Review: Call of Duty – Black Ops

I put some heavy playtime into Call of Duty: Black Ops on Thursday, but didn’t get the chance to write anything up for it then. I made it to about three levels from the end of the game before putting it down for the night. My afternoon was free today, so I plugged another hour into it and beat it. I may have judged Black Ops too quickly before – the story does pull up around the halfway mark, and the game play becomes a little more varied.

By far my favorite level in the game was the Arctic level as Victor Reznov. Not only does it feature two of the protagonists from World at War (Reznov and Dimitri Petrenko), serving as the major link between the two games, but its also the only level in the game where you go back to killing Nazis. What is so satisfying about shooting National Socialists, anyway? Perhaps I am merely nostalgic for the days of the WWII shooter. Back when the good guys were good guys, the bad guys were bad guys, and there was no convoluted conspiracy story line you had to keep track of.

Speaking of which, the story does get better a little later on. I’m about to spoil the story, so skip this paragraph if you concerned about ruining a storyline that is now four years old. Anyway, the game develops the primary characters more, but by far the most likable character becomes Reznov, who joins you on several missions. Reznov is an awesome character – he is heroic, resolute, and uplifting the darkest of moments. That makes it all the more shocking when a twist reveals he is a hallucination. Reznov is the Tyler Durden to Mason’s Cornelius – they are the same person, but Mason sees Reznov as a separate person thanks to a dissociation disorder explained by events triggered earlier in the game. It’s a plot twist I did not see coming, and although it’s not the most original plot device, it’s a level of writing I did not expect from Black Ops.

After the credits ended, it actually took me straight into Treyarch’s infamous “Zombie” mode. For those unfamiliar, the Treyarch CoD titles all include a unique survival mode where up to four (eight?) players can try to survive an infinite wave of zombie hoards. The first map, Nacht der Untoten (“Night of the Undead” in German) was basically an afterthought added into World at War by the developers. However, fans quickly discovered that the mode was a ton of fun, and the developers ran with it. After adding several new DLC maps to World at War, they brought the feature over to Black Ops and even Black Ops II. The mode has become a runaway success, and has helped distinguish Treyarch’s CoD titles from the rest of the series.

I was actually one of the first people to really fall in love with the “Nacht der Untoten” map back in World at War, when it was still called “Nazi Zombies”. It was an absolute blast to play. In fact, my friend Randall and I (and several other friends) put several dozen hours into the WaW multiplayer and were thrilled to discover the game mode. It had a simple elegance to it: shoot zombies, earn points, buy better weapons. The second map, “Verruckt”, added a ton of content to it by requiring players to turn on the power to reach certain sections. World at War become the sleeper hit of the year for my friends and I back when we played in the summer of 2009.

“Zombies” has changed a lot since World at War, though. The maps are now completely bananas, with story objectives, traps, tons of additional rooms, and a bunch of bonkers supernatural mumbo-jumbo to ratchet up the creepy factor. I can’t even keep track of the batshit insane storyline. In Black Ops, Treyarch took Zombies in an interesting direction with the addition of “Five”. While previous Zombie maps were high on the intensity scale, “Five” actually features President John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in a sort of loony, farcical version of Zombies. It even comes with a cartoonish intro video where the four are chatting with one another; JFK spouts some of his famous catchphrases while a buffoonish Nixon cowers at the sounds of zombies breaking into the Pentagon.

As suspected, the map is absolutely huge, much bigger than I could have ever hoped to explore without the help of co-op buddies. I survived four rounds of the zombie invasions before succumbing to my undead adversaries. Of all things, the Zombies mode is the one thing I really wish I could take the time enjoy. Playing Zombies on XBox Live with a group of three others, even if they aren’t your close friends, is a great time. Sadly, I cancelled my XBox Live membership a few months ago, and with other entries of my backlog calling to me, it would be senseless to renew for a few short games of Zombies. Sigh. There will always be time afterward, I suppose.

No more time for gaming tonight, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Sunday means a free afternoon AND the last episode of Game of Thrones! Can’t wait!

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