To describe “Call of Duty: Black Ops” succinctly: over-the-top. From its explosion-loving campaign mode to its ludicrously in-depth multiplayer to its mode wherein you fight off hordes of zombies as John F. Kennedy, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” has a lot of wild things going on.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops”

Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Nintendo DS and PC

First focus must be put on the multiplayer, since it has been the main draw of the series ever since “Call of Duty 4” came out. “Black Ops” offers a highly customized play style, with a wealth of options for weapon loadouts, “perks” (helpful character traits like quicker reloads or infinite sprint) and rewards for kill streaks without dying (including radar and attack helicopters). The catch is that, like previous iterations in the series, very little of this customization is available at the beginning, as most abilities and weapons are locked until you gain enough experience. In order to get the best gear, persistent play is required

To circumvent this grind, Actvision introduced a new concept, “COD points.” COD points serve as a form of currency earned after each match, which players use to buy desired equipment or attachments immediately. COD points can also be used to buy and alter cosmetic items, like a character’s personal emblem, gun camouflage and more.

Further implementation of COD points comes in the form of wager matches. The top three players at the end of the match gain more points than they put in. Wager matches are a neat addition to the series and they comprise some of the most fun and intense game types included in “Black Ops.” Of course, there are also the classic deathmatch and objective-based modes.

Other multiplayer additions include a theater mode to view replays of your matches, a combat training mode to play with A.I. bots and the ability to play split-screen online with a friend.

The abundance of options in the multiplayer is noteworthy, but the gameplay is what matters, and in this regard “Black Ops” is fine, but not outstanding. The same core concept of aiming down sights and shooting an opponent before he can shoot you remains, the major difference being that everyone seems to die much quicker. Once an enemy starts firing, you’ll be lucky to last longer than a second. There’s rarely a chance to return fire or get to cover. In this way, “Black Ops” is a game of situational awareness more than anything. While the gameplay remains tense and engaging, multiplayer firefights just aren’t that exciting since they’re just so short.

The campaign of “Black Ops” has its ups and downs. In a change of pace from most shooters, “Black Ops” takes place during the Cold War, albeit a fictitious, alternate version of it. Gamers play the majority of the game as Alex Mason, an operative for the CIA who fights through various countries associated with the Cold War, from Cuba and Vietnam to Soviet Russia. All of these missions usually involve accomplishing some sort of outlandish feat, like taking out Fidel Castro, stopping a Russian space launch or blowing up the Viet Cong with a helicopter.

Every mission is linear and very scripted. Often, weapons put in place for specific occasions are useless otherwise, and deviation from the given path is discouraged. Still, there’s a pretty terrific amount of variety in the campaign, though this can be a mixed blessing. Some missions feel monotonous and repetitive, while others are smartly designed and well paced. The vehicle sections are particularly exhilarating and explosive. The single-player mode often seems like it’s trying too hard to blow people away, but some parts are genuinely quite cool.

Lastly, there is the “Zombies mode,” in which a player’s job is to defend an area from a horde of zombies for as long as possible. Once players beat the campaign, they unlock a new pentagon level, where they can play as John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and even Fidel Castro. While awesome in theory, this mode is unfortunately less entertaining than it sounds. The rooms players can defend are very small, there’s no variety in the zombies that come at you and it lacks the expected feeling of impending dread. It’s a nice diversion, but definitely not the draw of the game.

Just like previous games in the series, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” has a solid single-player component and a well thought out multiplayer system. “Black Ops” has a ton of wild new things happening in it, but none of them are executed so deftly that it feels like it’s advancing the series in any major way.

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