Call of Duty: Black Ops is the seventh iteration of the series, which has become an annual event since the beginning of this generation. As a billion-dollar franchise, there will be no end until a cultural fatigue sets in. What is apparent, after playing Black Ops, is that while the Call of Duty series is in its prime right now, its appeal could very quickly wane. All it’ll take will be one failure and the franchise will need a “reboot” (things are already turbulent for the upcoming Modern Warfare 3; to be released later this year). For now, the incentive of non-stop explosions and war-themed violence is enough to keep a certain demographic enthralled. Call of Duty: Black Ops is still a solid game mechanically speaking, even if it’s a bit stifled in terms of innovation and maturity.
Black Ops is Treyarch’s semi-sequel to 2008’s WWII-themed World at War. Set in 1968, during the height of the Cold War, you predominantly play as Alex Mason, a SOG operative, who is being interrogated by a group of shadowy men behind a one-way glass. They question him about a mysterious and highly toxic nerve gas named Nova-6. Mason is forced to recount various missions he had engaged in during the seven years prior. Such events include the Bay of Pigs, the Battle of Khe Sanh, and the Tet Offensive, among others. The story is over-the-top and in no way grounded in reality. There are also several anachronisms regarding weapons, gear, and even the use of “Fortunate Son” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” As usual for a Call of Duty game, the production values are incredibly strong which helps the campaign’s presentation. Notable voice talents include Gary Oldman, Ed Harris, and Sam Worthington. All are quite good and lend a gruff presence to their characters. However as Alex Mason, Mr. Worthington’s American accent slips a number of times. The story is a little more comprehensible than last year’s Modern Warfare 2. The villain’s motivations are clearer, and it also ends more resolutely (even if the final shot is too jingoistic). The story is best when not taken at all seriously.
The core mechanics are identical to past games’ with a few refinements. Compared to Treyarch’s last outing, grenade spamming has been mitigated. Unlike Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops doesn’t completely obscure the screen with blood when your character is injured, instead it sticks to the sides of the screen. The campaign contains less insta-killling, due to significantly less enemy respawning. When sprinting the player may press the squat button, which allows for a dive. A welcome addition, unfortunately there are instances where you might not know where you’re actually landing. This may inadvertently put you over or around cover.
Other than these few tweaks, Black Ops’s gameplay is verbatim Call of Duty, the frame rate is high, the combat is the fast, the action is frantic, the explosions are plentiful, and the violence is at an all time high. Like the campaign, multiplayer contains all of the traditional Call of Duty elements. There is still ranking, there is leaving up, and there are still perks. Item acquisition is more ergonomic now thanks to the COD point system, an in-game currency that allows players to buy weapons, attachments, equipment, perks, decals, etc. One of the many follies of Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer was that to unlock weapon attachments certain tasks had to be performed while the weapon was in hand. For example in MW2, to unlock a red dot scope for an assault rifle, the player would have to perform 25 kills with that weapon. It’s like being forced to drive your car a certain distance before you’re allowed to have tires on the wheels. This new system allows you to have your customized gun from the get-go, providing you have the cash. There are still task-related unlocks that mostly pertain to perks. For example, to unlock “Hardline Pro,” which allows the contents of a care package to be switched, three tasks must be preformed while equipped with Hardline: earn 7 killstreaks in one match, get 7 kills in one match without dying, and share 10 care
packages with a fellow teammate. So while certain in-game unlocks remain, the bare essentials have been made more accessible. It is also worth noting that most of the maps are more intuitive than they have been in the past.
Since Call of Duty is now an annual event, it is very hard for Black Ops to add any genuine surprises. However, judged based on it’s own merits, Black Ops stands up formidably enough when compared to its predecessors. The story, while over the top, is coherent enough. Though it does provide more thrills than actual tension. The gameplay is strong but has been for several years now. Multiplayer has been refined. The biggest problem is that the Call of Duty series is starting to look like it’s in a creative rut. It’s as consistent as war itself.