There is at least one moneymaker out there that's recession proof. In its first five days of release, ActiVision's Call of Duty: Black Ops pulled in $650 million, topping the previous record set in 2009 by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2—by a whopping $100 million.
Black Ops carves out its niche in the Cold War era. And what that often translates to is a surprising amount of undercover … torture. You primarily wear the dog tags of elite covert operative Alex Mason who, at the game's beginning, swims up out of a blurry haze to find himself in the middle of an excruciating third degree.
Faceless interrogators—communicating through a set of voice-distorting speakers—have Mason strapped into a metal chair as they probe him for memories and jolt him with electricity. Mason soon starts spilling his guts and you play out his remembrances through 15 missions. From a Cuban Bay of Pigs attack to a brutal Russian gulag escape to a gruesome game of Russian roulette in a sweating Vietnamese river delta, Mason's dark memories traverse the globe and jump around throughout the 1960s. Each bloodletting escapade slowly pieces together a twisted tale of espionage, weapons of mass destruction, Manchurian Candidate-like brainwashing and deadly assassination attempts.
As stealthy and shadow-crawling as that story may sound, however, the real Call of Duty heart has always been the franchise's ability to deliver high-action firefights. And Black Ops is no exception. Whether you're crashing through a window, guns blazing, or grinding your way through a hundred defenders in pursuit of Fidel Castro, each fiery battle scene plays out with the frenzied intensity of a climactic summer blockbuster.
BYOM: Bring Your Own Mop
That kind of frantic running and gunning is a big part of the game's appeal. But it also means lots of high-def mess. Gamers work their trigger fingers into spasms with a wide array of firearms including pistols, machine guns, RPGs and flamethrowers—all of which are used to realistically rip, bloody, sizzle and dismember scores and scores of enemies. And when you want to change tack you can quickly shift to obliterating grenades or up-close-and-gory knife slashes to a victim's throat.
There are quite a few other ways to get down and bloody too. Slo-mo bullet-time shots focus closely behind a flying slug as it skims across a field of battle and plunges into an opponent's forehead, blowing his brains out the back of his head. In a thumbscrew interrogation scene a guy has glass stuffed in his mouth and we watch the bloody results as he's repeatedly punched in the face.
Note: The gore can be tamped down a bit with a filter in the options menu. But even when a gush is stemmed to a spray, the force of it all remains essentially the same. And that also applies to the foul language spit out by the principals. With the filter on, the otherwise rampant f-words are replaced with grunts or an occasional "screw you," but other crudities ("a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑") and misuses of God's name remain.
BYOG: Bring Your Own Gang
A Nazi Zombies mode (first introduced in 2008's Call of Duty: World at War) piles on more dribbling mush as you invite up to three friends—online or with a multicontroller split screen setup—to puree wave after wave of shambling monsters. And while we're talking about multiple players, I should make mention of Black Ops' online action. This, without question, accounts for the biggest chunk of Call of Duty play. And it's where this latest title's eight-hour campaign can stretch into nearly endless matches against up to 17 other Internet-connected players from around the globe. It's also where the language filters and gore squelchers are rendered even more useless than they already are.