It’s coming up roses for Call of Duty Black Ops, to hear most people tell it the morning of its release. Activision’s newest first-person arsenal of ballistic bloodletting launched at midnight, ostensibly assuaging tens of thousands of franchise devotees who’d pre-ordered the game. GameStop alone held some 4,408 stores open. Three of those near me, in a modestly populated city, tallied more than 1,000 copies reserved.
“The story is the best I’ve ever seen from a Call of Duty game,” declares IGN. “Couple both of those substantial offerings with more Zombie content than some full-fledged zombie games and Black Ops is certainly worth your time, even if you aren’t already a fan of the series.”
“To put it simply, Call Of Duty: Black Ops is superb,” says Telegraph. “The experience of playing the game, thanks to the modified World At War engine, is comparable to the best in what the franchise has had to offer up until now.”
“As a reviewer, I try hard to avoid hyperbole, but it’s difficult not to call Black Ops the ‘best Call of Duty ever’ simply because it’s the ultimate refinement of the franchise formula,” claims GamePro, citing an “interesting single-player narrative” and praising “a multiplayer component brimming over with content.”
“I admit I had my doubts about Black Ops,” writes Game Chronicles. “It seemed that Modern Warfare 2 was going to be impossible to top, but Treyarch has come in and trounced that game in every possible way.”
Treyarch’s probably doing backflips and lutzes to hear sentiments like “best” and “trounced” used respectively in sentences alongside “Black Ops” and “prior games in the series.” We’re talking about a developer that badly loused up Call of Duty 3, and who–before Call of Duty 5 somewhat rehabilitated their reputation–you probably knew best for all those thoroughly inconsistent Spiderman games (though older gamers may remember Treyarch for their better Tony Hawk Dreamcast freestylers).
It’s also interesting to see such strong positive reaction in light of all the ignominy surrounding Infinity Ward, Activision, and Treyarch recently. Remember the nastiness that spilled out when Infinity Ward public relations flak Robert Taylor Bowling took aim at Activision producer Noah Heller for subtly sniping Infinity Ward around Call of Duty 5’s debut? And who could forget the legal melodrama that erupted (and is, in fact, still erupting) when Activision fired Infinity Ward bigwigs Jason West and Vincent Zampella for allegedly breaching contract and cozying up to another studio on the sly?
Of course popular franchises have saturation points, and The Guardian waxes philosophic when it calls Black Ops “quite probably…the pinnacle of the linear military shooter experience,” while wondering presciently “where the sub-genre can go from here.”
“Treyarch’s game is exhilarating and beautifully orchestrated, but it feels like a full-stop, it needs to be a full-stop, because toward the end of the campaign, bombardment fatigue begins to set in,” opines the reviewer. “As CoD players we have travelled the world, killing people, following orders, hunting down madmen … many of us have had enough. Call of Duty should go out on a high, or at least come back totally re-invented.”
I’m down with that–look at what Square Enix’s done with the Final Fantasy series over the years–but also pessimistic enough to doubt whether reinvention and the kind of franchise mega-sales Call of Duty currently taps for a corporation the size of Activision could ever go hand in hand.