A lot was riding on Treyarch’s most recent installment in the long running Call of Duty franchise. Would Black Ops bring forth new features whilst still retaining the tried and true formula it’s predecessors did? Would it replicate the  Modern Warfare 2 release sales numbers? And more importantly for us long time hardcore CoD fans, would it be filled with other aspects prevalent in MW2, such as buggy multiplayer, less than ideal maps, and glitch-filled noob-friendly gameplay caused in large part by overpowered weapons? Well, we’re here to answer all these questions as we give you our thoughts on Black Ops.

Before we get into that though, lets take a moment to talk about the giant elephant in the room. Amongst the gaming community existed a stigma (which I believe to be false), that Treyarch made inferior Call of Duty games when compared to Infinity Ward — although few stating this as fact ever seemed to provide any solid evidence to back it up in my opinion. However, the moment Treyarch was thrust into the role of hero and asked to save our beloved Call of Duty franchise, it seemed to me that the pitchforks of negativity, once angrily waved  in the direction of the studio, were set down and replaced with peace signs and flickering lighters of admiration. Funny how that works. Alright, on with the review!

Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place during the infamous Cold War, with players taking control of special forces operative Alex Mason and CIA agent Jason Hudson. Both are members of the Special Operations Group, a clandestine and secretive unit tasked with carrying out covert missions behind enemy lines. Right off the bat,Treyarch has given players a plethora of game play opportunities and new experiences. The kind you can grab by the horns as you are shifted from one new environment to another, playing your part in a powerful storyline that makes this campaign mode unlike anything you’ve seen before in the Call of Duty series.

They're going to need a bigger boat.

I saw this move on Dancing with the Stars.

Black Ops is adrenaline filled and full of high octane action from the moment you press start. In fact, the orders you are given on your first mission send you off to assassinate none other than Fidel Castro.  How’s that for day one at the office? Mission after mission, the action ramps up as you’re thrown head first into more and more situations that you won’t see coming. Treyarch excels at creating in-game scenarios that don’t quite play out according to plan and instead require you to think quickly to successfully complete the mission at hand. This makes for several breathtaking moments that leave you sitting on the edge of your seat in awe.

The campaign is rounded off in about 6-8 hours depending on the difficulty level you select, however it is definitely worth going back to play numerous times after completion.

When it comes to multiplayer, you won’t find much new here if you’re already familiar with the latest iterations of the series.  The gameplay does feel a bit more balanced, as they have removed some cheesy noob techniques like Drop Shotting and Quick Scoping. Despite the furor of those reluctant to see them go, the developers stuck to their guns, and it’s my belief that the game is better off because of it. Thank God we won’t see any more Hutch wannabes.  You will rank up, unlock weapons and perks, and ultimately prestige up to 15 times if you are hardcore enough.

In addition to the standard firepower we’ve come to expect from this series, there are a plethora of new attachments such as the Reflex Sight and Flamethrower. You will also be able to fine tune your attachments this time around, allowing you to take a Red Dot Sight for example, and modify its projected shape and color. Players will also have access to helicopters and planes in an exciting new style of play in both single player and multiplayer mode. You can now sit in the side of a Huey as it rains fire down upon the enemy players on the ground. It’s exciting to witness the devastation first hand, and I really think Treyarch did an excellent job implementing this change.

The system used to obtain our new perks, weapons, and attachments has been reworked for Black Ops. Instead of earning weapons by hitting specific levels as you did previously, players can now buy rifles and other tools of death via an in-game currency called “COD Points”. These points are rewarded for completing a number of in-game actions, and you can also take “Contracts” to earn bonus currency.

Players can also play online split screen with a friend, similar to the system that Bungie implemented with both Halo 3 and Halo: Reach.  A new addition to the series sees players being able to record their in-game moments via the new built in Theater mode, once again similar to Halo: Reach.  This mode allows players to make awesome movies out of their multiplayer adventures more easily than ever before.  Prepare to see millions of both hilarious and bad ass Black Ops player videos on YouTube any minute now.

Though I love this addition, I personally feel like some of the aesthetic options added to Create-a-Class such as the aforementioned weapon sight color/shape modifications, skin color alteration, and camouflage swapping ability are a bit much.  Though some may not agree with my view on these additions, one subtraction every PC gamer will likely be up in arms over is the lack of a between game Create-a-Class screen. This omission boggles my mind as the option existed in Call of Duty 4, World at War, and Modern Warfare 2.  Let’s cross our keyboard pressing fingers and hope for a swift patch.

