Xbox 360 Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops

Can Treyarch finally raise the stakes on the battlefield?

I have to admit, I always found it a weird arrangement that Infinity Ward and Treyarch would work on two separate COD games so they would release one year after the next. Now it looks like it’s going to get even weirder with a third team making their own COD (and rumour suggests it’s be set in space) But let’s move away from that and see if Treyarch can finally make a Call of Duty game that is worthy of the name…

After the immense success of Modern Warfare 2, it would seem impossible and foolhardy to try and top it. But Treyarch tried and although not nearly as good as MW2, Black Ops is a surprisingly good attempt. It has a gripping campaign, the Zombies mode returns, multiplayer is addictive as ever and there’s even a hidden arcade game. It’s a great package that is more than worthy of the price tag.

The campaign is set during the Vietnam War, but the story is told through a series of flashback sequences. You are Mason, a soldier that is tied up in an interrogation room and asked what a series of numbers mean. It results in a story full of twists and turns that focus on a deadly virus known as Nova 6. It’s well thought out and I was gripped from start to finish just on the story alone. The gameplay itself remains strictly the same, but with some small changes.

For example, now when you run and hold down B you’ll dive into cover (or at least attempt to). You also control a number of vehicles including bikes and helicopters. You also get to manually steer rockets to hit tanks and other objects. It’s also an incredibly brutal game, full of gore and some of the most gruesome deaths I’ve seen such as pulling the pins of grenades from a soldier and see him being blown apart. You can even blow enemies’ legs off with a magnum…perhaps a bit too much, really.

The campaign is surprisingly long and will have you coming back to hunt down Intel and complete the game on Veteran, but also to obtain the level-specific achievements. The single player is definitely where I found myself enjoying Black Ops the most and shows just how far Treyarch has come since the horrible days of Call of Duty 3.

The infamous Zombies mode returns across two maps. The first is a castle-type level that is clearly inspired by the likes of Wolfenstein. The second is called Five and is set at the Pentagon, but you hilariously play as Kennedy, Nixon, Castro and McNamara. Everything you do earns cash which can go towards buying weapons, but also unlocking doors to progress further into the levels. It’s actually incredibly tough, especially since one achievement asks you to buy ALL the weapons in one attempt. I can say that I’ve come nowhere near getting this as it’s brutally hard and the players I’ve come across on Live simply get killed quickly.

Multiplayer retains all the modes and standard gameplay that has made it a huge success, but levelling up is quicker and you end up buying perks with cash earned from matches. You can also place wagers on how well you’ll do in a match to earn even more money. It’s an interesting idea, but might annoy those who preferred to get perks in the traditional way. It’s still good fun, but newcomers will struggle against those who have been playing since launch as they’ll have better loadouts and whatnot, but it wont take long to be able to challenge them.

Hidden away in the menus is an arcade game called Dead Ops Arcade. It’s essentially Zombies but in the style of Smash TV with two-stick controls for walking and shooting. It’s actually incredibly addictive and could easily have been released as a standalone game on XBLA, but it just adds to the value of the game.

There are some amazing visuals to be found in Black Ops. FMV sequences may give you a seizure, but they are brilliant to watch. The framerate rarely drops and the gore is brilliant (if a little OTT at times). The engine should be looking dated by now, but it still holds up and shows what other FPS’ need to compete with in the graphics department. Voice-acting is superb and the soundtrack is a great mixture of action powered tunes to Sympathy for the Devil and Fortunate Son to fit in with the Vietnam feeling.

The Verdict

I was cautious with Black Ops and thought it was going to be a huge disappointment. How wrong was I? Ok it isn’t as good as MW2, but it’s still a great game with a gripping campaign, addictive multiplayer and a fun arcade game. I look forward to the future DLC that will hopefully add more Zombie maps and maybe even a second arcade game. Well done Treyarch, you’ve surpassed all expectations.