is my hands are small and I would find myself often accidentally launching a grenade, only to run into it since it was unintentional.

As in the past, there are 3 pieces of Intel scattered throughout each of the 14 levels in Single Player for a total of 42 possible collectibles. Once you have collected all of the Intel for a level, you can go in and view it and it contains all sorts of background info on the storyline and the players for that level. All pertinent info and pictures have been redacted, so anyone can go in and "see" the potential Intel without actually getting any info. Once you've actually collected all three of the Intel pieces from a level, when you go in, at first things are redacted, but the black lines slowly fade away to reveal all of the goodies within. It's not a big thing, but just another flourish the team put on the game.

You'll notice the game did not receive a perfect score and here's why, although it was darn close. There's the previously mentioned audio snafu (napalm barrels) that caused me to lose more time than I would have liked in the game. Then, there's a point where you are piloting a boat down a river in Vietnam. You have to destroy another boat, gunning for your life. Well, I destroyed it and right after that, strangely enough, an RPG missile (not the gun, just the missile, like a deadly firecracker) was hovering above my boat, for the rest of my journey down the river. I'm not sure why it happened, and it was comical, but it was still an odd graphical glitch.

All in all, I couldn't be happier with Call of Duty: Black Ops (previous tiny complaints aside). This game is as close to perfect as it gets and is definitely Game of the Year material, as far as I am concerned. Highly recommended. Go buy it now, if you can find it on the shelves, and I'll see you in Zombies Mode!

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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