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Game Info:

Call of Duty: Black Ops
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Released: November 9, 2010
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore; Strong Language; Intense Violence
Available on: PS3; Xbox 360; Wii; DS; PC (version reviewed)
Genre: First Person Shooter (FPS)
MSRP: $60 (Amazon/Steam)

It has been two years since Treyarch\'s last original Call of Duty title, Call of Duty: World at War. While it garnered positive reviews from the press, the game didn\'t take many chances. It felt instead like a series retread by returning to World War II yet again. With more experience under their belt, Treyarch takes the series in a bold new direction by enveloping the entire game around the Cold War. Not only does this era bring a fresh spin on the series, it also delivers a package that is both unique and engaging.

The single-player portion of Call of Duty: Black Ops sees the Cold War mainly through the eyes of Alex Mason, an elite soldier of the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) who carries out classified missions deep in enemy territories. Written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, FlashForward), the levels are structured through the use of flashbacks, with slick cutscenes filling in the finer details.

The story spans multiple years, and unlike last year\'s Modern Warfare 2, the story for Black Ops is grounded, cohesive, and actually keeps you guessing until the end. There are also a handful of moments when the game will place you in another perspective which aids in fleshing out the story even more as well. On the Hardened difficulty, Black Ops clocked in at about ten hours; others have finished in about seven. The overall experience only got bogged down once or twice in the middle, but otherwise the campaign felt long enough for a FPS and was more than I expected.

Variety is the spice of life in Black Ops. One mission may have you fighting your way through Spetsnaz to kill a target, while another might require you to break out of a prison with Russian inmates. You\'ll even find yourself slogging through the trenches against the Vietcong.Vehicle sections are sprinkled throughout as well, all of which control decently enough and offer plenty of action, too. As you travel across the globe with your squad, you\'ll visit key areas such as Cuba, Russia, and Vietnam. The enemy forces you face differ on the kind of tactics they all employ; Spetsnaz roll to cover and are nimble, and the Vietcong prefer to spray your area with bullets or rush in for melee attacks. Those playing on higher difficulties will have no need to worry about soldiers lobbing grenades at your feet every few seconds; this aggravating aspect from World at War has thankfully been left out.

Customized weapons litter the ground as you progress through levels; some weapons offer three to four different options. Whether it\'s an extended magazine, scope, shotgun and flamethrower attachments, taped magazines for faster reloads, or possibly even dual wielding when it comes to pistols and SMGs, there\'s a lot of toys to play around with.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent and cohesive story with varied locales and set-piece moments; voice acting is well-done; multiplayer is much more balanced this time around; packed with many modes and customization options; dedicated servers are back

Weak Points:
PC version is riddled with technical issues; some lackluster level design in the campaign; main character has uneven voice acting; graphics are serviceable at best; friendly and enemy AI isn\'t that bright

Moral Warnings:
Rather explicit violence and very gritty subject matter; combat involves shooting and stabbing enemies; multiple f-bombs thrown around repeatedly during the campaign; some weapons dismember enemies, especially in the Zombie mode

The only real nagging issue I had when playing was with the Khe Sanh level. One objective was poorly placed above trenches, meaning I spent about 45 minutes trying to find the right place to progress through the game. Turned out I had to kick over some barrels to continue. Some checkpoints could\'ve also been placed at smarter spots when facing a difficult hurdle. Ultimately, the campaign is a well thought-out product and one of my favorites in a Call of Duty series so far.

Now for the main meat of the game, multiplayer. Black Ops retains much of what players loved about World at War and Infinity Ward\'s titles while adding its own flair. This time around, everything is bought with COD Points. As you gain experience by killing players, completing objectives, etc., you\'ll be rewarded with this new currency which goes towards customizing your character. While a weapon like the SPAS-12 may unlock at a certain level, you\'ll need Points to buy it. Once a weapon is purchased, you can pay for multiple kinds of attachments that alter how the weapon handles, aims, or how fast it fires (if using a SMG), regardless of your level.

