Call of Duty: Black Ops


Written by Chris Price
16 Tuesday 16th November 2010

Welcome to the world of the big swinging dicks. Call of Duty: Black Ops. Activision’s totemic AAA seasonal big hitter has arrived. As of Monday November 15, it has notched up a record breaking two million sales in its first five days on sale – 21% up on a 2010 best set buy prequel Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. As well as netting a tasty £113 million for the publishers.

While CODBO would never be considered a casual gamers game, it’s certainly taking casual gaming levels of revenue.But the deeply embedded social elements of multiplayer mode – and the instantly accessible passive interactive action movie experience presented by the Campaign mode show why it’s managed to garner so much cash. Like any good project in social media, the publishers have listened to the audience and provide exactly what they’ve asked for – in one very commercially viable package. CODBO is very much a game of two halves.
Talking of developers, it’s not been plain sailing to get here. Casual observers may notice that the logo of Infinity Ward – developers of previous Modern Warfare games – have been edged off the cover. Much internal poo flinging saw IW bosses Vince Zampella and Jason Weststaff unceremoniously booted out, and the torch passed to Call of Duty: World at War developers Treyarch take up the reigns.
Treyarch certainly weren’t caught sleeping. Even after 15 years of gaming, I’m still blown away by the technical majesty of the Call of Duty games. Single player Campaign mode is a series of missions set between the 60s and now, folding in cultural icons like Fidel Castro and JFK and sending leading man Alex Mason (best of the best, three purple hearts etc.) globetrotting to Vietnam, Russia and Cuba in a story of friendship and deception. And a lot of falling over (probably an inner-ear thing).
The single player campaign is a chain of orchestrated set pieces, studded with quick time sections. One minute you’ll be squirreling through the bunkers of ‘Nam or escaping from the denizens of a labyrinthian Siberian prison then ascending the charred remnants of bombed out forests, Hamburger Hill style. Move, fire, trigger next chain of ridiculous occurrences.
But boy, is it exhilarating. Easily transcending its media to be up their with Hollywood’s greatest war epics. Campaign might be a largely passive experience, navigating between waypoints, indulging in QTE sections – but with so much going on around you, it’s hard not to be swept up in the majesty of it. The lavish attention to detail is exemplary, and the rich variation in locational aesthetics hooks you in from the get-go. The brisk pace of the game encourages a death or glory style approach (thank god for generous save points). It doesn’t attempt to be vaguely authentic to real world warfare. Call of Duty has settled into its niche – twitchy, glitzy, gung-ho and insistent.
Zombie mode is a pleasant aside – Call of Duty reimagined by Sam Raimi. In a nod to Left 4 Dead, up to four players defend a room as decomposing nazi’s try to bust into – repair barriers, dismember shufflers, dispense humorous quips, stay alive till the next round. It’s a score chasing Gears of War/Horde style mini-game, that walls in both hard gore and fantasy elements (purposefully omitted from the game ‘proper’). Top marks for releasing in the retail version of the game too, rather than selling a separate download.
Multiplayer is the other half of the package – it’s rogue cousin primed for a hardcore audience. Over three Call of Duty games and numerous map packs, Activision have built a fearsome community of online followers. CODBO ups the ante. Play to win points, to unlock various solider upgrades, competition modes and tools to remix your character or define your clan. Feeling cocky? Raise the stakes and bet points in a Wager Match, to ascend exponentially. Matches vary from traditional Deathmatch and Capture the Flag variations to revelations like One in the Chamber – one bullet, knife, 3 lives. Fight to the death.

Maps vary in quality, attributed to a different style of combat (sniping, close quarters etc.). Bragging rights are handed out with glee – a killcam, showing your nemesis’ view of your demise encourages stylish kills, plus the ability to video and spectate top-kills bolsters the community competition aspect. It’s a wild place - complete with screeching American tykes eager to berate you with every kill.
CODBO is an impressive package, if fractious in its unanimity. Value for money is assured - Activision have nailed brash action movie swagger for single player, as well as the stat heavy grandstanding of Multiplayer. The frantic pace certainly won’t be suited to everyone, and the multiplayer community might prove daunting for the casual consumer - but with two distinctly rounded games of such high quality in one box, you can hardly complain in these times of austerity. The only question to ask is… where do Treyarch go from here?
Call of Duty: Black Ops is out now for XBOX 360, PS3 and PC

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