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Call of Duty: Black Ops

If you are captured by the enemy, this review has no knowledge of your existence.
At this point in the gaming world, Call of Duty is a franchise on par with such surefire hits as Halo and God of War. And with a series of this size, publisher Activision isn't content to let Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward release games every other year. No, they have to have a shiny brand new Call of Duty title on the racks just in time for Christmas, regardless of whether or not the game was any good. In order to facilitate this glut, Activision hired a second developer, Treyarch, to do the odd numbered releases (aside from the original) while series creators Infinity Ward worked on the even numbered releases. It's no surprise that the Treyarch efforts are considered to be inferior to Infinity Ward's. Nonetheless, their latest entry, Black Ops, has sold like gangbusters. But is it worth it?

Black Ops starts surprisingly, with the main character (name of Mason), tied up in a chair, looking at a bank of monitors and being interrogated by anonymous, deep-throated silhouettes. It appears Mason is a delirious, hallucinating member of a black ops team, and the game takes place as he remembers his various missions, going all the way back to the 1960's. I have to give Treyarch credit where credit is due. This is a totally different take than any previous Call of Duty, which is truly a shock as up until this point Treyarch has done nothing but regurgitate the better work being done by Infinity Ward. There are several points throughout the game that feel like Treyarch is really trying to do something genuinely different, and at some points it doesn't even feel like you're playing a Call of Duty title (and that is a compliment, mind you).

call of duty black ops team squad

However, as lofty as Treyarch's goals may be, they do falter in the execution. You spend most of the game following other people around, making you feel like a back seat driver in your own game. Further, most of the excitement is fueled by cinematics in which you have no control. I can only imagine how exciting the game could have been had they allowed you to be more directly involved. As it is the game feels more like a movie in which you sometimes get to choose who to shoot at first rather than a real interactive experience.

Treyarch does try their hardest to give you a big, epic field to play around in. You meet both Castro and Kennedy, for example, and missions take place in all sorts of diverse locations. The soundstage explodes all around you as you're harried by gunfire. However, aside from returning character Reznov, most of the characterizations don't ring true. I never felt connected to Mason, let alone his brothers in arms. And you'd think Treyarch could have delved a little deeper when trying to set the mood in any given location (a sequence in Vietnam both opens and closes with Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son," truly the most obvious and cliche choice imaginable).

Of course, I suspect most people buying Black Ops aren't doing so for the single player campaign. No, at this point the big draw of any Call of Duty title is the multiplayer. And maybe it's just me (judging by the amount of people playing this online, it is just me), but I never found Call of Duty's multiplayer to be all that enticing. If I wanted to go shoot guns in an ultra-realistic setting, I'd go shoot some guns in real life. That aside, Black Ops will give you the same Call of Duty multiplayer you've come to expect at this point, and with so many people playing at any given time, you're almost guaranteed to find people sympathetic to your playing style and skill level.

call of duty black ops jungle gun point

The other big addition to the game is the zombie content. Yes, World at War also had zombie maps, but Black Ops really ups the ante with some wonderful additions, including a humorous level that takes place inside the Pentagon. In fact, I wouldn't blame someone for buying this title just to play the zombie action (although I certainly wouldn't recommend full price if that were your sole intention for the game).

In all, Treyarch has finally stepped out of Infinity Ward's shadow to say "Hey, we're here too!". But while the team's heart might be in the right place, it's too early to call Black Ops an unreserved success. Yes, it will sell like crazy this holiday season, and it's certainly not bad, but I find the game's potential to ultimately be more exciting than the game itself. And who knows, maybe in the next go around Treyarch will outdo themselves and turn in the Call of Duty game that this one suggests they could. Recommended

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