by James Trujillo
With all the uncertainties surrounding the Activision/Infinity Ward debacle that took place back in March, many pondered an inevitable fall from grace for the Call of Duty franchise. With Medal of Honor's impending preempt release, that speculation was still debatable. However, hardly anyone ever considered the opposite. Except for maybe those who were hard at work behind the doors at Treyarch. They were given an opportunity to prove to the naysayers of the Infinity Ward fan club that they could bring the franchise to bigger and better heights. Even with that hideous monkey called skepticism on their back, the team at Treyarch knew what was at stake and have made their point very clear.
Call of Duty: Black Ops took a lot of risks by stepping away from the norm, particularly in terms of storytelling. Players primarily take the role of Alex Mason, a man who is being held captive and interrogated for information concerning the Ascension Group. A seemingly random sequence of numbers is being broadcast at an unknown location, and his captors believe he has the answers to unravel their mystery. It's hard to speak too much on the plot's topic without giving away any spoilers, but I will say this; their new formula was a huge success.
The story still has plenty of the blockbuster elements that the franchise is known for, but manages to portray itself in a much more intelligent light. It's not just the typical action for action's sake type of game. The story has a well-written narrative that conspiracy buffs will surely love. Not only that, but the main character has a more vocal presence than any previous Call of Duty. The developers even decided to take a slightly more cinematic approach with the addition of a few cutscenes, rather than having dialogue throughout loading screens to help with the pacing. They managed to keep a good balance between set piece moments as well, which are just as intense as ever. Some of the most brutal melee kills are executed during stealth segments, and I imagine that's why they included an option to turn off "graphic" content at the start of the game.
The single player campaign wasn't the only bold evolution that took place, as the multiplayer component had its fair share of alterations. The most prominent is the new currency upgrade system. This new progression method allows players to earn "COD" points in addition to experience points during matches. Not only is this improvement leaps and bounds over the old, but it also gives players a level field by having all perks and attachments available for purchase at the start. Also, once you've unlocked the appropriate categories through ranking up, you can acquire any kill streak reward you wish or invest in an insane amount of customization options. Higher-tier weapons are still unlocked at certain ranks as well, but the advantages they once held are now an issue of the past.
Treyarch even threw in all-new Wager Matches to give those big-talking COD players the chance to put-up or shut-up. These new Free-For-All playlists let you gamble all your hard-earned points in four different game-types: One in the Chamber, Sticks & Stones, Gun Game, and Sharpshooter. Mark my words; these will be some of the most frenetic multiplayer matches you will ever play, bar-none. There are three separate buy-in levels depending on the amount of currency you're willing to risk, and each mode is very addicting and unique.
One in the Chamber might be very familiar to fans of the Nintendo 64's GoldenEye 007 video game. However, this adaptation takes hints from "The Man With the Golden Gun" mode, in that the player is equipped with a pistol that grants one-shot kills regardless of where it hits the body. The difference is that you are only given one bullet at a time, and you need to hit your mark to earn another. There are no ammo pick-ups, but you can gain additional rounds by executing melee kills if you want to preserve your shots. To make things even more difficult, players are only given three lives to assert their Bond-like machismo qualities.
Many won't be familiar with the Sticks & Stones wager match, but it is still an incredible addition nonetheless. This match shows off some of the brand new weapon additions in Black Ops. Players are given a crossbow, a tomahawk, and a ballistic knife to do all their dirty work. Reload times for the crossbow are sluggish, and it makes it all the more hectic when trying to avoid incoming tomahawks to the face. The great thing about Sticks & Stones is that these tomahawk kills can "humiliate" players and drop them to the bottom of the score rankings. This gives everyone an equal shot for the pool of winnings at any given moment, so you might want to start practicing the ol' dance & dodge maneuver to help improve your chances.
If you want to get easily accustomed to a multitude of gun types in the game, then you should try your hand at the Gun Game wager match. The objective is to get a single kill through a set variety of different weapons, and the first to reach the twentieth in the cycle is the winner. The catch here is that if you get knifed during a match, you'll get humiliated and set back one tier. This mode will certainly take a lot of people out of their comfort zone who are used to playing weapon favorites, but it will also help make them better players in the long-run.