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Black Ops: Letdown or let-me-at-it?

We deliver the penultimate word on the biggest game of the year...

War, as the saying goes, does not determine who is right, only who is left - and for the last few years, Call of Duty has been the only wartime shooter left standing on the battlefield.

However, recent signs have suggested that the all-conquering series' days at the top of the Xbox Live playlist may be numbered.

The dismantling of the Infinity Ward team, a decline in quality since CoD4 and DICE upping their game in 2010 with two superb online shooters - all of these factors have combined to rub some of the Brasso off the much-decorated series.

It's time for Treyarch, until now considered Call of Duty's B-Team, to bring their A-game. With a bigger team and a bigger budget, the Santa Monica based developers have been afforded the opportunity to create their own multiplayer maps from scratch, rather than reverse-engineering sections of the story mode to fit the purpose.

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According to Treyarch, this is a decision that should almost guarantee smarter, busier and better balanced maps, but have they delivered on that promise?

It's time for Xbox World to dig our nails under the hype and dish out a final dose of hard-hitting opinion.

OUT TO LAUNCH
One of the boldest new multiplayer features is the introduction of actively changing environments, and no map shows off how much of a game-changer these can be better than Launch.

Set in a Soviet aeronautics facility, Launch is a compact but vertical map that revolves around a missile perched precariously above a wide-open space in the centre.

This space invariably proves to be a popular choke point in Deathmatches, as it links together a number of winding catacombs that provide easy access across the entire map.

Relatively speaking, going underground is the safest option for run-and-gunners, since there are a number of high vantage points from which snipers can set up shop and pick off straggling soldiers on the ground level.

However, life on the basement floor is not without its perils. At a randomly determined point during the match, the missile will suddenly take off, treating anyone unlucky enough to be underneath at the time to a delightfully fiery death as smoke and fire billows through the tunnels.

This event will often prove to be the turning point of a game of Domination or Sabotage - the first team to capitalise on the destruction the rocket leaves in its wake will usually find themselves in a strong strategic position for the rest of the round.

MARKS & SPARKS
Another multiplayer map we played, Radiation, also boasts a changeable environment, but this time the control switch is in the player's hands.

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The setting is a recently abandoned Russian power station, where sparks fly disconcertingly (but harmlessly) from the oversized machinery, causing many a nervous trigger finger to compromise its owner's position.

There are two main talking points on this map: the first is a rolling conveyer belt which snakes around the building - a top vessel for disorientating opponents or express-delivering well-timed grenades to their doorstep, but ride it to its destination and you'll find yourself deposited in an incinerator.

The second feature is pair of blast doors that can be opened or closed on demand - as long as your team has gained control of two levers, located on opposite ends of the map.

Closing the hatches has an immediate benefit if you're playing a match type where you have to defend an objective, as it blocks off two of the four routes in and out of the factory, meaning that there are fewer entrance points for your team to defend.

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