When compared to the next-generation consoles, the cacophony of war may not sound quite the same on the Nintendo DS, but developer n-Space has worked on several portable Call of Duty games to get an idea of how to translate a first-person military shooter to the handheld. Call of Duty: Black Ops includes several new features in response to fan feedback; most notably is the addition of button controls, so that instead of relying on stylus controls, you are free to switch back and forth between the two--or whichever is most comfortable and will yield the fewest number of hand cramps.
The story may not follow that of its console brethren, but you'll visit the same hot spots, such as Cuba, Southeast Asia, and the Soviet Union. You play as members of CIA-backed operatives who have been assigned to the shadowy world of deniable operations. Black Ops is split into infantry missions, as well as a few vehicle-based missions. There are 16 levels in all, and we were able to play through one of each type.
Our demo began in a Russian base, where our goal was to gather some vital intelligence by the end of the stage. It started off as a bit of a stealth mission, where we were given a sniper rifle to pick off our enemies before they saw us. Of course, missions don't always go the way you intend them to--because we basically alerted everyone--so we ended up swapping in favor of a more rapid fire weapon and started firing away. While it takes a bit of getting used to, the button control scheme works well, and you can tweak the sensitivity of the camera to suit your play style. You use the D pad to control your movement and the face buttons to control the camera. Like all Call of Duty games, the L button is used to aim down the sights and the right button is used to fire. If an enemy is a little too close, you'll automatically whip out your knife when you try to fire. There are three difficulty settings, but if you're on recruit or regular, your reticle will autolock as long as you're hovering close enough to a target.
The interface has also been improved so that you can now drag and drop new weapons that you pick up into your primary or secondary slots on the touch screen. A hand icon will appear when you stumble across a new weapon and a quick tap picks it up. Depending on how quickly you get through the levels, each mission can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, making it easy to play in short bursts.
It's too bad that there aren't more vehicle-based missions (we were told there were roughly three) because piloting a helicopter and firing nonstop at enemy camps was incredibly fun. Our goal was to extract an operative that had escaped from the enemy but was surrounded and needed a way out. The MI-4 helicopter that we were in control of was on rails, but we could strafe with the D pad to avoid incoming missiles. The left and right buttons were mapped to our minigun and missiles, and because we could fire them both at the same time, there was nothing but carnage throughout the entire level. Normally when you take damage, your screen will turn red, but in this level, the only indicator we had was when our helicopter began to beep.
On top of the single-player campaign, there is a challenge mode that is split into 24 ground-based missions where you have objectives to complete within a certain time limit. There's an Arcade mode where you are given a limited number of lives and go through the levels for the highest point total. We didn't get a chance to test it out, but there is local and online multiplayer for up to six players, as well as a two-player cooperative mode.
Whether or not you prefer your shooters on a portable handheld, there's plenty of intense action on the go in this DS version. We're curious to learn more about the cooperative and multiplayer modes and will have updates as soon as they become available. Call of Duty: Black Ops is set to ship alongside its console counterparts on November 9.