Call of Duty: Black Ops review – a tale of two shooters

Back in black? Our verdict on Treyarch and Activision’s Cold War sales apocalypse. Xbox 360 version tested.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, November 22, 2010

At the risk of expounding on the obvious, perspective is crucial to CoD’s appeal. The first-person view is typically praised as a means of “immersing” player in world, but its strength, I’d argue, is that it limits what can be seen and known of that world. Without those limits, and without the accompanying stew of special effects – motion smear, concussed audio, desaturation, camera judder and, of course, damage spatter – you’d soon notice the way environments unfailingly contract to rabbit warrens, or the Pop-Up book tepidness of the AI. In the case of Black Ops, you’d also notice that the textures and models are lacklustre – far from ugly, but not on par with Modern Warfare 2. It’s perhaps telling in this regard that the new Theater Mode, which allows online games to be recorded and edited into movies, is not available in the campaign.

One of the aforesaid nursemaids. He's no Soap MacTavish.

With aching predictability, Black Ops multiplayer is leaps and bounds ahead of Black Ops single player. Fans of World at War will know exactly what to expect: varied, well-balanced, replay-friendly maps, a triumphal procession of modes including subtly distinguished shades of deathmatch and objective capture/defence, tongue-in-cheek zombie survival co-op, and a system of unlocks dozens of hours deep. What they won’t be expecting is the new currency system – fresh evidence that Treyarch, often pigeon-holed as a poor man’s Infinity Ward, has a lot of unacknowledged flair.

While the broad strokes of the online component, like the option to customise loadouts, passive abilities or “perks” and killstreaks rewards, are automatically unlocked by churning away at the experience treadmill, individual weapons, gear, perks and killstreak rewards must be bought with “CoD points”. Within the constraints of a player’s level, this gives more flexibility in terms of tailoring a style – if you want a grenade launcher early, go right ahead and buy one – but the exciting bit is less what you earn as how you earn it.

As with bog-standard experience, performing certain actions in-game carries a cash payout, be it curbing somebody’s killstreak or avenging a team-mate, but you can also buy into Contracts – private objectives, like killing 25 players with a SPAS in 40 minutes – for a fat wad. It’s a fantastic way of scaling the proceedings, allowing veterans to raise the stakes during otherwise run-of-the-mill throwdowns without walling out the greenhorns.

Check out my eight ball.

And it doesn’t stop there. There are also “Wager Matches”, a four-mode suite built entirely round the betting of CoD points using preset load-outs. “One in the Chamber” is the jewel in the crown – a masterstroke of reduction, giving six players a knife, pistol and single bullet apiece, with extra bullets awarded per body dropped. Intimidating as it sounds, and as tense as it can feel (background music has been wisely removed), it’s actually rather a good pick for newbies, unable to find their feet amid the strafing and spraying of big team deathmatch.

“Sticks and Stones” is the opposite, a seasoned commando’s favourite where landing a kill by crossbow bolt or ballistic knife fattens your bank balance, but scoring a hit with the slow but lethal Tomahawk empties that of the victim. It’s an experience ripe in forehead-smacking reversals, as front-runners find themselves abruptly penniless at the hands of an axe-wielding pack.

“Gun Game” and “Sharpshooter”, finally, play on the breadth of the arsenal. The former rotates your weapon every 45 seconds, leading to further aggravating switchbacks as SMGs morph into sniper rifles, grenade launchers into crossbows. The latter doles out a different gun for every kill, while knife blows knock the target down to the previous selection. Both compliment the competitive offerings by schooling participants in the use of less popular weapons (far more effectively, in fact, than Combat Training, a new beginner’s skirmish mode which caters to any combination of players and ‘bots).

Much as we've laid into the single player, Kennedy and Castro make for pretty sweet credit-roll unlocks.

I can only wish the craftsmanship and ingenuity so conspicuous here were as conspicuous in the campaign. Black Ops reveals a franchise travelling in two directions at once, simultaneously more relevant than ever and among the most redundant of shooters. Offline, it’s a place for narrative cliches and smelly old design tropes to cool their heels; online, it manages to add something to FPS standbys and pursue revolutionary angles. The divide is by no means unique to Call of Duty – Medal of Honor, Battlefield and even Halo show similar signs of internal stress – but it’s one that Call of Duty, as the genre’s biggest name, must resolve. And until it does, it’ll have to settle for losing a couple of points.

8 out of 10

3 Responses to “Call of Duty: Black Ops review – a tale of two shooters”

  1. HairyArse says:




  2. Chase Moore says:

    Thank god, an honest review for this game. Not written by a gamer that’s “hypnotized” by the Call of Duty Franchise. Activision will ruin this series eventually by making the same game every year, with a few tweaks. They did it with guitar hero and tony hawk games, and they’ll do it with this series. The hype is at a high just like it was when guitar hero 3 was back when it first came out. They will just keep wearing and wearing it down, till it’s stripped of every last dollar they can squeeze out of it.

  3. jfrmetal says:

    esse jogo foi uns dos melhores da epoca eu acho q ele so fica atraz do moh 2010!


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