In recent years, the Call of Duty series has produced some of the best shooters on the Wii, establishing a high standard for competitors to match. The latest entry, Black Ops, clears that bar with room to spare, thanks in no small part to the Classic Controller support that the series has long been without. Yet regardless of whether you embrace the new control scheme or stick with your trusty Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the engrossing campaign is sure to entertain you with exciting, varied gameplay and grim narrative intrigue. The excellent multiplayer boasts some invigorating new features, and the new combat training mode gives novices a way to ease into the intense competitive action. Cooperative zombie killing and new online communication architecture help make Black Ops the most robustly featured game in the franchise, and though you may lament the lack of split-screen play, this is one of the best shooters of the year.
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The single-player campaign is set largely during the 1960s and takes you to Cold War hot spots like Cuba, Russia, and Vietnam. You are an elite covert operative, and your globe-trotting adventures form pieces of a puzzle--a puzzle that your mysterious captors are trying to put together by interrogating you. Each excursion into the field is a memory, and these missions slowly come together to build momentum as each interrogation cutscene puts another piece of the puzzle in place. It's not a very original mechanic, but it gives a coherent context to the action, and a few strong characters and dramatic moments give the story some genuine intrigue. The blurry edges of your consciousness conceal information that must come to light, and the erratic visual effects and eerie audio echoes that accompany your interrogations sometimes bleed into your mission memories, which creates a great tone of uncertainty that plays out in surprising and satisfying ways.
Your interrogation-fueled flashbacks are not beholden to the linear flow of time, allowing your missions cover a wide variety of geography and gameplay. A dramatic breakout from a brutal Soviet prison is one early highlight, and later missions feature frontline conflicts, urban firefights, and mountainous incursions. The environments are richly detailed, and though the campaign sometimes seems too visually ambitious for its own good, the occasionally lackluster textures aren't likely to hinder your enjoyment. In addition to the on-foot action, you use a number of vehicles to achieve your objectives. Some put you in the gunner's seat while others put you behind the wheel, and though the vehicle handling is unremarkable, the thrill of blowing stuff up and speeding through hostile terrain is undeniable. The core running-and-gunning mechanics remain as exciting as ever, and the gameplay variety throughout the campaign keeps the action moving at a great clip.
Though the campaign is a rip-roaring good time, it clocks in at a mere six hours long. The mode that will likely keep you coming back to Black Ops for months to come is, unsurprisingly, the competitive multiplayer. At its core, this is the familiar top-notch Call of Duty action that players have been enjoying for years. You earn experience for doing well in battle, and as you level up, you gain access to new and powerful ways to customize your loadouts. New weapons and maps freshen things up, and one of the new killstreak rewards--an explosive-laden remote-control car--is a delightfully deadly device that embodies the frantic, slightly goofy side of virtual online combat. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls still work very well and are extensively customizable, but the addition of Classic Controller support opens up a whole new kind of precision. Instead of pointing your arm and wrist, a small flick of the thumb is all that you need to acquire a target. This option makes Black Ops more accessible to players who have experience with shooters on other consoles, and skilled players can still be very effective with their console-specific control scheme.
Not exactly a vacation destination, but at least the sunsets are pretty.
In addition to the expanded control options, another key new element is currency. In addition to earning experience for your battlefield performance, you earn Call of Duty points, which you can then spend in a variety of ways. Most perks, weapon attachments, killstreaks, and equipment items are available early on, providing you shell out the points to equip them. Guns are still unlocked as you level up, but again, you have to pony up the points to put one in your loadout. Having to pay your way gives you more loadout options at lower required levels than in previous Call of Duty games, and the fact that points are so crucial to improving your arsenal makes them as just as sublimely satisfying to earn as experience points.