Activision's juggernaut first-person shooter returns for its annual assault on the bad guys with a focus on clandestine operations and deniable missions in Call of Duty: Black Ops. Developed by franchise veteran Treyarch, Black Ops marks a departure for the series, in that the action unfolds in neither WWII nor the nebulous "Modern" arena, but in the vast expanse of the Cold War. Players take control of several soldiers from the Studies and Observations Group (SOG), a multi-service special operations unit that, despite its seemingly innocuous name, carried out devastating precision assaults on enemy targets, captured opposition leaders, rescued downed pilots, and even conducted psychological operations.

The 13-mission single-player campaign consists mainly of flashbacks culled from the memory of SOG member Alex Mason, and the action will take gamers around the globe for battles with the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese Army, Russian soldiers, and Cuban Tropas. Gamers will be able to wield more than 40 different assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, and pistols; and missions find players attempting to destroy the Soviet chemical weapon Nova-6, swimming weaponless through a Vietnamese river, torturing a prisoner for information, and piloting an SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance airplane as well as a Mi-24 Hind helicopter.

Multiplayer action remains a key component of the Call of Duty series, and Black Ops offers fans of the franchise more than a dozen game modes, eight character classes, and six multiplayer maps on which to battle. Gamers once again head online to fight against their friends in order to gain experience and reach level 50, where the "Prestige" mode is unlocked. Armchair soldiers who manage to string together multiple kills are rewarded with new killstreak bonuses, including napalm strikes, guidable helicopters, and explosive RC cars. Rather than award particular weapons and gear after milestone achievements, Call of Duty: Black Ops has instituted a new "COD Points" system to serve as a sort of in-game currency, allowing gamers to purchase the items they want whenever they please.

COD Points can also be used to purchase new objective-based contracts that offer large points rewards, while the new "Wager Matches" let gamers gamble their hard-earned COD Points in four competitive game modes, with the top three finishers splitting the entire pot. Other multiplayer features include the "Create-A-Class" character customization mode, a new "Theatre" mode in which players can edit and upload videos, and the new "Combat Training" mode in which green gamers can hone their skills against AI bots before taking on human competition. And for those longing for cooperative multiplayer action, Black Ops marks the return of World at War's infamous zombie-laden co-op mode, once again allowing four gamers to team up and dispatch hordes of unrelenting undead.

The "Prestige Edition" includes the full game, a collector's medal and display case, four additional co-op maps not included in the standard edition of the game, a special outfit for Xbox Live avatars, and a real-life version of the in-game RC killstreak car, which can send audio and video to a transmitter up to 200 feet away. ~ Christopher Brown, All Game Guide