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Call Of Duty: Black Ops Review

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We love the smell of napalm from our Xbox

★★★★★

Seven years on and deeming the latest in the annual Call of Duty franchise to be the most innovative instalment to date seems incredulous. However, by dispelling of the pomposity of its contemporary warfare brethren and finally putting to rest the exhausted landscape of WWII, Black Ops is one of the freshest first-person shooters in years.

Set during the Cold War with a foot firmly in Vietnam, the cinematic references are ladled thick and frequent, but the game isn’t lacking in distinct atmosphere. While each level contains the expected tropes of the genre - gunning through waves of enemies with an assortment of weaponry - Vietnam offers lush designs, from the shimmering water right down to the suffocating rat tunnels.

It refuses to bore players, as the action – jumping between increasingly impressive locations – delivers bombastic set-pieces in quick succession. If it falters, it’s the over-reliance on pedestrian AI that barely varies beyond duck-and-cover tactics. When Black Ops is at its most outstanding, it’s mixing the gunplay with an unparalleled cinematic flourish, hitting action beats not usually evident in gaming. It’s helped by sterling scripting and a voice cast boasting the likes of Sam Worthington, Ed Harris and Gary Oldman, each helping to lift the characters out of their macho-man-on-a-mission archetypes.

Supported by the most robust multiplayer the series has seen to date, Black Ops online will have gamers swooning at the wealth of features. While Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy and other regulars all return with a fresh sheen, new Wager matches across four distinct and joyously frantic modes pit players’ points against their skill. The highlights of which are ‘One in the Chamber’ (endowing each player with one bullet, one gun and three lives) and ‘Sticks and Stones’ (arming players with a crossbow, ballistic knife and a point-nullifying tomahawk). Each mode is sure to raise enough infantile smack talk across the online battlefield to keep headsets ringing throughout 2011.

Oft seen as the poor cousin in CoD development terms, Treyarch have long languished in Infinity Ward’s considerable shadow. With that in mind It’s no small feat that Treyarch have produced a game of such magnitude. Along with the meticulously diverse levels you’ll play through and the most polished multiplayer experience around, you'll find an intelligently crafted narrative that pushes the genre to new heights. The definitive CoD thus far? It might just be.