The Call Of Duty franchise has had one heck of a year. It has seen the studio that originally developed it become involved in battle with its publisher that saw the founders of that company leave to start a new development house which left it looking like a shell of its former self. As most of you know, Call Of Duty isn’t made by just one developer like most games. Activision, perhaps with a bit of foresight, assigned two different dev houses to work on its key franchise- Infinity Ward and Treyarch. The biggest concern that most folks including myself had was could Treyarch continue one of gaming’s most enthralling franchises and continue to deliver the kind of experience we all know and love. To be honest, I had some serious doubts because I honestly felt that even though World At War was great, it just didn’t bring it home the way Modern Warfare did. Additionally, when Modern Warfare 2 came out, it only reinforced what I already thought -Infinity Ward was the superior of the two developers working on the Call Of Duty franchise. So as I sat down to play Call Of Duty: Black Ops I wasn’t expecting to come away more impressed than I had been with Modern Warfare 2, but this my friends is why we play the games.
I am going to say something right up front here and some people will disagree with me but Call Of Duty: Black Ops is the BEST game in this franchise to date. That’s right, better than Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2. After you finishing griping and thinking I don’t know what the hell I am talking about, just keep reading. Call of Duty: Black Ops is the best game in the franchise because it is the most complete game in the franchise. The easiest way to do this review is to break it into two pieces: single player and multiplayer.
Single Player Campaign
The single player campaign in Call Of Duty: Black Ops drops us right in the middle of the Bay Of Pigs in Cuba. As part of an elite team, you are sent in to eliminate then President Fidel Castro in order to stifle his communist regime. You drop in hot and use the confusion caused by the Bay Of Pigs to make your assault on a compound where Castro is believed to be held up. The team fights their way inside, make their way through the compound, and eventually find Castro. An altercation takes place and it ends with “Castro” taking a bullet to the head (that caused a bit of controversy if you haven’t heard). From here, all you know what breaks loose and your only goal is to make it to the extraction point and get out of Cuba. As you attempt to make your escape, Capt. Alex Mason becomes aware that the team is facing heavier resistance than expected and takes action to assure his team’s escape if not his own. This is where the whole twisted saga starts.
To be honest, the game from a control standpoint plays exactly the way it always does so there isn’t a lot to harp on there. What makes the single player in Call Of Duty: Black Ops so much better than all the rest is the story. Unlike any of the last 3 games, Black Ops has a very clear and cohesive story. If I had any gripe with any of the previous games, it was that the games moved so fast and were so chaotic that you almost lost track of why you were doing what you were doing. To prove my point, I don’t think you could ask 5 people what the story in Modern Warfare 2 was about and get the same answer from all of them. With this game you always know what is going on and for the most part why you are doing it. The game even has one heck of a twist near the end which I can’t say that I ever saw coming. Call Of Duty: Black Ops has a good story, great voice work, and compelling characters, which is a rare combination.
When it comes to Call Of Duty though, multiplayer is the star of the show and this year is no different. The thing that comes to mind with the multiplayer in Call Of Duty: Black Ops is how balanced it is. By using the economy system that Treyarch created which allows you to buy perks and killstreaks, it really brings another layer to the battles. While certain things are still only unlocked once you reach a certain level, players have the ability to customize their character and load outs much more thoroughly and quickly, which allows even lower ranked players to stay competitive. The ranking system has also between tweaked to the point where you are able to level pretty quickly, which again allows you to become competitive very fast. I really appreciate the balance in the multiplayer mode this year, none of the perks or killstreaks are overly powerful or annoying (i.e. the dogs).
Overall, the gameplay is solid and pretty stable so far. I have only been kicked once or twice in the several hours I have played it. A great feature that actually works this year (most of the time) is “host migration”, which on the PS3 allows the game to continue if the host exits or gets kicked from the game (XBL doesn’t need this as they have real servers, hint, hint Sony). Anyone playing this on PS3 knows what used to happen in a game if you lost the host (person who started the game). Basically the game ends and all your stats for that game aren’t counted. I was playing a game in Call Of Duty: Black Ops and I was actually jumping out of a window as we lost the host, the game slowed down and grayed out for about 15 seconds as it dynamically identified a new player to be the host and then picked up from where it was and the game continued and finished without any other issue which I was impressed with.
In the end, Call Of Duty: Black Ops comes together to deliver the most balanced and complete experience this franchise has ever seen. The game still has some bugs in the multiplayer mode to be sure and as sure as they come out with a new COD people find a way to cheat, but what can they do. A huge one is the fact that when you are in a party your party members should appear blue in order to allow you to find each other and coordinate, but more often than not one or all party members do not appear blue on your map, which pretty much kills any ability to play as a team if you lose sight of your team members. Minor bugs like that can be fixed with an update though. All in all, Call Of Duty: Black Ops is the best game in the franchise to date period. The team at Treyarch has taken the communities’ criticisms and addressed them in this game and I respect that. I have to say I was worried after the implosion of Infinity Ward, but now I am more than sure that at least Treyarch (still not sure about Sledgehammer) can continue to deliver high quality installments of the franchise, and it seems that getting out of the WW2 era has sparked their imaginations. Call Of Duty: Black Ops delivers two balanced and complete game modes as well as two pretty fun hidden game modes (I love Dead Ops Arcade). For stepping up to the challenge and more than filling some pretty big shoes ZoKnowsGaming gives Call Of Duty: Black Ops by Treyarch 10 out of 10.