But while the campaign is little more than a very nicely decorated corridor, there are lots of fun things to do inside it. There's the Dragon's Breath shotgun with incendiary shells, shooting enemies off motorbikes with a shotgun and cocking it one-handed while jumping over a ridge, a snowy stealth section where you have to avoid detection and silently eliminate patrolling soldiers with a crossbow, and even a sequence where Black Ops almost resembles a strategy game for a few minutes. Forget the setting, the JFK impersonator and the birth of the black ops – Call of Duty is about shooting fast, dying often and watching a good-looking set-piece, and on that level Black Ops unquestionably delivers.
It's not just about that though; it's also about leaving a long-lasting multiplayer legacy, and Treyarch goes a lot further to achieve that than it did with Call of Duty: World at War. Firstly, the Horde-style Zombies mode is back with three expansive, secret-filled new levels (one featuring Nazis, one set in the Pentagon and one we'd rather not spoil) and should keep you and up to three well-drilled friends busy for many hours.
There's also the traditional range of modes familiar to those who answered recent Calls of Duty, including old favourites like Search and Destroy. The progression system now relies on COD Points rather than raw experience, and the range of unlockable perks, killstreaks and modifications is staggering. Maps are visually and spatially varied, and Treyarch is keen that you're always exposed from multiple angles whether you're sneaking around a hotel in Havana, trudging along mud tracks and over rope bridges in the jungle, or darting in between fuel tanks in a missile launch centre.
Mindful that Call of Duty is contested rather ferociously online, there's even a Combat Training mode where you play against computer-controlled adversaries, allowing you to get a taste of every mode and ability before you head online and start playing for real.
Black Ops' great revelation, though, is Wager Matches, where you gamble COD Points in a series of free-for-all modes. Sharpshooter, where everyone uses the same weapon and it changes randomly at intervals, is rather perfunctory, but the others are gems. Sticks and Stones gives you a crossbow with explosive bolts, a tomahawk and a knife, and the result is carnage, while One in the Chamber gives everyone a pistol with one bullet, a knife and three lives, and the tension isn't so much palpable as saturating.
Gun Game is the big favourite, however. Players start with a pistol and receive a new weapon with each kill, although being knifed will knock you back to the previous one. On paper it sounds as though the early leader should prosper while those stuck with the pistol for longer than a few seconds flounder, but in practice the order you move through weapons creates helpful changes in pace, as the leaders struggle with sniper rifles just as the chasing pack come up through shotguns, SMGs and assault rifles.
Call of Duty has long since settled into an enormously successful rhythm, and the good news for Activision is that Black Ops does little to disrupt it. The campaign is relentlessly aggressive and spectacular – a Jerry Bruckheimer tribute act stuck in permanent encore – while the multiplayer modes are a mixture of smart tweaks to working formulas, as focused on protecting that guaranteed bottom line as the campaign's yellow objective cursor is on making sure you never falter. The results are never less than entertaining whatever you choose to do, then, but not exactly brave and bold either. Say what you like about No Russian - at least it was something different.
8 / 10