So, the maps are new, some weapons are new, and there are even some cool new killstreak rewards like a controllable RC car and interesting gameplay modes like “One in the Chamber”.  I wish we could tell you how awesome it all is, but the PC multiplayer is currently plagued by tremendous lag and matchmaking issues, making it an overly frustrating experience at the moment.  In fact, when trying to do something so simple as play Zombie Mode in co-op with our editor Dave Oshry (which was a terrible idea because he gets me killed every time) we each had to restart our respective games multiple times just to get both of us in the same lobby to start the game.  This is something that needs to be rectified immediately.

Speaking of Zombies, yes, Treyarch was also kind enough to include zombies again.  This time not as a new mode unlocked at the end of the game as in World at War, but as an easily accessible gameplay mode that you can play in single or multiplayer right from the start screen.  The mode itself is quite fun and also rather deep and engaging.  Considering Activision’s penchant for DLC, I’m surprised they didn’t charge for it, because it’s almost a full game in itself.  It’s a heap of fun and serves as a perfect excuse to get a bunch of friends together online to spray some zombie blood everywhere.  If only the matchmaking system wasn’t such a bloody mess, I’d be playing it more often with someone other than myself.

Graphically, Black Ops looks beautiful on PC and runs at a solid frame rate during Campaign; however the PC version shipped with a number of horrible bugs that made the game unplayable for me during the first 24 hours, and as of this moment, there is still noticeable in-game lag. Explosions look decent, although they appear to be the same ones from World at War, but the facial expressions and character animation are spot on thanks to Treyarch’s new motion capture technology.  Dave also tells me the game looks amazing in Nvidia 3D – although he has absolutely no way of showing me how cool it is – what a tease.

My face looks sweaty and angry because I am sweaty and angry.

I'll take that satellite out and sunbathe nude in my backyard without worrying about the eye in the sky ever again.

When it comes to sound in a military shooter, it not only adds atmospheric depth, but also serves as a means to provide warning for the player. In this regard, Call of Duty: Black Ops is (pardon my French) a heaping pile of shit (and I wish I didn’t have to say that). Now, the voice acting and sound effects are good, but there is no decent 5.1 mix, and the directional sound in the game is pathetic. I simply lost count of the amount of times I died from people knifing me in the back because my surround sound system didn’t make any noise as they approached.  It’s the same with a headset. Treyarch should have learned from their audio shortcomings in World at War, as the same thing happened in that game as well.

Editor’s Note: The quality of the sound in Call of Duty: Black Ops in inexcusably bad.  As someone who plays games like Black Ops in full stereoscopic 3D and 7.1 surround sound, having my immersion ruined by piss poor sound quality across the board has been the most overly frustrating part the game.  If not for the smooth Australian tone of Bryce’s voice during our co-op matches, I’m not sure I could bear to listen to this game at all.   -Dave Oshry

This is way better than any ride at Disney Land.

I step away from the Hot Pocket for two minutes and the microwave catches fire. Never again.

So just how successful was Treyarch at creating a Call of Duty release worthy of our purchase? All in all Call of Duty: Black Ops is a great game, and I highly recommend it to fans of the series (though many of those fans have likely bought it already).  That being said, there are still a few bugs that are too glaring to simply overlook, and the pathetic sound definitely ruins the experience for people with good sound setups like myself. In the end though, I feel that Treyarch managed to hit more targets than they missed, delivering a balanced gameplay experience while still inserting a few new and innovative features.

Here’s The Rundown:

+ Campaign is the best the series has yet to offer
+ Fun to use new Theater Mode addition
+ High replay value
due to multiple gameplay modes

– Pathetic sound
– PC multiplayer plagued by issues

Call of Duty: Black Ops was developed by Treyarch and published by Activision for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Microsoft Windows. The game released in the United States on November 9th, 2010 with a retail price of $59.99. The copy used in this review was for Microsoft Windows and given to us by Activision for review consideration. The single player campaign mode was played to completion (about 8 hours) with the multiplayer mode played for several sleepless nights as well.