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     " ...It is, part and parcel, exactly what you've come to expect from any Call of Duty game. "

      Title: Call of Duty: Black Ops by Activision

      Format: PC Shooter

      Reviewing Monkey: Mojo Jojo


      The Hype...

       Something like the 157th title in the Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops is the latest offering from Treyarch, the developer that brought us Call of Duty: World at War. Unlike the previous World War II offerings, or the fully-modern affairs from Infinity Ward, Black Ops deals in the murky, espionage-rich post Vietnam era.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      So I am unable, and unwilling, to pretend that you haven't played any of the last half-dozen Call of Duty games, so we're going to skip all of the pre-amble about what the franchise is and how it plays. Though, I will point out that if, somehow--inexplicably, magically--you are interested in first-person shooters but haven't played any of the others, get off your ass and do it. They're worth it.
     Now then, on to Black Ops
     I'll begin by simply saying that it is, part and parcel, exactly what you've come to expect from any Call of Duty game. It has a short, flashy, often-overwhelming campaign. It has an experience-based multiplayer system that allows you to unlock new weapons, new perks, and new equipment. And, since it's Treyarch's turn to develop, it also has Nazi Zombies.
     The campaign is solid, with an intriguing story about black operations run everywhere from Vietnam to Cuba. It includes far more political intrigue than we've come to expect from these titles, and though somewhat disjointed in its presentation, is actually a hoot to slog through. My chief complaint about it is its length, which is only around 6 or 8 hours long--and there is really no replay value to ever make you want to do it again.
     Still, it's the multiplayer that COD has become known for, and Black Ops definitely doesn't disappoint. Fixed are the vast majority of the atrocities committed by Infinity Ward in the last game--though a few of them aren't fixed quite enough. Gone are most of the badly broken double-wielding gimmick classes and cheating perk combinations...though, do note that I say "most," and not "all." Also gone is the train-wreck that was IW.Net, though Black Ops still requires the use of on-line connections to other gamers and lacks any kind of LAN support.
     On the upside, however, they have not only dumped any need for rank or level progression for private games, but have actually gone so far as to make customizable private servers. This means that invite-only games can play using the full range of perks and attachments (whether players have earned them or not), or that you can create customized classes and killstreaks that your players have to choose from. It's a great system that lets your games play exactly the way you want them to--though the interface to set games up is clunker and more difficult to control than it needs to be.
     Now if only they would've gone the extra step and allowed for LAN play...but I digress.
     Also back in Black Ops is Nazi Zombies, which includes two new maps and one new arcade-style mini-game mode. The mini-game is cute, and the new maps aren't bad, but the consensus around our office is that Zombies, in general, has a very "been there, done that" feel to it. Aside from the selections of new weapons there is really nothing added to make Black Ops Zombies anything more than the last game was, which is a bit frustrating. And, speaking of frustrating, the difficulty level of it has been ramped up considerably...which wouldn't be bad except that it comes strictly in the form of harder to kill zombies.
     Add it all up and you get a very solid, though very familiar, gaming experience. Indeed, the only thing truly new to the franchise is Combat Training, a new mode that allows players to team up with or against bots in Free For All or Deathmatch games.
     Somewhat surprisingly, this mode has been the hands-down favorite in our offices, as going cooperative against bots simply never gets old. Unfortunately, this mode does not include any kind of objective based play (the developers are on-record as saying it is too hard to program bots that will do objectives), and lacks any form of advanced customization (which means no hard-core and no controlling bot load-outs).
     Even more unfortunately, Combat Training also replaces two features that we would've really liked to see back in Call of Duty--Co-Op Campaign and Spec-Ops. Which, unfortunately, on balance feels like we're losing more features than we're gaining.
     Still, those gripes aside, Black Ops is a great game overall and one that's well worth picking up.

      The Verdict:

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