Call of Duty is the Goliath of the video game world. The series has sold millions of copies and catapulted itself from a solid, World War II shooter to the sprawling multiplayer playground and Hollywood-style campaign that we know today. Call of Duty: Black Ops takes everything that made the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions great, but retrofits the mechanics for Nintendo's system. It's mostly successful in what it attempts, but it's clear that the limitations of the system played a role in this title's shortcomings.
The only thing I'll say about the storyline is that it's the best of the series.
You begin the game as Alex Mason, a soldier being interrogated for information that he can't remember. You play through Mason's memories in search for information. Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, and Gary Oldman deliver expert performances and really nail their respective characters. There are twists, some of which work better than others, and the plot seems to get bogged down and slightly disjointed towards the middle. But unlike Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops does a wonderful job of cleaning everything up for the finale.
Black Ops is not just a linear game, but sometimes feels like it's on autopilot. Just one example is when you "guide" the takeoff of an SR-71 Blackbird. I tried to not pull back on the flight stick when the game told me to, just to see if there was any other alternative to taking off, but the Blackbird lifted off on its own.
The artificial intelligence of both your friendly soldiers and the enemies you face is pretty poor. Both friendly and enemy soldiers behave like fools for most of the campaign. I once watched a friendly shoot the back of an armored car that he was using for cover for a solid 20 seconds.
There are also a few design flaws and annoyances, not least of all was a game-ending bug in the first level that made me restart the entire mission. No one else in the office ran into that one, but everyone who'd played Black Ops has run into a major design issue at the Battle of Khe Sanh. The mission never tells you what to actually do and even misdirects you.
Despite these issues, I really enjoyed the story that the campaign presents and I think it's the best of the series. The characters are well-crafted and the plot rarely disappoints. Wii players can also look forward to solid first-person shooter controls as both the Wii Remote and Classic Controller are very capable peripherals. I preferred the Classic Controller thanks to the dual analog sticks, but there's no doubt the Wii Remote will find a home with some. Due to controller design limitations jumping is a bit of a chore with the Wii Remote and throwing grenades isn't as fluid as it is on other consoles.
Of course, most gamers are more interested in the multiplayer. Call of Duty: Black Ops largely succeeds, presenting a similar (but not identical) set of modes as Modern Warfare 2. Black Ops is a more focused effort, and there will inevitably be those who miss a few of the omitted modes. But you will get some of the playlists later added to Modern Warfare 2, including the Killstreak-free Barebones list.
Black Ops makes its most significant departure from Modern Warfare 2 by adding CoD Points. Earning experience points and leveling up now handles macro stuff like unlocking more custom class slots, Create-A-Class, new modes to play, and the availability of certain weapons and bonuses for "purchase." Everything else (weapons, perks, killstreak bonuses, emblems, different colors for your targeting reticule) is bought with CoD Points.
The system itself is overwhelming at first, especially if you're totally new to Call of Duty, but once you get your head around the CoD Points mechanic it's actually pretty cool. When you level up you're handed 1,000 CoD Points that you can spend on whatever you please. It basically allows you to sculpt your style of play however you'd like. The only catch is that once you buy a weapon, perk, or killstreak, there's no going back. In other words, you'd better be damn sure you want that sniper rifle before taking the plunge. This de-emphasizes what made Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer so much fun; the leveling itself.
The new Wager Match modes are designed to highlight the importance of CoD Points and they're fun in their own right, but nothing ever reaches the level of enjoyment I had with the traditional leveling mechanic. We've talked at length about the specifics of each Wager Match mode. Just know that One in the Chamber and Gun Game are highlights. The first is a lesson in patience and accuracy and the second gives you a guided tour of 20 of Black Ops' armaments with each kill earning you a new gun.
Standard modes including Team Deathmatch, Domination and Headquarters are still there and are great for leveling up and if you do hit Level 50, Prestige Mode is there with some extra challenges to make it worthwhile. I would have preferred if the new features added to the pre-existing level of fun, rather than pushing what everyone loves to the back burner, but Wager Match is definitely the focus.
The CoD Points system does lead to a higher level of customization in Black Ops. Not only can you customize your title and emblem, but you can write your clan tag on your weapon, change the color and look of your targeting reticule, and lots more. Of course, each and every thing that you add to your character will cost you valuable CoD Points, so you need to have a big stockpile of disposable income before the customization really becomes a viable option.
To help you build up your stash, Treyarch included a contract system where you invest a small amount of points, then attempt to complete a certain objective with the reward being a sizeable chunk of dough. While it's cool enough, I wish the contract system was a bit broader as it currently doesn't allow you to do things like bet on other players' performance or the overall performance of your team. Also, the fact that you can be thrown into a match mid-game can hurt your ability to successfully complete contracts. Here's hoping they tune contracts a bit with the first patch.
Once you get into a match, the level design is well-thought-out, with some stages featuring dynamic elements that change each time you play. Firing Range, for instance, puts target dummies in different spots each time you load the map (same goes for Nuke Town, my favorite). Each stage has parts for just about every style of player. Snipers will be able to find a second tier to rain down fire, campers will have a few cover spots, and everyone else can deal with both open and closed quarters depending on their play style.
The new perks that have been added (I'll let you discover most of them for yourself if you haven't already scoured the Internet for information) are all very cool and, yes, the tactical nuke is nowhere to be found. I will say that the RC Car will likely have its power ratcheted down as it's currently going to be abused by new players, especially since it only takes three kills to earn. Other new perks seemed nicely tuned to avoid unbalanced gameplay (the tactical nuke is gone).
I've been impressed with how well the multiplayer has performed thus far. I haven't detected many moments of lag, even with games filled with the 12 players that the Wii version allows. One understandable deviation (and one of the only changes) from other consoles is that split-screen isn't supported on Wii. It's not a big deal, but some might care.
Outside of the competitive multiplayer, there's also the return of the incredibly popular Nazi Zombies mode. Sadly Wii players don't get the same zombie experience as what was available on other systems. The Pentagon level is nowhere to be found, which means you won't get to hear all of the hilarious quips coming from JFK and company. Not only that, but the incredibly cool Easter egg zombie mode is nowhere to be found in the Wii version (or at least the same code doesn't work to unlock it).
The visuals that fuel the insane amount of action stay at a fairly high level throughout Black Ops. Though obviously not up to the level of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, the Wii version performs admirably. All of the content that you see in the other versions (less the aforementioned zombie modes) is here, albeit in a low-resolution version. Nothing looks as smooth or as polished as it does on Xbox or PlayStation, but that's to be expected. Framerate hitches are very common and can even be problematic during some instances. Still, there have been several IGN staff members who have stopped and commented on the quality of Black Ops' visuals on Wii. Surely that counts for something.