Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

Treyarch steps up to the plate with their latest installment in the Call of Duty series. Can it keep the lineup fresh and exciting, or will this one blow over like the cold war era it's based on?

When Black Ops was announced earlier this year, I was in the small crowd of people who didn't jump up and down in excitement of another CoD title. Don't get me wrong, I was intrigued by the idea of a game that explored an even deeper level of secret missions carried out by whatever personality they introduced to us, but honestly I was a bit skeptical about Treyarch taking another crack at the series. I absolutely loved CoD2, but their most recent contribution (World at War) was not one of my favorites even though it did a few things right. As more details leaked out, the more it looked like Treyarch was bringing a lot of their previous game to the table, which didn't do much to calm my concerns for playing a game that looked to be World at War 2.0. Now that launch day is here and we've had a chance to play for a little while, let's take a look at how Black Ops stacks up against its tough brand name.

Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place in the Vietnam/Cold War era, and mostly follows the fragmented memories of agent Alex Mason. The game strays from Mason on a few occasions, giving you a long list of names to keep track of, but ultimately everything stays on course and the main antagonists persist throughout. Black Ops feels very much like a 4th generation Call of Duty game, but Treyarch has expanded on a few layers to separate them from the pack. Most notably the levels where your survival depends on the ability to keep a hazmat suit from becoming damaged and leaking a deadly toxin into your lungs or others that require a higher mix of vehicle operation to make it out alive. If you've played through the campaign of any Modern Warfare title, the cutscenes will seem familiar, but have an added level of psychedelic goodness attached as Mason's interrogators repeatedly quiz you about your memories and a set of numbers that have no apparent meaning.

Controls for the game maintain the same default layout of the series with one exciting addition called the 'Dive to Prone' maneuver. Execution is simple enough, press the prone button while sprinting to have your player dolphin dive into the prone position. Originally I was excited to try this out in objective-based multiplayer game types until I realized that changing directions mid-dive was possible and you could use that to your advantage in normal deathmatch modes. While weapons from the era are recreated with a substantial amount of detail, you should notice that recoil has been pulled back quite a bit and environmental variables like wind, rain, and snow won't have a great deal of effect on your ability to hit targets. While some might argue that this takes away from the immersion of a game, they never really got to me during the campaign and multiplayer doesn't really need these adjustments for proper balancing. Vehicles remain as simple as ever to control, most with their own heavy artillery that requires no accuracy to level a parking lot. Whether you love or hate them it's quite simple to demolish everything in your path.

While Treyarch has probably squeezed just about every conceivable ounce of performance out of the games visual performance, it's not a huge graphical leap away from the MW series. Characters in the game have definitely been polished, and on the PS3 version I would say that they are on the same level of detail as some of the characters from the last Uncharted title (look it up, it's beautiful). On the flip side of that, certain aspects of scenery and vehicle models often showed signs of the engines age and didn't do much to raise the bar in this area. Other whiz-bang items like explosions and the games ability to deal with highly complex scenes picked up a few points, but overall it left me with the feeling that someone will have to develop the next generation CoD engine before we see any jaw dropping enhancements.