first impressions on call of duty: black ops

Call of Duty: Black Ops (COD:BO) has been released and I spent pretty much my entire evening playing multiplayer on the x-box version. I’m exceedingly pleased with the end results, and it is far superior to the recent unfinished Medal of Honor (which I complained about, twice) and better than most aspects of the last COD game, Modern Warfare 2.

I already liked Treyarch’s previous COD entry, World at War, better than either of the Modern Warfare games, both in single and multiplayer. I liked the guns, pacing, and the polish of things like the menu and lobby systems. The menu system quality Infinity Ward never even came close to as far as ease of use and usefulness of information. Treyarch’s map designs have also been far superior to most of the ones from Infinity Ward. In single player (infinite respawn difficulty aside) WAW was a far better experience than the cobbled-together story and uninspired gameplay of MW2 (and unsatisfying final vehicle and QTE endings). WAW was also a far better experience to complete in veteran. Frustrating, yes, but it felt way better when completed. (I did not bother with Mile-High Club in MW2.)

Similar to what I did for MOH, here are some Day 1 impressions on multiplayer. I stuck to Team Deathmatch for the duration. I wasn’t a high enough level yet (need to be 19) to play Hardcore modes, which is where I spend most of my time. I’m also not going to mention everything I liked; just the things that I really liked above and beyond the norm for COD games. If you read my complaints about MOH, pretty much every one is a positive in COD:BO.

Note: Any mention of money or buying items refers to in-game money that you earn by playing. This is not purchased with real money.


  • Top-notch FPS maps. I absolutely love Treyarch’s map design team. They make interesting maps, large maps, with a great, great eye to competitive play and game flow and versatility. There are spots to camp and ways to attack every camper. This is even more pronounced after having played the horrible MOH maps and the not-nearly-perfect MW2 maps.
  • There are 14 maps out of the box. In MOH, it only took about 60 minutes to already be sick of the small map rotation, and map packs in MW2 have given rise to not even seeing every map in a given 6 hour play session. I love the variety.
  • Killstreak rewards no longer contribute to earning more of them. So if you call in an airstrike that kills 3 people and you only needed 3 more kills for the next reward, you still have to earn your 3 kills on your own. This is an excellent change, and a subtle shift in making killstreak rewards not contribute nearly as much to the OPness of some players. Chaining killstreaks was common in MW2, and really felt pretty cheap.
  • You get upgrades when you want them (mostly). In-game money buys your upgrades. This is cool since you don’t have to wait until like level 28 for the Ghost (camoflage) perk. If you know what you want to get, you don’t have to necessarily wait for the right level to unlock them. Guns and some other items still have a level requirement, but for most things you can open them when you want them. This is really cool and will help streamline class buildouts for experienced players who know what they want to use.
  • Menu system is excellent. I hated certain nuances in the MW2 menu system, and MOH was downright awful. WAW had the best one in recent memory, and somehow Treyarch has even one-upped that. It’s beautiful and easy. How hard is it to make one-click voting?! Thank you Treyarch.
  • Combat stats. In a word, I fucking love the stats provided by BO. I sorely missed even the small amount of stats provided in WAW that MW2 just didn’t bother with. Happy to see little things as well, like the Nemesis card is back. Little things like that help make a 4-hour session in the same lobby kind of fun.
  • kill-death ratio displayed on all score screens. This is the golden stat in team deathmatch (and maybe in any FPS game mode): kills over deaths. If you’re above 1, you’ve been a service to your team, whether you made only 3 kills whiling dying 2 times, or made 30 kills while dying 20 times, you’re still a benefit to your team. It’s great to actually see this number finally represented.
  • Party-only chat is back! One of the most annoying parts of x-box MW2 multiplayer was being forced to hear all the racist kids talking, and stealing away any buddy-buddy privacy for talking to your friends. Treyarch brought the WAW style back where your party can stick to party chat for some privacy…and sanity.
  • The playercard design-making is interesting, and I can’t wait to see some really cool examples that people make in game, especially the emblem.
  • Grenade Launcher/Bazookas (so far) aren’t as low-rent as in MW2. MW2 multiplayer, especially in hardcore, sometimes devolved into who can toss out the most grenade launcher and bazooka shots and score lucky kills. So far, it seems like these weapons aren’t quite as OP as previous games, which is a nice change. It’s possible people just aren’t using them yet…
  • Theater mode. I certainly won’t use it much, but the ease of use and power in watching game replays and editing them is amazing. I spent some time in just one of my own games, and was amazed at what you can see and do, from watching anyone in game (even enemies) to snapping out of FPS view into free-floating camera. (caveat: I didn’t find a way to move the camera elevation straight up or down yet.)
  • Tomahawk looks fun! Actually, I can’t believe how often I died to one last night. Also, I swear someone threw some sort of homing knife at me once. At least, that’s how it looked in the killcam! I wonder if the crossbow does that… In MW2, I enjoyed working on the throwing knives to unlock that title/emblem (still hard to be effective with them), so knives/tomahawks may be more viable this time around?


  • Small resolution on menu text. If you’re like me and haven’t upgraded your television in 3+ years (I was early on the plasma kick), then there is some annoyance in all the information presented on menu screens. Not a huge deal, but noticable.
  • Initial feeling of being overwhelmed by all the things you can buy, especially upon realization that if you want to unlock Red Dot sights on every gun, you don’t just buy it once or even once per weapon type, but actually buy it on every single weapon. This is offset by the quick earning of money to spend. There’s also added tracking of contracts, challenges, your money, what you can and want to buy, and so on. It’s a pretty detailed game that can will be overwhelming at first.
  • Playercard design is different from MW2. In MW2, you tended to earn your way through titles and emblems, but in COD you pretty much get to the level you need to be and then buy the designs. I’ll likely just miss the challenges, but not miss the difficulty in getting some of them.
  • No preview ability for playercard purchases. Need to spend in-game money to test things out.
  • Dogs are back as a killstreak reward, and they’re still a pain in the ass to kill on xbox (stupid controller).
  • Melee attacks lack “thunk!” I still miss the WAW melee attacks where there was a very visceral “thunk” of the knife slamming in, as well as a physical jerk of the body that felt exceedingly satisfying. MW2 didn’t come close, and MOH was awful. BO does ok, but it still feels a little weak. By default, it seems you can score knife kills from a half-step farther away than previous games.
  • Knifer/Runner build? Speaking of knife distance killing, I don’t think there is a perk anymore to lengthen the distance you can score knife kills. These were very fun in WAW or even MW2 to run around quickly and get knife and other obscenely CQB kills. I’ll try a runner build again at some point. Hmm, no riot shield either, not that that was terribly efficient in any but the smallest maps (Rust)…

In short, it is glorious to not only be playing a COD game again, but to be playing a Treyarch COD game.