Call of Duty: Black Ops just set a record yesterday. They sold $360 million dollars worth of gunslinging action yesterday, more than any entertainment property has ever sold. Of course, Activision already held the record from last year’s record-setting Modern Warfare 2. I was able to get my hands on a copy for a bit yesterday, and these are some of my first impressions . . .

This is essentially the same as Call of Duty: World at War, affectionately known as CoD 5, in the sense that it has all of the same mechanics of the Modern Warfare game that preceded it. It is also designed by Treyarch, unlike the Modern Warfare games but similar to World at War.

Right off the bat, I noticed one major improvement over CoD 5, however. When Treyarch made World at War, they employed stylized graphics to make the game feel more “rugged” than Modern Warfare. However, the effect went awry, and CoD 5 is now synonymous with downgraded graphics. Black Ops doesn’t make this mistake, and looks on par with Modern Warfare 2, sometimes confusingly so.

I managed to get through the first 1/3 to ½ of the campaign, and I have to say that, like the Modern Warfare 2 campaign, it seems more than slightly ridiculous. You play some black ops assassin of sorts (hence the name of the game) who is obviously mentally disturbed. The story is told through cutscenes in which you see yourself speaking into a microphone to an unknown someone whose replies are transmitted via voice manipulator. After a year of captivity, you lead a prison break with nothing but a homemade knife, and a friend with a nightstick. Oh yeah, and a giant (named Sergei) who mysteriously conjures up a pickaxe.

Not only is the plotline sloppy, as per usual in recent CoD games, the mechanics are occasionally unbelievable. You find yourself hurling Molotovs at large towers out of a slingshot, and the explosions are so unbelievably devastating, all you can think is “Well that’s one hell of a Molotov”, and it actually loses what could potentially be a cool effect. Similarly, you inexplicably find a harpoon during your prison break, and manage to wrangle a chopper down to the ground.

It also has its stellar parts though. While un-innovative, Black Ops’ gameplay mechanics are outstanding. There are also some exciting novelty weapons, my favorite being the crossbow sniper, which is similar to the Half-Life 2 crossbow, except the bolts are explosive rather than electrically charged. The minigun, while not exactly an accurate portrayal, is also a lot of fun to use. They also pay tribute to the snowmobile scene from MW2 with a motorcycle chase, which is also fun, but short enough not to be too repetitive.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play enough to get an accurate opinion of the game, especially since I was unable to play the multiplayer, which is traditionally the franchise’s strong point. I think, though, I know what I can expect, largely good things. More to come.

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