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Kickin  ass in "Call of Duty: Black Ops."
Kickin ass in “Call of Duty: Black Ops.”

I’ll admit, I was a skeptic about whether “Call of Duty: Black Ops” would live up to its hype.

After all, who could expect developers to top its predecessor, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” one of the most successful video game titles of all time?

Well, I’ve spent the last week dabbling in the Cold War-era shooter and can verify that the action-packed gameplay, immersive environments and unique storyline do indeed match the hype.

‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Price: $59.99

The campaign mode is compelling and rich, starting off with a bang as you relive flashbacks experienced by special ops soldier Alex Mason.

The experience includes missions to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, crawling through Vietcong tunnels and breaking out of a Soviet prison under a hail of bullets.

There’s also the return of a fan favorite: “zombie mode,” in which up to four players fight to survive an onslaught of killer zombies. Maybe the best thing ever, though, is the appearance of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who help fend off zombies in the Pentagon.

Yes, that’s really a feature.

But the real gem of “Black Ops” is its multi-player mode.

With a huge range of game types and customizable weapon sets, no two games are exactly alike. Add in a community of several hundred thousand online players, and the variety only gets better.

The remote-controlled car packed with a camera and explosives is especially fun, and the game’s new currency-based system of purchasing weapon upgrades and perks keeps you working toward that perfect custom class. I’m also a big fan of wager modes, in which you can bet some of your earnings against other players.

The single biggest drawback is the time period in which the game is set.

While “Black Ops” will be a throwback for an older generation of gamers, younger gamers could have trouble relating to the ’60s-era references and settings, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the jungle war in Vietnam.

And — while it’s perhaps a testament to developer Treyarch’s attention to detail — the era-specific weapons are noticeably more difficult to control, sight and use than the state-of-the-art guns and accessories that appear in “Modern Warfare 2.”

The other drawback is the price. I’ve never paid more than $50 for a new video game — until last week. With tax, the $60 bare-bones version of “Black Ops” for Xbox 360 relieved my wallet of $64.89.

Was it worth it? Ultimately, yes, because I’ll play the hell out of this title. Gamers across the country seem to agree, with the Associated Press reporting last week that “Black Ops” shattered entertainment records by raking in $360 million in sales in its first 24 hours.

That’s all well and good, because it likely means there’s no end in sight for this fun and profitable franchise. But you’ve got to worry about the new trend of upping the price of games that developers know will bring out the masses.

Rating: Four stars.

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