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Call of Duty: Black Ops: First impressions

A screenshot from Activision/Treyarch's Call of Duty: Black Ops


At the time of this writing I've only spent about six hours with Activision and Treyarch's Call of Duty: Black Ops. My review won't appear until later this week, but given that millions of people will likely think about purchasing it over the next few days I feel obligated to offer a few initial thoughts.

The three hours I've spent with the campaign-which, according to the mission select menu, appears to put me about half way through it-have been fun. It's been a wild ride through 1960s-era covert operations as remembered by a soldier under interrogation, and features at least one unexpected nod to a previous Call of Duty game (no spoilers here). Each mission I've encountered feels utterly different than the last, from the trenches of Vietnam to the high rises of Hong Kong to a missile testing facility in the U.S.S.R.

Of note, though, is that it's a little less gritty and a bit more theatrical than Treyarch's Second World War campaigns. Think big, cinematic, over-the-top action sequences. One early mission saw me move from minigun to motorbike to a mounted weapon on a flatbed truck in the space of just a couple of minutes, with the chaos and cacophony rising each second. And each mission seems to want to outdo the last. It's immersive, action-packed, and enjoyable, but it may not have quite the same emotional impact of Treyarch's earlier Call of Duty games.

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I spent my other three hours online, getting my feet wet in what looks to be a multiplayer experience just as epic and compelling as previous entries in the franchise.

The Xbox servers I was on were teeming with players, evidenced by what I thought to be some extraordinary game stats that popped up while in menus. Just two hours after launch 176,000 matches had already been played and 0.01 per cent of the world's population had been killed. I also learned that 2.29 per cent of the gross domestic product of Ireland (in virtual U.S. dollars) had been spent by players upgrading their equipment loadouts and purchasing multiplayer challenges.

Put another way, you won't have any trouble finding people to play with.

I spent most of my time in standard death matches and domination games (one must advance in rank in order to unlock other modes), and while I encountered the usual annoyances-tweens coughing into their mics, players with seemingly inhuman reflexes that help them notch 30 or 40 kills per match, and a bit of lag here and there-I still had an awful lot of fun. The controls are familiar and tight and the range of customization options seems expansive.

Like the campaign, there is a lot of diversity to be found in multiplayer, and I'm not just talking about the wildly varying maps-though I have to note that I adored the look and feel of a 1960s nuclear test site map dubbed "Nuketown," which comes complete with mannequins and colourful faux homes with Formica counters that actually sparkle if you watch them long enough (yes, I admit to camping in a kitchen).

Outside of what might be called traditional online play modes are wager matches that allow players to bet the currency they earn in games that have some pretty madcap rules-like weapons that switch every 40 seconds-in hopes of big payoffs. I played only a few games in this mode, but it seemed evident that this nook of Black Ops' multiplayer will be inhabited primarily by the very best players. In one match I scored just a single kill.

Then there's combat training, which lets people play with friends but has them facing off against bots instead of humans. It's meant to give players who might be intimidated by online experiences a chance to get their feet wet in competitive play (it even has its own separate ranking and rewards system) before heading out to test their mettle against living combatants. Sadly, I've not had time to try it yet.

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Clearly, there's a lot more for me to see before rendering a final verdict-I haven't even had a chance to select a wonderfully enticing main menu option labelled "Zombies"-but one thing is clear: Call of Duty: Black Ops is a very good game. Is it great? To answer that question I'll need to advance past the eighth of what appear to be at least 50 multiplayer career levels and see how the rest of the story shakes out.

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