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Call of Duty: Black Ops: All you need to know

Get prepped for combat

This is Treyarch's year. Once labelled as Activision's Call Of Duty B-team they've consistently produced great games, but always in the shadow of series' creator Infinity Ward. This year they own COD.

Not because Infinity Ward is a husk of its former self (following the departure of its founders and most of its key personnel). Not because they've introduced 3D. Not even because they've brought back zombies...

No, this year they make COD their own with some of the biggest shake-ups in the series' history - new technology like radically revamped AI; Heavy Rain levels of mo-cap breathing life into an impressive Cold War story, and a totally revamped online system.

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It's still Call Of Duty: a breathless mix of varied shoot outs, set pieces and explosions but it looks sharper than ever. As director Dave Anthony points out, "For the first time we actually had two full years to work on this."

No working multiple platforms or having to crank one out in a year: two years to make something special.

BIG IMPACT
Take Payback, for example. After escaping a concentration camp in Vietnam you steal a helicopter and single handily decimate every enemy in a 30-mile radius.

In terms of scale it's one of the most ambitious missions the series has seen, as you pilot a Hind though a green valley - blasting out bridges, attacking opposing choppers head-to-head and straffing bases with cannon fire.

And it's not on rails either; you're flying the chopper without stabilisers.

But even that pails next to the scale of a level called WMD set in the Russian Ural Mountains. It packs a phenomenal amount into one mission.

Starting aboard a high altitude Blackbird reconnaissance plane you begin by highlighting way-points and directing a team of spec-0p dots on a monitor.

However, whenever the ground team encounter enemy forces it switches to their viewpoint to fight back. Normally that would be enough - a nice juxtaposition to keep things interesting.

But Black Ops doesn't stop there. Before the level's out you'll have abseiled in slow-mo through the shattering glass of a relay station window, breach-and-cleared a barracks and then outrun an avalanche by parachuting off the mountain.

And that's only what they were prepared to show us, cutting the parachute ride short before the other half of the level.

But for all the action it's the smaller things that stand out. The whipping drifts of snow in the mountains, or the jungle: vibrant with flowers and plants lit by sun streaming through the trees.

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It's a huge visual leap from Modern Warfare 2. They've taken the texture streaming that it introduced, and pushed to create levels that are both massive and incredibly detailed.

PLAYING THE PART
Another huge improvement that really stands out is the animation. With a new mo-cap studio and, for the first time, full facial capture, the difference is obvious.

According to Anthony it's "completely changed the way we approach the storytelling of the game". Watching your team move around, or the enemy react, makes previous CODs look wooden by comparison. There's an impressive, almost eerie realism to it all.

But it's the facial animation that you'll really notice. Switching from the previous game's hand-animated faces to fully captured performances really lifts the in-game action.

Watch Mason, a hardened Studies and Observation Group operative, explain how "the sh*t's hitting the fan" in the back of a jeep speeding through a Vietnam army base and you'll believe it's a real person.

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