44 Reviews

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Triggers with attitude

Last year's praise-filled reviews of Modern Warfare 2 were followed by an astonishing backlash from gamers.

Critics were initially wowed by the thrilling set-pieces, tactical co-op and tried-and-tested multiplayer. But annoying bugs and game-ruining exploits spoilt the fun for many, whilst the single-player game seemed decreasingly stellar as the months past.

With hindsight, suddenly those 10/10 reviews didn't look quite so fair. And, boy, did hardcore gamers let us pundits know they thought we'd got it wrong.

Critiquing Call Of Duty: Black Ops, then, requires some trepidation. With CoD cynicism at an all-time high, it's going to to difficult to say anything celebratory without you lot not believing a word of it.

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But we're going to do it anyway.

Illegal Operation
As far as the campaign's concerned, Black Ops blows Modern Warfare 2 out of the water. Make no mistake: This is the coolest Call of Duty yet. It's action-packed, inventive, interesting and - for the first time ever in this series - actually offers something resembling a compelling narrative.

You wake up on an interrogation chair, bright lights in your eyes and a masked, robotic voice blaring demands from behind frosted glass. You're Alex Mason, a deadly Studies and Observations Group operative. It's pretty clear from the off that you have a secret past - and that someone, or something, is willing to torture you until you spill the beans.

What this information is and who's holding you become clearer as your interrogation progresses. At time passes, you revisit decades of classified SOG battles across the globe via flashbacks.

You can probably tell this is already a more compelling setup than anything the pair of CoD studios have ever attempted before. Treyarch pulls it off with aplomb.

Every scenario in the game is interesting and clearly defined: You'll visit the brutal jungle battlefields of Vietnam in what we'd describe as 'the ghillie suit level with more stabbing'; You'll drive a motor bike in a high speed chase through a military compound; You'll sneak through a huge and intimidating missile launch site and hold on to the flight stick to take part in helicopter dogfights. Oh yes.

That's about as much as we can tell you without strolling into spoiler territory - and we wouldn't want to do that, particularly as the Black Ops missions you haven't seen in the press screenshots and trailers are arguably the best.

The Call of Duty series still has the best action set pieces in the world - but it's the surprising focus on narrative that really brings the Hollywood moments together for an overly satisfying campaign.

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Treyarch has thrown half of Hollywood's smart alec ideas from the past 10 years into Black Ops. Eavesdrop our post-review completion pub conversation with other critics and you would've heard references like 'Fight Club', 'SAW', 'Inglorious Bastards', 'Das Boot' and 'f***ing brilliant war movies'.

Credit where credit's due then: Black Ops' twisting and deep narrative is a brave move on Treyarch's part, as many of the game's target audience probably won't have the faintest idea what's going on. Especially the Xbox Live kids. You know who I mean.

It's not Shakespeare, sure, but - without spoiling anything - Black Ops could have been a great movie. Treyarch's obviously put a lot of effort in to the plot, and it leaves Modern Warfare 2 looking like a comparatively mindless shooting game.

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