Jeff Markiewicz On December 9, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Call of Duty is now one of the powerhouse franchises in the industry and that was helped by its creator, Infinity Ward. But once the series went to an every year release, someone had to help them out and that team became known as Treyarch. Unfortunately for this group, they had a lot to live up to and for their first few outings, became the B team to Infinity Ward’s greatness. Now with all the drama at Activision a faint memory and Treyarch taking the reins of this incredibly successful franchise, can they live up to it’s promise or simply fail to graduate?

You play as a soldier named Mason, locked into a chair with a shadowy figure asking you about a sequence of numbers. When you can’t answer this you go on memory trip lane and travel throughout the various parts of the Cold War Era. In tried and true Call of Duty style, you’ll also play as a couple other individuals. The story can be quite predictable at times but it is without doubt the best in the series. Once all the fragments come together and you see the big picture, the ride to the end is as exhilarating as any big box office movie. The only issue is the cheesy final line at the end but the moments preceding it definitely makes it easy to sweep under the rugs. It’s a rollercoaster ride near the scale of a thrilling Michael Bay movie and they largely pull off the story. It can still be a little basic and skimp on the extras but the overarching product is quite good. It’s not a retelling of history or a mindless scenario, this time there is actually some substance.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is similar in structure to the previous modern incarnations of the franchise. It’s a first person shooter that is pure action and highly cinematic. One of the big absences in single player is the cue that you hit someone. The little dashes that pop up on the side of your crosshairs are not present here and it makes you question as if you’re hitting a single soul. The action is great despite this and Treyarch do their thing. One of the issues with a year to year product is the thematic crossovers and here there are none. It feels distinctly its own unique game. The scripted events are once again a predominant part of the single player and they are great. Unfortunately sometimes when you know they are there (from dying to replaying) you can run into them before they are fully triggered and hurt the atmosphere a little bit. The world also feels as narrow as ever. The games have always been pushing you down a linear path but it always gave you the illusion that you could do what you wanted and if you tried, you could do some paths with limited success. Here the borders of your play space feels very confined at times. On the bright side they’ve done some interesting twists on the game play formula. There are some moments where you get to fly a helicopter. How they did it is amazing where you give it the broad strokes and fire its armaments and the game deals with elevation and giving you the best cinematic view possible. In the end, it feels like you’re doing all the work and simply works. It’s easy for games like this to provide ho-hum vehicle sections since they aren’t the focus but these sections work. Another great section has you playing a hybrid real time strategy game and first person shooter. Move the squad around patrols and take out enemies and when there is a nice fight, zoom down to the battlefield to take them on personally. Once again, something unexpected but works amazingly. I almost wish these sections were built upon and expanded because of their potential. Overall though, the campaign is tight and focused. The gameplay is as great as ever and the biggest issue is the lack of a cue with you hit someone like in multiplayer. The experiments in gameplay have been done flawlessly. Treyarch actually knows what they’re doing.

The multiplayer is the same Call of Duty you’ve come to know and love with some tweaks. You still level up and gain access to new weapons and special benefits but now you have to purchase them with the in-game currency. Instead of grinding out a weapon to get the attachments you want, they are all available from the onset to be purchased. This has its pros and cons as initially you’re excited to not have to grind out a weapon for a couple hours to get all the attachments but since they are so easy to get now, it feels as if something is missing. Perhaps it’s the feeling of mastering a weapon but with the convenience, some of the fun is lost. It also would’ve been nice to just give you the weapons once they are available as it goes a little far with the whole theme with no appreciable benefit. On the bright side though, you’ll have plenty of money to get whatever you want when you want it. Leveling up is now easier than ever and within your first couple kills, you’ll reach level 2. When they come that easy, it’s almost takes some of the fun away. Perks have also returned but instead of earning them through unlocks, you purchase them. Mastering them is the same as before and unlocks a slightly better perk. But once again, it feels too easy since you can buy them without blinking an eye. If that isn’t enough money though, you can purchase contracts every hour which is a bet that you’ll achieve a certain goal and if you do, you get a reward. While these are nice, chances are you’re swimming in enough money to do what you want and the paltry amount you may win from here is inconsequential to the big picture. The selection of maps seem to be biased greatly in the direction of urban environments, making close quarter combat a heavy emphasis, which is a step back from the more balanced Modern Warfare 2 map selection. On the bright side, this also means it’s much harder to sit in a corner of a map and snipe. Overall it’s the Call of Duty you’ve come to know and love. All of the game modes you love are back.

