Have you ever had an establishment’s burger – the world’s most perfect food – so delicious it bordered on life-changing, and then returned later only to be fed a dry, tasteless slab of meat; limp, soggy lettuce sandwiched by stale bread? For many – justified or not – this was the experience of playing Treyarch’s biennial Call of Duty games after those by principal developer, Infinity Ward.
Another year, another Call of Duty – and once again Treyarch are at the grill. Developed parallel to Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops is the result of the team’s last two years of work – and is the first game where the studio’s entire staff has been engaged on a single project. Is it another short-order, greasy take out meal – or have Treyarch stepped out from behind head chef Infinity Ward’s shadow, to produce an epicurean delight?
It’s the first time that Treyarch have moved on from the once ubiquitous World War II setting, Â to a more modern universe. Unlike the near-future world of Modern Warfare though, they’ve still stuck to a historical period, this time focusing largely on the Cold War battle against communism and socialism. Set between 1961 and 1968, Black Ops puts you in the well-worn shoes of Alex Mason, an operative in the secret Studies and Observations Group, SOG, an elite military unit comprised of the best from more acknowledged military branches; The Air Force, The Green Berets, Navy Seals, The CIA et al that conducted covert operations prior to, and during the war in Vietnam.
The game is presented through a series of flashbacks. Mason, the main protagonist is bound to a chair, being tortured and interrogated by a mysterious unseen captor – and forced to relate and relive past military activities. No longer a silent cipher, your loquacious character sports a voice – excellently provided by Avatar’s Sam Worthington – and it’s this emotionally-connective characterisation, and the relationships between Mason and the game’s cast that make this the most narrative-driven Call of Duty yet. Not entirely too surprising; story development and script writing support was provided by David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the screenplay for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight.
Gameplay kicks off with the attempted assassination of Cuban Revolution icon Fidel Castro during the famous, ultimately unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. Assisted by fellow SOG cohorts Woods and Bowman (voiced by, and with an uncanny resemblance to rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube), the operation appears to have been a success – but the reappearance of Castro reveals it to be a ruse, masterminded by Russian Forces leader Nikita Dragovich and his general, Kravtchenkov. What follows is the Call of Duty standard of tracking down and killing the main protagonists to prevent an orchestrated national catastrophe.
In the succeeding time-hopping flashbacks you’ll be taken on an action-packed thrill ride through a variety of beautifully presented scenarios in assorted exciting locales; city streets, the beautifully foliaged jungles of Vietnam and Laos, the gratuitous inhospitable snowy Arctic Circle and the surprise inclusion of an exhilarating chase on the ramshackle rooftops of Kowloon, Hong Kong.