You know that a gaming event is going to be huge when lavish launch parties are organised in capital cities and big Hollywood names are drafted in to voice-over some of the main characters. And when you add the phrase “Call of Duty”, you mentally start calculating profits in the mega-millions. But with all this hype and high-octane advertising, has this seventh outing of the FPS franchise managed to wow the fans who felt that Modern Warfare 2 was something of a disappointment?
Well there is evidence that Treyarch (who were responsible for Call of Duty 3 and Call of Duty: World at War) have taken note of some of the criticisms of the last outing, especially of the campaign storyline. The structure here is much more cohesive: you play as Black Ops veteran Alex Mason who has been captured and is being interrogated by unknown people who are urgently trying to uncover the secret knowledge in his head that might prevent a catastrophe.
This provides the platform to flit back and forth in time, replaying all the key conflicts Mason was roped into in Vietnam, Cuba and Russia. So the player is encouraged to fit the pieces of the puzzle together as each mission is completed and there are some clever twists along the way. In terms of action, you’ll be guiding boats, vehicles and planes and mastering abseiling and stealth skills as well as the usual shooting through hordes of the enemy.
And believe us, there are legions of bad guys who don’t just pop out from obvious cover but will occasionally rush you, do barrel rolls and try to outflank you. The pace is frenetic from the off and unlike Medal of Honor where killed enemies stay dead, in Black Ops they’ll keep respawning until you’ve managed to push through to the next checkpoint.
The Call of Duty games have always been known for their imaginative visuals and some of the imagery in Black Ops is truly stunning, such as exploding towers on the banks of a jungle river in Vietnam, a wrecked ship with a deadly cargo frozen in Arctic ice, American military helicopters swarming over a city on fire and a rocket exploding off a launch pad. A lot of effort, too, has also gone into creating realistic combat moves and facial expressions using computer motion technology.
This significant improvement in the single player campaign is also matched by some new developments in multiplayer, always the most eagerly awaited aspect of the game. For newcomers wanting to come up to speed on Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch games, there’s Combat Training against bots, plus new Killstreaks using remote controlled explosive devices, choppers and Napalm Strikes.
What will ultimately make or break multiplayer gameplay in Black Ops, though, is the introduction of in-game COD points which once earned can either be used to upgrade equipment or be gambled in the brand new Wager Matches.
The aim is to end up in the top three in four new game modes: Gun Game, where you upgrade a weapon after every kill and you have to work your way through all 20; Sharp Shooter, where all players have the same weapon for 45 seconds before it’s randomly changed; One in the Chamber, where you have one bullet for the kill and must fall back on melee weapons if you fail; and finally Sticks and Stones, which restricts you to just three unusual weapons (explosive crossbows, tomahawks and ballistic knives).
It all makes for much more strategic thinking as well as lightning-fast reactions and you have 14 maps to explore, including a Fifties style Nuke Town complete with dummies.
No-one can accuse Call of Duty: Black Ops of being limited in gameplay options. In addition to all of the above, there’s also a Theatre mode that will allow you to replay and edit your best victories, plus those pesky Nazi zombies from World at War reappear in three incarnations as a four-player co-op, two-player split-screen and even as an unlockable top-down arcade version called Dead Ops. It may well be that Treyarch have managed the impossible and made the best sequel in the Call of Duty canon to date.