The latest Call of Duty release has already broken entertainment sales records, and by the time you read this it’s likely gained sentience, started a hard take-off singularity and taken control of all world markets and mediums. So, really, we could fill this page with pictures of kittens and random bits of our porn collection and it would be just as impactful on the success of the mighty CoD juggernaught.
But humour us – because we do have a strong opinion on this game, and – we hope – one that might prove useful.
Anyway, if you’ve been living in cave or just come out of a coma, Black Ops is seventh game in the Call of Duty series. A series, coincidentally, that we’re expecting will became increasingly oddly numbered and referenced when the inevitable Black Ops 2 comes out. It eschews not only the World War 2 settings of the original games, but also the hyper-realised near-future setting of the Modern Warfare games. Instead, Black Ops explores the secret history of the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of black ops specialist Alex Mason.
Bright and shining lies
Black Ops presents a far grittier world than any Call of Duty game before it, and you start off in a typically grim style… strapped to a chair in an interrogation room and getting tortured by faceless minions.
It’s fun times all round, really, and it makes for a great framing reference for the early missions in the game, which play out, effectively, as flashbacks. The first mission in particular is a great set piece that sets up the shadowy world Mason inhabits quite well – you’re part of a secret mission to assassinate Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in the early sixties. It’s a great nod of the head to a turbulent period of history, and this first mission sets up the game’s great themes – identity, the Cold War, and unveiling the real history behind some of the turning points of last century.
In a lot of ways, it’s quite annoying that, in the grand scheme of things, this part of the game will likely be quickly forgotten. Most people will tear through it as little more than a training regime for what many believe is the game’s main event – the online play. The campaign manages to reference historical events and classic conspiracies of the period, culminating in one of the most infamous assassinations in history.
And you might just be the trigger man…
It delivers a slightly different take on the increasingly well-worn military shooter genre. But it’s not perfect, not by a long stretch. There are many frustrating portions of the game that could really use a lot more explanation, and a heavy reliance on scripted events. On harder levels, where death happens often, you will certainly get sick of the same enemies spawning in the same order as your own allies do the same things.
But, overall, it’s probably the strongest story in the franchise yet.
Napalm for fun and profit
There’s a handy little ticker on the multiplayer launch GUI for Black Ops that keeps you up to date on the insanely huge numbers the game is racking up. It reports silly things like miles sprinted, or tonnes of explosive detonated… and it’s staggering. Similarly staggering is just how fast some folks are burning through the levels for virtual soldiers – do these people not have lives?!?
Well… probably not. What they have a serious dedication to one of the most frenetic online experiences you’ll ever enjoy – or not enjoy, as the case may be. Treyarch – Black Ops’ developer – has drawn much criticism in the past for being the red-headed step-child of the Activision stable, has delivered a fiendishly rich experience, easily banishing any worries about its involvement.