After gaining a few levels, you\'ll be able to change what kind of support you call in once you rack up a chain of kills. Do you want to benefit your team with the default Spy Plane that displays enemy locations, or buy the RC-XD, a very enjoyable explosive RC car that zooms around areas with a deadly payload? How about a SAM turret that takes down enemy Spy Planes and Attack Choppers automatically? Or if that\'s not your thing, you can opt for a random Killstreak item from the Care Package, which sometimes delivers a minigun. There\'s plenty of “fire-and-forget” options for those who would rather get back to shooting players, but if you prefer being more hands on, why not pilot your own chopper, or call in mortars across the map. If it looks interesting to you, just buy it.

No need to worry about game-breaking nukes or unfair advantages with Killstreaks, though; Treyarch has set out to balance a lot of what made the series frustrating online. This means Killstreaks you call in, such as a Napalm Strike, don\'t count towards further Killstreaks being awarded. Perks have also been shuffled around. No more Juggernaut, Stopping Power, or Martyrdom. Sniping has also been tweaked, so there\'s no more quick-scoping and has been penalized with more scope sway. These changes, while upsetting to some folks, allow the playing field to be more level. Those with shotguns or SMGs (or the kind that run around with knives) will be able to play without much hassle.

Along with your weapon, Perk, and Killstreak loadouts, further levels add the ability to customize reticules in many ways, make your own Player Card (the image that appears when you call in support or kill another player), add camouflage to your weapon, and even wear face paint. It\'s pretty neat when you have your clan tag engraved in your weapon, or a goofy emblem you made shows up on the side of your gun. These additions are small but welcome, because they add a little more personality compared to the other Call of Duty games.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Graphics 8/10
Sound 9/10
Stability 3/5
Controls/Interface 5/5

Morality Score - 60%
Violence 1/10
Language 0/10
Sexual Content/Nudity 9/10
Occult/Supernatural 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

To help aid those with some dough, a player can buy up to three Contracts from the menu screen. These vary with their conditions and pay out. One asks a player to knife an enemy in the back at a cost of 25 Points, and by doing so, they\'ll be awarded with 100 Points once that\'s completed. Others require multiple kills with a certain weapon under a time limit, or being on the top of the scoreboard when a match finishes. These contracts cycle every few hours, so it\'s not a process I can see getting stale quickly. Challenges are also back, but those award only experience towards ranking up, no Points.

The main addition to the series\' online play are Wager Matches. By betting your own Points, you\'ll square off against five other players. If you are in the top three places when the match finishes, you\'ll come out ahead. If you\'re one of the losers, you get zilch. The modes found here though have been seen in other games before. One in the Chamber is similar to Golden Gun from Goldeneye: one shot can kill a player, but knifing an enemy rewards you with another bullet. This makes for some rather tense matches.

Gun Game is reminiscent of the Counter-Strike mod of the same name. All players start with the same weapon. When you kill another player, you level up to a different weapon. Knifing someone sets them back a level. This goes on until the time limit is reached or if a player kills someone with the last weapon. Personally it\'s my favorite Wager Match mode. Sharpshooter is similar, but the weapons cycle every 45 seconds. And there\'s also Sticks and Stones involving the new crossbow, ballistic knife, and tomahawk.

If this is your first time hopping into the twitch-based Call of Duty gameplay, Treyarch included a mode which allows you to play against bots. Their difficulty can be changed and even though there\'s only Team Deathmatch or Free-For-All to choose from, all maps are present. Ranking up in this mode is separate from the online system which makes this a good way to practice out different weapons and get the feel for the maps.

From what I can tell there\'s no LAN and the title requires Valve\'s Steam platform to play on the PC; IWNet is nowhere to be seen on any of the releases. Dedicated servers are also back, albeit hosted by one supplier. At 15 bucks for a Ranked 18-slot server, it\'s a decent bargain, though the admin tool available is fairly basic.

And last but not least, the Zombie mode from World at War returns. Up to four players co-operate in this survival mode that\'s swarming with the undead. As you kill the zombies or board up windows and doors, you\'ll be rewarded with points which goes towards buying new weapons and ammo, unlocking other paths and rooms with better items, or enabling traps. While there\'s only two maps included with Black Ops, the overall mode is pretty goofy given the lines and responses that characters spout, adding a nice amount of humor to what would be a rather gloomy mode.

Graphically speaking, the engine on which Black Ops runs, while competent, isn\'t exactly ground breaking this time around. If you have played World at War before, then you\'ll know what to expect. The campaign has more than enough neat set-piece moments and environments are packed to the brim with extra details and objects which make firefights much more hectic with the amount of debris and shots sent through the air. Some skylines and particle effects look fantastic, but smoke, napalm, and explosions are rather muddled and look underwhelming. Animations are well done, as are the facial animations for a lot of the dialogue.

