Call of Duty is one of the biggest franchises in gaming to date. Each new installment takes in a huge amount of cash in the copies sold and most people usually play the games for their multiplayer rather than the single player content. Personally, I have only played three games in the series, including the game that is the subject of this review, Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Set during the late 1960’s, the story follows Alex Mason, who has been strapped to a chair and is being interrogated by a mysterious man who’s looking for the answer to a series of numbers that have been implanted into Mason’s mind. From there, the story jumps back to different points in Mason’s life, with occasional jumps back to the present to show what progress has been made with trying to get answers from Mason. The mysterious person finds out from Mason that a man named Dragovich is trying to release a deadly virus known as Nova 6 across America, and he’s put multiple sleeper agents across the country that are acting as the catalysts for Dragovich’s plan, and now the mysterious man needs Mason to explain the purpose of the numbers.
Black Op’s story is surprisingly good; it’s intriguing and you find yourself wondering what is going to happen next. To my knowledge, this game is only one of a handful of games to be set in the 1960’s, and especially one of a few games to have a focus on the Cold War, which is a key element of the game’s plot. The developer, Treyarch, deserves credit for trying something different by setting the game in a relatively untapped decade and for creating an interesting story featuring memorable characters. Through flashbacks, several other characters Mason meets are introduced, each of which is rather interesting, especially Victor Reznov, who Mason meets while in a prison camp, and at the camp, Mason learns about Reznov’s personal vendetta against Dragovich. A key theme, which is present throughout the story, is that some events that we perceive as having actually happened may not have actually happened the way we thought we did. Over the course of the game, Mason’s mind gradually starts to break and through a plot twist, which I won’t spoil, we learn that someone Mason thought was with him most of the game was just a false lie created by his unstable mind.
It should also be noted that Black Ops pulls no punches when it comes to the violence in this game. Weapons in this game can rip enemies to shreds and in one section of a level, we get an up close view of the brutal violence as Mason has to crawl through some tunnels while also killing Vietnamese soldiers that pop up along the way. Additionally, there are a couple of shocking scenes such as one moment where Mason witnesses a partner of his in a disparate state after being tortured and mentally broken by the Vietnamese soldiers who captured him and Mason. If you’re squeamish about such brutal moments and violence, tread carefully.
As for the gameplay, it’s nothing mindblowing, but it is enjoyable thanks to solid gunplay and varied objectives that you’ll complete over the course of the campaign. There’s a good selection of weapons to use in the campaign with my favorite one being an incendiary shotgun you get in one level. Most of the levels in the campaign are fairly linear, often funneling you to your next objective. Aside from collectible Intel you can find that reveals more information on the story and characters, there’s not much else to keep you from straying off the beaten path.
Fortunately, the varied objectives and set piece moments in the game do keep things interesting. Besides engaging in firefights with enemies, some parts in the game have Mason engaging in stealth or piloting a vehicle to blow stuff up. One of the best moments in the campaign switches perspectives as you play as the pilot of a spy plane ordering troops on a mission in Russia, while also switching over to the leader of the squad, Jason Hudson.
The campaign can take about to 7-8 hours to finish, and besides the campaign, there’s also the multiplayer and the oh-so-fun Zombies mode. The main goal of Zombies mode is to earn points by killing zombies and other assorted creatures, as well as boarding up holes that the undead come from. Earning points allows you to open up new areas in the map, of which there are two to choose from on the disc, and you can also buy weapons and perks to help keep yourself alive as long as possible. There are two maps to choose from, Kino der Toten, and Five, which is what would happen if four historical figures had to fight off the undead in the Pentagon. This mode is a lot of fun because it allows yourself to see how long you can survive and opening up new areas on the map adds some depth to the mode. In addition to the Zombies mode, there’s also Dead Ops Arcade, a fun top down shooter in which you collect treasure to increase your score multiplier and power-ups to help you fight off waves of zombies.
Graphically, the game looks really good and the framerate is super-smooth. The only issue I had is that sometimes it could be kind of hard to tell who was on my side and the enemy because of their similar looking outfits. As such, occasionally I would accidentally shoot someone on my side before realizing that they were one of my allies. The voice acting and music are also great as well. In particular, actors Sam Worthington and Gary Oldman give strong performances as their respective characters, Alex Mason and Victor Reznov. Props to the game for its usage of “Fortunate Son” and “Symphony of the Devil” in the levels set in the Vietnam War.
In conclusion, Black Op’s strongest point is its story and characters, which are interesting and memorable. The rest of the game is also quite enjoyable, with fun and well-polished gameplay, plus a fun side mode to keep you occupied.
Final Score: 8.5/10