Call of Duty: Black Ops Review for Xbox 360

On: Xbox 360PS3PCWiiDS

Call of Duty is obsessed with fear. But while Modern Warfare and its sequel exist as a paean to America's current socio-political nightmares, Black Ops chooses to tap into the nation's Sixties terrors: Cuba, the Vietnam War and, primarily, the ever-looming threat of Soviet conflict.

Part of Treyarch's current problem, then, is the format's inherent need for escalation. In a series defined by its rigid spectacle, and one that's already detonated a nuclear missile in your face and had you squeeze the trigger during a controversial airport massacre, there was always going to be a certain onus on the developer to come up with the next headline-grabbing scenario. And they certainly give it their all: within thirty minutes of Black Ops' start you've already shot a slow-mo bullet through Fidel Castro's noggin and escaped a Russian gulag. The series' most precious tactic is to whip its audience into stimuli overload with ceaseless audio-visual spectacles; while Black Ops offers up its own distinctive take on the formula, it's ultimately no different.

It comes as no surprise that the game leads you with gusto through its artificial scenarios, with mid-mission cutscenes herding you from each meticulously designed set-piece to the next while avoiding - though briefly acknowledging on occasion- the dramatic constraints of things like commuting, or the unpalatable taste of moments where things aren't exploding.

Treyarch manages to successfully avoid the jarring disconnection endemic of its previous work by, ironically, focusing on the same whooshing cinematic segues which World at War employed with such abandon. But where World at War's cast were lifeless husks for the player to fleetingly inhabit, its cutscenes far more concerned with style over any tangible substance, Black Ops revolves around a small cast of characters, going to extreme lengths to burn their names and faces into the minds of the player.

Most of the campaign is set in 1968, though events are primarily told via the flashback sequences of protagonist super-soldier Alex Mason, who in turn spends the game strapped to a chair while being pumped full of experimental drug cocktails. Briefing screens have been replaced with a grisly-voiced mystery interrogator barking questions at Mason, who then promptly recounts the sequence for him and, by extension, the player.

Much like the rudimentary stove I used throughout most of university, Black Ops' 15-level campaign takes a fair while to heat up - with some rote corridor-blasting exemplifying the initial stages - but it's also blistering hot when it hits its stride. Perhaps most interesting are the seeds of doubt Treyarch plants: Mason's skewed take on events are shown as foggy and imprecise, and his unreliable narration convinces neither the mystery interrogator nor the player. Unlocking the actuality of Mason's situation becomes the thrust of the experience, and when the curtain is finally lifted the conclusion is satisfying though predictable.

The supporting cast features Ed Harris as spooky spook Hudson, who at one point actually puts on a pair of sunglasses to show that it's time for action, and there's also the excellent return of Gary Oldman's beleaguered and world-weary Viktor Reznov - the requisite decent-ish Russian character to prove they're Not All Bad. This neatly brings us to the pantomime villains of the piece: a pair of (surprise, surprise) nasty Russians - Dragovich and Kravtchenko - and an unrepentant Nazi.

Though many of its narrative progressions are absurd, anchoring the proceedings to an identifiable protagonist helps to ferry the story onwards. Mason and his frequent travelling companion, Woods, are routinely subjected to torturous events: dangerous scenarios slice open muddied skin, knees buckle under the strain of exertion and blunt trauma is applied with alarming regularity, all accompanied with performance-captured expressions of pain and audible grunts. Their pain is definitely felt.

In forcefully unlocking the secrets buried within Mason's head (including the most important string of numbers since Lost ended) the game, like its politically-charged ancestry, actively trades in sentiments the USA would often rather not think about. Vietnam is a major stop-off point, for instance, and while the startling sights and sounds of a burning Hue city are remarkably impressive, those shocking images can't quite muster up the same evocative weight of Modern Warfare 2's suburban America reduced to rubble.

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User Comments

SexyJams's Avatar

SexyJams@ guyderman

Nah for a first time user he wasn't antagonistic or aggressive. Hell, if I could afford a good gaming PC, I know that I'd bloody get one. Until then, I'll keep hopelessly entering competitions.

He seems fine to me :)
Posted 18:25 on 29 November 2010
guyderman's Avatar

guyderman@ SexyJams

I think he comes across like another arrogant PC gamer that loves spouting off about how superior PC gaming is to console gaming! *yawn* we already know - move along!
Posted 16:32 on 29 November 2010
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

Because bumping month old threads is worth something.
Posted 23:40 on 28 November 2010
SexyJams's Avatar

SexyJams@ Highwayman

I've seen you posting in several reviews and previews around the website, and I have to say, I'm really enjoying your contributions man. Keep them up :)
TU
Posted 21:53 on 28 November 2010
Highwayman's Avatar

Highwayman

Utterly dissapointed having to suffer X360/Ps3 grade graphics on the PC version, If PC wanted DX9 we'd never bother having DX10 and DX11 with úber fx and physics, oh but everything has to keep console babies happy cos they get mugged £45+ for all games.... LMAO.

Levels are way to linear and short too, as for multi... MW2 was crap compared to Bad Co. 2 so likely the same result here... pale comparison to Battlefield series. 6/10 overall
Posted 17:26 on 28 November 2010
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

4/10 for the PC version, absolutely waste since it's not fixed and the latest patch made the game worse.

Thanks Treyarch.
Posted 15:47 on 28 November 2010
CristalShines's Avatar

CristalShines

Great game like all COD games
but this COD Black Ops i dont like that the
COD Black Ops have Zombies i didnt know that ever happens to have zombies in
COD ... even that the president is killing zombies in last mission ;D
but yeah great game post nice getting throu pages reading this is great :)
Posted 02:49 on 28 November 2010
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker@ Bloodstorm

Hmm well one can hope they patch that sh*t up soon.
Posted 02:04 on 10 November 2010
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

Tried some of them already, they dont work
Posted 23:27 on 09 November 2010
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker@ Bloodstorm

Ive heard some potential fixes from people on twitter. I'm sure if you look around you'll find a solution.
Posted 23:24 on 09 November 2010
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

Since you're a PC player, dont, keep your money for a little longer until a patch comes out.
Posted 23:23 on 09 November 2010
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker

Smashing review Martin! Definitely going to get this at some point.
Posted 23:20 on 09 November 2010
chelskiboy247's Avatar

chelskiboy247

Another 3-page epic from Martin Gaston, nice work.

At the moment I have this in my house but I'm not allowed to play it until my brother has done his Physics module on Thursday, oh the pain...
Posted 22:41 on 09 November 2010
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

PC version is annoying as hell at the moment, random freezing and lag has almost put me off it.
Posted 21:42 on 09 November 2010
Wido's Avatar

Wido

My friends bullied me into getting Black Ops. So, today I broke into my Wii piggybank fund and brought the game. Not long come back from college and just finished reading the review.

Yet again Martin, you have dished up a mouth watering review, and making me want to rip open Black Ops and play it. Top stuff and keep it up!
Posted 15:58 on 09 November 2010

Game Stats

Technical Specs
Call of Duty: Black Ops
9
Out of 10
Call of Duty: Black Ops
  • Single-player is very entertaining
  • Multiplayer changes are for the better
  • Excellent customisation options
  • Takes a while to kick off
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 09/11/2010
Platforms: Xbox 360 , PS3 , PC , Wii , DS
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Genre: First Person Shooter
Rating: BBFC 18
Site Rank: 622 56
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