In the last three years, the “Call of Duty” franchise has exploded in popularity thanks to a bold decision to move from the overcrowded World War II shooter genre to present day conflict with “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” Since then, it’s been the dominant first-person shooter series, and the latest installment, “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” will definitely keep that trend alive.
“Black Ops” takes another unique approach to the setting, putting players in the midst of the Cold War. Players take control of Special Forces Operative Alex Mason, voiced by “Avatar” and “Clash of the Titans” star Sam Worthington, as he is interrogated by an unknown adversary with a heavily distorted voice asking about his classified overseas activities in the fight against communism. From there, each level unfolds as a flashback to past events that lead up to Mason’s interrogation.
This narrative style, which differs drastically from the storytelling of any of the other “Call of Duty” games, yields surprisingly fruitful results. Though it is initially quite confusing, the story of “Black Ops” comes together in a really exciting way that perfectly channels the paranoia and espionage of the Cold War. It actually ends up leaning toward science fiction, but just enough that it makes for an incredible plot twist by the end.
“Black Ops” sticks pretty strictly to the core formula that the franchise has been using for years now. Players make their way through often gorgeous levels killing Nazis, terrorists and Communists with an impressive collection firearms, all for the American good.
The single-player campaign features a wide array of vehicular sequences, globe-trotting and new weaponry that all keeps the act of slaying hundreds of Communists exciting from start to finish.
Those familiar with how frustrating vehicle control can be in first-person shooters will be glad to learn that the helicopter sequences in “Black Ops” are surprisingly well done with straight-forward, effective controls that make what could have been an endlessly frustrating scenario an awesome section of the game.
Another example of how “Black Ops” mixes things up is a sequence where you’re given a crossbow that shoots explosive arrows, combining the quiet satisfaction of precision sniping with the intense thrill of a rocket launcher. It’s really fun.
While all of the levels you’ll fight in look great, the Vietnam jungle in particular is really amazing to look at. The sunlight makes its way through the leafy canopy and the quiet rustling of animals in trees explodes into frightened screeches as gunfights ensue. Another level finds players running across the rooftops of Hong Kong in the rain, invoking an aesthetic feel similar to “Blade Runner.”
Players are further immersed in the world of the narrative by the impressive voice cast. Worthington plays Mason exceptionally, Ed Harris does a great job as CIA agent Jason Hudson and even Ice Cube performs the role of Corporal Bowman with style.
The real standout performance, however, is Gary Oldman, reprising his role as Sergeant Reznov from 2008’s “Call of Duty: World at War.” Emulating a surprisingly convincing Russian accent, Oldman makes Reznov one of the game’s absolute coolest characters.
But “Black Ops” isn’t perfect. One level in particular, where you have to defend Khe Sanh from Viet Cong soldiers and unforgiving game glitches, is nothing but an exercise in frustration.
At one point, as the game sent wave after wave of enemy soldiers at me, it refused to load the next scripted event, leaving me unable to move on in the story. Each wave was cut down by some invisible force, so there really wasn’t anything I could do besides reload the last checkpoint.
Though the glitch only happened that one time, the horrid memory remains.
That said, everything in “Black Ops,” from the great single-player to the addictive multiplayer, is solid and has enough edge-of-your-seat moments and high-quality action that it definitely warrants a purchase and upholds the high standard of the “Call of Duty” name.
4 out of 5 stars
[Photo credit: totallygn.com]