Call of Duty: Black Ops review
Available for
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii
Call of Duty: Black Ops

Reviewed by Jeff Morgan


y now, you’ve likely seen the numbers. “Call of Duty: Black Ops” quickly became the biggest entertainment release of all time. It made $360 million in the first 24 hours, and $650 million over the subsequent five-day period. The game is huge, and far be it from me to claim otherwise. I thought the campaign was underwhelming, but I don’t think anyone buys a game from the “Call of Duty” franchise thinking about playing alone. The real draw for the series, which holds true for “Black Ops,” is the multiplayer experience – an experience Treyarch has honed in the wake of the Infinity Ward scandals.

In “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” players make the return to near-present day, gaining access to the advanced weaponry I missed in “World at War.” RPG launchers, fly-by-wire rockets, SR-71 Blackbirds – they all make an appearance in “Black Ops,” as weapons and kill-streak bonuses. “Black Ops” got some tweaks under the hood as well, as Treyarch pushed for a more balanced and varied play experience than players saw in “Modern Warfare 2.” From my perspective, “Black Ops” obliterates any reason you may have had to keep playing “Modern Warfare 2,” and if you take a look at your local Craigslist postings, you’ll probably find quite a few gamers suddenly willing to part with it for cheap.

One of the first things long-time CoD fans will notice is the perk and killstreak overhaul. Players can only receive three of a whole slew of customizable killstreak bonuses over the course of a game, which really limits the appearance of those 50-2 games. They still happen, but it’s rare, and it does feel possible to kill the guy on one of those without getting mauled by dogs mere seconds after you respawn. As for perks, some have been removed, some have been renamed, and they’ve generally been swapped around to make more balanced combinations in place of the must-have loadouts from previous iterations of the game.

I was really happy to see that almost every perk and killstreak was available from the start, though you’ll have to level up for some of the guns. “Black Ops” introduced the “Call of Duty Point” system, which allows players to purchase weapons, perks, and killstreaks along with customizations for each custom class. This makes the game much more approachable from a casual perspective. Though I got a chance to crackhead this game a bit over the weekend, I don’t have time to spend hours grinding prestige. I still want access to the Hardline perk or to buy the Rolling Thunder bombing killstreak bonus, though, and “Black Ops” allows me to get those things fairly quickly. Each of the perks also has a “pro” version that can be unlocked by completing a series of challenges (tip: make sure you purchase the “pro” version upgrade once you’ve completed your achievements in the perks section of your custom class loadout). It’s a simple mechanic, but it gives the player something interesting to do in the game and adds flavor to the overall experience.

“Black Ops” is filled with that kind of spice, which makes the game a helluva lot of fun. In standard multiplayer, players have access to contracts, mini-missions you can complete for bonus CoD points each round. There are always three contract slots available with multiple contract choices for each slot, so you could be going for three kills without dying, a round in which you end with more kills than deaths, and a spree of three headshots without dying, all in the same round. Complete those and you can select new contracts or wait for the reset timer on your current batch. The contract list is rotated daily, so you should always have something new to shoot for. The contracts help the games feel lively, and it actually works to shift the experience away from kill, kill, win, kill, kill, lose. I actually try to make sure I’m getting my headshots or using the ballistic knife as often as possible when I have an active contract.

If you’re anything like me, standard deathmatch won’t cut it all the time. Game modes like Capture the Flag and Domination make an appearance, but there are also some crazier options in the Wager Match section of online play. Wager Matches allow players to bet CoD points on their success in a mix of wacky gametypes. My favorite is probably Sticks and Stones, where your only weapons are a crossbow, the ballistic knife, and a tomahawk. You get points for kills and can reset your opponent’s point counts by killing them with a tomahawk throw. The other games are similarly unconventional, which again, adds a level of variety we haven’t seen before. I know, the zombies did make for some quality gaming, and they make a return in “Black Ops,” with a few additions.

The only part of my “Black Ops” experience I haven’t enjoyed are the occasional bugs with the multiplayer system. When the host of a game disconnects it’s possible to occasionally get dropped completely, losing any progress you may have in that game. Individual latency can also have strange effects. Often a lagging player jumps all over the map and might manage to kill you before you can pin him down. It’s a rare occurrence, but a frustrating one in any case.

Those small frustrations aside, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” has been my most enjoyable CoD experience to date, and the best console shooter I’ve seen in several years. It manages to bridge the gap between serious and casual gamers, giving anyone and everyone something to enjoy.

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