Shoot 'em up

Cold War globe-hopping from Cuba to Russia, Laos, and Vietnam in Call of Duty: Black Ops

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P>Call of Duty: Black Ops

(Treyarch / Activision), Xbox 360, PS3,Wii, PC

GAMER It probably wears on one's self-esteem to be perennially known as the "B team," but game developer Treyarch has carried the burden for five years in its work on the Call of Duty franchise. Following the runaway success of "A team," and franchise progenitor Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007, Treyarch's work on the series has gained a newfound level of awareness, and the company appears determined to take advantage of that increased visibility.

A lot of players were surprised when Treyarch's 2008 follow-up to Modern Warfare, World at War, turned out to be just as good as Infinity Ward's blockbuster, in spite of its return to the series' tired World War II roots. This strategy of taking Ward's successful formula and polishing it rigorously into a release simultaneously familiar and new is something Treyarch looks to repeat with this year's Black Ops. But intensifying legal issues between Infinity Ward and parent company Activision mean all eyes are on the franchise and its future, setting a rocky scene for Treyarch's big reveal.

Black Ops is set largely during the Cold War, globe-hopping from Cuba to Russia, Laos, and Vietnam. You play a top-secret operative as he is interrogated for information, each line of questioning launching the player into a flashback. The structure, which is a no-brainer for a series that leaps from location to location as much as Call of Duty does, allows Black Ops to deliver the best Duty story since Modern Warfare. To say that the story is vastly improved is not to say that the gameplay itself has taken any giant leaps — it's got explosions but is consistently missing tension. With so many action set-pieces, you often find yourself running around frantically, not knowing what to do while shit explodes all around you and characters yell at you to hurry up. So not much has changed.

Luckily, the single player experience is no longer the feather in the franchise's hat; players come for the series' RPG-meets-shooter multiplayer, which has dominated the online charts since its debut. Treyarch hasn't taken too many liberties here, and Black Ops' multiplayer plays a whole lot like its ancestors, but with fewer of the unnecessary perks and killstreaks that bloated last year's Modern Warfare 2.

Solo-only players might find Black Ops the equivalent of a sugar fix, but the multiplayer continues to deliver the addictive experience that made the franchise so successful, and cuts a lot of fat in the process. It's not Treyarch's masterpiece, but it has shown that it can recognize the faults of the franchise and delivered a game that goes down far easier than the last Infinity Ward project.

Take that, "A team!"

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