Overall, the audio holds its own in multiple departments. Weapons have kick, flamethrowers are menacing, and the hit indicator for online play provides an ample amount of feedback when firing. Music accompanies the gameplay smoothly, both adding a sense of urgency when in high-octane moments or creating extra tension when switching gears for stealth operations. Some prolific actors lend their voices to the game such as Ed Harris, Sam Worthington, and Gary Oldman. My only real qualm with the sound is that Sam Worthington\'s character dips in and out of an Australian accent, which is weird given that the character is born in Alaska. While playing online, I did notice some sound effects drowning out others more than I would\'ve liked, but other than that I was content with the presentation.

Due to the themes present in the story, many may find some of the paths the story goes down hard to handle due to the mature content made available. The story revolves heavily around an interrogation and covert missions soldiers were tasked with. You\'ll see a civilian used as human shield by an enemy, and even use an enemy yourself in a cut-scene. Several throats are slit to silence guards, some with rather deep gashes accompanied with gurgling. An interrogation scene involves punching a man in the face while he has a shard of glass in his mouth, while another involves Russian Roulette. POWs are shot by both allied and enemy forces; civilians are killed by Vietcong troops.

Enemies can be burned with flamethrowers, incendiary ammo, or from napalm airstrikes. Some cutscenes show the effects of a biochemical weapon on humans and animals. Explosive weapons and shotgun blasts take off limbs which leave enemies crying out in pain or keeling over after a few seconds in the campaign. Enemies found in the Zombie mode can also lose limbs as well. Pin-up pictures reminiscent of the 40\'s and 50\'s can be used online in a Player Card for others to see; these omit any kind of nudity however. The F-word is prevalent throughout the story as are other words found in R-rated films. I only recall hearing about two S-words online in the dialogue, but per usual, online gamers may swear and use filthy words. The online portion is what I would roughly equate to a T-rating: it leaves out much of the gore and swearing of the campaign, but Black Ops should not be played by those under the age of 17, regardless.



The mature content can be reduced from the main menu, which, while toning down some aspects of the game, does little to water down the game overall. If anything, I found the restricted content option to be more of an annoyance due to how out of sync the dialogue and facial animation becomes. Not only does it remove the tension from several key moments by, say, replacing the F-word with “d-mn”, but it isn\'t that well implemented. This leaves a game that earns a hard M-rating with wonky dialogue.

Speaking of wonky, the PC version of the game has been rather messy since launch day. Online was unplayable due to stuttering and poor optimization until a patch arrived recently, though many are still reporting various problems despite how well built their machines are. I personally have seen connection errors, restarting due to the game locking up, huge dips in framerate, choppy kill cams, dropped connections, slow server browser, and more. While the online portion of the game is playable to some extent, prepare to put up with a lot of frustration and headache until further patches arrive.

 

Don\'t get the wrong impression though: the core game itself is not broken. In fact, it\'s rather solid. With the time I actually got of online play, I enjoyed the game immensely and will continue to do so for the coming months. Out of the 20 or so hours clocked online (17 of which I was actually playing without too much hassle), I haven\'t run into any deal breaking bugs. When the game works, it\'s a lot of fun. If you had to pick between which version to get though, I would say the PS3 or 360 would be the better option, at least for the time being. I\'m a patient person, but the poor optimization found here even had me disappointed to some extent.

Call of Duty: Black Ops does for World at War what Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did for Call of Duty 2. It brings welcome additions to the series while retaining what made them great, as well as offering a lot of bang for the buck. Black Ops has arguably the best story out of a Call of Duty game. It\'s also the most balanced multiplayer offering yet. In both the campaign and online portions of Black Ops, Treyarch has really surprised me.

As a gamer, this is one of the blockbuster titles that really resonated with me, and because of that, I highly recommend it to those old enough to play these types of games. But as a reviewer for this site, I must also advise those who find the subject matter above to be disagreeable to go ahead and pass this one up. If just checking out the online portion, that part would be comparatively tame, but if you\'re a single-player type of gamer, don\'t even bother trying to wade through the content.

-- Jonathan "Keero" Harling

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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