How many incarnations of the Call of Duty series do we need again? No doubt, Call of Duty: Black Ops was surrounded by hype months prior to release. Afterall, this is a Call of Duty video game; and publisher Activision is notorious for releasing game sequel after game sequel until the desire to vomit is induced. Still, judging a video game by it’s cover; or the simple fact that it is a sequel (or rather, the seventh installment into this particular franchise), is not a good thing from a gamers standpoint. Many sequel video games have been notably better than their earlier counterparts, so why can’t Call of Duty: Black Ops rise above the bar set in previous games in the series?

In all seriousness, Call of Duty: Black Ops is roughly the same game you have played from this franchise before. Whether you are playing the “Modern Warfare” version of COD, or the developer Treyarch’s vision of this series (such as in COD: BO); the gameplay is roughly the same all around.

Instantly you will be familiar with the formulaic run and gun gameplay mechanics that Call of Duty serves up so well, and so often. In the single player campaign mode, you play as Alex Mason, a special operations solider engaged in the Bay of Pigs invasion. From this notorious and famous historical event, the story unfolds a tale of psychological interrogation and country hopping; blended with the well known first person shooter mechanics COD is known for. The story is grandiose, as are the “special effects” and the overall cinematic mood of this video game. You will certainly find yourself head to head with terrorists and Nazis, those apparently dirty Russians; as well as fighting the communist regimes in Cuba and Vietnam. In short, this is a truly Americanized war story; with the generic enemies US soldiers are expected to fight, both in real life and in the virtual arena.

The story and presentation in Call of Duty: Black Ops is fairly well done, though pales in comparison to those presented in the Modern Warfare variant of the Call of Duty series. Black Ops sets its bar far to high, and forces the player to traverse rather generic Cold War era landscapes. The story has quite a few twists and turns to maintain the players interest, but ultimately it is rather forgettable.

Of course, who actually plays the Call of Duty series to think in depth about the nature of war? Black Ops is at the heart an action game. Strategy plays no significant role, as many players will opt to simply run and gun as the notoriously egocentric and god-like character that Call of Duty always makes the player’s character out to be. The comparison to real war is minute to say the least, and it is perhaps on this point that I come to my first major gripe: COD does not make me feel like I am really fighting in a war. It constantly bombards me with enemies, but I am more often than not the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the American army as opposed to someone who is particularly vulnerable. This is a point that is further realized when the player dies in the game, and simply respawns at the nearest save point (which is often close to the location of death). The reality of death in war is distant, and in so many ways forces every scenario and conflict I engage in on screen “just a game” as opposed to something greater.

Then again, perhaps I am just wishing for apples from oranges in this scenario. Call of Duty: Black Ops is much more like an action movie than a war simulator, and in this respect COD has a tendency to do much right. At certain moments in the game, with massive explosions, helicopter rides, and slick, “by-the-hair-on-my-skin” escapes; COD immerses the player into this interactive Michael Bay film. Almost every level is a major set piece, designed to bring out a sense of awe and urgency in the player. Every weapon is finely detailed, and even incorporates a few new surprises like a cross bow and a tomahawk. The character models are on par with previous releases, but still do not strike me as overly convincing.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is in so many ways a complex cinematic experience intertwined with gameplay, but so frequently falls on it’s face. There are certainly moments where this game lives up to it’s hype, such as those moments where you ride a zip line to save a fellow soldier; or raid a Russian missile launch site. Still, I found so much content to border on being “filler,” that I was almost tempted to simply leave the game for it’s lack of ingenuity. Perhaps Black Ops would have stood out much more in my mind if it was not such a late-comer in the COD franchise, but as it is; this game is just pure repetitious gameplay that you either will immediately love or hate.

Still, so many gamers love this game. While the single player campaign is at best an average action-packed romp, the online multiplayer features are what most people are playing for. Call of Duty is notorious for having an addicting online experience, filled with XP points and military upgrades, promotions, and other elements that keep you joining the game cues for more and more. Game modes are very diverse, especially when compared to other first-person shooters. Your standard deathmatch and capture the flag modes are popular and easy to join, and the new “wager” modes like “Gun Game” and “One in the Chamber” provide fun alternatives that allow you to spend your virtual money (earned by completing challenges) and upgrade your equipment much quicker. These particular modes ultimately save the online multiplayer, which is almost exclusively the same thing you have played before. “One in the Chamber” starts each player off with, as you would expect, one bullet in their pistol (and a tomahawk for good measure). Every time you make a kill, you garner yourself more bullets. But, if you miss a shot, you are more-than-likely going to die. In many ways, this is like Russian roulette, except the goal is to kill someone else; or be killed. You only have 3 lives in this game mode, which fortunately has led to a usage of more strategy than in most other COD online modes; though often some of the more “cheap” players will stick with some hardcore camping techniques just to win. “Gun Game” is quite frankly addicting, as with every kill you advance the game’s “next best” gun; until you have been able to kill someone with each. But be weary, being killed by your opponents tomahawk will set you back a gun level; and ultimately allows this game mode to be very nicely balanced.

With these amendments to the online gameplay, Call of Duty: Black Ops still remains a force to be reckoned with for it’s addictive multiplayer experience. While it does not take too many significant risks when compared to previous games from the franchise, it does enough to keep things feeling fresh to warrant checking out.

The final major gameplay element contained in Black Ops is the notorious zombie mode. Who doesn’t like zombies these days? Zombies are in just about everything, from comic book and movies, to television and internet memes. Video games are just a medium where interacting with these horrific creatures becomes personal. COD: World at War (Treyarch’s previous installment in this series), featured Nazi Zombies; and this concept returns yet again.

You can play through this mode in both single player and multiplayer modes (both online and split-screen). The goal is to last through as many rounds as you possibly can. The levels you can play in this are very well done, with one in particular featuring certain dead politicians, that not only provides some interesting action; but trademark satirical humor that will leave you rife with joy.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is a fun game. But, let’s not kid ourselves: Call of Duty is a franchise that needs to be majorly overhauled to have continued success; otherwise it will certainly die out. Unfortunately, with publisher Activision taking the reigns, seeing sequels to this series every year is common. And, like other Activision series that have been successful (and at one time very enjoyable and unique); this game franchise will undoubtedly be milked until every last centimeter of proverbial “green” blood is spilled.

I’d personally recommend at least renting this game, or perhaps even buying it if you are a major fan of Call of Duty’s gameplay. But, don’t expect very much “new” in this package. It is the same COD game you are undoubtedly familiar with, which certainly has its pros and cons. As it is, this is a fairly “average” release when compared to other games in the franchise.