First look: Call of Duty: Black Ops

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Mark Lamia, the king of Call of Duty, starts to present the game's latest incarnation to the audience. The room vibrates as the screen lightens and the bass kicks in. It's the late 1960s, and the city of Hue is on fire, the US army beating a hasty retreat. Looking out into the blood-red skyline, allied choppers are taking a belting, small-arms tracer fire bright against the smoke and the tumult on the ground. Did I mention it was loud? The thud-thud-thud of our viewpoint chopper combined with the machine hiss of its mounted chaingun is so intense that it's almost a relief when our ride gets blindsided by a rocket.

Corkscrewing out of the sky, it's almost too much to take in. The chopper careens into the side an office building. Dumped out, disorientated but still with a full complement of limbs, we start our push through that building's rooms.

Treyarch are keen on customisation in this seventh CoD game. For a good portion of the confirmed levels, you'll be in the shoes of Studies and Observations Group operatives – the Black Ops boys of the title. For this mission, they decided what they really needed was dragon's breath shotgun shells – special ammunition that launches a jet of flame, enveloping the screen in luminous fire and massacring Viet Cong resistance like a hot gun-knife through people butter. Punchy and noisy, it's a great game weapon

Respect for the armed forces comes up regularly as Mark talks through the game. His line is a tough one to walk – he stresses reverence and deference to the ordinary soldiers on the ground, while Black Ops tells of the exploits of a group of superduper mega-soldiers sent in to finish covert missions. Whether it'll retain the series' compelling war-is-hell spark, or turn into another set of 'superhero versus the foreigners' vignettes is yet to be seen.

But despite war-veteran involvement and a heavy load of background research, this won't be a play-along history essay – not unless the real SOG soldiers had access to a magic phone that planted big glowing targets on buildings, that is.

This is classic CoD: anything that can explode, does. Anything that's exploded once explodes again. It ain't all sit back and watch the fireworks though – once out of that building, you're still in a warzone. The frontline is confused, people are swarming everywhere. The player of the demo we're watching holds fire as they break cover, picking off military targets carefully with a standard rifle.

On its seventh go, Call of Duty is set on a solid trajectory. Treyarch may not include the same nuance or controversy as their series stablemates at Infinity Ward in their CoDs, but we're set for some seriously loud shooting of men. Sometimes, that's all you want to do.

  • Release: 9 November 2010
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Developer: Treyarch
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