We'll start this review by talking about the storyline which, let's be honest, hasn't been great in the last couple of Call of Duty titles. This is one area where Treyarch have succeeded this year with the game starting with Alec Mason strapped into a chair and being interrogated about previous missions and a mysterious series of numbers. As he is being interrogated he has flashbacks to previous missions during the Cold War, and it's these missions which make up the single player campaign.
If there was any lingering concern that Treyarch wouldn't deliver the goods with this game then we can absolutely say they can be put to rest. While there isn't a level similar to the Airport one in Modern Warfare 2 to get the mainstream press in a frenzy there are some fantastic moments in this game including storming Castro's compound in Cuba, surviving the icy Ural Mountains in central Russia, holding off waves of Viet Cong in Vietnam, driving a boat down a river taking out all manner of enemies, flying a Hind helicopter over enemy filled jungles and so much more. From the opening moments this is an intense, action packed shooter.
While the single player experience is a blast, it's the multiplayer which many of you will be most interested in, and Treyarch have not disappointed. First of all there are 14 maps in total ranging from urban areas, to jungles, to rocket launch site and even a Nuclear Test site with buildings and dummies in place. The game now includes the option to play online with 2-players on a single console via split-screen. There's plenty of variety here and impressively before you go into the next round you can vote to replay the last map, continue to the next map, or randomly select any map.
In terms of game modes, this game delivers pretty much everything you could ever hope for. Game modes include Team Deathmatch, Mercenary Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Sabotage, Search & Destroy, and more. Then you get the Hardcore modes, and Prestige modes of the games too. There's so much to do here that anyone claiming they are bored will be lying.
Next up on the "new item" list is the wager matches. By entering these, and spending some of your credits to enter these matches, you will need to end up in the top three to earn some winnings. There are four new game modes here, each of which has its own charms. One in the Chamber sees you entering the match with three lives, and one bullet in your pistol. Killing someone by shooting them, or meeleeing them will give you another bullet. Sticks and Stones sees you enter the match with a ballistic knife, crossbow and tomahawk. If you kill someone with a tomahawk and they'll be bankrupted. Gun Game sees everyone start with one weapon, and with each kill you move up to the next weapon. The first to get a kill with all 20 weapons wins the game. Finally Sharp Shooter sees everyone have the same weapon which rotates every 45 seconds. Great modes, and great fun.
Contracts are also a new addition to this game where you can take a contract in order to earn COD points (basically the in-game currency) as well as XP. These contracts give you conditions to meet such as winning a certain number of matches or killing enough enemies (often with a certain weapon) within a set amount of time. It adds another layer to the online game.
Speculated for months prior to this games release, and confirmed only a few weeks before is the Zombie Mode which sees you trying to hold off increasingly frantic waves of zombies from getting to you. This can be played either on your own, or for up to 4-players in online multiplayer. As you play the game you can purchase new weapons, or pay to open up new locations through doorways. It's fast, frantic, and a game mode that could keep you playing for hours on end. Sadly the Spec Ops mode introduced in Modern Warfare 2 hasn't made the transition to this game which is disappointing, I spent quite a few hours in that mode in last years title, including some fantastic co-op action with friends.
There are a couple of other bonuses which have been revealed since launch. At the main menu, when you're strapped into the chair, you can break free and if you look around you'll see a computer terminal which can be accessed. By typing in "doa" you will start a game called Dead Ops Arcade. Now this is a brilliant top down twin stick shooter which has more then a passing resemblance to Smash TV. Not only is this bonus game visually impressive, but it plays superbly as well. That's not all though as by typing in "zork" you will start up the text based adventure game Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, fun for older gamers looking for nostalgia.
There are, however some negatives to the visuals too, primarily with the PS3 version of the game. Unfortunately the game isn't locked in at a solid 60fps, and dips well below that at times. If you're running in 3D (and we've only had a very brief look at the game on a 3DTV) then you can expect this frame rate to even dip below 30fps at times, but the 3D effect is pretty enjoyable. Having said that, despite the cool 3D effect, we'd take a higher frame rate any day. Another disappointment is to do with the games resolution which, before we even did some research, looked low with jaggies popping up everywhere. If you remember Modern Warfare 2 ran at the low 1040 x 600, Black Ops on the PS3 drops that further to 1040 x 544 according to Digital Foundry.
Overall if you only have a PS3 then this isn't a technical disaster and despite the low resolution this is still a great looking title. It must be said though that if you have the choice between PS3 and XBox 360 it pains me to say it, but we suggest you opt for the XBox 360 version. It provides a smoother, sharper, more detailed experience then that on Sony's system. Perhaps Sony needs to send Treyarch a few specialist PS3 developers - this is, after all, the biggest game of the year.
Make no mistake about it Black Ops is a great game. The flaws we have mentioned above are in comparison to probably one of the best, if not the best, shooter of all time in Modern Warfare 2. If you like that game, and there are millions around the world that did, then this is a more then respectable follow-up from Treyarch. You know you want it (if you don't already have it)...
Review By: Dave Warner