In addition to the typical Call of Duty multiplayer experience, you’ll also have wager matches. These are the matches that switch up the rules slightly to give you something different. They are typically the matches that you wish you could set up before but one jerk would always ruin it for everyone since the rules were not enforced by the game. On top of this, you bet your in-game currency to see who can come out in the top three spots. If the room is feeling particularly lucky, you can all double down to potentially double your profits if you win. It’s a nice mechanic but unless you double down, you can’t see how many others have so communication is a key here. There are four modes which are all a lot of fun. One in the Chamber gives you a pistol, one bullet, and three lives. Every hit is an instant death and each kill nets you another bullet. This leads to very strategic gameplay as to if you shoot first and take your time or if you think you can take them down with your knife. Sticks and Stones provides you with a crossbow, tomahawk, and ballistic knife. If you hit someone with your tomahawk, it takes away all their kills. In Gun Game, each kill progresses you through better and better weapons but if you melee someone, it drops them down to the next level. Finally the last mode is Sharpshooter and every 45 seconds it cycles through to the next weapon. Each kill nets you a new perk but once you die, you lose them all. As you can see each mode is novel yet balanced. It’s a great way to step outside of the traditional Call of Duty experience without completely leaving it.

The trademark mode that Treyarch pioneered in World At War is back and has gone through a nice evolution. Before you had wave after wave of zombies that progressively get harder to kill and now the enemies are mixed up. Some even spawn within the structure you’re in and adds new heights to the tension. Each level is now themed so for the Nazi mansion you’ll still have the tried and true Nazi zombies but other maps will have zombies appropriate to the location. They don’t act any different but a nice touch nonetheless. The general way you play is exactly the same. Get money from killing and repairing openings. Spend that money on weapons and opening other passage ways to get access to better weapons. And finally survive as long as possible. The player limit is still 4 players which is perfect for the gametype. If you liked Zombies before, this time it’s even better.

The Modern Warfare engine is back and shows it still has the goods. The game looks great. A lot of good use of lighting makes for some very cinematic vistas. The tone of the game is very different than the Modern Warfare series and other than the design of the multiplayer interface; you’d never realize they were in the same series. All of the effort on animations and motion capture were pulled off and they look great. The facial animations look especially nice. Unfortunately, manipulating some light sources is another thing, like stepping in front of a projector doesn’t cast your shadow on the wall. In other areas, shadows pop up as expected for the light source. There are no slowdowns even when things get very chaotic. The view distance in some areas is very nice. Scripted events look awesome as expected. One of the locales near the end as the rollercoaster ride is coming to the end looks phenomenal. You won’t be disappointed in this department.

The sound design is good. The sound effects work well and guns have a meaty kick to them. Explosions sound deep and volumetric. Voice acting is pretty good but you still have some stereotypical Russian accents at times. The music is decent. You can have some strong, but generic action music during the campaign but once the campaign is over you won’t remember it. There doesn’t feel like there is a strong theme throughout them. In multiplayer, when things start to slow down in a match, due to you sneaking around or flanking them, the music will start to build up and get your heart beating. It’s a great use of music and heightens the experience during that mode.

Treyarch had some big shoes to fill with the loss of the talent at Infinity Ward and they fill them admirably. They have graduated from the B-team to the promising world of a triple-A developer. The story in Call of Duty: Black Ops is quite possibly the best story in the series yet. There is still a lot of room to grow in this aspect but it’s not some historical retelling or generic mindless action plot. The story is quite predictable and the cheesy ending almost kills the rollercoaster ride up to the end but it’s a great ride. The gameplay is the same as ever which is just right. The biggest absence in the single player is the indicators along your crosshair letting you know you hit someone. The additions to the standard fare gameplay were pulled off admirably from the helicopter to Wager matches in multiplayer. In multiplayer I am grateful for less grind but with the new currency system and buying things takes some of the charm away and feels less sophisticated and thought-out than it should be. The graphics are great, especially in one of the locales near the end as the rollercoaster ride is coming to the end. There are still some miscues such as not being able to interact with some light sources but overall it looks very cinematic and great.


Standard fare Call of Duty campaign with decent mindless action movie plot. Quite possibly the best story yet but still lots of room for improvement. Missing hit indicator in single player is disappointing. The additions to the standard fare gameplay were pulled off admirably from the helicopter to Wager matches in multiplayer.


Graphics are great. All of the effort on animations and motion capture were pulled off and they look great. The facial animations look especially nice. One of the locales near the end as the rollercoaster ride is coming to the end looks phenomenal. The game runs as smooth as butter.


Strong, but generic action music during the campaign but once the campaign is over you won’t remember it. Great use of music during slow parts of matches. Voice acting is pretty good. Sound effects are meaty and volumetric.


Treyarch has graduated. It’s probably not the best game in the series but it shows they have the potential to do something great. The gameplay variations are awesome and welcomed. Some minor miscues with the currency system and lack of a hit cue in single player but overall you’re in for a great campaign and even better multiplayer.

Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops Online for the Xbox 360 from

Click here to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops Online for the Xbox 360 from


One Response

  1. fpsdude says:

    Best FPS of the holidays, this game is amazing. Wish the single player was longer though.