Exclusive Blind Review! Call of Duty: Black Ops

No CCR in this game.

Another fall, another Call of Duty from Activision. With the massive shakeup at Infinity Ward earlier this year, Treyarch is finally poised to take the reigns of the franchise as the “A” team. To that end, they have put forth their latest effort, Black Ops. It’s an ambitious title from a huge team and a reportedly enormous budget, but the question remains: how will the millions of Modern Warfare fans react to the series’ new direction?

As the game’s full title suggests, Tyler Perry Presents: Call of Duty: Black Ops was designed in full cooperation with the famed filmmaker, Tyler Perry. Although it may seem strange to involve a filmmaker in the creation of a Call of Duty game, it follows directly in Activision’s recent strategy to reach out to a broader, more diverse audience, something that began last year with DJ Hero.

Where that game sought to appeal to an under-served segment of Hip-Hop fans, Black Ops comes across as a less cynical and more earnest attempt to chronicle the many contributions and sacrifices made by African Americans serving in the US military.

The opening stage clearly takes its inspiration from the film Glory, casting you as a member of an all black regiment in the Union Army during a battle in the Civil War. The basic controls and mechanics are explained as you participate in rifle volleys, navigate trenches, join a bayonet charge and finish Confederate soldiers at close range with a Colt revolver.

No CCR in this game.

There is no main character or overarching narrative, exactly. The game jumps from time period to time period as you take on the role of a different character in each era. This will include fighting in the Argonne forest attached to the French Army during WWI, aerial sequences as one of the Tuskegee Airmen, time in the jungles of Vietnam, and you even get to play Keith David’s character from Modern Warfare 2, Sgt. Foley, back when he was a green soldier during the first Gulf War.

What this means is you will be treated to a wide variety of lovingly recreated locales, rich with fine detail. You will also be exposed to a huge variety of weapons and vehicles as you progress through the levels. With the exception of the seemingly timeless Model 1911 Colt .45, you almost never have access to the same weapons from one level to the next.

The gameplay proceeds in the familiar Call of Duty style, emphasising incredible set-piece battles and the need to advance aggressively. The controls feel as sharp as ever and the weapons still sound and feel fantastic.

It’s perhaps the best looking Call of Duty game to date. The levels are more open than in the past, with a long draw distance removing that claustrophobic corridor feeling common to the series. The levels are also more dynamic than before with destructable elements, though it still does not match the Battlefield series in that area.

Sean Murray’s score is impressive, drawing inspiration from contemporary musical movements for levels in each different era. A number of licensed tracks also make an appearance to date the beginning of each level not unlike an episode of Cold Case.

As expected, Black Ops features fantastic online multiplayer. The modes included are generally slight refinements on those included in the Modern Warfare games and World at War. The biggest change is the mishmash of uniforms and armament available from the game’s extensive singleplayer campaign. The RPG-like character progression returns, along with a full suite of new kill-streaks and perks. Based on each players personal preferences, this generally results in wildly anachronistic matches online.

In fact, customization is the single organizing principle of Black Ops multiplayer. In addition to choosing your weapons and uniform, you can actually completely change your base appearance. You are given options for racial make up, gender, hair style, etc, taking the RPG character paradigm that much further. Neatly avoiding any Medal of Honor-style Taliban controversy, there is no “Opposing Force”, named or otherwise. Everyone creates their character and is assigned to either the blue or orange team when they join a match online.

Locked and Loaded.
Taken as a whole, Call of Duty: Black Ops acquittes itself well among the pantheon of great CoD titles. Eschewing a traditional narrative, in nonetheless delivers an extremely compelling single player experience with a kind of gravity rarely delivered in this young medium. Meanwhile, the multiplayer component takes the series in a pretty different direction, but it’s a fruitful one that still delivers many of the same thrills, even if it has lost that sheen of “realism”. The only thing I would change is the frequent, immersion breaking Medea cameos that happen again and again.

Our Score: Dogwood Tree