Geek Gifts 2010: Call of Duty: Black Ops

According to Sonja Thompson, there are a lot of things to like about Call of Duty: Black Ops. Find out what new features she enjoys the most (did somebody say "zombies"?) and where she thinks the video game is lacking.

The Call of Duty series released its seventh installment on Nov. 9, 2010, called Black Ops. This first-person shooter game, developed by Treyarch and published by Activision, takes place during the 1960’s Cold War era, in locations such as Russia, Cuba, and Vietnam.

As with other Call of Duty releases, you can select different modes to play, including single-player campaign and multiplayer online. The campaign storyline focuses on CIA black operations during the Cold War, brainwashing, flashbacks, and an experimental Soviet chemical weapon codenamed "Nova-6." The multiplayer mode, which allows you to compete online in a variety of different matches, focuses on customization and socialization.

Black Ops is the sequel to Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War, which was released in November of 2008. A lot of World at War fans were excited about the new zombie maps, Kino Der Toten and "Five," plus an arcade-game version called Dead Ops Arcade. Black Ops’ predecessor, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, was released in November of 2009, and so a few comparisons are drawn between these three releases.


New features

  • Online split-screen
  • Crossbows with bolts and explosive ammunition
  • "Create-a-Class 2.0" – more personalization and upgradable perks
  • New killstreak rewards – remote control explosive cars, guided missiles, and controllable attack helicopters
  • A currency system – players can buy weapons, accessories, and clothes
  • "Wager Match" – players can gamble their currency in these free-for-all matches; four different game modes
  • “Contracts” – players can purchase these time limited objectives to earn more currency and Experience Points (XP)
  • Players can record and share clips from multiplayer online gameplay
  • New zombie maps – Kino Der Toten (translated as Cinema of the Dead, with World at War characters Edward Richtofen, Tank Dempsey, Takeo, and Nikolai Belsinki.) and “Five” (John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Fidel Castro, and Richard Nixon battle zombies at The Pentagon). The Dead Ops Arcade is also a new zombie addition.

What I like

  • Split-screen online play: The ability to play split-screen online is probably my favorite new feature on this game. If you live alone or only have one controller, this might not be a big deal for you, but I’m sure that everyone else has felt the pain of having to share online gaming time. My son and I can now play online at the same time, which is great because I suck at rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock.
  • Killstreak rewards: The killstreak rewards in Black Ops are much better than previous Call of Duty games. For example, in Modern Warfare 2, a three killstreak only gets you a UAV, which shows enemies on the map as red dots. In Black Ops, a three killstreak will earn you a Spy Plane or the RC-XD, which is a really cool remote control car that explodes when you drive it into your enemies. This deadly child’s toy will easily add an extra kill to your streak. Other sweet killstreak rewards include the Valkyrie Rockets, or guided missiles (after a seven killstreak) and Gunship, or controllable attack helicopter (after an 11 killstreak).
  • Currency to purchase guns, attachments, and more: In Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, you unlock guns at certain levels. The difference is how you obtain attachments and different camouflage. In Modern Warfare 2, you have to earn them. For example, when you unlock the ACR, you have to get 75 kills with that weapon to earn the silencer. However, in Black Ops, once you unlock the guns, you have to buy and equip them – and then you can immediately buy attachments (if you have enough currency). Sure, it might take away the sense of pride for having unlocked the highest camo or all the attachments of one weapon, but it also ensures that you’re not up all night trying to achieve the same results.
  • Customization: This was a nice feature for my son, because he’s the co-leader of a clan. He thought it was pretty sweet that he could put his clan tag on his weapons.
  • Contracts: There are three different kinds of contracts: Mercenary, Operations, and Specialists. These are great because you can purchase them for a small amount of currency, but if you complete them on time, they pay handsomely (and some even earn you XP).
  • Theater: You can now view all of the multiplayer games that you’ve played online, and then you can crop the video segments to create your own montage and share it with the Black Ops Community. You can also store your favorite clips – your own and those uploaded by the Community – in a location called My File Share.
  • New weapons and specials (secondary weapons): I’m a big fan of some of the new weapons in Black Ops, including the Commando, automatic FAMAS, and FN-FAL (assault rifles), plus the Mac11 and Skorpion (sub machine guns). The new specials, or secondary weapons, are also excellent. Ballistic knives are a double threat because you can shoot them and use them to stab your enemies. The crossbow is a beast, because it has bolts with explosive tips, which can potentially take out several enemies if they’re running in a pack.
  • New Zombie maps: This is the real reason I’m addicted to Black Ops. After playing the zombie mode on World at War, I knew that it would just be a matter of time before Call of Duty satiated gamers’ desires for new zombie maps. I like the originality of “Five,” with political figures and scientists at the Pentagon, even though I can’t figure out how to survive more than 15 rounds. Kino Der Toten feels more familiar to me, with the same characters and similar setting as the World at War zombie maps, and so this is the one I play most often. However, it can be a bit repetitive if you run the same pattern or loop in the cinema, which coincidentally is the easiest way to stay alive (to date, I’ve made it 32 rounds on a solo match).

What I don't like

  • I don’t play a lot of the multiplayer games, but my son thinks that some of the maps are terrible. A few of them are just a battle for position… once one team gets in the more popular or powerful position, then the game is pretty much one-sided.
  • They downgraded some of the stronger weapons in Modern Warfare 2, such as the M16, which my son actually preferred because of the controlled bursts and amount of damage it inflicted on enemies. In Black Ops, enemies can run through hits and hit markers, making it almost impossible for a three-round burst weapon (such as the M16) or semi-automatic to be successful. God help you if you have a pistol.
  • Repetition. I mentioned this with the Kino Der Toten zombie map, but other gameplay in Black Ops – single-player campaign mode and multiplayer online – is also a bit repetitious. I was talking to my colleague Mark Kaelin, who downloaded Black Ops on his PC the day it was released, and he said that he thought it had good cut scenes, but they actual gameplay didn’t break any concepts. If you’ve played Call of Duty before, you’ll find Black Ops familiar and somewhat predictable.

Geek bottom line

For Call of Duty fans – and other folks who enjoy FPS games – Black Ops will be a welcome addition to your gaming collection. The single-player campaign is relatively short (it took me about five hours to complete), but you’ll get hours, days, weeks, and even months of entertainment with the Black Ops zombie maps and online multiplayer mode. I’m sure that there’s a whole lot more to Black Ops than I’ve covered in this review. We welcome feedback about your experience in the discussion thread.

Geek gift guide

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ***
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: *****

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.